The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against California-based biotechnology company Decision Diagnostics Corp. and its CEO, Keith Berman, with making false and misleading claims in numerous press releases that the company had developed a working, break-through technology that could accurately detect Covid-19 through a quick blood test.
The SEC temporarily suspended trading in Decision Diagnostics’ securities on April 23, 2020.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that Decision Diagnostics and Berman seized upon the global pandemic through a series of press releases that falsely claimed Decision Diagnostics had developed a finger prick blood test that could detect Covid-19 in less than a minute.
According to the complaint, from March 2020 to at least June 2020, Decision Diagnostics and Berman made false and misleading statements about the existence of Decision Diagnostics’ Covid-19 device and progress towards FDA emergency use authorization. As alleged, at the time of these claims, Decision Diagnostics lacked a proven method for detecting the virus and had no physical testing device.
Further, its advisors had warned that the testing kit they were trying to manufacture would not work as Decision Diagnostics had described. The complaint also alleges that the statements created the misleading impression that the test was soon to be introduced to the market and led to surges in the price and trading volume of Decision Diagnostics’ stock.
“During this unprecedented time, when the need for truthful disclosures concerning Covid-19 tests is of vital importance, Decision Diagnostics and its CEO allegedly misled investors by claiming to have made a working test device when all they had was an idea that had not materialized into a product,” said Stephanie Avakian, director of the Division of Enforcement. “With the onset of the global pandemic, we quickly pivoted to identify potential areas of fraud. This case is another example of how the Commission will hold accountable those who exploit the pandemic to harm investors.”
“In our complaint, we allege that Decision Diagnostics and Berman repeatedly made baseless representations to the investing public about market-moving events like progress in obtaining FDA approval and having breakthrough technology,” said Anita B. Bandy, associate director of the Division of Enforcement. “Today’s filing is a credit to the dedicated SEC staff, who continued to investigate after the trading suspension and quickly uncovered the alleged fraud.”
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charges Decision Diagnostics and Berman with violating antifraud provisions of the securities laws. The SEC is seeking a court order permanently enjoining both Decision Diagnostics and Berman from directly or indirectly violating those provisions and ordering them to pay civil penalties.
The Department of Justice’s Market Integrity and Major Frauds Unit announced today that parallel criminal charges against Berman were also filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, has been conducted by Ernesto Amparo, Carlisle Perkins and Lesley Atkins and supervised by Jeff Leasure and Ms. Bandy with invaluable assistance by Margaret A. Cain of the Office of Market Intelligence and Hane L. Kim of the Microcap Fraud Task Force, both members of the SEC’s Coronavirus Steering Committee. The litigation will be handled by James Carlson, David Misler and supervised by Tom Bednar. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.