Tag Archives: FINRA

David Lerner Associates REIT Fine

David Lerner Associates agreed to pay a $650,000 fine for the sale of unsuitable REITs to its investors and other violations.  Very little of the fine will compensate investors for their losses.  Instead, investors suffering losses contact a private attorney.  For a free, confidential consultation, investors can call Jeffrey Pederson at 1-866-817-0201.

LandmarkThe non-traded REITs at issue in the regulatory action were REITs now known as Apple Hospitality REIT investments.  The offerings included are Apple 7, Apple 8 and Apple 9.

Suitability violations are for the recommending of investments that are too risky, complicated or volatile for an investor considering the investors objectives, risk tolerance and investment sophistication.  Non-traded REITs such as Apple are generally only suitable for only a limited slice of the investing public.  Investors, including those looking for either stability, income, low risk, preservation of capital or liquidity from this investment, were likely inappropriately sold this investment.

The agreement to settle the charges was in the form of a consent order entered into with New Jersey regulators.  Of the fine, $100,000 went to pay for costs and $50,000 was to pay for investor education programs.

More information on the fine and the regulatory action can be found at the following link.

Attention Investors of Voigt Cullen Kempson III

Pederson, PC is investigating the actions of V. Cullen Kempson III currently of American Portfolios and previously of Commonwealth Financial Network.   Kempson has previously settled charges of unauthorized trading in the account of a deceased investor and is currently facing felony weapons charges.  To speak to an attorney for a free and confidential consultation please call 1-866-817-0201.  

A recent settlement agreement Kempson enter into with FINRA regulators agrees to the 30-day suspension for making a large number of unauthorized trades in the account of an investor Kempson knew was deceased.  In the agreement, referred to as an AWC, Kempson neither admits nor denies fault.

The alleged facts are that in February 2007, A Kempson investor opened two investment Invest photo 2advisory accounts with Kempson at the Firm. At the time, the investor signed an agreement with the Firm granting Kempson discretionary trading authority, the ability to make securities trades without first contacting the investor.  A broker must contact an investor prior to the making of trades unless the broker has been granted authority by the investor in writing to make trades in an account.

On June 13, 2015, the investor passed away. Although Kempson was aware of the investor’s death since at least June 29,2015, Kempson did not inform his Firm of the investor’s death and continued to effect trades on a discretionary basis in the accounts.

Between June 29,2015 and April 5, 2016, Kempson effected a total of 40 trades in the deceased individual’s accounts.  FINRA Rule 2010 requires members to observe high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principles of trade. After the investor passed away, Kempson had no written authority to conduct any trades in the investor’s accounts. FINRA charged that, by effecting 40 trades in a deceased customer’s accounts, Kempson violated FINRA Rule 2010.

Additionally, in February 2017, Kempson was charged on felony weapons charges for the unlawful possession of a weapon.  As stated in his CRD, he case is in front of the New Jersey Superior Court in Essex Vincinage.  He has asserted that he is not guilty.

Attention investors of William McWilliams

Jeffrey Pederson PC is investigating and interested in speaking to investors of William H. McWilliams, formerly of Raymond James and currently of Stifel Nicolaus.  This is in wake of a regulatory AWC entered into by William McWilliams with FINRA that alleges unauthorized trading by McWilliams.  FINRA is the regulatory agency that oversees investment brokers.

FINRA alleged that from August 2014 through December 2014, McWilliams exercised discretionary trading authority without obtaining prior written authorization from the customers and the Firm at least 28 times in eight customer accounts. As a result of such conduct, McWilliams violated regulatory rules NASD Rule 2510(b) and FINRA Rule 2010.  These are rules that all securities brokers must follow.

NASD Rule 2510(b) mandates, “No member or registered representative shall exercise any discretionary power in a customer’s account unless such customer has given prior written authorization to a stated individual or individuals and the account has been accepted by the member, as evidenced in writing by the member or the partner, officer or manager, duly designated by the member, in accordance with Rule 3010.”

NASD Rule 2510(d)(I) states, that the written authorization requirement does not apply to “discretion as to the price at which or the time when an order given by a customer for the purchase or sale ofa definite amount ofa specified security shall be executed, except that the authority to exercise time and price discretion will be considered to be in effect only until the end ofthe business day on which the customer granted such discretion, absent a specific, written contrary indication signed and dated by the customer.”

FINRA Rule 2010 requires associated persons to observe high standards of commercial honor andjust and equitab!e principles oftrade.

During the Relevant Period, while employed at Raymond James, McWilliams exercised discretionary trading authority in response to customer liquidation requests at least six times in four Firm customer accounts without obtaining prior written authorization from the customers and without having the accounts accepted as discretionary accounts by Raymond James.

McWilliams also inappropriately exercised discretion at least 22 times in four other customer accounts. ln these instances, McWilliams failed to discuss the subject trades with the customers on the day ofthe transaction and the Firm prohibited the use ofdiscretion in these circumstances. By virtue ofexercising discretion in the accounts of eight customers without written authorization, McWilliams violated NASD Rule 2510(b) and FlNRA Rule 2010.

Robert “Rusty” Tweed

Jeffrey Pederson PC is interested in speaking to investors of Robert “Rusty” Tweed as part of an investigation into the broker.  Tweed was previously with Cabot Lodge, Concorde Investment Services, and MAM Securities.  Please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and private consultation with an attorney.  Many issues which may entitle investors to recovery against Tweed’s former employers, have been brought to light by a recent FINRA complaint against Rusty Tweed.  However, time is running on the ability to recover.

FINRA alleges in a complaint that between November 2009 and March 2010, Rusty Tweed obtained more than $ 1.6 million from his retail customers through a false and misleading private placement memorandum (“PPM”) he used to offer and sell interests in his Athenian Fund LP, a pooled investment fund that he both created and controlled.

Tweed drafted and circulated the private placement memo (PPM), a document that is supposed to provide investors with significant information to evaluate the investment, that misrepresented and failed to disclose material information to investors, and twenty three customers invested in the Fund without the benefit of complete and accurate information.

The misrepresentations included: (1) the total potential fees and costs associated with the Fund? (2) Tweed himself, and (3) the entities and individual who would ultimately have immediate control over the money that customers invested.

According to the Complaint, Tweed and the PPM misrepresented or failed to disclose to retail customers the following material facts:

a. First. Tweed and the PPM misrepresented the total potential costs of an investment in the Athenian Fund. opting to disclose certain costs and fees while oniitting others that would reduce any return on investment.

b. Second, Tweed and the PPM also failed to disclose that the omitted fees and costs were added only after Tweed discovered that arbitration (complaints) against him would prohibit him from opening a trading account for the Fund directly and require the use of a more expensive master fund structure.

c. Third, Tweed and the PPM failed to disclose that Tweed had replaced the Fund’s identified master fund with another entity controlled by an undisclosed person (ER). who would now have immediate control over the Fund’s assets. Tweed and the PPM likewise provided no information sufficient for investors to evaluate the risk ofentrusting their capital to ER and his company, such as relevant background. other business activities, and qualifications.

d. Fourth, Tweed and the PPM failed to disclose the additional management fees and perforniance allocations that arose when he granted control to ER and his management company, and Tweed’s own interest in those fees, which would further reduce any return on the retail investors’ capital.

As a result of these material misrepresentations and omissions. Athenian Fund investors could not evaluate the true costs and risks associated with the Fund, including those relating to the individual or the entities with immediate control over their capital.

 

Attention Investors of Jeffrey Dragon

FINRA alleges that over a two-year period, Jeffrey Dragon, a registered representative of Berthel Fisher & Co. Financial Services. Inc., generated more than $421,000 in concessions for himself and his firm. at the expense of his customers, by recommending and effecting a pattern of unsuitable short-term trading of unit investment trusts ( UITs ).

Specifically, between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2014 (the ‘UIT Period’ ) Dragon recommended to 12 customers – many of whom were seniors, unsophisticated investors, or both – that they liquidate UIT positions that they had held for only a few months, and which they had purchased on Dragon s recommendations, and then use the proceeds to purchase other UITs. Because each UIT purchased carried a new sales load, and because UITs are designed not to be actively traded, Dragon s recommendations were excessive and unsuitable.

Dragon’s recommendations to these customers were further unsuitable. in that he designed his recommendations to prevent his customers’ UIT purchases from qualifying for sales-charge discounts. Despite regularly recommending that customers purchase UITs in amounts that exceeded volume-discount “breakpoints” of $50,000 and $100.000. Dragon routinely structured their investments – by spreading the amounts over smaller purchases and multiple days – in order to avoid reaching those thresholds. By doing so. Dragon sought to increase his concessions at his customers’ expense.

Berthel allowed this activity to occur – and. in fact, profited from it – as a direct result of its inadequate system for supervising UIT trading. Throughout the UlT Period. Berthei’s only regular supervisory review of UIT recommendations and customer activity consisted of manual reviews of daily trade blotters that did not indicate either how long UIT positions had been held before liquidation or the source of funds used to purchase new UITs. Thus, Berthel’s supervisory system was not reasonably designed to prevent short-tenn and potentially excessive UIT trading.

Berthel’s supervisory system was also inadequate because it was not reasonably designed to prevent short-term and potentially excessive trading in mutual funds. As with UlTs. the firm’s supervisory system lacked any methods, reports, or other tools to identify mutual-fund switching or trading patterns indicative of other misconduct between January 1. 2013 and December 31, 2015 (the ‘ Mutual Fund Period’ ).

Likewise, Berthel’s supervisory system was not reasonably designed to censure that the firm’s UIT and mutual-fund customers received all sales-charge discounts to which they were entitled during the UIT Period and Mutual Fund Period, respectively. Instead. Berthel relied 2 on its registered representatives and its clearing firm to determine whether UIT and mutual-fund purchases should receive sales-charge discounts, and conducted no review or supension to determine i f those discounts were applied correctly.

This not only allowed Dragon s breakpoint-manipulation scheme to go unchecked, it also resulted in further injury to Berthel s customers: from 2010 through 2014, Berthel failed to detect that more than 2,700 of its customers’ UIT purchases did not receive applicable sales-charge discounts. As a result, Berthel customers paid excessive sales charges of approximately $667.000, nearly all of which was paid to Berthel and its registered representatives as dealer concessions.

Mark Holt Loss Recovery

Mark Holt is a former stock broker currently serving a prison sentence for stealing the funds of his investors and sending false account documents.  The scheme victimized investors in Minnesota and likely elsewhere.  Due to the incarceration, investors seeking recovery will likely need to pursue Holt’s former employers by means of FINRA arbitration for loss recovery.

From August 2005 to February 2007, Holt was a registered representative of Geneos Wealth Management, Inc., which is both a securities brokerage and investment adviser. From February 2007 to November 2013, Holt was a registered representative of Harbour Investments, Inc., which is also a dually registered entity. Holt, 47 years old, is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisconsin.

guy in handcuffsDetails of the SEC action can be found in its release.

On August 14, 2014, Holt was sentenced to a prison term of 120 months followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $2,940,982.75.  The chances of these payments being made is not great considering Holt could be incarcerated for much of the next ten years.

The allegations are that from about September 2005 through Jan. 12, 2014, Holt “knowingly caused an email communication to be transmitted in interstate commerce via servers in Texas to a client in Minnesota that would give the client access to false account statements.”

The SEC and the criminal documents state that Holt “misappropriated [investor] funds by depositing client checks into a bank account he controlled and using these funds to pay for personal and business expenses. In furtherance of his scheme, Holt lulled his clients into believing that he had purchased various investments for them by sending fraudulent Morningstar client summaries and [...] a web-based portal, that displayed fraudulent account balances.”

“Holt made monthly payments to his clients that were intended to appear as interest or annuity payments,” in a classic Ponzi-type scheme.

Invement losses with John Blakezuniga

John Blakezuniga, formerly of Vanguard Capital, recently entered into a settlement agreement with FINRA regulators, where he agreed to a fine but did not admit or deny fault, concerning alleged fraudulent activity in the portfolios of his investors.  Blakezuniga sometimes goes by the name of John Blake, sometimes by the name John Zuniga, and sometimes by John Blake-Zuniga.

Jeffrey Pederson, PC helps investors recover such losses.  For a free and confidential consultation with a lawyer, please call 1-866-817-0201.

As identified in the FINRA regulatory settlement, referred to as an AWC, between 2007 and 2013, Blakezuniga borrowed $775,000 (which he has not fully repaid) from two firm customers Invest photo 2in violation of the firm’s policy. As a result, Blakezuniga violated NASD Rules 2370 and 21 10 and FINRA Rules 3240 and 2010.

Blakezuniga separately violated FINRA Rule 2010 by falsely answering “no” to a question on the firm’s 2013 annual compliance questionnaire that asked if he had ever borrowed money from a customer.

In addition, from 2010 to 2014, Blakezuniga recommended approximately 1,280 transactions in inverse and inverse leveragedExchange Traded Funds (“nontraditional ETFs”) in 85 customer accounts without a reasonable basis for the recommendations. By doing so, Blakezuniga violated NASD Rule 2310 and FINRA Rules 2111 and 2010.

Borrowing funds from an investor/customer is fraudulent because of the discrepancy in the bargaining power between broker and investor.  The prohibition is codified in NASD and FINRA rules.  NASD Rule 2370 and FINRA Rule 3240′ generally prohibit registered representatives from borrowing money from any customer subject to limited exceptions and in accordance with firm procedures.

Likewise, lacking a reasonable basis for the recommendation of an investment is violative. NASD Rule 2310 and FINRA Rule 21113 require registered representatives to have reasonable grounds for believing that a recommendation is suitable for a customer based upon the customer’s disclosed security holdings and financial situation and needs. A violation ofthese rules also constitutes a violation of FINRA Rule 2010.

Investment Professionals, Inc. (IPI)

If you have suffered investment losses with Investment Professionals, Inc. (IPI) and believe that it may be due to mismanagement, please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential attorney consultation.

Invest photo 2IPI has recently agreed to pay a fine to the Massachusetts Attorney General for violations of the suitability rule.  This rule requires a financial adviser to not recommend investments that are of a higher risk than an investor either wants or is financially able to take.  The allegations were that IPI was recommending risky investments to seniors who could not afford to take such risks. Though the action was brought by Massachusetts, the systemic nature is a good indication that such violations are occurring in other states as well.

IPI’s business model is based upon partnering with community banks so that the bank’s existing depository customers can be used to provide revenue to IPI and additional revenue to the bank. Though IPI is based in San Antonio, Texas, it engages in such partnerships around the country.

Networking agreements between IPI and their bank partners reveal a referral program where bank employees of its partner banks refer bank customers to IPI financial advisers for monetary incentives. In exchange for allowing IPI representatives convenient access to bank customers, IPI’ s bank partners receive “rent,” or commonly referred as a kickback, which is a percentage of the sales that IPI representatives earn from selling products at bank branches.

While IPI and their bank partners profit from their networking arrangements, the pervasive sales culture emphasizing and rewarding the volume of production at the expense of compliance with policies and procedures, suitability, and oversight means that certain senior citizen bank customers have been harmed .

As identified in the regulatory complaint, IPI has partnered with the following. banks and credit union in Massachusetts: Eastern Bank, Mutual Bank, East Boston Savings Bank, Edgartown National Bank, The Cooperative Bank, and Homefield Credit Union.  Between January 2014 and June 2016, the top ten IPI representatives working out of Massachusetts community banks received approximately 2,208 customer referals. Approximately forty-five percent ( 45%) of these bank referrals to IPI financial were referrals of semor citizens, those individuals aged 65 or older. Approximately fourteen percent (14 %) of those referred invested in market-linked certificates of deposit (“MLCDs”) and approximately thirty-nine percent (39%) invested in annuities. Eastern Bank, is IPI’s largest partner in Massachusetts. Eight of the top ten highest producing IPI representatives in the stat work at Eastern Bank branches.

IPI’s aggressive sales contests exist against a backdrop of lax supervision from offices located in Texas and Kentucky that management personal at IPI identified as “not adequate.” Although IPI’s own policies and procedures prohibit “activities that are designed to reward sales for a particular financial product or family of products” and prohibit activities that “would only serve as a luxury” to representatives, in 2016 IPI rewarded the top ten percent of the previous year’s highest-producing representatives with a trip to Turks and Caicos. In 2015, IPI held a sales contest approved by IPI’ s President and CEO whereby representatives who achieved sales of products up to $150,000.  This served as motivation to put seniors in inappropriate investments.

Kris Etter of IMS Securities

If you have suffered investment losses with Kris Etter of IMS Securities, particularly if you suffered losses in UDF, please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free consultation with an attorney.  We have suit filed against IMS and are currently investigating whether other claims may exist.

It is believed that Etter had an undisclosed conflict of interest in his recommendations of UDF.  Upon information and belief, Mr. Kris Etter sold a substantial amount of UDF to his clients and is the son of Todd Etter.  Todd Etter is the Chairman of UDF IV, one of the top officers of the company.  Mr. Todd Etter also serves as Chairman of the general partner of UDF I and UDF II and Executive Vice President of the general partner of UDF III.  This creates a substantial conflict of interest in UDF recommendations by Kris Etter.

Kris Etter and IMS also failed to properly investigate UDF before recommending it, likely because of the Etter conflict and the heightened commission paid by UDF.  IMS is one of the top four leading sellers of UDF IV in the United States.

The bottom fell out for UDF when it was revealed in December 2015 to be a Ponzi scheme. The offices were raided by the FBI, received a Wells notice, unable to release quarterly reports and was ultimately delisted for a time. Reasonable investigation into the investment of other financial firms revealed that the illegitimacy of the investment. Had IMS done sufficient due diligence it would have likewise discovered that the investment was not suitable for any investor. Instead, IMS and Etter turned a blind eye to the problems of UDF and instead focused on the profits that it was receiving from this high commission product.

The individual ultimately in charge of all IMS offices is the CEO of IMS, Jackie Wadsworth.  Ms. Wadsworth has seven customer complaints naming her for insufficient supervision of representatives under her oversight. These complaints largely concern the inappropriate recommendation by her representatives of unsuitable variable annuity and REIT investments, just like the investments sold clients of Kris Etter and IMS.

As reported in Investmentnews.com in August 2016, the balance sheet of IMS is tilted heavily toward high-commission products like variable annuities and non-traded REITs. Approximately 86% of its revenue of IMS in 2015 came from commissions from such products.

Binary options recovery scams

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), in a press release on March 16, 2017 warned investors against companies or persons that approach victims of binary options fraud claiming that, for an up-front fee, they can help them recover the sums invested or the losses incurred on unlawfully operating trading platforms.  Investors should verify that they are dealing with a licensed attorney or regulator prior to engaging in such recovery efforts.

As stated in the release by FINRA, binary options are inherently risky all-or-nothing propositions. When a binary option expires, it either makes a pre-specified amount of money, or nothing at all, in which case the investor loses his or her entire investment.  These options may be fraudulent and sold on illegitimate securities boards, but participation in such options may open an investor to further victimization.

FINRAAfter an individual has participated in such investment activity, fraudulent individuals obtain investor information from the illegitimate boards selling the options and then calls the investors, and can further be spotted with the following hallmarks during the call:

  • urgent correspondence and high-pressure calls that specifically refer to your binary options accounts;
  • claims that the caller is with, or acting at the behest of, U.S. government agencies; and
  • subsequent correspondence with official-looking documents that make it look as if money is available, and can be recovered for a fee.

FINRA cautions investors that some of these offers may be fraudulent because it is often very difficult to track down the person or group that has scammed them.

“Following a significant loss, investors may be anxious to get back at least some of their money. This can leave them vulnerable to follow-up frauds that add to existing losses with devastating financial consequences,” said Gerri Walsh, FINRA’s Senior Vice President of Investor Education.

The FINRA release can be found at the following link.