It’s the curious case of an 81-year-old biotech billionaire hooking up with Bitcoin bulls, and the partnership leading to all of them getting sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Phillip Frost, who made a fortune from drug-development companies, teamed up with cryptocurrency investors Barry Honig and John O’Rourke to drive up penny stocks, the SEC said. One tactic was commissioning glowing articles on Seeking Alpha about companies the three owned shares in, while highlighting Frost’s involvement to show a wealthy and successful investor was a backer.
Honig of Boca Raton, Florida led the group by buying large blocks of penny stocks at steep discounts from 2013 to 2018, according to the allegations in a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in Manhattan. The group would then promote the companies to push share prices higher, while secretly selling their stock at inflated values.
The agency said the group manipulated the stocks of companies including Miami-based Opko Health Inc., which is led by Frost. Shares of the health-care company fell as much as 28 percent Friday before trading was halted.
Opko issued a statement late Friday saying the SEC’s lawsuit includes “serious factual inaccuracies,” and that the regulator filed it without giving the company advance notice.
“Opko and Dr. Frost would gladly have provided information that would have answered a number of the SEC’s apparent questions,” the company said in the statement. Opko and Frost “are confident that once a proper investigation is completed and the facts of the case have been fully disclosed, the matter will be resolved favorably for them.”
Honig’s lawyer didn’t respond to an email, and a call to Riot Blockchain Inc., where O’Rourke is chief executive officer, wasn’t returned.
O’Rourke is known in cryptocurrency circles because he runs Riot Blockchain, whose shares surged last year after it changed its name from Bioptix Inc. The company also overhauled its business from making diagnostic machinery for biotech firms to investing in digital coins.
Honig owns as much as 10 percent of Riot Blockchain. The company’s shares plunged 24 percent Friday.
Frost is a former dermatology professor, who, over a four-decade career got rich investing in and running then-small drug-development companies. He eventually rose to be chairman of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
He and his wife, Patricia, have been among the most prolific and visible philanthropists in South Florida. The University of Miami’s prestigious Frost School of Music is named in their honor, as is the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in a newly developed bayside complex.