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Feds charge 15 in South Fla. with securities fraud

MIAMI (AP) -- Federal authorities in South Florida have charged 15 people with securities fraud and related counts following an undercover FBI probe into penny stock companies.

Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said Monday that charges include kickback schemes aimed at falsely inflating stock prices, attempts to illegally manipulate securities markets and Ponzi scams. Most of those charged with crimes were also accused of wrongdoing in related civil complaints filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In most cases, undercover FBI agents and cooperating witnesses acted as investors or go-betweens in the scams. The FBI says that enabled agents to disrupt the schemes at an early stage, ensuring that no legitimate investors were victimized.

Ferrer says a securities fraud task force operating since December 2010 has charged 85 people with similar crimes.