This morning at TechCrunch Disrupt,  president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, Arianna Huffington, in a “Fireside Chat” made an interesting and possibly illegal statement concerning the stock of AOL.

AOL, you’ll recall, announced on February 7, 2011, it would acquire The Huffington Post for $315 million and make Huffington president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group.   This gives Huffington control over not only The Huffington Post, but existing AOL properties such as Engadget, AOL Music, Patch Media and TechCrunch, which AOL purchased in September.

According to a Tweet from Dylan Byers, a reporter for AdWeek, Huffington, speaking to Michael Arrington, founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, stated the following,

Tweet Dylan Byers Arianna Huffington 520x207 Did Arianna Huffington use stage to engage in market manipulation of AOL stock?

A Twitter search of “AOL Stock” features a stream of similar Tweets concerning Huffington’s statement.

Interestingly the video of Huffington’s statements have been cut off at the point where Arrington enters the stage.

Video streaming by Ustream

That said, it could be argued that that Huffington is engaging in market manipulation concerning AOL’s stock.

Section 9 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 prohibits market manipulation, a deliberate attempt to interfere with the free and fair operation of the market and create artificial, false or misleading appearances with respect to the price of, or market for, a security, commodity or currency.

Huffington, in telling those they will “make a lot of money,” if they purchase AOL stock is potentionally creating a misleading appearance with respect to the price of AOL stock, a stock which continues to hover near its 52-week low of $18.44.

Adding more credence to potential illegality of Huffington’s statements is AOL’s stock price today.   Since Huffington’s statements, the stock has risen $.26 from $19.40 to $19.66 at the time of publishing despite missing its most recent earnings estimates.

If one’s found guilty of violating SEC rules, Section 32 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 indicates one could face penalties of:

“Shall upon conviction be fined not more than $5,000,000, or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, except that when such person is a person other than a natural person, a fine not ex­ ceeding $25,000,000 may be imposed; but no person shall be sub­ject to imprisonment under this section for the violation of any rule or regulation if he proves that he had no knowledge of such rule or regulation.”
We’ll continue to follow developments in this story as they present themselves.  In the interim, it might be wise of Ms. Huffington to refrain from making any statements on stock she has a vested interest in.