The curious touting of Kandi Technologies (and Renren … and Gevo… and Emerald Oil…)

The shares of Kandi Technologies Group Inc. (Nasdaq: KNDI) more than doubled last month, aided by an eye-popping surge in volume that followed a routine press release.

Kandi’s stock shot from $3.92 on June 4 to an all-time high of $8.50 on June 11, after the company announced that the Chinese government had approved the electric car it is developing with Geely Automotive Holdings Ltd. for sales and eventual subsidies.

Trading volume on the day that the release came out topped 18.7 million shares, an amount roughly equal to Kandi’s public float. Since then, an additional 82 million shares have changed hands.

Sharesleuth, which previously raised questions about Kandi and the people who helped bring it public, detected a spate of unusual activity on stock message boards and social media sites at the time the company’s shares were surging.

We identified a pattern of postings, on multiple sites under multiple user names, which suggested a coordinated effort to tout Kandi’s shares. Among other things, a group of new posters appeared on the Kandi message board at Yahoo Finance, issuing baseless price targets for the company’s stock, predicting an imminent short squeeze and even suggesting that Kandi was a buyout target.

We noted that several of the posters – “megsboats’’ and “stockticklers,” for instance — were touting three other companies on the Yahoo Finance boards at the same time they were touting Kandi. Those companies were Renren Inc. (NYSE: RENN), the National Bank of Greece (NYSE: NBG) and Tranzbyte Corp. (Pink Sheets: ERBB).

We also noted that at least six Twitter accounts began posting about Kandi, with a common set of messages. Like the posters on Yahoo Finance, the people behind the Twitter accounts touted Renren, National Bank of Greece and Tranzbyte, too.

Their tweets, combined with dozens of additional ones on accounts whose links led to stock-promotion sites, made it appear that Kandi had generated more buzz in social media circles than it actually had.

At the end of that week, just after Kandi’s shares hit new high in intraday trading, something unusual happened. Nearly all of those promotional posts about the company disappeared from the Yahoo boards, along with the posters. The messages promoting Kandi on the Twitter accounts we were watching also were deleted, as were some of the tweets touting Renren, Tranzbyte and the National Bank of Greece.

Although the people behind the tout campaign tried to make the messages disappear, some of their posts were preserved elsewhere, through Google’s caching system and the Nasdaq exchange’s own summary of social media posts about public companies.

Here, for example, is a tweet that was deleted from an account called @canadapetro:

CanadaPetro KNDI

Here is another that was deleted from an account called @LVhotels:

vegas SinCityLV KNDI

Here is a third message, from an account called @GoldMining:

goldsilvermining KNDI

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Stock promoter pleads guilty in $30 million pump-and-dump case

Federal prosecutors have reached a plea agreement with one of 15 people alleged to have participated in an international pump-and-dump ring that netted more than $30 million.

Court records show that Mark Harris, a stock promoter who lives in Arizona, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in one of two related criminal cases. According to a document submitted last week, Harris will not be sentenced until after the trials in those cases, which currently are set for next March and June, respectively.

It is unclear whether Harris has agreed to testify against the other defendants in the case. A filing spelling out the specifics of his plea deal was sealed by the judge.

Prosecutors have identified the architects of the two schemes as Regis M. Possino, a disbarred lawyer with convictions for drug dealing and fraud, and Sherman Mazur, a former real estate mogul who also has a prior conviction for fraud. They once operated from a shared office space in Santa Monica, Calif.

Possino and two other defendants, Edon Moyal and Colin Nix, were spotlighted in previous Sharesleuth investigations (see stories here and here ) .

The indictments announced earlier this year allege that Possino and Mazur headed two intertwined networks that fraudulently inflated the share prices of small public companies before dumping their holdings on unsuspecting investors.

The indictments said the participants in the schemes acquired a large percentage of the shares in those companies and distributed those shares to nominees to conceal their ownership. They boosted the share prices through manipulative trading and misleading press releases, then sold the shares.

Authorities said the schemes defrauded more than 20,000 investors in the United States and abroad. They said the participants in one set of alleged pump-and-dumps reaped more than $18 million, while those in the other made at least $13 million.

Harris, Possino, Moyal and Nix are defendants in both cases.

The public companies used as vehicles in the schemes included Sports Endurance Inc. (OTCBB: SENZ); GenMed Holding Corp. (OTCBB: GENM) and BioStem U.S. Corp. (OTCBB: HAIR).

According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, Harris made a fortune in the 1980s and 1990s working for offshore boiler rooms that used high-pressure sales tactics to sell shares of dubious companies to investors around the world.

Those activities were disclosed as part of a contentious divorce case. More recently, Harris has worked to promote the shares of penny-stock companies. Among other things, he paid others to conduct tout campaigns on behalf of those companies.