To the editor:
Lee Nelson's letter to the editor, published March 9, requires a response. Nelson referred to an Emergency Order issued by the Utah Division of Securities against trading stock issued by Sweet Thanks, a Utah company of which Nelson is a shareholder.He complains that the Securities Division is determined to drive "legitimate new business out of the state" and that a state bureaucrat issued an order "without prior investigation."
I do not blame Nelson for being upset, but it is clear that he has been misinformed. It is not appropriate to itemize here the evidence the Securities Division has obtained or try this case in the press. And yet, since I am the "bureaucrat" who issued the order, I feel compelled to respond to some of the erroneous information contained in Nelson's letter.
After an investigation uncovered evidence pointing to manipulation of the public market in Sweet Thanks' stock, and with the advice and concurrence of the attorney general, the division issued its emergency order to stop trading on Nov. 20, 1990.
A hearing date was set for Jan. 11, 1991. At the hearing, an administrative law judge would decide if the division had sufficient evidence; if not, the order would be vacated. The hearing did not take place because the company requested and obtained a continuance to Feb. 19. This hearing date was also continued at the company's request.
The company is within its rights to request delays, but it should be clear that the division is not seeking to delay but rather has been diligent to resolve this matter as soon as possible. Currently a hearing is scheduled for March 22.
An order to stop trading stock does not, in itself, negatively affect the ongoing operations of a company. It does not, for example, order the company to cease operations, to stop sales or to cancel contracts. Again, we believe it is in everyone's interest to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.
Contrary to Nelson's claim, the division has never, for any reason, offered to drop its charges or vacate its order. To do so when we believe manipulation has occurred that has artificially inflated the price of the stock would betray our duty to the public.
We have, at the company's request, sought to settle the issues in a way that would protect the public and still not reward the alleged manipulators.
While we are not currently in negotiations, we remain open to reasonable solutions that will restore the integrity of the marketplace.
Utah's business climate and reputation nationally suffered in past years from the perception that we were a capital of securities fraud. Thanks to tougher regulations and greater enforcement efforts, the perception and the reality has changed.
Our action in this and in all cases is not intended to harm any legitimate business, but rather, to encourage commerce by helping to provide a climate where people can invest with confidence.
I do not blame shareholders or others associated with Sweet Thanks for being angry or confused. I can assure them and the public at large, however, that the Division of Securities is only seeking to do its duty to protect the public interest by enforcing the securities laws of this state.
Earl S. Maeser
Director, Utah Securities Division