Broker Sued by SEC Over Bogus Google, Disney Takeover Claims

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued a New York broker, claiming he tried to manipulate stock prices with phony press releases announcing takeovers by Google Inc. (GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Walt Disney Co. (DIS)

Lambros Ballas, 34, a resident of Merrick, New York, arranged to publish the statements in late September and early this month, then posed as an investor on Yahoo! Inc.’s online message boards to call attention to them, the SEC wrote in a complaint filed today at federal court in San Jose, California. Shares of target companies were purchased by him or in his clients’ accounts before some of the bogus bids, the SEC said.

“This fraud is really so brazen that we wanted to act to protect other investors,” said Mike Dicke, a San Francisco- based SEC attorney who oversaw the case. “Potential market reaction can be so extreme that whether or not people bought” because of the releases “is not the legal test.”

The SEC said it doesn’t know whether Ballas has an attorney. An Internet phone directory had no number listed for a Lambros Ballas in Merrick.

On Sept. 30, Ballas arranged for a false press release announcing that Burbank, California-based Disney, the world’s largest media company, agreed to pay $1.5 billion for Imax Corp. (IMX), the chain of giant-screen movie theaters, the SEC said. Mississauga, Ontario-based Imax denied the report in a statement that day.

On Oct. 1, Ballas posted a press release to a Web site, claiming that Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, had agreed to buy Internet search engine Local.com, the SEC said. A day later, he released a statement claiming Mountain View, California-based Google, owner of the most popular Internet search engine, was buying Local.com.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Scheer in New York at dscheer@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alec D.B. McCabe at amccabe@bloomberg.net.

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