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Thursday March 8 2:28 PM ET
20 Indicted on Securities Fraud Charges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Twenty people, including two alleged associates of an organized crime family, were indicted on charges of alleged boiler-room securities fraud involving penny stocks, U.S. regulators said Thursday.

The defendants face criminal charges in the case that involves federal and state prosecutors including the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York State Attorney General.

The attorneys representing the defendants could not immediately be reached for comment.

In Washington, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (news - web sites) instituted on Thursday administrative proceedings against 18 people accused of involvement in the alleged boiler-room fraud with First United Equities Corp., a now-defunct Long Island broker-dealer.

The criminal indictments allege that two of the persons charged are associates of the Gambino organized crime family, the SEC said.

In its administrative order, the SEC alleges that the defendants operated through First United from 1995 to 1997, fraudulently marketed stock of National Medical Financial Services Inc. (NMFS) and Ashton Technology Group Inc. (NasdaqNM:ASTN - news).

After underwriting the companies` initial public offerings, First United maintained control over large blocks of the stock and used high-pressure sales tactics and misrepresented the companies in order to lure investors to buy stock, the SEC contends in its order.

Investors were also told First United has never lost money and they would be reimbursed in the event of losses on NMFS or Ashton stock, the securities regulatory agency added.

It further alleged that the defendants bullied investors to give up attempts to sell stock, simply failed to execute sell orders and even went as far as buying stock into an account of a dead person.

``Today`s charges involve a classic boiler-room operation, carried out by individuals who were willing to tell any lie -- no matter how brazen -- in order to get their hands on the public`s hard-earned money,`` Richard Walker, director of the SEC`s enforcement division, said

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