Hedgies Bruce Bernstein, Brian Daly & Richard Abbe accused of stock manipulation in XpresSpa: $XSPA

Richard Abbe of Iroquois Capital and Bruce Bernstein of Rockmore Capital are back in the hot seat. In a new lawsuit filed this week the hedge fund duo stand accused of recently manipulating the stock of an airport spa business called XpresSpa. Last week $XSPA caught the attention of day traders when it had a wild run up of near 160% percent closing on Wednesday at an all time high for the year. Then it dropped of a cliff the next morning and is still trading down. There are also accusation of certain stock holders getting non-public material information ahead of the public. If a trade to sell stock was executed on the non-public information that would be the basis for an insider trading charge. Bernstein is currently the chairman of the board at XpresSpa and Abbe was a former director of the board and owns stock in the company.

The alleged motives of Abbe and Bernstein to move the stock price up for one day stems from the need for the hedgies to get rid of a group of institutional investors who were senior in the debt structure of the company via a $4 million PIPE sold in May 2018. Abbe, Bernstein, and another Rockmore partner, Brian Daly, hold interest in a prior $6.5 million debt, call the Rockmore note, that could force the company into bankruptcy and take the most valuable asset the company has, which is a large group of commercial leases at airports around the world.

Bernstein’s long time investing partner at Rockmore, Brian Daly, is also named in the suit. The shareholder derivative suit filed in the southern district of New York, on June 30th, was brought by investors Moreton and Marisol Binn. The Binns are founders of XpresSpa but are no longer involved in operations of the company. This is the second lawsuit they have brought against Abbe and Bernstein for accusation of securities fraud. The first case, which was exclusively reported by this publication last year, is currently at the appellate court. The former CEO of the company, Andrew Perlman, and other interested directors were also named in the new lawsuit.

Since Team Bernstein took over XpresSpa, the Binns say capital raising that dilutes past shareholders has been on the forefront of the board’s plan. There is always a verbal promise of using the funds the pay off the Rockmore Note or grow the spa business at the 56 lease locations but it never happens. Instead the company entered into death spiral financing sold to funds who get favorable interest and warrant terms, at the expense of main street investors, in the company. Last year Bernstein and his board used Michael Hartstein of Palladium Capital to sell a PIPE investment. Palladium has been the main investment bank and placement agent for pump and dump bad actor Barry Honig. (Honig was sued in September 2018 for a massive pump and dump scheme in multiple stocks by the SEC and has recently agreed to be banned from penny stocks in a settlement with the securities regulator.) According to a fund that invested in the PIPE, half of the $4.4 million raised in the PIPE offering was sold to Honig’s investing partner and co-defendant in the SEC case Alpha Capital Anstalt–a fund who hides its investors names and operates out of Lietchenstein. Hartstein pitched the other investors in the fund they only needed to put up $500k to get in the deal, according to an investor in the deal.

On May 15, 2018, the $XSPA Directors (that includes Abbe and Bernstein) caused the Company to close on the PIPE offerings for the sale of up to an aggregate principal of $4,428,000 with 5% interest payment on secured convertible notes due on November 16, 2019. If the PIPE wasn’t paid it could be converted to common stock at a price of $12.40. PIPE stands for private investment in a public entity. Recent SEC filings disclosed the other investors in the PIPE were, Anson Investments Master Funds, Brio Capital Master Fund, The Hewlett Fund, IntraCostal Capital, L1 Capital Global Opportunities Master Fund, and Palladium Capital Advisers. Richard Abbe’s Iroquois has been a friendly investor with Alpha Capital Anstalt. Both funds were named in an SEC Subpoena asking questions about their trading as an undisclosed affiliate in MGT Capital. Alpha Capital Anstalt paid a near $1 million penalty to the SEC for their role in that deal and is currently under orders not violate further SEC rules. IntraCostal is also another friend to Honig and Abbe. It’s believed to be run behind the scenes by Mitchel Kopin formerly of Cranshire Capital.

Through out the last year XpresSpa has paid the interest on the PIPE deal and the funds have converted some of the debt to stock. Then around mid May of this year Hartstein reached out to the PIPE investors saying the company wants to restructure the price of the common stock conversion but no details were ever follow up on. According to an investor in the fund they didn’t hear back from Hartstein until the day of the stock run. After the market closed on Wednesday, June 26 the PIPE investors were offered what they thought was a sweetheart deal. The stock had just closed at $4.71. So when Hartstein called to say the company would go as low as $2.48 if everyone converted their debt to common stock and got out of the company they jumped on it. (The PIPE investors actually still hold warrants in XpresSpa.)

There could be questions now on if the company should have put out an 8-k that night announcing the material change, which would add near a million shares to the market with the conversion. The 8-K likely would have had main street shareholders dumping stock Wednesday night in after market trading. Instead main-street investors didn’t hear about it till an 8-K was filed with the SEC around 9am. I reached out to investors in the PIPE deal and no one responded for comment on the record. One fund said they sold after the 8-K was filed and didn’t make money on the conversion.

I emailed one of Bernstein’s attorneys asking if they told the PIPE investors when they would put out the 8-K. Bernstein was also informed I knew about the timing of the restructured PIPE deal. His attorney has refused answer or comment on this as of press time. If the new lawsuit makes it to the stage of discovery I would expect there to be subpoenas of trading records to see if there was trading on non-public information by any of the pipe investors or directors of the company, or former directors like Abbe, ahead of the dump on Thursday.

Bernstein’s Temporary Restraining Order
On Monday there was a hearing in the first case the Binns brought in front of Judge Stanton. I attended it. Bernstein sent four lawyers from two different law firms who sat across from the Binns one attorney Michael Maloney. Michael has a co-counsel Rosanne Felicello who was out of town. The hearing was to determine if the temporary restraining order issued on April 28th against Bernstein and the Rockmore Note was going to be lifted. You can read the backstory on the TRO drama here. An attorney, who only does deal transactions and is not a trail lawyer, showed up as one of Bernstein’s four lawyers. Attorney Brian Haskel had not put in an appearance with the court. He said he was there representing Bernstein personally and is with the firm Sills Cummins & Gross. Bernstein’s other lawyers told the Judge Stanton that Haskel was there because he knows the most about the Rockmore Note. In the middle of the hearing attorney Haskel blurted out to Judge Stanton that the company has “Gotten rid of an aggressive lender” and called Alpha Capital Anstalt a bad fund. Haskel was trying to convince the judge that by converting the remaining $2.4 million of the PIPE deal it would help the company with its going concern auditors opinion. The judge was asking about the Rockmore Note though and had to scold attorney Haskel twice. Once for making a scowl at him and the other for talking as a sidebar when he was asking questions. When I reached Haskel by phone the next day to clarify if he was also at the hearing speaking for another corporate entity he said no he was only there to represent Bernstein personally.

Haskel’s answer is odd because a review of SEC filings made last year shows Haskel is named as the deal attorney to send communication to for Rockmore and was the lawyer on the original Rockmore note sold to XpresSpa. Bernstein had to remove himself as having any management control of the fund(it’s called B3D) he moved the Rockmore note into. B3D was owned by Bernstein and Daly. Bernstein even signed an affidavit submitted to the court saying he is not in control of management decisions for the note that could cause XpresSpa to file bankruptcy. He did this in hopes of Judge Stanton lifting the TRO because Stanton had previously said Bernstein would be breaching his fiduciary duty as chairman of XpresSpa if he was also acting as the decision maker calling in the Rockmore Note that would bankrupt the company. In a series of emails back and forth with attorney Haskel I tried to get a straight answer out of him regarding why Bernstein’s personal attorney was there to speak as an expert about the Rockmore note if Bernstein wasn’t really in charge of the Rockmore note anymore. I didn’t get a straight answer.

Attorney Haskel did want me to print this statement from him though.”There appears to be a misunderstanding of a statement I made at the hearing yesterday. In responding to Judge Stanton’s inquiry, I conveyed that Alpha was an aggressive lender, i.e. a lender that would extend credit to a business in XpresSpa’s position, and in that context made the point that permitting Alpha to convert its debt to equity improved XpresSpa’s capital structure.” The transcript will show he didn’t actually explain any of that context to Judge Stanton though. And if his client, Bernstein, really thinks this then why did they sell the PIPE deal to Alpha Capital Anstalt in the first place.

Judge Stanton kept the TRO in place and said he will lift it if the fund that is in charge of the Rockmore note now finishes a deal to extend the maturity date of the note to 2021 as the company alluded will happen in their last 8-k. He basically wasn’t going to let Team Bernstein run free until they actually did what they said in the 8-k. The hearing was considered a temporary win for the Binns and main street shareholders but they still have an uphill battle to get rid of the alleged bad actors running the company. Judge Stanton also told Andrew Perlman’s lawyer from Boise Schiller that he will not dismiss the case in it entirety until the TRO decision is done and all the defendants will be dismissed at one time. The XpresSpa defendants put out a PR statement saying the first Binns case is dismissed but that’s not true and anyone can see this if they review the court docket. The defendants did win a summary judgement decision to throw out the securities fraud claims for the reverse takeover merger that I previously reported. But given that decision in now with an federal appeals court it’s not accurate for the company or the directors to say the case is over.

The Short Squeeze
XpresSpa’s one day stock run last week baffled day traders who started speculating on Stocktwits and other stock messaging boards that XpresSpa was going to be in the Bitcoin business. That’s not true though because the company sold it’s bitcoin/blockchain assets to a company that was heavily invested in by Barry Honig called Marathon Patent Group ($MARA) back in January 2018. Instead the stock run is alleged to have happen by something much more nefarious.

The Company’s stock has consistently traded below $3.00 since March 2019. On June 25, 2019, the price of the Company’s stock closed at $1.82. Between June 25, 2019 and open of the market on the morning June 26, 2019, however, the volume of short interest in the Company’s stock spiked from 1,180 to 2,877,376. The magnitude of short interest created a short squeeze causing the price of the stock to skyrocket on June 26, 2019 to as high as 158% from the prior close. That day, the stock closed at $4.71, representing a gain of 129% from the last close. No news concerning the Company had been reported on June 26, 2019 and the Company made no filings with the SEC on that day, wrote attorney Maloney for the Binns to the court on Monday July 1st.

According to the lawsuit, by artificially driving down the company’s value below the balance of the $6.5 million Rockmore note, the defendants could try to “foreclose on the lease portfolio, convert the Rockmore note into stock at artificially depressed prices, or simply purchase stock for themselves as artificially depressed prices.”

The Rockmore note investors’s plan alleged in the lawsuit is on track, between January 4, 2017 and June 28 2019, the stock price of XpresSpa dropped by more than 95 percent, falling from $42.79 to $1.94 per share, according to the lawsuit. Michael Maloney of CRK Law, the Binn’s attorney, wrote they think the value of the airport lease portfolio is between $19 million and $39 million, but the directors of the company did not disclose this in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Instead because of a one time goodwill impairment charge last year of around $19 million the company claims its worth only around $3.6 million.

There has been some creative accounting and planing surrounding the value of the Airport Leases. For any accounting geeks out there what the XpresSpa directors did is pretty interesting leverage of a pending accounting rule change. It hinges on two things: The true net value of the leases analysis and the cost of carry and payoff of the note and how that impacts a going concern. Some might call it ingenious planing and accounting but whether it is fraud/manipulation depends on the actual numbers.

The new shareholder derivative lawsuit is going to need discovery and a forensic accounting if it plans to get past summary judgement this time.

Editors Note: This story has been updated 7-4-19.
A trade publication covering commercial real estate, called The Real Deal, has also figured out the XpresSpa directors shenanigans make for interesting news and ran a story on the new lawsuit that you can read here. After the story ran XpresSpa finally deiced to make a statement on the record. North Carolina resident Brian Daly is obviously upset that he was named in a lawsuit about XpresSpa stock manipulation and got the company to make a glowing statement about him being a ‘respected’ lender. Brian his wife Helen also have their own holistic spa business recently opened in Charlotte, North Carolina called The Invigory. If the Binns get discovery in the new lawsuit it will be really interesting to see if there is evidence that it’s always been Brian Daly working behind the scenes directing Bruce Bernstein to execute the alleged takeover plan.


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  1. Did you see the statement xspa just put out about this ..
    stated it’s viable to xspa employees and shareholder lol
    I’m a shareholder and with the price of my holdings in xspa after 3 reverse splits I would really like to know how the company can even think to put that in a statement .. I have shares now valued at 9xx.xx$ in my portfolio.. can you help the retail shareholder to get some return on this company of crooks and help protect the 600 employees that are or are going to possibly get the shaft ..
    I know several smaller retail investors that had to sell for a massive loss and pretty much damn near destroyed their lives ..

  2. You want to solidify your standing as the most serious business investigative journalist in the United States? Then write a book on Xspa’s grandfather, Vringo. That was a small company (call them “David”) which slew Google (call them “Goliath”) in a court in East Texas because Google stole Vringo’s technology and with it became Google as we know it and made billions with what they stole. You need someone with deep pockets to support you, because the evil actions of Google in this case reached all the way into the Supreme Court. If you wrote this book, it would become the most important investigative financial writing in the 21st Century, bar none.

    • That would be a great idea … that court case was a massive cluster F … to find a ton of info including pacer documents , company PR’s and much much more ! Got to vrgn24 blog word press and those years all the way up the beginning of XSPA .. The Blog ended because the guy that started it lost a ton of money being forced to dump for Financial reason almost losing his house and his wife ..
      another older lady I know , ended up dumping to salvage anything she could after all the reverse splits the company has done . It was here retirement 401k she used to buy with ..
      I am personally still holding my a good portion of shares to this date after going through 3 reverse splits and they are on the verge of a fourth RS as I type ..Nasdaq Non Compliance letter was already received … they are scamming , lying and manipulating shareholders and the stock ,, the same pattern every time ,,, PARTNER , DILUTE THEN REVERSE SPILT amongst other things …

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