A Canadian company run by a U.S. social-media star faces criminal and civil investigations of accounting fraud in the United States, and is under regulatory investigation in Canada, a court filing has revealed.
Ignite International Brands Ltd., headquartered in Markham, Ont., operated in the Canadian cannabis market until last October. It is run by chief executive officer Dan Bilzerian, a Los Angeles-based Armenian-American poker player and social-media influencer with 33.6 million Instagram followers.
It now focuses on consumer goods that include CBD and vape products, performance drinks, apparel, and spirits such as tequila, vodka and seltzers.
Until it went private on Monday, it traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange under the ticker symbol “BILZ,” for its CEO. At the stock’s peak in 2019, the company had a market capitalization of more than $750-million, but it was worth about $170-million when it stopped trading in both Canada and the United States.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a request with a California court on Monday to compel Ignite to comply with an investigative subpoena it sent the company in May. The court filing and its exhibits reveal Ignite faces multiple subpoenas in the U.S. criminal justice system. In Canada, the company says in court documents that it faces “numerous requests from the regulatory authorities.”
In the court filing, SEC staff attorney Patricia Pei said the agency is seeking information regarding “possible violations of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws” by Ignite. She says SEC staff uncovered information “that indicates [Ignite] may have filed public financial statements that include false or misleading representations” regarding its revenue in 2020.
In a statement posted on its website on Tuesday, the SEC said it “is continuing its fact-finding investigation and, to date, has not concluded that any individual or entity has violated the federal securities laws.”
The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), which forced Ignite to enhance the disclosures in its financial filings earlier this year, declined to comment late Tuesday.
The U.S. court documents detail a back-and-forth between the SEC and Ignite starting before the May 20 subpoena and continuing through an August message from Ignite’s general counsel, Paul Hughes, that said the company had already provided “tens of thousands” of documents to the U.S. Department of Justice in response to a subpoena issued in 2021. (Mr. Hughes did not respond to a request for comment late on Tuesday.)
Mr. Hughes replaced Ignite general counsel Paul Holden, who told the SEC in June he was leaving the company because of a family medical emergency and asked for more time for Ignite to comply.
In an Aug. 1 e-mail attached as an exhibit to the court file, Mr. Hughes asked for the SEC subpoena to be stayed, saying the matters covered by the Justice Department’s subpoena were “highly likely to overlap significantly” with the SEC’s, and that “requiring the company to address civil issues while simultaneously responding to grand jury subpoenas ... seems inappropriate.”
Mr. Hughes said “we are aware of other grand jury subpoenas as well.”
In an Aug. 22 follow-up letter, Mr. Hughes acknowledged the Canadian regulatory queries, but did not say which regulators were asking questions. He said the purpose of the Justice Department’s subpoenas is “unclear to us.”
Mr. Hughes said Mr. Holden’s abrupt departure and his attempts to get up to speed were exacerbating the delays and “perhaps created the impression that Ignite is seeking to avoid addressing the present SEC inquiries, which is not the case.”
The SEC rejected Ignite’s requests to stay the subpoenas, noting the original deadline was June 15.
Mr. Bilzerian has built Ignite’s brand around his outsized lifestyle.
In May, 2020, Bloomberg News reported on a February party at his mansion in Los Angeles where 2,700 guests, including Chance the Rapper, singer the Weeknd and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker enjoyed “a lingerie contest, a tattoo parlor, fire-breathing bartenders and a neon-illuminated sky diver who jumped from a helicopter onto the driveway.” The event was a launch party for a premium vodka containing alkaline water.
Ignite said in October, 2021, it was pulling out of the Canadian cannabis market because there were too many barriers, including the “government’s excessive restrictions.”
In May, Ignite said after a review of its disclosures by the OSC that it was filing an annual report that included a contract between the company and a venture owned by Mr. Bilzerian. It also added multiple items to its management’s discussion and analysis and “remedied prior period reporting deficiencies noted by the OSC” by including more information about measures of profit that aren’t calculated according to generally accepted accounting principles.
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