SEC charges Meta Materials, former CEOs with market manipulation and fraud

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) today filed charges against Meta Materials Inc. and its former CEOs, John Brda and George Palikaras.

The company has agreed to settle the SEC’s charges in an administrative proceeding, while the SEC’s litigation against Brda and Palikaras will proceed in federal district court.

The SEC’s complaint against Brda and Palikaras alleges that, as a result of a concerted market manipulation scheme, Meta Materials, a Nevada corporation headquartered in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, raised $137.5 million from investors in an at-the-market (ATM) offering in June 2021 immediately prior to the merger of Brda’s Torchlight Energy Resources Inc. and Palikaras’ Metamaterial Inc. that formed Meta Materials.

The SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that Brda and Palikaras planned and conducted the manipulative scheme that included, among other things, issuing a preferred stock dividend immediately before the merger.

The complaint alleges that Brda and Palikaras told certain investors and consultants—and hinted via social media—that the dividend would force short sellers to exit their positions and trigger a “short squeeze” that would artificially raise the price of the company’s common stock.

The SEC further alleges that Brda and Palikaras also misrepresented the company’s efforts to sell its oil and gas assets and distribute proceeds to preferred stockholders, giving investors a false impression of the value of the dividend.

While investors held or bought the company’s common stock to receive the dividend, the complaint alleges, the company was cashing in by selling $137.5 million in an ATM offering at prices that the company, Brda, and Palikaras knew were temporarily inflated by their manipulative scheme. “We have two days,” the complaint alleges Brda told Palikaras after the first day of the ATM offering, “to take advantage of the squeeze…”

The SEC’s complaint charges Brda and Palikaras with violating the antifraud and proxy disclosure provisions of the federal securities laws, and charges Brda with aiding and abetting Meta Materials’s violations of the reporting, internal accounting controls, and books and records provisions.

The complaint seeks permanent injunctions, officer-and-director bars, and civil penalties from both defendants. The complaint also seeks disgorgement with pre-judgment interest from Brda.

The SEC also instituted a separate administrative proceeding against Meta Materials, entering a settled order finding that Meta Materials violated the antifraud, reporting, internal accounting controls, and books and records provisions of the federal securities laws. Without admitting or denying the findings, Meta Materials was ordered to cease and desist from violations of the relevant provisions of the federal securities laws and to pay a $1,000,000 penalty.

A separate Commission investigation regarding subsequent events related to Meta Materials (MMTLP) remains ongoing.