Time was, your average retail investor could log onto SeekingAlpha.com and peruse penny stock tips with the assurance that everything was completely legit and above-board. Those days are over. On Monday the SEC unveiled charges against 27 people over stock-promotion scams that targeted SeekingAlpha and other sites for paid ads masquerading as honest stock analysis.
Central to one of the largest schemes, the SEC alleges, was a woman named Kamilla Bjorlin – stage name Milla Bjorn, 46 – whose career transition from B-movie actress to investment professional would have made for a great SeekingAlpha testimonial if not for the dozen-odd securities fraud charges currently pending against her.
Bjorlin has had a diverse career. Her creditsinclude playing Countess Elan in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Svetlana, a “badass babe” aboard an American research vessel who ends up mutating into a Thing-like monstrosity in the 2015 straight-to-video alien flick Harbinger Down, and now, defendant #2 in Securities and Exchange Commission v. Lidingo Holdings et al.
The scheme, as the SEC complaint alleges, resembled classic pump-and-dump stock promotion. Bjorlin, through her company Lidingo Holdings LLC (evidently named for the Swedish town from which she hails), hired writers between 2011 and 2014 to pen glowing testimonials for microcap companies that had paid to be hyped. The writers published their manifestos on SeekingAlpha, Benzinga, TheStreet, and basically anywhere else where the sole qualification for publication was the ability to click the box next to “I agree.”
The qualifications for Lidingo writers were slightly steeper. As Bjorlin put it (allegedly) in an email: “No disclosures allowed.” When publishing on SeekingAlpha, Lidingo's hired hands had to click a box stating they received no compensation from the sale, which is effective both for getting rubes to listen and for committing securities fraud. “The idiot we used in the beginning, he will NOT post a disclosure again,” Bjorlin allegedly emailed a colleague after an early stumble. To avoid suspicion from the SeekingAlpha readership, the writers published under totally innocuous names like Henry Kawabe, The Swiss Trader and Teresa Dawn.
If the SEC complaint is to be believed, Bjorlin drove a hard bargain. After taking credit for helping the juke the stock of Galena Biopharma (GALE) to a towering $2 a share – referred to by her and the company's CEO as “$2 buck chuck” – at which point she demanded a higher cut:
In April 2012, Bjorlin learned that GALE had completed a financing and again asked GALE’s CEO for bonuses and also for stock options for Lidingo. The basis for her request was that GALE’s stock had performed well due to Lidingo’s “very successful campaign” and Lidingo should be “appropriately compensated for the hard work and risks, as well as performance.” GALE paid a bonus to Lidingo in April 2012. However, GALE’s CEO responded that he needed board approval before giving Lidingo any equity and said that he would raise the issue in a few months. Upon receiving the CEO’s response, Bjorlin suggested to Singh that they let GALE’s stock price drop if they did not receive stock options immediately. Over the succeeding months, Bjorlin continued to ask for options and/or shares for Lidingo.
Here's an example of the fine work that justified the bonus, in which “Glen S. Woods” suggests that a rival Galena commentator might be compromised. Hundreds of these Lidingo posts still proliferate across the internet.
The whole case is a bummer for SeekingAlpha, which has since taken steps to stymie scammers (see their statement here). But the real tragedy is that of Kamilla Bjorlin's business career, cut down in its prime just as she began to show her true potential.