According to the SEC’s complaint, Ruettiger founded Rudy Nutrition to compete with Gatorade in the sports drink market. Rudy Nutrition produced and sold modest amounts of a sports drink called “Rudy” with the tagline “Dream Big! Never Quit!” However, the company primarily served as a vehicle for a pump-and-dump scheme that occurred in 2008 and generated more than $11 million in illicit profits. From the SEC's press release:
The SEC alleges that investors were provided false and misleading statements about the company in press releases, SEC filings, and promotional materials. For example, a promotional mailer to potential investors falsely claimed that in “a major southwest test, Rudy outsold Gatorade 2 to 1!” A promotional e-mail falsely boasted that in “several blind taste tests, Rudy outperformed Gatorade and Powerade by 2:1.” Meanwhile, the scheme’s promoters engaged in manipulative trading to artificially inflate the price of Rudy Nutrition stock while selling unregistered shares to investors. The SEC suspended trading and later revoked registration of the stock in late 2008. Rudy Nutrition is no longer in business.
“Investors were lured into the scheme by Mr. Ruettiger's well-known, feel-good story but found themselves in a situation that did not have a happy ending,” said Scott W. Friestad, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “The tall tales in this elaborate scheme included phony taste tests and other false information that was used to convince investors they were investing in something special.”
According to the SEC’s complaint, Ruettiger was the principal founder and namesake of a company called Rudy Beverage Inc. that he and a college friend ran out of South Bend, Ind. until October 2007, when Rocky Brandonisio became the company’s president and day-to-day business manager. He moved the company’s operations to Las Vegas, where he and Ruettiger live. Ruettiger remained CEO. During this time, the company struggled financially with few customers, few assets, and no profits.
The SEC alleges that Ruettiger and Brandonisio brought in an experienced penny stock promoter named Stephen DeCesare to orchestrate a public distribution of company stock in late 2007. Ruettiger knew DeCesare from previous business dealings, and they were neighbors in Las Vegas. Ruettiger and Brandonisio gave DeCesare sufficient control to turn Rudy Beverage into a publicly traded company. DeCesare became the primary organizer of the resulting pump-and-dump scheme
According to the SEC’s complaint, DeCesare identified a shell corporation quoted on the Pink Sheets for use in what’s known as a reverse merger, which occurs when a private company acquires a public company (typically a shell company) in order to become publicly-traded. DeCesare tasked a business consultant named Kevin Quinn with executing the merger and working with the company’s transfer agent to issue purportedly unrestricted stock. On Feb. 11, 2008, they acquired the shell company in a reverse merger and changed its name to “Rudy Nutrition.” Ruettiger authorized his signature to be placed electronically on an SEC filing four days later, and Rudy Nutrition began to be quoted on the Pink Sheets on Feb. 21, 2008, under the ticker symbol RUNU. DeCesare and Quinn, who is a disbarred California lawyer, arranged for three billion RUNU shares to be issued to nominee entities, which sold almost one billion shares to unsuspecting investors in the public market during the scheme.
The SEC alleges that DeCesare then organized the efforts to pump RUNU stock by partnering with other penny stock promoters to inflate the price and volume artificially through fraudulent touting and manipulative trading. The scheme’s participants made a series of false or misleading statements about RUNU to the public in mailers sent to millions of U.S. investors, messages posted in Internet chat rooms dedicated to penny stocks, and videos placed on the Internet for public viewing. False and misleading statements about the company also were made in press releases and filings with the SEC. These disingenuous promotional efforts had the predictable effect of attracting buyers to RUNU stock. In less than a month, RUNU went from trading 720 shares to more than 3 million shares, and within two weeks the price of RUNU stock climbed from 25 cents to $1.05 per share. After March 12, 2008, RUNU stock began a roller coaster ride as the scheme’s participants sold millions of RUNU shares to the market amid their simultaneous efforts to pump the stock.
According to the SEC’s complaint, the scheme eventually ended when the SEC issued a trading suspension against RUNU on Sept. 12, 2008 for delinquent periodic filings. Only days before the trading suspension, arrangements were being made to issue another two billion shares that scheme participants planned to dump on the market at the end of September 2008. But they were unable to do so because of the SEC’s trading suspension. The SEC revoked the registration of Rudy Nutrition securities on Nov. 14, 2008.
Ruettiger and 10 of the scheme’s other participants have agreed to settle the SEC’s charges without admitting or denying the allegations. The settlements, which are subject to court approval, impose penny stock bars and officer-and-director bars as appropriate. Ruettiger agreed to pay $382,866 in settling the charges, and other participants consented to final judgments also ordering disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and financial penalties.
In addition to Ruettiger, Brandonisio, DeCesare, and Quinn, the SEC’s complaint charges the following participants in the scheme:
- Pawel P. Dynkowski is a stock promoter who manipulated the price of Rudy Nutrition stock using wash sales, matched orders, and other trading coordinated with the issuance of false company press releases.
- Kevin S. Kaplan was the CFO of Rudy Nutrition. He authorized the issuance of company shares to nominee accounts used by others to sell the unregistered stock.
- Gregg R. Mulholland is a stock promoter who made false statements about the company in mailers sent to two million households. He controlled nominee accounts that sold shares in the scheme.
- Mehmet Mustafoglu was a consultant to Rudy Nutrition who sold unregistered shares of Rudy Nutrition.
- Joseph A. Padilla is a stock promoter and former registered representative at broker-dealer Scottsdale Capital Advisors. He sold unregistered shares of Rudy Nutrition.
- Angelo R. Panetta is a stock promoter who as part of the scheme made false statements about the company on an Internet radio show and in an Internet chat room.
- Andrea Ritchie was a registered representative at broker-dealer Scottsdale Capital Advisors. She sold Rudy Nutrition shares for others without conducting a reasonable inquiry into the registration status of the shares.
- Chad P. Smanjak is a stock promoter who directed Dynkowski’s manipulative trading and controlled a series of Panamanian companies that sold shares during the scheme.
- Gary Yocom was a registered representative at broker-dealer Thomas Anthony & Associates, which is no longer in business. He sold Rudy Nutrition shares for others without conducting a reasonable inquiry into the registration status of the shares.