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Pretenders And Ghosts: Stealth Promotion Network Exploits Financial Sites To Tout Stocks

Sharesleuth profile picture


  • A small army of writers, both real and imaginary, has produced nearly 600 bullish articles about companies backed by financier Barry C. Honig.
  • The same group has produced almost 100 promotional pieces about clients of IRTH Communications, an investor relations firm.
  • Many of the featured stocks fell sharply after reaching promotion-fueled highs.
  • Those names included VBI Vaccines, 22nd Century Group, U.S. Gold Corp., Vuzix, Mabvax Therapeutics and Global Blockchain Technologies.
  • The articles and the methods employed are nearly identical to those that led the SEC to charge 27 individuals and entities last year, including three public companies and their CEOs.

Meet George Ronan. Again and again and again.

The George Ronan who talked up a succession of small public companies at Seeking Alpha described himself as a university lecturer in the United Kingdom with an interest in technology stocks.

The George Ronan whose articles appear on MarketExclusive.com, as well as GuruFocus, is billed as an author, journalist and public speaker who focuses mainly on healthcare stocks.

A third George Ronan, with no bio but a decidedly different headshot, was briefly among the contributors to Benzinga.

All three are fictitious. A Sharesleuth investigation found that they are part of a small army of writers, both real and imaginary, who have systematically posted hundreds of bullish analysis pieces about the same small companies across numerous investment sites.

Just as certain individuals and organizations circulated false or misleading political stories in an effort to sway the 2016 presidential election, internet-savvy promoters are using fake writers, planted articles and even illusory “news” sites to surreptitiously tout stocks. The purported analysis pieces by the multiple George Ronans are a prime example. Sharesleuth turned up more than 140 articles with that byline on seven different sites.

Most of the original Ronan’s 11 articles at Seeking Alpha called attention to companies that were created or bankrolled by Barry C. Honig, a South Florida financier who figures in at least two Securities and Exchange Commission investigations. So did six of the seven Ronan articles on four other sites, including Investing.com and Trefis.com.

Ronan as Roadmap

Using the Ronan stories as markers, we found more than 60 other writers who have systematically promoted companies connected to Honig and his associates, including longtime business partner Michael H. Brauser and billionaire entrepreneur Dr. Phillip Frost, chairman and chief executive of OPKO Health Inc. (OPK).

Sharesleuth determined that the majority of those

This article was written by

Sharesleuth profile picture
Sharesleuth.com is an investigative business reporting site backed by entrepreneur Mark Cuban. Sharesleuth seeks to expose companies and individuals engaged in securities fraud and other activities that tend to deceive investors. Chris Carey, editor of Sharesleuth, previously was an award-winning business reporter at the St. Louis Post-Disptach, the Indianapolis Star, the Orlando Sentinel. He began his career at the Messenger-Inquirer in Owensboro, Ky. He graduated from Indiana University with a double major in journalism and economics.

Analyst’s Disclosure: I am/we are short OPK. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Per the disclosure in the body of the story, Mark Cuban, owner of Sharesleuth.com LLC, has a short position in the shares of OPKO Health Inc. Chris Carey, editor of Sharesleuth, does not invest in individual stocks and has no position in any of the companies mentioned in this story.

Seeking Alpha's Disclosure: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. Any views or opinions expressed above may not reflect those of Seeking Alpha as a whole. Seeking Alpha is not a licensed securities dealer, broker or US investment adviser or investment bank. Our analysts are third party authors that include both professional investors and individual investors who may not be licensed or certified by any institute or regulatory body.

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Comments (128)

Greetings from the future: XXII succumbs to the over-hype and reality sets in:


XXII down -46% at one point today.

Fake news hurts much more when our investments are involved. Hope the perps are read the riot act and prosecuted to the max. Wish SA would actively filter out these fraudulent articles.
One of the best article i have read. Thank you
@sharesleuth ... seems to me that you might want to look up a company called “Redchip”. I believe they are an investor relations firm and count a few of the companies you mention amongst their clients
A hit piece on OPK designed to line Mark Cuban’s pockets. Absolutely terrible article!
Stanford Chemist profile picture
Absolutely fantastic article!
At least one of the authors named has mentioned in one of their recent article's comments sections that Seeking Alpha contacted him and ask him to write an article explaining himself. This was in direct response to me asking about it. I'm curious to see how many of them will address the accusations.

It's not exactly how I envisioned SA dealing with this. Asking the accused authors to write an article that will inevitably result in additional page views and advertising revenue..... hmmmm....
william profile picture
We recommended vuzi Aug 2016 and had never received a payment and continue to feel that the cmpy has a bright future. It is of course speculative in nature, but look @ their partnerships, Toshiba and cutting technology. They have won many awards @ CES and seem to be able
to raise money very easily. These institutions do their DD. It may have been promoted and all stock have some sort of promo to make investor's aware. With so few brokerage firm left to support small cap - many have few choices in order to get the word out. Cuban is a "dog" with a lot of money. Remember he shorted the market when Trump was elected and said it was going to 5000 viist http://bit.ly/bEh6wm and review recent email alerts for vuzi's recommendation-non paid
FROGBERT profile picture
Chris, You and your team have done a fantastic job of connecting the dots on this stock promotion network.
Alan Brochstein, CFA profile picture
So, this painstakingly researched article was all about taking down OPK? Really?
So author says Cuban shorted OPK before this article comes out. OPK invests for the long term. Never does the author say, nor can it prove that, OPK has benefited by some ‘pump & dump’ scheme, because it hasn’t. OPK is a long term investor and has utilize the technologies these smaller companies have developed. To include OPK here only shows this for what it is a ‘hit piece’ designed to help Mark Cuban’s short position. Here is a guy previously accused of insider trading and while he prevailed in that case his credibility to anyone who has read the transcript is marginal and self serving.
If true why hasn’t SEC filed charges? So you lump Dr Frost in here with everyone else, I wonder why? So are you trying to say he hires these guys to pump his stock, then because he is old and senile he reads the story, forgets that he paid for it and buys in nearly daily? Really, you think that makes sense? Who are you working for? You just want to point all this out to save your fellow investors as a public service? This is most likely a case of taking one truth and trying to get guilt by association. Go peddle your crap somewhere else.
Alan Brochstein, CFA profile picture
SEC takes forever! I have reported numerous obvious scams to them (and the FBI). They are overwhelmed. It is incorrect in my view to assume no action means no problem.
cluebert profile picture
Do you also report to FINRA? Is that even possible? And what about NASDAQ? Asking because I'd like to do some reporting on BURG.
Alan Brochstein, CFA profile picture
The one time I called FINRA, I hurt myself with a face-palm, lol. I tried to get them to look into ceasing trade in CANL, which literally has no operations. Unreal. "The request must come from the company"
Just how much hype is involved with this company? Does the fact that they hold multiple patents have any weight? How can we investors decode the rubbish from the gold?
OK I get it that Jason Napodano acted with impropriety, but has anyone found his actual research to be less than accurate?
BuyersStrikeWP profile picture
Yes. He was on the take and full of it. The shares may have gone up (in the short term) due to pumping, but they remain garbage, zeroes in the end. Real companies simply do not pay touts, they do not pay for coverage, they do not do reverse mergers. Only scams do these things.
I care about tout networks and short networks - all need to be held to the same standard - he clearly didn’t disclose - FYI I am long some of the securities mentioned -
Open your eyes. Look at this article. They made people up, stole photos of people and used them, got paid to write and post fake articles. Do you dispute this? Of course not but how do you condone it?
This article is completely a violation of sec rules. Chris Carey violated the law. His duty per sec rules is disclose his compensation not mark cubans long or short position. He is guilty of the same thing he is accusing others of but without any proof. Here, he is in direct violation of the law. Disclose what you where paid to write the article! Could not be more clear, Chris Carey. It’s like me writing a positive article and disclosing Honig as long without mention my payment or lack thereof ?
cluebert profile picture
Your biggest problem here is that he didn't disclose something? Don't care about tout networks?
Sharesleuth profile picture
I am a journalist, and Sharesleuth is a news site.

It's a completely different situation.
cluebert profile picture
BURG is another name probably tied to Honig, etc. They are broke (-5.1M working capital, with just 250k cash). They have negative operating margins.

They of course would simply go bankrupt under fair circumstances.

However, they priced 1.2M warrants at $3.50. And mysteriously their stock went to & above 3.50 and has stayed there, meanwhile they use social media (stocktwits and seeking alpha posts are the ones I have seen) to pump the stock & drive momentum traders into it. They also seem to use wash trading.

And what is more.. this is the SECOND time they have done this. Last time they did this, they bought out a burger chain with the proceeds.

How do they get away with this?

Also, connecting the dots a little more... last last year, early this year, the momo traders piled into bitcoin / crypto related stocks.

Those tickers included MGTI, MARA, BURG, KODK, and yes RIOT. ALL of these stocks have been connected with Honig in the past.

To me, it looks like Barry saw bitcoin was hot & re-orchestrated his P&D schemes around bitcoin & went into heavy social media promotion / wash trading mode on several ticker names.
BuyersStrikeWP profile picture
You are 100% correct. That is his M.O., along with his creme de la creme crew (Brauser, etc)
javings profile picture
A bit late to the party, but a well written article, so far no refutation from the authors of the articles you mentioned. Guilty, as charged. Thanks for spending the time to alert others.
Well, I am absolutely flabbergasted ! I have my mainstays; CAT,DE,J&J,PG etc. that just sit there and throw off dvdns. but I spec on a lot of new stuff and have depended on numbers of these articles and so-called experts ! Now, as far as I can discern, It's all junk ! Yes, the SEC needs to come down hard on these actors.
AnalyticsInvesting profile picture
wow, great job, holy Molly, SA should review this immediately
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