October 5, 2015

Florida Investment Adviser is Charged With Securities Fraud

The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging investment adviser Arthur F. Jacob and his Innovative Business Solutions LLC with fraud. The regulator claims that the two of them deceived clients from 2009 into 2014 and violated the federal securities laws’ antifraud provisions along with an SEC antifraud rule.

In its order instituting administrative proceedings regarding the purported investment adviser fraud, the SEC Enforcement Division contended that IBS and Jacob misrepresented the profitability and risks of investments he had bought for clients. Rather than disclosing the risks involved in certain exchange-traded funds, Jacob purportedly told clients that his investment approach was safe, presented no or little risk, and would garner predictable earnings. He also is accused of making misstatements to clients regarding their investments’ profitability.

Jacob and his Florida-based firm are not registered as an investment adviser with the regulator or any state. He is accused of telling clients that registration was not mandatory and of hiding his disciplinary history. For example, Jacob was disbarred from being an attorney because he misappropriated client moneys and engaged in other misconduct, including make false statements while under oath and to the Bar Counsel, submitting false tax returns for a client, charging unreasonable fees, and violating a court order.

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September 30, 2015

UBS Puerto Rico to Pay $18.5M to Settle FINRA Sanctions Over Supervisory Failures Related to Closed-End Fund Sales

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is fining UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico (UBS PR) $7.5 million for supervisory failures involving its transactions in UBS sponsored Puerto Rican closed-end funds (CEF). The brokerage firm also must pay $11 million in client restitution for losses related to those shares.

According to FINRA, a self-regulatory organization for the brokerage industry, for over four years, UBS PR neglected to monitor the combined concentration and leverage levels in customer accounts to make sure transactions were suitable for the respective profiles and objectives of its customers. FINRA said that considering that the firm’s retail customers typically kept high concentration levels in the country’s assets and frequently used these concentrated accounts as cash loan collateral—and in light of the U.S. territory’s volatile economy—UBS should have put into place a system that could reasonably identify and prevent unsuitable transactions.

Instead, the regulator said, UBS PR persuaded certain customers to establish credit lines that were collateralized by their securities accounts. If the value of the account dropped under the required collateral level, the customer would have to deposit more assets or liquidate securities. A credit line that is collateralized by an account that is very concentrated could significantly increase an investor’s risk of loss. When the market dropped in 2013, and a lot of the CEFs lost value, customers were forced to sustain hefty losses to satisfy the calls they received notifying them that their account’s value was now under the required collateral level.

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September 29, 2015

UBS Puerto Rico To Pay the SEC $15M Over Closed-End Bond Fund Sales

UBS Financial Services Inc. of Puerto Rico (UBS PR) has consented to pay $15 million to resolve the Securities and Exchange Commission’s claims related to the brokerage firm’s supervision of the sale of its closed-end Puerto Rico bond funds (CEFs). The SEC contends that UBS PR did not properly supervise ex-broker Jose Ramirez, who is accused of increasing his compensation by at least $2.8 million when he allegedly had customers improperly borrow funds to invest in Puerto Rico bond funds. UBS fired Ramirez last year.

The funds came from UBS Bank USA, which is a bank affiliated with UBS PR. Under bank and UBS rule, the funds from UBS Bank are not allowed to be used to carry or purchase securities. According to the SEC, not only was using the funds from the Bank a violation, investors were placed at risk of losses while Ramirez profited. The SEC has filed a separate complaint against the ex-UBS broker.

The regulator claims that Ramirez misled customers about how safe the CEFs were, as well as misrepresented the risks involved. He purportedly lied to his branch manager when he was asked about suspect transactions.

To avoid getting caught, Ramirez allegedly told customers to move money from their credit line to an external bank account before placing the funds into their brokerage account at UBS PR and then buying the CEFs. The CEFs, which were heavily invested in Puerto Rico bonds, dropped in value when the Puerto Rican bond market started to decline in the Fall of 2013. Customers then had a choice of either paying down part of the loans or risk liquidation of their investments.

The $15 million settlement will be put into a fund for investors who sustained losses when the funds dropped in value. The Commission's order instituting a settled administrative proceeding claims that UBS PR did not have the systems and procedures to prevent or detect the misconduct that Ramirez was engaging in. Even though UBS PR was allegedly apprised at least twice that customers of Ramirez might be violating the loan policy, the brokerage firm’s policies did not provide for reasonable follow up. UBS PR also purportedly lacked a system to make sure that credit line proceeds that were moved out of firm accounts were not used to buy securities.

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September 28, 2015

NASAA Board Releases Proposed Model Act to Protect Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation for Comment

The North American Securities Administrators Association announced that its Board of Director has approved to release for comment a proposed modal act to tackle the problems faced by brokerage firms, investment adviser firms, and their representatives when dealing with signs that older senior investors, or other vulnerable adults, may be suffering from financial exploitation. The proposed model is called "An Act to Protect Vulnerable Adults From Financial Exploitation."

If approved, the act would mandate that qualified investment advisers and brokerage firm employees notify their securities regulator, as well as Adult Protective Services, if they have reason to believe that a vulnerable adult has been subject to financial exploitation. They would also be able to notify a third party that had been previously designated by that client of their suspicions, as long as that person is not the one suspected of the exploitation. The act would let qualified firm employees provide records related to the attempted/suspected exploitation to the authorities.

Brokerage firms and investment advisers who fulfill the requirements of the act would be granted immunity from civil or administrative liability related to the elder financial fraud. Also, advisers and broker-dealers would be granted the authority to delay account disbursements if they thought that something untoward was happening.

A vulnerable adult in such scenarios would be someone who is age 60 or older or an adult who is vulnerable in other ways that could prevent him/her from being able to self-protect from exploitation. NASAA’s proposal comes soon after the one that was issued by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

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September 27, 2015

Father and Sons Charged in $20M Stock Scam

The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging a father, three sons, and two other men with bilking people who invested money in Gerova Financial Group. The regulator’s complaint names John Galanis, his sons Derek, Jason, and Jared, Gerova president Gary T. Hurst, and investment adviser Gavin Hamels. John has been a defendant in SEC enforcement actions numerous times over the last four decades. Jason faced SEC charges in 2007.

The SEC contends that Jason and Hirst came up with a securities scam in 2010 to secretly issue $72M of unrestricted shares to a friend in Kosovo. The Galanis’ are accused of redirecting the proceeds from the sales of those shares from the friend’s brokerage accounts and wiring the money to themselves and others. This resulted in about $20 million in illicit profits.

Jason is accused of bribing Hamels to buy stock in Gerovia to help stabilize its price as shares went into liquidation. Hamels is accused of buying the stock for clients according to arrangements made with Jared about prices, times, and how much to buy. He allegedly did not tell clients about Jason’s bribe.

The SEC is charging all of the men with federal securities laws and securities registration violations. It is charging Hamels with investment adviser fraud. Meantime, prosecutors in New York have put out a parallel action filing criminal charges against the six men, as well as Ymer Shahini, who was the family friend in Kosovo.

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September 26, 2015

Broker Fraud News: Ex-Dallas Broker Faces Prison, Fintegra Files for Bankruptcy, and Broker Who Promised Investors They’d Double Their Money Can No Longer Sell Securities

Ex-Dallas Broker Accused of Texas Securities Fraud Face Five Years
Wade Lawrence, a former Dallas broker, has pleaded guilty to Texas securities fraud. As part of his plea bargain the 43-year-old will have to forfeit $1.5 million and pay over $250,000 in fines. He also faces up to five years behind bars for his $2.1 million securities scam.

According to prosecutors, over the course of working for several securities firm over the last seven years, Lawrence falsely offered risky investments with the promise of 20% to 100% returns. He lost a significant amount of money and invested just a portion of investors’ funds. Lawrence used a lot of investors' cash to cover his own living expenses, personal travel, as well as pay for fancy jewelry. The Associated Press reports that to date Lawrence has given back $581,000 to investors.

Minnesota-Based Brokerage Firm Files for Bankruptcy
Broker-dealer Fintegra has filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Minnesota. The firm had to stop its securities business in June after it was hit with a $1.5M arbitration award that placed it under the $250,000 regulatory net capital requirements of minimum.

According to the FINRA arbitration panel, Finestra and a broker violated state anti-fraud provisions related to the sale of Miasole Investments II, an unregistered security. The securities fraud complaint, submitted by Fintegra customers, states that the broker-dealer could only pay $300,000 of the award. However, InvestmentNews reported that the attorneys for one of the clients said that to date none of the award has been paid.

Fintegra, in its FOCUS report with the SEC, admitted that it had been named in five separate lawsuits, all involving the alleged sale of securities that were either unsuitable or violated state securities laws.

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September 23, 2015

LPL to Pay $3.2M Over Nontraded REIT and ETF Sales

LPL Financial (LPLA) has agreed to pay 3.2 million fine to settle penalties related to its sale of nontraded real estate investment trusts and leveraged exchange-traded funds. The settlements were reached with the Non-Traded REIT Task Force of the North American Securities Administrators Association and regulators in Massachusetts and Delaware. The firm sold the REITs at issue for six years beginning in 2008.

Under the agreement, LPL will pay $1.425 million in civil penalties for its purported failures to put into place a supervisory system that was adequate enough to handle its nontraded REIT sales and enforce written procedures related illiquid trust sales. The money will be divvied up between the District of Columbia, 48 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. By settling with NASAA, LPL is not denying or admitting wrongdoing.

Also, the Delaware Attorney General and the Massachusetts Attorney General have arrived at their own settlements with LPL’s Boston arm. The firm consented to pay $1.8 million for putting about 200 clients from Massachusetts in high-risk leveraged ETFs. The broker-dealer and Massachusetts had come to an earlier settlement about nontraded REIT sales two years ago.

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September 21, 2015

SEC Headlines: Regulator Settles Private Equity Fund Fraud Case for $6.8M, Accuses R.T. Jones of Not implementing Cybersecurity Measures, and Files A Securities Case Over Stock Manipulation

Men Accused of $6.8M Private Equity Fund Fraud Allegedly Bilked Friends and Family
The Securities and Exchange Commission has settled charges with two men and their unregistered investment advisory firm for allegedly bilking investors in a private equity fund. Under the agreement, William B. Fretz, John P. Freeman, and their Covenant Capital Management Partners, L.P. will owe the regulator about $6.8 million. Any money collected will go to investors that were defrauded.

According to the SEC order instituting administrative proceedings over the alleged private equity fund fraud, the two men, their firm, and Covenant Partners, L.P., which is the fund they managed, sold partnership interests in the fund to friends and family. However, instead of investing the money, they used the cash for themselves and their other business.

Fritz and Freeman are accused of taking more than $1 million and placing it with their brokerage firm, Keystone Equities Group L.P., which was failing. They also purportedly paid close to $600,000 in performance fees they didn’t make and used assets from the fund to pay back personal obligations.

Freeman, Fretz, and CCMP consented to settle charges accusing them of willfully violating federal securities laws and SEC anti-fraud laws. However, they are not denying or admitting to the SEC fraud charges.

Investment Adviser R.T. Jones Capital Settles SEC Charges Related to Cybersecurity
R.T. Jones Capital Equities Management has settled SEC charges accusing it of not putting into placed required cyber security procedures and policies prior to a breach that compromised the personal identifiable (PII) information of thousands of its clients. Without denying or admitting to the findings, the investment adviser agreed to pay a $75,000 penalty and consented to cease and desist from future violations of the Securities Act of 1933’s Rule 30(a) of Regulation S-P.

According to an SEC probe, R.T. Jones violated federal securities laws’ “safeguard rule.” The rule mandates that registered investment advisers put into place written procedures and policies that are designed in a manner reasonable enough that they protect customers’ information and records from security threats. The regulator said that for four years R.T. Jones did not adopt any such policies.

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September 19, 2015

FINRA Headlines: Regulator Seeks to Curb Broker Record Expungement, Continues to Fight Elder Abuse and Issues Liquidity Risk Management Guidance

FINRA Takes Action to Make It Harder for Brokers to Expunge Their Disciplinary Records
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Board has given the regulator permission to ask for public comment on a plan that would establish tougher requirements for when a broker would be allowed to expunge disciplinary actions from his/her BrokerCheck record. The proposed rule would update existing arbitration rules regarding the expungement of information related to customer disputes.

One proposed requirement is that an arbitration panel would have to get a copy of the BrokerCheck report when determining whether to grant an expungement request. The panel then would have to give more details about its reason to recommend a request.

According to a 2013 study by the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association, expungement requests have been granted in up to 90% of cases that ended in an award or settlement. However, in 2014 the SEC signed off on a rule preventing broker-dealers from conditioning a settlement so that a claimant cannot counter expungement after the case is resolved.

FINRA Board Continues to Fight Elder Financial Abuse
FINRA’s board has given the self-regulatory authority permission to put out a rule proposal that would protect older investors and other vulnerable investors.

Under the rule, firms would be obligated to get the name and contact data of a trusted individual when opening an account for a customer. The rule also would let a firm, if it suspects financial fraud, freeze the money in accounts of senior investors age 65 and over, as well as the accounts of adults with physical or mental impairments. The concern is that such impairments may make it difficult for them to protect their best interests especially when they are being bilked.

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September 16, 2015

SEC Files Fraud Charges in $18M Arizona Securities Scam that Bilked 225 Investors

The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging James Hinkelday, Jason Mogler, Brian Buckley, Casimer Polanchek, and James Stevens with bilking millions of dollars from investors. The regulators claims that the Arizona residents misappropriated about 97% of $18 million from 225 investors who thought their money was being used to acquire and develop beachfront property in Mexico, run recycling facilities, and buy foreclosed residential properties to resell. The men are accused of making Ponzi-like payments to investors who threatened to sue them.

In its complaint, the SEC says that the men—none of whom were registered with the agency to sell investments—solicited prospective investors via magazine, radio, and Internet ads, along with cold calls, marketing materials, and investor presentations. Polanchek purportedly looked for investors at cruises, bars, and self-help seminars. The men also were involved in The Investment Roadshow, which is an Arizona radio program that instructed listeners on how to use self-direct IRAs to put money in their companies. Prospective investors were guided to a website where they could schedule appointments and join seminars to find out more about the investment opportunities.

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September 14, 2015

FINRA Bars Global Arena Capital Brokers for Cockroaching, Churning, and Other Securities Violations

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred seven brokers accused of committing violations and repeatedly transferring from one brokerage firm to another from the securities industry. The brokers worked at the brokerage firm Global Arena Capital Corp. Also barred is the broker-dealer’s president, Barbara L. Desiderio. She is accused of letting the brokers engage in stockbroker fraud and deceiving the regulator.

The other brokers are David Awad, Alex Wildermuth, Peter Snetzko, James Torres, and Michael Tannen. Global Arena branch managers Kevin Hagan and Richard Bohak have been barred from serving in a principal role. Brokers Andrew Marzec and Niaz Elmazi were barred for not cooperating with the regulator’s probe.

According to FINRA, while at the firm, the brokers used sales pitches that were misleading, churned accounts, and committed other abusive acts. Seven of the brokers who were barred had been placed on heightened supervision by the self-regulatory organization when they exited HFP Capital Markets to go work at Global Arena. HFP Capital Markets has since been expelled from the industry by FINRA.

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September 12, 2015

US Study Says Older People Are More Susceptible to Financial Fraud Because of How The Brain Works

According to a study published previously in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scienceshttps://www.nia.nih.gov, the reason why elderly people are more susceptible than younger folk to financial fraud is because the ability to identify trustworthiness decreases with age. The researchers looked at two different groups—one group was comprised of younger adults (ages 20 to 42) and older adults (ages 55-84.)

The groups judged faces in photographs. These faces had been pre-rated for approachability and trustworthiness.

While both groups identified those that had been pre-rated as neutral or trustworthy as approachable and trustworthy, the older group was more likely than the younger group to identify the faces that had been pre-rated as ‘untrustworthy’ as trustworthy. Shelly Taylor, a UCLA psychologist who was involved with the study, said that the reason for this was that older adults did not detect certain “easily distinguished” facial cues indicative of untrustworthiness.

The researchers asked another forty-four participants to undergo functional magnetic resonance while rating the faces. While the older adults did not display much of an activation in the anterior insula, which is the part of the brain known for regulating "gut feelings” that affect decision-making, the younger adults’ anterior insula exhibited a stronger response. Taylor said that while the younger adults were getting that ‘uh-oh’ feeling, the older adults were not.

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