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Greenberg: Feds Snare CEO of Chinese Coal Company

By: Herb Greenberg | 03/31/14 - 11:55 AM EDT

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- Before your eyes roll -- if you do nothing else, scan down to the bold-faced part of this story, and start reading from that point on.

If you have a few minutes more:

Last week's SEC suit against L&L Energy  (LLEN) CEO Dickson Lee on fraud charges didn't make the headlines.

Nor did the news that he landed in a Federal prison in Seattle, waiting for an arraignment Tuesday, as the Feds seek criminal charges against him on the same securities charges.

My only question, even though these are just charges: What took 'em so long?

L&L is too small to matter, but it's a reminder that stock promotion of the worst kind is alive and well.

I first stumbled on L&L a few years ago when I was focused on Chinese reverse mergers. It was acquiring coal mines in China, and based on the promote that it was a pure play on China coal, its stock had zoomed from pennies to as high as $15, before stumbling back to just about $1, before trading of its stock was halted last November.

For a refresher, here's what I originally wrote about it in December 2010, on CNBC:

-- L&L was founded in 1995 as Royal Coronado, a shell looking for business. While not technically a reverse merger, it has similar attributes.

-- It has morphed into a coal-mining company in China.

-- According to company filings, CEO and founder Dickson Lee (who had started a broker-dealer called Century Pacific Securities) also has had run-ins with securities officials in New Mexico, California and Connecticut.

-- He was fined $65,000 by FINRA and banned from the securities industry for a year.

In January, L&L hired Clayton Fong as its vice president-U.S. operations (for this China coal company). By July, Fong was the company's key presenter at an investment conference.

Not disclosed by L&L but easily found via an Internet search: In 2009, Fong was ousted as the longtime CEO of the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging after engaging in what officials of the organization told reporters was "a pattern of behavior and conduct of great concern to us."

There's plenty more, including related party dealings (one of Lee's brothers is on the board; another is general manager of L&L's Chinese operations.)

And from the "potentially too curious for comfort" file:

-- In 2009, Lee donated one million shares to the Chung Yuan Christian University Development Foundation. A few month later, an official of the foundation became L&L's acting chief financial officer.

-- In November L&L loaned $3 million to a Colorado coal mine. L&L boasted the loan "is an exciting first step that extends the company onto the global stage."

Finally, in August Norman Mineta, the former Transportation and Commerce Secretary of the U.S., joined L&L's board. This kind of plumb snare aren't unusual for companies looking to create instant credibility.

Even after that, the promote continued. In March of 2011, Red Chip Review, which is paid to promote companies, issued the report headlined: Seven Reasons LLEN Is a Strong Buy Today.

My favorite line from the piece:

"In December, the company faced back-to-back slams from Herb Greenberg, who arbitrarily chose to pick on LLEN but was roundly criticized for his shallow analysis of a perfectly good company. With its coal business booming, it's only a matter of time before L&L's stock price begins to reflect its tremendous growth and it trades at a fair market value."

To which I say: Shallow, eh?

As for "perfectly good," tell that to the SEC. According to its press release:

"The SEC's Enforcement Division alleges that L&L Energy Inc., which has all of its operations in China and Taiwan, created the false appearance that the company had a professional management team in place when in reality Dickson Lee was single-handedly controlling the company's operations. An L&L Energy annual report falsely listed Lee's brother as the CEO and a woman as the acting CFO in spite of the fact that she had rejected Lee's offer to serve in the position the month before. L&L Energy and Lee continued to misrepresent that they had an acting CFO in the next three quarterly reports. Certifications required under the Sarbanes Oxley Act ostensibly bore the purported acting CFO's electronic signature. Lee and L&L Energy also allegedly misled NASDAQ to become listed on the exchange by falsely maintaining they had accurately made all of their required Sarbanes-Oxley certifications."

Reality: It's now up to a judge and jury but ... I hope they nail the sucker.

-- Written by Herb Greenberg in San Diego

Follow @herbgreenberg

Herb Greenberg, editor of Herb Greenberg's Reality Check, is a contributor to CNBC. He does not own shares, short or trade shares in an individual corporate security. He can be reached at herbonthestreet@thestreet.com.

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