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A third George Ronan, with no bio but a decidedly different headshot, was briefly among the contributors to Benzinga. 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 into at least two Securities and Exchange Commission investigations. So did six of the seven Ronan articles on four other sites, including Investing. 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.
Phillip Frost, chairman and chief executive of Opko Health Inc. Sharesleuth determined that the majority of those writers also were fake — part of an elaborate, long-running effort to spark interest in obscure public companies by creating bullish stories that were posted and reposted across the internet. The stealth promotion network includes a handful of real people who have touted the same stocks with such regularity that it is impossible to view their posts as a coincidence. All told, we turned up nearly 600 bullish articles about Honig-related companies that fit the pattern of stealth promotional pieces. Nearly 50 stories posted on Gurufocus.
More than 40 stories posted on Trefis. More than 20 stories posted at Investing. They also appeared in news summaries for the featured companies at Nasdaq. That’s the exchange where most of those stocks trade. We have been watching for more than a year, to determine how the articles originate, how the campaigns spread and how they help to boost share prices and trading volumes. Among other things, we found concentrations of stories in the days and weeks leading up to share sales, and just before and after mergers, acquisitions or other market-moving events.