Tag Archives: unsuitable securities

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 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.

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.

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.

Charles Lee Deremo

Cadaret, Grant & Co., Inc. of Syracuse, New York and Stockbroker Charles Lee Deremo of Apple Valley, Minnesota submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent.

If you invested with either Cadaret or Deremo, please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free consultation with an attorney.

Cadaret was censured and fined $10,000 and Deremo was fined of $5,000,
suspended from association with any FINRA member, which is any stockbrokerage or financial advisory firm, in any capacity for 10 business days.

The firm and Deremo consented to the sanctions and to the entry of findings that the firm failed to enforce its own procedures and conduct an adequate suitability review of Deremo’s recommended investment strategy for a customer.  This is in violation of FINRA rules that require a brokerage firm to review recommendations of brokers to verify that the recommendations are suitable.

The findings, which were neither admitted nor denied, stated that the firm failed to identify that Deremo’s basis for the recommendation of a strategy for the customer may not have been suitable given the customer’s age, his investment objectives, his risk tolerance and the concentration of his investment. Moreover, the customer relied on monthly withdrawals from his variable annuity for living expenses.

The regulatory document giving more details of the underlying facts can be found with the following link.

If you believe you were also sold unsuitable securities, please call the number above for a free consultation on your legal rights and whether you have grounds for recovery.  Regulatory actions such as this can often expose the basis for additional private actions.

Losses with First Financial Equity (FFEC)

If you have suffered investment losses with First Financial Equity Corp. (“FFEC”) please call for a free consultation with an attorney at 1-866-817-0201.  Recent actions of FINRA, the financial industry regulator, indicate that investors may have been harmed by the actions of this firm.

FFEC and its chief compliance officer entered into a settlement with FINRA regulators  on March 8, 2017 concerning the lapses in supervision.  The alleged lapses allowed a variety of different fraudulent activity to occur throughout FFEC and in particular the Scottsdale, Arizona branch.  FINRA asserted that the chief supervisor of FFEC, the chief compliance officer, had not adequately supervised and that the firm did not have adequate supervisory procedures.

The most obvious result of the lack of supervision is the 26 customer complaints of broker John Schooler.  These complaints, many of which evolved into arbitration lawsuits, involved his inappropriate trades in oil & gas investments and TIC investments.

One issue alleged to be a result of the inadequate supervision is the sale of unsuitable ETFs.  Unsuitable securities are those which are not consistent with the wants and needs of an investor.  Usually, an investment is unsuitable if it puts at risk funds not earmarked for risk, or otherwise is inconsistent with who the client is as an investor.

In the case of FFEC, its brokers recommended and invested its customers in aggressive ETFs, including leveraged and inverse ETFs.  Such investments are known to be high risk, yet the brokers recommended the investments to individuals who did not express a desire for high risk investments.  Worse, many of these investments were purchased by the FFEC brokers for accounts where the brokers were given discretion and not given the required supervisory review.

To ensure suitability, FFEC brokers were required to obtain sufficient information about their investors to evaluate the investments that would be suitable.  The settlement states that this was not done.

Another issue alleged to have been caused by the lack of supervision is churning/excessive trading.  This occurs any time trades are made which the costs and fees are of an amount that the trades benefit the adviser more than the investor.

Southeast Investments, N.C. and Frank Black

We represent investors and have successfully pursued Southeast Investments and Frank Black to judgment.  The arbitration resulted in a nearly full award of investment losses plus an award of attorney fees.  To speak to a lawyer for a free and confidential consultation about losses with Southeast or Black please call 1-866-817-0201.

Black and Southeast are in trouble again.   This time by FINRA regulators.  FINRA’s Department of Enforcement alleges that Respondent Southeast Investments, acting through Respondent Frank Harmon Black, and Black violated FINRA Rules 8210, 4511, and 2010 in the provision of false documents to FINRA and giving false testimony in a regulatory interview during an investigation into whether the Firm had conducted required inspections of branch offices.

One of the false documents was a list of 43 branch inspections Black claimed he performed, including the dates he purportedly conducted the inspections. Respondents also provided five false branch office inspection checklists that Black claimed he completed during the inspections. Enforcement also alleges that for more than five years Respondents failed to ensure that Southeast preserved all business-related emails by permitting registered representatives to use private email providers.

Under an “honor system” set up by Respondents, registered representatives were obligated to send copies of their emails to the Firm to review and retain. For this conduct, Southeast is charged by FINRA regulators, pursuant to FINRA documents, with willfully violating Section 17(a) ofthe Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Exchange Act Rule 17a-4. Southeast and Black are also charged with violating NASD Rule 3110 and FINRA Rules 4511 and 2010.

The resulting penalty was just short of a quarter million dollars.  Frank Black was expelled from the securities industry.

The FINRA order can be found at the following link.

Jeffrey Pederson is a private attorney representing investors, having represented investors in FINRA arbitrations across the country.  Please call for a consultation if you have lost funds as a result of actions you suspect may be inappropriate.

 

Oil / Gas Investment and Tax Loss

Oil StockSome Energy, Oil and Gas investments can only legally be sold to a limited section of the investing public.  If you suffered losses we may be able to  help.  Contact us at 303-300-5022 or 1-866-817-0201 (toll-free) for a free consultation.

Oil and gas investors do not have to sit and watch their life savings diminish.  These investors have rights though many are unaware of the recourse they have for such losses.

Many investors have received high pressure sales of oil and gas investments.  Brokers and other investment professionals like to sell these types of investments because they usually pay a very high commission.  These commissions can be 10 to 20 times higher than the commission on your average stock sale.  The high commissions will often cause these individuals to ignore the rules in the sale of such investments. The two rules that are usually ignored are those concerning accreditation and suitability.

blog_gulf_mexico_oil_rigOil and gas limited partnerships can generally only be sold to “accredited” investors.  Such investors are individuals whose liquid net worth, their net worth excluding their home, is in excess of $1 million. The second rule that is commonly violated in the sale of such investments is the suitability rule.  Oil and gas investments are known by investment professionals to generally be very high risk investments.  Investments need to be consistent with the level of risk that an investor is willing or able to take.  For example, a person approaching or in retirement or who cannot otherwise afford to take high levels of risk with their investments could not legally be offered an oil and gas investment.

Likewise, an individual who expresses a desire for conservative or moderate investments would not be a suitable investor. There are many other rules that can potentially be violated in the sale of oil and gas investments.

Problems exist not just with the investment losses, but also with the tax consequence of investing in these companies.  This tax consequence is referred to as CODI.  A detailed description is found in the following Link to Forbes.   In short, these investments are partnerships.  When debt is defaulted upon by a partnership, and the lender “writes off” the debt, the write off means that the owners (the investors) are taxed as if they received the amount written off as income.  Considering some limited partnerships defaulted on billions in loans, the tax obligation of investors is substantial.

If you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call.  These rules apply no matter if you invest in individual oil or gas investments or invest through a mutual fund or master limited partnership (MLP).

Common oil and gas investments we see recoverable losses include Linn Energy (“LINE” or “LNCO”) and more information can be found at www.jpedersonlaw.com/blog/linn-energy-losses/, Williams Companies (“WMB”), Penn West Petroleum (“PWE”), BP Prudhoe Bay Royalty Trust (“BPT”), Breitburn Energy Partners, LP (“BBEP”), Hawthorne, SandRidge Energy, Williams Ridgewood Energy, Apco, Atlas Energy, Midstates Petroleum, Peabody Energy, Resolute Energy, XXI Energy, Nobel, Permian Basin, and Breitling Energy.  Some of these losses may be recoverable by class action while others may require individual FINRA arbitration suits.

More information on SandRidge can be found at this link.

Oil Stock IIJeffrey Pederson is an attorney who works with investors to recover losses in FINRA arbitration and has represented investors in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut , Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, in FINRA arbitration actions against securities brokerage firms for unsuitable investments.  Please call for a confidential and free consultation.

Joseph Henry Murphy, B. C. Zeigler, RBC

On February 16, 2017, Wisconsin broker Joseph Henry Murphy of B. C. Ziegler and Company and formerly of RBC entered into an AWC settlement with FINRA Regulators.

As identified in FINRA regulatory findings, on February 11, 2015 Murphy exercised discretion in 27 non-discretionary accounts of his customers, placing a total of 80 transactions.  In the days leading up to the trades, Murphy had conversations concerning these transactions with his clients and the clients gave the broker express verbal approval for these trades and his proposed strategy, but Murphy did not receive authorization from these customers on the same day that he executed the transactions.  This is in violation of FINRA rules that require contemporaneous authorization for trades in non-discretionary accounts.

On October 27, 2015 he then again exercised discretion in 20 non-discretionary accounts, placing a total of 32 trades. Once again, in the days leading up to the trades, Murphy discussed these transactions with the clients and they gave Murphy express verbal approval for these trades and his proposed strategy, but he did not receive authorization from these customers on the same day that he executed the transactions.

On December 22, 2015 Murphy made 11 mutual fund transactions for a single customer after a short telephonic discussion with that customer. In that discussion neither the specific mutual funds nor the specific amounts that would be invested were expressly identified, and Murphy used his discretion to make those transactions. Murphy did not obtain written authorization, which is required for an account to be discretionary, from any of the 48 customers to exercise discretion in their accounts and RBC, the employer of Murphy at the time, did not approve these accounts for discretionary trading.

For these actions, Murphy received a 10-day suspension and a $5000 fine.

A link to the AWC of FINRA is found here.