This has been a long time coming. Too long, in my opinion.
GlobeTel Communications (OTC BB: GTEM.PK) has finally gotten its Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission. That means that SEC staff members intend to recommend that the SEC "bring a civil action against the Company for possible violations of the securities laws."
The stakes? Pretty high. According to the company's filing, the SEC is looking at possibly revoking the registration of the company's securities, in addition to "seeking as relief a permanent injunction, civil penalties, and disgorgement with prejudgment interest."
That news cut the company's share price in half today, but don't shed any tears for GlobeTel holders. This company was already delisted from the AMEX, and it's lost nearly all its value since the bad old days of weekly Russian WiMAX press releases and months worth of hype about a non-functional, ultra-high-altitude WiMAX blimp project that never really got off the ground. (For an interesting, non-Fool summary as of February, 2007, check out Kelly Cramer's article.)
What took so long?
I've been writing about this company for a long time. In the beginning, things just looked suspicious. Its technological claims were amazing. If true, it would have meant that a tiny Florida microcap with nearly no R&D budget would outmaneuver the likes of Cisco
More digging turned up some shady deals. Soon, management's hilarious, defensive, semi-literate responses to my opinions (and the great work of Chris Byron up at the New York Post, who was all over this story before I was) convinced me I was right. Months' worth of failed dreams bore my judgment out.
The entire time, GlobeTel was the epicenter of a cavalcade of histrionics, including short-lived "celebrity" directors, an eventual exodus from the management suite, and finally, some amusing public infighting. I began to get phone calls from former GlobeTel bigwigs and their reps, each promising to give me the inside dirt. Recently, ex-insiders seem to be accelerating their efforts to kneecap their former colleagues before the lawsuits rain down.
Nothing changes in pennyland
Throughout it all, nothing ever really got cleaned up. GlobeTel continues to issue meaningless press releases. It holds onto its lost-cause cult of deluded but boisterous (scroll down to "Web of Intrigue") shareholders. And a guy with a long history in seedy penny stocks, ex-corporate counsel Jonathan Leinwand, is the current CEO. (No foolies: one of this guy's companies, something called PGS Pharmaceuticals Group, actually appears as a cautionary tale about foreign boiler rooms in an Australian government pamphlet called the "Little Black Book of Scams.")
Foolish final thought
So now it seems that the SEC will finally try to shut this operation down. That's good news, though I think permanently barring the guys who made this happen from working with any public companies would be even better. But I wouldn't count on it. The SEC tends to take a light touch even with the most egregious stock operators, and the he-says-he-says finger-pointing likely to result from any investigation might make it impossible for the SEC to apportion blame appropriately.
Investors, however, can judge the whole lot guilty enough to avoid. That's why I think they'd do well to keep a Google alert on the entire GlobeTel crew -- names like Paul Taboada, Tim Huff, Peter Khoury, Przemyslaw Kostro, Joe Monterosso, Steven King, Mitch Siegel, Randolph J. Dumas, Jerrold Hinton, Michael Molen, and Lawrence Lynch. Not to mention anyone else who ever held an executive or board position at this outfit, just to keep tabs.
I have a strong suspicion that some of these folks will resurface in the future, with big stories and outstretched palms. Investors beware.