Tag Archives: securities fraud

Attention Dean Grant Investors

If you are an investors of Dean Harrison Grant, formerly of M Holdings and NY Life, please call 1-866-817-0201 for a confidential and free consultation with an attorney.  Grant is the found and owner of GFG Strategic Advisors.

Authorities in Georgia have issued warrants for arrest for Grant.  He has been charged with the following:  1) insurance fraud; 2) forgery; 3) theft by a fiduciary; and 4) trafficking of an elder person.

Grant duped victims out of more than $1.3 million.  After arraignment, he was released on bail of $750,000 from Baldwin County Law Enforcement Center.  He currently lives in Fulton County, Georgia, but previously resided in Milledgeville, which is also the location of GFG Strategic Advisors.

About three years ago, he moved to a home in Roswell with an appraised property value of nearly $2 million, according to Fulton County records.

Investors have recourse when investment professionals turn bad.

Investors have recourse when investment professionals turn bad.

This warrant follows grants extended history of financial problems.   Grant was the subject of tax liens in October 2017, October 2018, and December 2018.  These financial issues were required to be disclosed to warn potential investors, but were not.

Regulators brought charges against Grant in February 2019.  has not contested the regulatory charges.  Failing to contest the charges, Grant ultimately agreed to a lifetime ban from the securities industry.

Georgia insurance Commissioner is urging investors with insurance products from Grant to verify the validity of their account or coverage.

 

DC Solar Ponzi – Loss Recovery

DC Solar is accused of operating a large Ponzi-type scheme concerning  a number of tax equity investment funds from 2015-2018.  The company, whose products include solar generators as well as light towers that can be used at sports events, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2019 in Reno, Nevada.  This Ponzi scheme, as with most Ponzi schemes, is about a failure of investigation as much as the underlying fraud.

In a February 8, 2019 affidavit related to those bankruptcy proceedings, an FBI agent said the manner in which the Benecia, California-based company appeared to have operated reflected “evidence of a Ponzi-type investment fraud scheme.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused DC Solar’s owners by name of engaging in a Ponzi scheme, according to a separate court filing.

As late as December 20, 2018, DC Solar had been seen in the business media as an “Energy Powerhouse.”  The company was well known and sponsored a NASCAR team.  Those fortunes reversed quickly.

Sufficient investigation by advisors would have revealed insufficient lease revenue and that the funds coming in to compensate the lack of lease revenue was simply investor money.  As such, payments of profits was simply earlier investors receiving the investment funds of newer investors.  Detecting such arrangements is the charge of brokers, advisors and their firms as part of their due diligence obligations.

Civil action has been commenced against the property of DC Solar, which is considered the defendant in the case. Because it is a civil action, no criminal charges need be placed against the property’s owner, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

However, 87 defendant items are traceable to an investment fraud and money laundering scheme run by companies described in other court documents as those associated with DC Solar.

The defendant properties listed are $62,546110.43 in multiple domestic and foreign bank accounts; $1,944,091.07 in cash seized at the Carpoffs’ Martinez home and Benicia offices; an estimated $500,000 worth of jewelry and other personal items; and a $782,949 money transfer for that luxury box at the Raiders NFL football team’s future stadium in Las Vegas, Nev.

Most of the bank accounts had been opened with China Bank and Trust, which is based in Taiwan with multiple international subsidiaries, according to its website. Other accounts were opened with E-trade, J.P. Morgan, BBVA Compass and Bank of America, the attorneys wrote.

Once of the largest victims is Berkshire Hathaway.  Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc on Wednesday said a $377 million charge it incurred recently was tied to a solar generation company that U.S. authorities have linked to fraud.

 

Attention Motty Mizrahi Investors

The SEC has halted an ongoing fraud perpetrated by Motty Mizrahi and targeting members of the Los Angeles Jewish community.  If you are a victim, call 1-866-817-0201 to speak to a private attorney about your rights.

FBIThe SEC filed an emergency action in federal court against Mizrahi and MBIG Company, his sole proprietorship, alleging that, since June 2012, they defrauded at least 15 investment advisory clients out of more than $3 million.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Mizrahi falsely claimed that MBIG used sophisticated trading strategies to generate “guaranteed” investment returns of between 2-3% per month risk-free, clients would not lose their money, and could withdraw their funds at any time.

Unbeknownst to his investors, however, MBIG had no bank or brokerage account of its own – rather, clients unwittingly sent money to Mizrahi’s personal bank account. Mizrahi used the money to fund his personal brokerage account, in which he engaged in high-risk options trading producing losses of more than $2.2 million, and to pay personal expenses. The SEC alleges that Mizrahi covered up his fraud by issuing MBIG’s clients fabricated account statements, showing positive account balances and profits from trading. When clients demanded proof of MBIG’s securities holdings, Mizrahi showed them brokerage statements reflecting a multi-million dollar balance for a fictitious MBIG brokerage account.

On March 27, 2019, the Honorable Judge Percy Anderson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted emergency relief, including a temporary restraining order against the defendants and an order freezing their assets.

In a parallel action, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced on March 29, 2019 it filed wire fraud charges against Motty Mizrahi and another individual.

Ami Forte Investigation

If you suffered losses with Ami Forte, please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation.  Jeffrey Pederson, PC handles claims against securities brokerages nationwide for unsuitable securities and unauthorized trading violations.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced on October 3, 2018 that it was widening the investigation of Ami Forte.  FINRA is the national regulatory agency that oversees securities brokerages.  It does so with the oversight of the SEC.

The October 3 notice advises Forte that the regulator will include additional potential violations of rules tied to conflicts of interest and fraud. Other violations included in the October 3 notice relates to rules tied to suitability, municipal securities advisory activities and books and records.

Forte, once Morgan Stanley’s most celebrated and prominent financial advisor with $2 billion in assets under management, lost her job at Morgan Stanley when an FINRA arbitration panel entered a substantial judgment against her.  The panel ordered her, her branch manager and Morgan Stanley to pay $34 million to the estate of Home Shopping Network co-founder Roy Speer in 2016. Lynnda Speer, Roy Speer’s widow, argued that the estate had been harmed by unauthorized trading, churning and elder abuse.

The initial investigation began in January 2018.  FINRA had made a preliminary determination concerning violations of multiple FINRA rules.  These rules concerning inappropriate exercises of discretion in an account and inappropriate recommendation of direct participation investments.

Forte had recently begun a career resurrection of sorts. In March 2018, Pinnacle Investments announced Forte as its chief business development officer.

This was short-lived.  BrokerCheck records indicate that the employment with Pinnacle ended Oct. 17,

Jeffrey Pederson has represented hundreds of investors over the past 15 years in FINRA arbitrations nationwide.  Time limitations may exist.  Investors suspecting wrongdoing should call at their earliest convenience

Recovery of CLO Losses

CLO (Collateralized Loan Obligation) investors may have recovery avenues for their losses.  These complex investments are only suitable for the most sophisticated investors willing to assume the high risk of these investments.  Investors who are less sophisticated or who seek only investments or looking for only moderate risk investments cannot legally be sold these investments.  For a consultation, please call 1-866-817-0201.

The financial industry is governed by rules concerning whether certain investments can be sold to investors.  One such limitation is that securities broker, financial advisors and investment advisors may only sell investments that are suitable, or investments that are consistent with an investors level of sophistication, investment objectives and tolerance for risk.  Complex investments that carry a high risk potential are unsuitable for your average investor looking for growth or income with a tolerance for moderate risk.

investingstockphoto 1As identified by FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a CLO is very complex and risky investment.   A CLO is a security made up of loans to corporations that usually have relatively lower credit ratings. Leveraged buyouts, in which a private equity firm typically borrows money to purchase a controlling stake in a company, are a common for CLO loans. After the loans are made, they’re sold off to a manager, who bundles them together and then manages the consolidations, buying and selling loans as he or she sees fit.

A CLO manager raises money to buy the loans by selling debt and equity stakes to outside investors in slices of the total collection according to risk level.

FINRA gives an example to demonstrate how tranches work.  Think of everyone who owns a piece of the loan pool as standing in a long line. Those at the front of the line would get repaid first if any of the loans in the pool go into default, but they receive lower interest payments than those at the back of the line. The people further back are paid more for taking a greater risk that they would not be repaid in the event of losses in the underlying loan pool.

Typically, a CLO includes both debt tranches and equity tranches. The debt tranches are similar to bonds – they have credit ratings and offer regular coupon payments for a period of several years. Interest rates may be set or “floating,” meaning they vary with prevailing interest rates.

Debt tranches have first dibs on payments from the underlying loans, though here again, there are important differences within the group. Senior tranches have a higher-priority claim to payments (and receive lower interest payments) than junior tranches (which receive higher interest payments).

Equity tranches are the riskiest piece of the CLO puzzle. They have no credit ratings, are last in line for payment, and thus are the first to suffer losses if the underlying loan portfolio falters. Though equity tranche investors are simply paid whatever cash is left over after the debt investors have received their interest payments, they typically earn a higher return than debt tranche investors do.

FINRA is not alone.  The Wall Street Journal has also identified these investments as risky and complex.  The Journal points out that the race to provide higher returns has led to an even greater sales of such investments, and that such investments hit a record in 2017.

Unless you are a very sophisticated investor willing to speculate the money invested in CLOs, you should seek legal representation for losses sustained.

Christopher Wendel Investors

If you are an investor suffering losses with Christopher Wendel, please 1-866-817-0201 for a free consultation.  Mr. Wendel has been implicated in the improper sale of Woodbridge  notes and other securities violations.  Jeffrey Pederson has represented investors nationwide in cases concerning Woodbridge and other similar securities actions.

Wendel solicited investors to purchase promissory notes in Woodbridge Mortgage Investment Funds, a purported real-estate investment fund.  Wendel did not provide notice to SA Stone Wealth Management, his employer, prior to participating in these private securities transactions, nor did he obtain approval from SA Stone.  Despite the lack of notice, SA Stone had a duty to investigate and approve securities sales to prevent its representatives from “selling away.”

Invest photo 2Investment firms are liable for not following FINRA’s strict guidelines concerning the monitoring of representatives to ensure the representatives do not sell unapproved investments, such as Woodbridge.  Common knowledge within the securities industry is the fact that representatives often seeks to sell investments that are unapproved for either the higher commissions or illegal kickbacks that the investments provide.  The problem is that the increased compensation is because the investments either are financially unsound or, in some cases, based upon fraud.

Additionally, there were glaring issues  in these Woodbridge investments for an extended period of time.    These issues should have been discovered during reasonable due diligence by the brokers and agents selling the Woodbridge investments.  These investments should have been recognized as not being suitable for any investor.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission SEC had been investigating Woodbridge since 2016.  Woodbridge, the Sherman Oaks, California-based Woodbridge, which calls itself a leading developer of high-end real estate, had been under the microscope of state regulators even longer.   The focus of these regulators was the possible fraudulent sale of securities.

In 2018, FINRA found that Wendel violated FINRA Rules by providing a false written response and testimony concerning one of the private securities transactions.

This is not the first time Mr. Wendel has been accused of handling the funds of others improperly.  The record of Mr. Wendel shows the six private lawsuits have been initiated concerning his actions.  He has also previously been investigated by SA Stone for the sale of unapproved securities, a common form of fraud.  He was also terminated for the sale of securities that were unapproved by SA Stone.   We believe those securities were Woodbridge securities.  SA Stone apparently allowed several months to elapse before taking action concerning the sale of Woodbridge.

Fifth Third Annuity Fraud

If you were recommended the purchase or sale of an annuity by Fifth Third you may have been the victim of fraud.  We represent investors nationwide and are available to discuss whether you are a victim and entitled to compensation.  Please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation.

Invest photo 2The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in a statement on May 8, 2018 stated that it has fined Fifth Third Securities $4 million and required the firm to pay approximately $2 million in restitution to customers for failure to accurately consider and describe costs and benefits of variable annuity (VA) exchanges, and for recommending exchanges without a reasonable basis to believe they were suitable for customers.  While the FINRA action focused on variable annuities, the exchange or early liquidation of any annuity is possibly a violation.

Variable annuities are complex and expensive investments commonly marketed and sold to retirees or those saving for retirement. Exchanging one annuity with another involves a comparison of the complex features of each security. Accordingly, annuity exchanges are subject to regulatory requirements to ensure that brokers have a reasonable basis to recommend them, and their supervisors have a reasonable basis to approve the sales.  Failure to do so can cost investors hundreds of thousands of dollars and cause the investor savings to become unnecessarily illiquid.

Brokerage firms, like Fifth Third, have been on notice of this problem and other problems with annuities for years.  FINRA has warned of the limited suitability of these investments and that they should only be sold to limited types of investors and has done so more than once..  In fact, variable annuities and variable life insurance is so prone to fraud, FINRA has specific rules concerning these products.

FINRA found that Fifth Third failed to ensure that its registered representatives obtained and assessed accurate information concerning the recommended annuity exchanges. It also found that the firm’s registered representatives and principals were not adequately trained on how to conduct a comparative analysis and truthfully sell the annuities.

As a result, the firm misstated the costs and benefits of exchanges, making the exchange appear more beneficial to the customer. By reviewing a sample of annuity exchanges that the firm approved from 2013 through 2015, FINRA found that Fifth Third misstated or omitted facts relating to the costs or benefits of the annuity recommendation or exchange in approximately 77 percent of the sample.  For example:

  • Fifth Third overstated the total fees of the existing VA or misstated fees associated with various additional optional benefits, known as riders.
  • Fifth Third failed to disclose that the existing VA had an accrued living benefit value, or understated the living benefit value, which the customer would forfeit upon executing the proposed exchange.
  • Fifth Third represented that a proposed VA had a living benefit rider even though the proposed VA did not, in fact, include a living benefit rider.

FINRA found that the firm’s principals ultimately approved approximately 92 percent of VA exchange applications submitted to them for review. However, in light of the firm’s supervisory deficiencies, the firm did not have a reasonable basis to recommend and approve many of these transactions.

In addition, FINRA found that Fifth Third failed to comply with a term of its 2009 settlement with FINRA. In the 2009 action, FINRA found that, from 2004 to 2006, Fifth Third effected 250 unsuitable annuity exchanges and transactions and had inadequate systems and procedures governing its annuity exchange business. For more than four years following the settlement, the firm failed to fully implement an independent consultant’s recommendation that it develop certain surveillance procedures to monitor VA exchanges by individual registered representatives.

As a result, the firm misstated costs and benefits of VA exchanges — and in some cases omitted critical information altogether — making the exchanges appear more beneficial to customers in 77 percent of the exchanges Finra reviewed for the period of 2013 through 2015. For instance, Fifth Third transgressions included telling customers that the new VA contracts being marketed had living rider benefits guaranteeing minimum payments to customers and their beneficiary when none existed, Finra said.

Losses in Inverse VIX, LJM, SVXY

NYSE pic 1

Investments connected to the VIX index were known to be highly speculative.

We are a firm that specializes in investor loss recovery.  Investors of Inverse VIX Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs) and Inverse VIX Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), including VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Terms ETN (XIV), the ProShares Short VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (SVXY), and the LJM Partners’ Preservation and Growth fund (LJMIX and LJMAX) may have grounds for the recovery of their losses.

If you were sold an Inverse VIX ETN please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation with an attorney.

These investments were suitable for very few investors.   The sale of unsuitable investments by a securities broker is a form of negligence and possibly fraud.   These investments carry such a high level of risk and are so complicated that they were likely not suitable for any retail (non-institutional) investor.   “Unless you were a hedge fund manager you should not have been sold these funds.” If you were recommended such investments as part of a retirement savings portfolio you have grounds to recover your losses.  The makers of these funds have acknowledged that the fund was for hedge fund managers only, and not individual investors.

Investment advisory firms also sold these investments, and in many cases sold the investments inappropriately.  These include SRS Capital, IFAM, Movants Capital Management, Tradition Capital Management, and Investment Advisor Group.

Starting on February 2 and continuing through February 6, investors saw portfolios implode due to investments in obscure products that tracked market volatility.  Such investments tracked the VIX index.  The VIX index is a complicated monitor of investment market volatility or “investor fear.”  An “inverse VIX” investment is an investment that benefits from stable markets but loses value quickly in times of volatility.  The losses in the inverse VIX investments mounted quickly until NASDAQ halted the trading of these investments on February 6, with some suffering losses of almost all value in just a few days.

For example, VelocityShares XIV plummeted 80 percent in extended trading on February 5, 2018.  This is a security issued by Credit Suisse this tracks the inverse of the VIX index tracking market volatility.  As the market rose and sank the value of XIV dropped sharply.  Such sudden drops have a cascading impact that can lead to margin calls and other losses.

Of particular concern, though any sale of such an investment to a retail investor is concerning, are investors who purchased such shares through the following brokerage firms:  Credit Suisse, Fidelity, Merrill Lynch, and Wells Fargo.

The dramatic losses was foreseeable to securities brokerages, often referred to as securities “broker-dealers.”  The regulator that oversees broker-dealers, FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, issued its latest warning in a string of warnings on October 2017 to broker-dealers about VIX and inverse VIX investments.  FINRA identified such investments speculative and warned the “major losses” could result from such investments from a failure to understand how such investments work.  For example, many are short-term trading vehicles that can degrade over time.

FINRA also warned all financial advisers that VIX ETNs may be unsuitable for non-institutional investors and any investor looking to hold investment as opposed to actively trading the investment.   While this warning occurred in October 2017, similar warnings were issued in 2012.  That same month, FINRA fined Wells Fargo for unsuitable recommendations of similar volatility investingstockphoto 1funds.

FINRA stated in 2012 in a Regulatory Notice, RN 12-03, that heightened supervision is required of any broker who sells such complex investments, and specifically identified the need for brokerage firms to oversee any recommendation of an investment based upon the VIX.

While all short VIX trading is suspect and potentially recoverable, the following investments are of particular concern:  XIV, SVXY, VMIN, EXIV, IVOP, LJMIX (“LJM”), LJMAX, XXV, and ZIV.

FINRA is conducting sweep investigations of all brokerages that sold any and all of these investments to retail investors.  ‘The sweep is part of Finra’s continuing focus on the suitability of sales of complex products, including leveraged and volatile products, to retail customers,’ stated FINRA.

In addition to suitability, there is also concern that due diligence by these brokerages should have revealed that the index was subject to manipulation.  This was recently reported by the Financial Times of London.  A scholarly report from researches at the University of Texas in 2017 identified the mechanism for manipulating the VIX.  FT reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is currently investigating such allegations.

Investors suffering losses in such investments may have valid claims despite the warnings contained in the prospectus.  These investments should not have been offered to any retail investors.

PedersonLaw has represented investors in similar actions in most of the 50 states either directly or pro hac vice.

Recovery of Woodbridge Loss

Landmark

Woodbridge investors believed real estate ensured the safety of their investments.

Investors of Woodbridge may have the ability to recover the losses they sustained.  Please call 1-866-817-0201 or 303-300-5022 for a free consultation with a private attorney concerning potential loss recovery.

Regulators have charged the Woodbridge Group of Companies with operating a Ponzi scam.  This creates liability on the part of those advisors selling Woodbridge.

There were glaring issues in these Woodbridge investments for an extended period of time.    These issues should have been discovered during reasonable due diligence by the brokers and agents selling the Woodbridge investments.  These investments should have been recognized as not being suitable for any investor.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had been investigating Woodbridge since 2016.  Woodbridge, the Sherman Oaks, California-based Woodbridge, which calls itself a leading developer of high-end real estate, had been under the microscope of state regulators even longer.   The focus of these regulators was the possible fraudulent sale of securities.

On December 21, 2017,  the SEC charged the Woodbridge Group of Companies with operating a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme that targeted thousands of investors nationwide.  “The only way Woodbridge was able to pay investors their dividends and interest payments was through the constant infusion of new investor money,” per Steven Peikin of the SEC.

Prior to the charge, in January 2017, the SEC served a subpoena on Woodbridge for relevant electronic communications.  Woodbridge failed to respond to this subpoena.  This left the SEC to seek court intervention to compel Woodbridge to produce potentially damaging documentation the SEC believes existed.  The SEC filed its allegation that Woodbridge is a Ponzi scheme within weeks of its access to Woodbridge’s documents.

Through court filings, the SEC states that Woodbridge “has raised more than $1 billion from several thousand investors nationwide” and it “may have been or may be, among other things, making false statements of material fact or failing to disclose material facts to investors and others, concerning, among other things, the use of investor funds, the safety of the investments, the profitability of the investments, the sales fees or other costs associated with the purchase of the investments.”

Shortly after the issuance of the order sought by the SEC Woodbridge declared bankruptcy.  This filing does not extinguish the rights of investors.  These investors have claims against the brokers and advisors selling the investments.

Woodbridge has additionally stated that it has also received inquiries from about 25 state securities regulators concerning the alleged offer and sale of unregistered securities by unregistered agents.

The Woodbridge Group of Companies missed payments on notes sold to investors the week of November 26, 2017, and December 5, 2017 filed chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The company blamed rising legal and compliance costs for its problems.

Woodbridge said it had settled three of the state inquiries and was in advanced talks with authorities in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Michigan when it filed for Chapter 11 protection.

The company’s CEO, Robert Shapiro, resigned on December 2  but will continue to be paid a monthly fee of $175,000 for work as a consultant to the firm.

On August 14, 2018, Jerry Raines of HD Vest Investments entered into a regulatory settlement whereby he agreed to a bar from the securities industry to resolve the investigation into his sale of Woodbridge notes.  Raines operated from Kilgore, Texas.  Likewise, Donna Lynn Barnard, agreed to a similar sanction.

David Ferwerda likewise entered into a regulatory settlement concerning his sale of Woodbridge.  Ferwerda did not contest the charge and FINRA simply stripped him of his license.  This, however, does not exonerate either Ferwerda or his former employer, Signator Investors, of civil liability for losses.

Frank Roland Dietrich entered into a regulatory settlement with FINRA concerning sales in excess of $10 million of Woodbridge.  Dietrich was previously a broker with Quest Capital and Wunderlich Securities.  The FINRA settlement included Dietrich agreeing to a lifetime ban from the securities industry.

Gary Forrest of American Portfolios entered into a settlement with regulators in April 2019.

Likewise, Gary L. Pevey of Mutual Securities was suspended by FINRA for one year for the sale of Woodbridge.

Those at Woodbridge are not the only ones responsible for investor losses.  The Colorado Division of Securities is considering sanctions against investment advisor Ronald Caskey of Firestone, Colorado.  Caskey is the host of the Ron Caskey Radio Show.  James Campbell of Campbell Financial Group in Woodland Park, Colorado and Timothy McGuire of Highlands Ranch, Colorado are also the subject of regulatory investigations by the state regulator.  The Colorado Division of Securities has also begun investigating Jerry Kagarise of Security 1st Financial of Colorado Springs.  Another seller of Woodbridge in the Springs area is Carrier Financial.

These and other Colorado investment advisors have raised approximately $57 million from 450 Colorado investors.  Woodbridge continued to solicit investors through these advisors, in addition to radio and online ads, through October 2017, just prior to the bankruptcy filing.

While the regulatory actions will do little to compensate the damaged investors, these actions support private civil actions for recovery by investors.  We are investigating and in the process of bringing suit against Colorado investment advisors selling Woodbridge investments, and would like to share what we have learned with other investors in Colorado and nationwide.

Rueters is the source of some of the information contained herein.

Morgan Stanley $13 Mil. UIT Sanction, Loss Recovery

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today, September 25, 2017, that it has sanctioned Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC approximately $13 million for UIT violations by its advisors and for failing to supervise its advisors’ short-term trades of unit investment trusts (UITs).  If you were sold UIT investments at Morgan Stanley, call toll-free 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation.

While this fine involved the failure of Morgan Stanley to supervise hundreds of brokers executing thousands of UIT rollover transactions, the most prolific offenders appear to be the following:  Elaine Diones LaCerte, Richard Alan Shotz, Vincent Sciabica, and Lloyd Thomas Layton.

A UIT is an investment vehicle similar to a mutual fund but with some key differences.  It is an investment company that offers units in a portfolio of securities; however, unlike a mutual fund, it terminates on a specific maturity date. UITs impose a variety of charges, including a deferred sales charge and a creation and development fee, that can total approximately 3.95 percent for a typical 24-month UIT. This can be a significant cost.  A registered representative, or advisor, who repeatedly recommends that a customer sell a UIT position before the maturity date and then “rolls over” those funds into a new UIT, an action that can also be described as “churning,” causes the customer to incur increased and unnecessary sale charges over time.

Invest photo 2FINRA found such actions in thousands of customer accounts. FINRA further found that Morgan Stanley failed to adequately supervise advisor sales of UITs by providing insufficient guidance to supervisors regarding how they should review such transactions to detect improper short-term UIT trading, failing to implement an adequate system to detect and deter such abuse, and failing to provide for supervisory review of rollovers prior to execution. Morgan Stanley also failed to conduct training for advisors specific to these UIT issues.

Susan Schroeder of FINRA said, “Due to the long-term nature of UITs, their structure, and upfront costs, short-term trading of UITs may be improper and raises suitability concerns. Firms must adequately supervise representatives’ sales of UITs –including providing sufficient training –and have in place a system to detect potentially unsuitable short-term UIT rollovers.”

In assessing sanctions, FINRA has recognized Morgan Stanley’s cooperation in having initiated a firmwide investigation that included, among other things, interviewing more than 65 firm personnel and the retention of an outside consultant to conduct a statistical analysis of UIT rollovers at the firm; identified customers affected and establishing a plan to provide remediation to those customers; and provided substantial assistance to FINRA in its investigation.