July 29, 2015

Grand Jury to Decide Whether to Indict State AG of Texas Securities Fraud

This week, a grand jury convened to hear evidence to determine whether Ken Paxton, the State’s Attorney General, should be indicted for first-degree felony charges alleging violations involving Texas securities fraud. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment, or a prison term of five to 99 years, and a fine of up to $10,000.

When Paxton was a member of the Texas House of Representative, he was hired by Mowery Capital Management to look for clients. He solicited three over a period of a few years and the firm paid him part of the asset management fees.

The Texas State Securities Board is now accusing Mowery Capital of bilking clients. Last year, the board fined Paxton $1,000 after he admitted that he was not properly registered as an investment adviser when he worked for the firm. Now, a special prosecutor is saying that Paxton broke laws beyond that civil violation and an investigation by the Texas Rangers has resulted in enough evidence to prove this.

While the state board opted not to pursue a criminal case against him, the Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group, filed a complaint. A judge appointed two special prosecutors and a few months ago granted their request to expand the scope of the probe. A spokesperson for Paxton claims the investigation is politically motivated.

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July 24, 2015

SEC Probes Whether Mutual Fund Managers Are Charging Investors Undisclosed Fees

The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into whether Franklin Templeton, Oppenheimer Funds (OPY), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM), and other mutual fund managers are charging investors for fund fees that have not been fully disclosed. While money managers are allowed to use some of investors’ money to pay compensation to the brokers who sell a fund's shares, as well as for certain marketing purposes, the regulator wants to know whether firms are exceeding the allowed limits.

The Commission is trying to find out whether mutual fund companies have come up with ways to make extra payments to brokers by using investor assets to cover certain services, such as the consolidation of client trading records. The agency is worried that proper disclosure of these added fees are not being made to investors. The SEC is also wondering if brokers are more inclined to recommend funds that provide such additional payments, compelling them to prioritize profit over funds.

Fund companies have said that they do properly disclose fees for marketing. Oppenheimer, which is one of the companies that the SEC has investigated over this issue, has said that it doesn't bill mutual fund clients for recordkeeping costs but that the money comes from the firm.

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July 23, 2015

Puerto Rico Owes $5.4B of Bond Payments

Puerto Rico owes investors $5.4 billion of bond payments in the next 12 months. A lot of this debt is for COFINA, which is sales tax debt, and securities that were sold by the Government Development Bank.

As a result of the upcoming payments and overall debt of the Commonwealth, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla is continuing to press for a restructure of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt, which he claims the island cannot pay. Because Puerto Rico has over a dozen kinds of bonds with different security pledges, negotiations over this debt have proved challenging. While some general obligation bonds are protected by the constitution of the commonwealth, others are revenue-backed. Negotiations must move fast as roughly $1 billion is due in January.

This week, PREPA, Puerto Rico’s public power authority, criticized bondholders’ new offer to refinance billions of dollars in debt. The plan was drafted by 40% of the agency’s bondholders, including investors such as BlueMountain Capital and Franklin Advisors. It would divide roughly $8 billion of debt into two tranches.

One tranche would take the form of capital appreciation bonds, which would allow for payments to be deferred for years. Payment for the first tranche, holding about $5.7 billion of debt, would come with debt relief through 2019. Payments on the second tranche, which would hold $2.4 billion, would not have to be completed until 2035.

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July 21, 2015

Royal Alliance Must Pay $1.4M To Retirees for Nontraded REIT, Variable Annuities Sales

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. panel says that AIG Advisor Group (AIG) subsidiary Royal Alliance Associates Inc. must pay $1.4 million to three retirees who claim that the brokerage firm was negligent when supervising the sales of variable annuities and nontraded real estate investment trusts. The investors, who were former AT & T Inc. employees, claim that ex-broker Kathleen Tarr recommended that they take a lump-sum buyout from the communications company instead of a lifetime annuity. The money was then put into nontraded REIT company Inland Real Estate, as well as different variable annuities.

Tarr’s BrokerCheck record shows that she has been named in about forty customer disputes and complaints. She was let go from Royal Alliance in 2010.

The claimants, who are low-wealth, low income seniors, believe that they should not have been encouraged to take a lump sum and place their funds into non-traded REITs and variable annuities involving an IRA. Even though they did not sustain out-of-pocket losses from the investment recommendations, the retirees purportedly lost out on earnings they would have made if only they had invested their money more reasonably or opted for the lifetime annuity. With the latter, an investor would have given over a lump sum figure in return for a guaranteed payout for the duration of his/her life.

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July 17, 2015

Massachusetts Regulator Probes Alternative Mutual Funds Sold by JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, BlackRock, and Other Financial Advisers

William Galvin, the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, is investigating the sale of 25 alternative mutual funds, including those created by Wells Fargo (WFC), JPMorgan (JPM), Eaton Vance (EV), and BlackRock (BLK). The state’s securities division sent subpoenas to registered investment advisers that deal with the funds. It noted, however, that receiving a subpoena is “not an indication of wrongdoing at this time.”

A full list of the funds under investigation can be found here. Galvin’s office wants to see documents related to the recommendations the firms made make to retail investors. The Massachusetts regulator’s spokesperson, Brian McNiff, said that the funds were selected because of their size, investment strategies, and sales volumes.

Alternative funds, also called liquid alts, are often marketed as tools that involve hedge-fund-style investment strategies to mitigate risks found in bonds, stocks, and other traditional investments. Alternative funds are not like typical mutual funds. Liquid alts usually hold more investments that are non-traditional. They typically employ trading strategies that are more complex.

Alt funds may invest in global real estate, leveraged loans, commodities, unlisted securities, and start-up companies. Strategies used may include short selling, hedging and leveraging via derivatives, opportunistic tactics that change with market conditions, or even single strategy tactics. There are risks involved.

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July 16, 2015

OppenheimerFunds Says Puerto Rico Can Repay Its $72B Debt

OppenheimerFunds Inc. (OPY) is disputing Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla’s contention that the island cannot pay back its $72 billion debt. The New York-based mutual fund company said that based on data about income growth, sales-tax collection, and unemployment, the U.S. territory’s economy can withstand repaying creditors.

According to Bloomberg data, as of July 9, OppenheimerFunds, which is the largest holder of Puerto Rico municipal bonds, had about $4.4 billion of uninsured obligations from the island. Aside from insured debt, re-refunded securities, and tobacco bonds, these obligations make up 13.8% of Oppenheimer’s municipal fund holdings.

As Puerto Rico bonds continue to lose value—data shows that this year alone Puerto Rico bonds suffered a 9.5% loss—OppenheimerFunds’ municipal funds also have suffered. Bloomberg reports that for 2015,the company’s state funds in Arizona, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and North Carolina, which all hold Puerto Rico securities, sustained the largest losses among single-state, open-end muni funds.

When García Padilla asked for wide-ranging restructuring of the territory’s debt last month, OppenheimerFunds said it would defend the terms of the bonds it holds. The firm does not believe the territory’s fiscal health will get better even if some of Puerto Rico’s agencies file for bankruptcy protection.

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July 14, 2015

LPL Financial Fined $250K by Massachusetts Over Misrepresentations Made to Senior Investors

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has fined LPL Financial (LPLA) $250K to resolve charges that its representatives misrepresented their qualifications when working with older investors. The state’s regulator claims that the brokerage firm approved having brokers use senior-specific titles on their business cards. The titles were not in compliance with the state’s regulations regarding senior designations.

After Galvin’s office discovered one such incident, LPL conducted an internal probe and discovered that at least 10 brokers may have been using titles that were not in compliance with the state’s Senior Designations Regulations. The regulator said that the firm had even approved the title on one broker’s business card more than once.

Galvin contends that since June 2007, LPL failed to establish or enforce a procedure allowing it to look at senior-specific titles to make sure they complied. He noted the importance of not using titles that imply one has an expertise in advising senior investors when there is none. The Senior Designations Regulations prohibit the use of titles that imply a training or certification that the titleholder doesn’t actually possess.

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July 11, 2015

Massachusetts Regulator Charges Securities America Over Bait and Switch Ads By Broker Accused of Targeting Senior Investors

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin is charging Securities America with inadequate supervision of a broker who is accused of using a “grossly deceptive” radio ad campaign to target older investors. The state regulator said that the financial firm shouldn’t have approved the spots that Barry Armstrong ran on his AM radio show. His show, which airs on WRKO-AM, is syndicated on different stations.

The broker purportedly ran ads asking listeners to call for information related to Alzheimer’s Disease when what Armstrong really was doing was collecting their contact information so he could offer to sell them financial advice. Galvin’s office said that the broker engaged in ‘bait and switch’ by falsely advertising one service when he was really selling another type of service.

The regulator contends that Securities America failed to identify or prevent Armstrong’s unethical conduct by neglecting to ask even one question about the content of the ads or attendant mailing materials. Now, the state wants a censure, a cease-and-desist order, and a fine imposed against the firm.

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July 9, 2015

Ex-Head of Chicago Investment Firm Gets 6-Year Sentence for $9M Ponzi Scam

Neal Goyal, the former head of Caldera Investment Group and Blue Blue Horizon Asset Management, has been sentenced to six years behind bars for bilking over 40 investors of more than $9 million in a Ponzi scam. Prosecutors contend that over the eight years that the 34-year-old ran the scam, pretending to be a hedge fund manager, he made just limited trades and on only some of the funds. The majority of his victims were family and friends from his Hindu community.

Goyal told investors that the four private funds he managed would employ a long-short trading strategy. Instead, he ran a Ponzi scam, paying off earlier investors with new investors' money.

He would go on to use over $2 million of their funds on his lavish lifestyle, including a $1.5 million home, luxury car leases, travel, and expensive dinners. He also put some of the money into his wife’s business ventures and his father-in-law’s failing tavern. He took his company staff on an all-expenses-paid vacation to the Dominican Republic. The group trip included a yacht and butler service at a five-star resort.

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July 8, 2015

F-Squared Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Exchange-traded fund manager F-Squared Investments Inc. has filed for bankruptcy. The firm wants the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware to allow it to sell its intellectual property, including its investment strategies and contracts to manage money, to Broadmeadow Capital, a Chicago-based money manager.

It was in December that F-Squared agreed to pay investors $35 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges alleging that the firm misled investors about the performance of its Alpha Sector investment strategy. The regulator said that the ETF fund manager falsely marketed the strategy as having a successful track record that was based on actual performance.

Instead, contends the SEC, the data was from a hypothetical performance for a past period that was generated from backtesting. Also, a performance calculation error caused results to be inflated by 350%.

Advisers were attracted to this inflated performance record and F-Squared’s contention that its strategy could get around tough market shifts by engaging in opportunistic trading in and out of multiple industrial-sector ETFs. In seven years, the firm went from being practically a nonentity to having a $28.5 billion strategy as of last year.

F-Squared became the largest marketer of index products using ETFs. By the end of the year that ended in March 2015, however, the firm experienced a close to $8 billion asset decline. It reduced its workforce by 25%.

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July 7, 2015

SEC Stops Ponzi Scam that Targeted Portuguese and Spanish Communities

The Securities and Exchange Commission is filing fraud charges against DFRF Enterprises for running a Ponzi scheme and pyramid scam that targeted investors belonging to Portuguese and Spanish-speaking communities. According to the regulator, the company claimed to run over 50 gold mines in Africa and Brazil even though its revenues came solely from selling membership interests to investors.

The alleged scammers raised over $15 million, bilking at least 1,400 investors. The owner of DFRF, Daniel Fernandes Rojo Filho, allegedly took over $6 million of this money to pay for personal expenses, including luxury vehicles and other lavish spending.

The regulator contends that in 2014, Filho and others started selling memberships in DFRF. Investors were recruited through a pyramid-like scam, with commissions paid to earlier investors for recruiting new members, much like a Ponzi scheme.

Many of these sales took place through meetings with prospective investors in hotel conference rooms, businesses, and homes, mostly in Massachusetts. The investment opportunity was also promoted on video through the Internet. In less than a year, membership sales rose from under $100,000 in June 2014 to over $4 million for the month of March 2015.

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July 4, 2015

FINRA Orders BNP Paribas Securities to Pay Retired Couple $16.6M for Unsuitable Investment Sale

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority says that BNP Paribas Securities Corp. has to pay retirees James and Margaret Eringer $16.6 million for selling them a leveraged derivative call option, which was not a suitable investment for them. This securities claim, which was brought in 2010, is the longest running case that FINRA has presided over. The arbitration panel finally issued a ruling after over 90 days of hearings.

The Eringers made their money when they sold a bakery business that belonged to one of their parents. The British couple spent about 60% of their investible assets on the investment in 2007.

According to their securities attorney, they made the purchase through Ontonimo Limited, which is a corporate entity that BNP Paribas mandated they create since the firm could not directly sell this kind of security to retail investors. This type of investment product is usually sold to institutional clients and hedge funds.

The Eringers paid BNP over $2 million for costs and fees. The firm also purportedly made James Eringer sign an agreement indicating that he was an investment adviser himself even though he had no professional financial experience nor did he have a securities license. Within 18 months, the Eringers’ contend, their investment became “worthless.”

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