Kandi Technologies Group Inc.: The return of the cyber shills

Last June, shares of Kandi Technologies Group Inc. (Nasdaq: KNDI) doubled in the space of a week, spurred on by a mysterious network of social-media touters who later deleted their posts or shut down their accounts entirely.

Kandi’s stock went on another big run this summer, and the cyber shills were back with a vengeance. Sharesleuth turned up more than 40 related accounts at StockTwits.com that have touted the Chinese vehicle maker and certain other companies. We found more than 100 accounts at Yahoo.com’s finance site that promoted the same set of stocks.

Kandi’s shares jumped from $14 in early July to a record $22.49 on July 22, aided by a steady stream of positive press releases, as well as a flood of bullish posts on StockTwits and other investment-related message boards.

Sharesleuth’s investigation found that:

  • Most, if not all, of the suspect StockTwits accounts that touted Kandi listed false names for the purported posters. Many of the profile shots used with the accounts were lifted from free photo sites, dating sites, news sites and other sources.

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  • A stock promoter with a criminal past has been one of the most prolific posters on the Kandi boards at StockTwits, Yahoo.com’s Finance site and InvestorsHub.com. The suspect accounts at StockTwits and Yahoo duplicated some of his posts.
  • The coordinated posting ended abruptly in late August, just before Kandi announced it was selling $71 million in stock to undisclosed investors, at a 10 percent discount to the market price. The touting last year also preceded a share placement.
  • After Sharesleuth tried to contact the posters via StockTwits, most of them quickly changed their account names, logos and other profile information.

In the six weeks after the suspect accounts stopped posting about Kandi, the company’s share price fell by nearly a third, and daily trading volume declined as well. But on Monday (Oct. 6), the touters resumed their efforts. They reappeared just minutes before Kandi’s stock went on a sudden tear, rising from $13.50 to more than $15 in roughly two hours.

The touters posted more than 70 messages on StockTwits and Yahoo between 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., using nearly 20 different aliases. They continued posting into the evening and early the next morning (Oct. 7) (To see screen captures, click here and here)

MULTIPLE ACCOUNTS, MULTIPLE IDENTITIES

The so-called sock puppet accounts at StockTwits have generated roughly 4,000 messages since May — nearly all of them focused on the same 15 or so companies. Sharesleuth’s investigation found that many of the posts also showed up on the message boards at Yahoo.com’s Finance site, some under corresponding account names and some under different ones. We reviewed two years of postings on Yahoo’s Kandi board and various other boards and identified at least 120 accounts that have been used to systematically tout the same set of companies as the StockTwits posters.

Those accounts are responsible for more than 35,000 posts since the start of 2012.

ANOTHER RED FLAG

The existence of the touting operation is another red flag for investors who might be eyeing Kandi, which is based in Jinhua and makes electric cars, go-karts, all-terrain vehicles and other products.

Sharesleuth previously has raised questions about the accuracy of Kandi’s sales figures, particularly its claim to have sold thousands of electric cars in the United States. We also exposed the hidden role a Canadian stock promoter named S. Paul Kelley played in the reverse mergers that brought Kandi and 10 other Chinese companies public.

In May, the SEC brought fraud charges against Kelley and four other defendants, alleging that they concealed their ownership stakes in two of the reverse-merger companies – China Auto Logistics Inc. (Nasdaq: CALI) and Guanwei Recycling Corp. (Nasdaq: GPRC). The SEC said they artificially inflated those companies’ share prices through manipulative trading, then made millions of dollars by dumping their stock in public and private sales.

Kelley and another defendant, Roger D. Lockhart, quickly settled the charges by agreeing to pay more than $9.3 million in disgorgement, penalties and interest.

The SEC also alleged in its complaint that Lockhart and two other defendants engaged in a scheme to manipulate Kandi’s stock price in the fall of 2009. The SEC said Kandi’s chief executive, Xiaoming Hu, agreed that the company would provide 350,000 shares to pay for the effort. It said one of the defendants, George Tazbaz, later provided that same number of shares to stock promoters.

Kandi disclosed in March that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating the company and had subpoenaed certain documents. It said in its latest quarterly financial report, on Aug. 11, that the probe was still active.

Kandi’s stock closed Monday at $14.50. That gives the company a market capitalization of roughly $670 million, down from a peak of $940 million.

(Mark Cuban, majority owner of Sharesleuth.com LLC, has recently taken a short position in Kandi’s shares. Chris Carey, editor of Sharesleuth, does not invest in individual stocks and has no position in Kandi.)

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Telestone Technologies revisited: SEC letters reveal doubts about revenues and receivables

Recently released letters between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Telestone Technologies Corp. (Pink Sheets: TSTC) show that regulators have significant concerns about the Chinese wireless communication company’s reported revenues.

The letters show that the SEC’s corporation finance division began questioning Telestone in September 2012 about its sales contracts with customers and its soaring accounts receivable. Telestone’s balance sheet at the end of that month listed its receivables at $276.3 million, before adjustments for doubtful accounts. That equaled three-fourths of the revenue it reported for 2009, 2010, 2011 and the first nine months of 2012.

The SEC asked Telestone to explain why it was so certain those receivables would be paid, given that its average collection time was rising, along with the amount owed. Last summer, after months of unsatisfactory answers, the SEC ordered Telestone to provide a schedule of all receivables originated between Jan. 1, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2012.

It said that schedule was to include:

  • The name of the customer
  • The date the final contract was signed
  • The amount due under the contract
  • The receivable created upon signing
  • The contractual terms for payment
  • The amounts and dates of payments

Telestone – which has been the subject of several previous Sharesleuth stories (see here here and here) did not provide the information, citing non-disclosure agreements. Instead, it simply submitted a list of receivables by geographic territory, with no additional details .

In November, the SEC told Telestone that unless it could show that the contracts and payments were solid, it should change its revenue-recognition method, restate its 2011 financials and announce that its results from prior years should no longer be relied upon.

Telestone did neither. So in February, the corporation finance division told Telestone it was ending its review and would take further action “consistent with our obligations under the federal securities laws.” That included posting the letters.

TIES TO MANIPULATION RING

Telestone was one of 11 Chinese companies that stock promoter S. Paul Kelley helped to bring public through reverse mergers with U.S.-listed shell companies.

The SEC brought fraud charges last month against Kelley and four others in connection with two of those deals. It said in its complaint that Kelley and the others concealed the large ownership stakes they received in Guanwei Recycling Corp. (Nasdaq: GPRC) and China Auto Logistics Inc. (Nasdaq: CALI), artificially inflated share prices through manipulative trading, then reaped millions by selling much of their stock.

Kelley already has settled the case, agreeing to pay more than $6.2 million in disgorgement, penalties and interest.

A third company Kelley helped to bring public, Kandi Technologies Group Inc. (Nasdaq: KNDI) disclosed earlier this year that it was the subject of an SEC investigation.

(Mark Cuban, majority owner of Sharesleuth.com LLC, has no position, short or long, in any of the companies mentioned in this story. Chris Carey, editor of Sharesleuth, does not invest in individual stocks and has no position in any of the companies mentioned.)

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Guanwei Recycling Corp. and Kandi Technologies Group Inc.: The Rui Wang Connection

A Chinese businessman who figures into a fraud case involving Guanwei Recycling Corp. (Nasdaq: GPRC) also has an intriguing connection to Kandi Technologies Group Inc. (Nasdaq: KNDI), whose shares were allegedly manipulated by the same group.

Securities and Exchange Commission filings show that the man, Rui Wang, is a member of Guanwei Recycling’s board of directors and was a consultant to Kandi.

The SEC brought charges last month against stock promoter S. Paul Kelley and four associates, saying they engaged in illegal schemes to bring Gaunwei Recycling and China Auto Logistics Inc. (Nasdaq: CALI) public in the United States.  The SEC said in its complaint that they concealed large ownership stakes they received through reverse-merger transactions, artificially inflated share prices through manipulative trading, then reaped millions by selling stock on the open market and in private transactions.

Kelley also helped Kandi go public, through a similarly structured reverse-merger deal that put large blocks of stock in the hands of undisclosed parties. He and another defendant, Roger D. Lockhart, already have settled the charges against them, agreeing to pay a combined $9.3 million in disgorgement, penalties and interest.

Guanwei Recycling and China Auto Logistics emphasized that they have not been accused of wrongdoing. But the SEC complaint, along with our additional research, raises further questions about their involvement in the Kelley group’s schemes.

For example:

–  The complaint said Kelley had “de facto control” over Chenxin International Ltd., which paid the U.S. legal, accounting, listing and investor-relations expenses for Guanwei Recycling, a plastics processor based in Fuqing.  Guanwei Recycling, however, has always said in its SEC filings that Chenxin International was controlled by Wang. The company described him as a longtime friend of its chairman and chief executive, Chen Min.

– The complaint said Lockhart and another defendant met with Kandi’s chief executive, Xiaoming Hu, in September 2009 and agreed to pay promoters to tout the company, and to boost its stock price through manipulative trading. Hu allegedly agreed that Kandi would provide an additional 350,000 shares to pay for the program. SEC filings show that a few weeks later, Kandi awarded a business-development contract to Wang and another man. They were to be paid with options to buy 350,000 shares of Kandi’s stock.

– The complaint said Kelley controlled Sino Peace Ltd., which covered the U.S. expenses for China Auto Logistics, a vehicle importer with headquarters in Tianjin. The complaint said Kelley also controlled another company, Easy Fame Asia Ltd. Sharesleuth previously reported that Easy Fame Asia got an unexplained distribution of stock in 2011 from an entity that held millions of shares for China Auto Logistics’ chief executive, Tong Shiping, and his wife, Cheng Weihong, also a senior executive and board member.

The timing of Kandi’s contract with Wang, and the number of shares involved, could be a coincidence. But given the charges against Kelly and his associates — and Kelley’s link to Wang at Guanwei Recycling — the deal might deserve additional regulatory scrutiny.

(Mark Cuban, majority owner of Sharesleuth.com LLC, has no position, short or long, in any of the companies mentioned in this story. Chris Carey, editor of Sharesleuth.com, does not invest in individual stocks and has no position in any of the companies.)

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SEC brings fraud charges against promoters of China Auto Logistics and Guanwei Recycling; also alleges manipulation of Kandi Technologies Group stock

The Securities and Exchange Commission brought fraud charges against S. Paul Kelley, a stock promoter who orchestrated a series of reverse mergers between Chinese companies and U.S.-listed shells.

The SEC said in its complaint that Kelley and certain associates secretly acquired control of the shell companies used in two of the reverse mergers, concealed their holdings in the post-merger companies, manipulated the share prices and then sold millions of dollars of stock at inflated prices.

The two companies that were used as vehicles for the schemes are China Auto Logistics Inc. (Nasdaq: CALI), an automobile importer based in Tiajin, and Guanwei Recycling Corp. (Nasdaq: GPRC), a plastics recycler in Fuqing.

The SEC said some of the defendants also engaged in a scheme to artificially inflate the share price and trading volume for a third Chinese company that Kelley helped bring public – Kandi Technologies Group Inc. (Nasdaq: KNDI).

The SEC’s complaint implicated Kandi’s chairman and chief executive officer, Xiaoming Hu, in that scheme, which began in late 2009. It said he provided 350,000 shares of stock to two of the defendants, who agreed to pay stock promoters to tout Kandi and to orchestrate a manipulation campaign to lift the shares to a predetermined price.

Over the next few months, Kandi’s stock quadrupled, and volume also soared.

PREVIOUS QUESTIONS

Kelley’s activities were the subject of Sharesleuth investigations in 2011 and 2012 (see stories here, here, here and here).

Kelley, a Canadian who lives in the suburbs of Toronto, agreed to settle the charges related to China Auto Logistics and Guanwei Recycling and will pay more than $6 million in disgorgement, penalties and interest.

The SEC said that a second defendant, a former stockbroker from Arkansas named Roger D. Lockhart, also agreed to a settlement that calls for him to pay more than $3 million.

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SEC probe of Kandi Technologies has risen to a formal investigation

The Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting a formal investigation of Kandi Technologies Corp. (Nasdaq: KNDI), a Chinese company that has been the subject of several Sharesleuth stories.

Kandi did not mention the investigation in the press release it issued last week to announce its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings. Instead, it disclosed the probe in its annual SEC filing, in the middle of a long list of potential risk factors.

Kandi offered no details on the nature of the investigation, which began in November. It said only that it was furnishing documents and other information to the SEC’s regional office in Denver.

“As indicated in the subpoena, the investigation is a fact-finding inquiry and does not mean that the Company or anyone has broken the law,’’ Kandi said in the filing. “The Company has cooperated, and is cooperating fully, with the SEC in this matter and will continue to supply the SEC with whatever additional information and material that is requested.”

The fact that the SEC has issued a subpoena indicates that the probe has moved beyond the informal stage and now is classified as a formal investigation; According to a guide on the SEC’s website, its enforcement attorneys cannot issue subpoenas unless the commission authorizes a formal investigation.

A formal order of investigation allows the SEC’s enforcement staff to compel testimony from officers, directors and employees, as well as third parties, such as suppliers, customers and other business partners.

Kandi noted in the annual filing that it does not anticipate a negative result. But it also said it could provide no assurance “that any final resolution of this investigation will not have a material and adverse effect on the Company’s financial condition and results of operations.”

STOCK HITS NEW HIGH

Kandi’s stock jumped more than $4 last Monday, to a record closing price of $21.41, after the company put out its earnings release. Kandi said revenue for the fourth-quarter was up more than 90 percent from the same period a year earlier, primarily because of a surge in electric vehicle sales tied to a Zipcar-like rental program in China.

Kandi said revenue for the full year rose 46 percent, to $94.5 million. But the company posted a net loss of $21.1 million, largely because of changes in the fair value of warrants issued in connection with share placements.

Kandi’s stock has given back most of the post-earnings gain, in part because the company announced the sale of 606,000 additional shares, priced at $18.24. The deal generated $11 million in proceeds, before fees and expenses.

Kandi’s stock closed Thursday at $15.70, giving the company a market capitalization of roughly $630 million. However, its shares moved sharply higher in early trading Friday, reaching a peak of $17.48.

QUESTIONS ABOUT VEHICLE SALES

A Sharesleuth investigation in 2011 raised questions about Kandi’s claim that it sold more than 3,700 of its electric vehicles in the United States the previous two years.

Our survey of dealers, distributors and others familiar with Kandi’s activities found that fewer than 1,000 Americans had purchased the company’s low-speed, golf cart-like vehicles in that period.

The wide discrepancy between the figures was significant because electric-vehicle sales accounted for roughly 20 percent of Kandi’s reported revenue for 2009 and 2010. In addition, Kandi raised more than $26 million through share placements that relied partly on representations about the progress of the car business.

Kandi said at the time that it stood by its sales numbers. But it later disclosed in a footnote in its 2012 annual report that more than half of the cars it sold in 2010 were actually gas-powered rather than electric.

That revelation meant that Kandi’s electric-vehicle sales dropped significantly from 2009. It also meant that it would have been impossible for the company to have sold 1,005 electric cars in the second quarter of 2010 — as it claimed in its earnings release for that period —  because the total number that it sold for the entire year was just 658.

Sharesleuth reported last year that U.S. customs records also contradicted the sales claims that Kandi made in its quarterly and annual SEC filings.

Kandi reported selling more than 4,600 electric cars from 2009 through 2011, primarily in the United States. But customs records showed that fewer than 1,200 Kandi-branded cars came through American ports in that time.

QUESTIONS ABOUT STOCK TRANSACTIONS

Sharesleuth also has reported extensively on certain elements of the reverse-merger transaction that gave Kandi a listing on the U.S. markets in 2007.

We found that a little-known Canadian named S. Paul Kelley and several equally anonymous partners helped package Kandi and other Chinese companies for reverse mergers, prepare them for U.S. listings and promote them afterward.

In some cases, the people behind the deals fronted the legal, accounting and investor-relations expenses for the companies.

In return for their assistance, Kelley and the other participants in the venture got millions of shares of stock at low, pre-market prices. Their roles were not discussed in the companies’ SEC filings, nor were the share deals disclosed.

Sharesleuth also found that millions of shares that purportedly went to the top officers of the shell companies used in the reverse-merger deals appear to have been transferred to other parties, with little or no disclosure.

AN UNPAID DEBT DISAPPEARS

Kandi’s latest annual filing contained another unusual note related to the 2007 reverse merger.

Kandi said it was unilaterally canceling an $841,251 debt it owed to a former shareholder that had covered certain expenses related to the merger and the company’s U.S. market listing.

Kandi said that the shareholder, Ever Lotts Investment Ltd., had provided the funding under an oral agreement and had never requested repayment. Kandi said it recently tried to contact Ever Lotts regarding the debt, but was unable to do so.

Kandi said that given the amount time that had elapsed since the money was advanced – and the inaction by Ever Lotts — any future claim for repayment would likely be barred by the statute of limitations.

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT?

When Sharesleuth went looking for Ever Lotts, we found its name in a January SEC filing related to another U.S.-listed Chinese company.

According to the filing, Ever Lotts purchased roughly 850,000 shares of China Recycling Energy Corp. (Nasdaq: CREG) from another entity that ranked among that company’s biggest shareholders.

The filing said that Ever Lotts paid $1.28 million, or $1.50 a share, to Great Essential Investments Ltd. under an agreement that was signed on Sept. 20.

The filing also said that a second entity, Keen Merit Investments Ltd., bought 2 million shares of China Recycling Energy from Great Essential Investments for $1.50 a share.

Sharesleuth’s previous investigation into Kandi and 10 other Chinese reverse-merger companies that were packaged and promoted by the same group of players found that Keen Merit was among the parties that received stock through those deals.

SEC filings show that Keen Merit got shares in at least three of those companies – Telestone Technologies Corp. (Nasdaq: TSTC), New Oriental Energy & Chemical Corp. (formerly Nasdaq: NOEC) and China INSOnline Corp. (formerly Nasdaq: CHIO).

Kandi’s inability to make contact with Ever Lotts is puzzling given that Kandi’s U.S. law firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, also represents China Recycling Energy and presumably could have asked that company for help.

The lawyer at the firm who usually represents Kandi did not respond to a request for comment.

China Recycling Energy’s stock has risen sharply since Ever Lotts and Keen Merit entered into their share purchase agreements. If the two are still holding their stock, they are ahead nearly $8 million on their original $4.3 million investment.