FINRA Fines AXA Advisors $100,000 For Allegedly Not Firing Broker who Ran Ponzi Scam Sooner
AXA Advisors LLC will pay a $100,000 fine to settle Financial Industry Regulatory Authority allegations that it delayed too long before firing a broker who was also the mastermind of a Ponzi scam. The financial firm turned in a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent prior to there having to be a regulatory hearing, without denying or admitting to the findings, and without an adjudication of any issue. AXA Advisors is a subsidiary of AXA Financial, Inc., which is an AXA Group member.
Kenneth Neely, a former registered representative, started working with AXA in its Clayton, Missouri office in August 2007. FINRA contends that already by then, Neely had been the subject of four client complaints. Three of these were securities arbitrations over business practices he employed with previous employees. (Prior to working at AXA, he was registered with Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., Inc. and UBS PaineWebber, Inc.) The SRO believes that AXA also knew that Neely was having financial problems at the time.
Neely was permanently barred by FINRA in 2009 for running the Ponzi scam, which bilked its victims of $600,000. Many of the investors he defrauded belonged to his church. According to the SRO, Neely to conceal his financial scheme by having investors pay $2K to $3K to his wife. He also created fake invoices to make them appears as if they were actual ownership certificates. He did pay investors about $300,000. A lot of his investors’ money went toward supporting his extravagant lifestyle. Neely eventually pleaded guilty to the federal crime of mail fraud. He was sentenced to 37 months in months in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $618,270.
Per the AWC, Neely started running a Ponzi scam in 2001 while he was still working at UBS. He continued his fraud operation while at Stifel and when he went to go work with AXA. He persuaded AXA clients, Stifel customers, and others to take part in the St. Louis Investment Club, which was a fake club and put their money in the St. Charles REIT, which was a bogus real estate investment trust. After he admitted to converting and commingling funds. AXA fired him in July 2009.
However, it was as early as 2008, when AXA conducted its yearly audit of Neely, that a review of his computer brought up an Excel spreadsheet noting eight people’s payment schedules. Per the AWC, these people were investors in Neely’s fraud. An AXA examiner asked Neely to explain the spreadsheet and the broker claimed that the figures were for showing a potential client/friend, who wanted to started a business, how to handle his finances. The AWC alleges that this explanation was a false one.
FINRA found that AXA failed to properly supervise or investigate Neely by not responding appropriately to the spreadsheet, his excuses, or the fact that he had a questionable history. AXA has now been both sanctioned and fined.
AXA Fined $100,000 For Not Axing Ponzi Broker Sooner, Forbes, March 15, 2012
Ex-AXA Broker Barred by Finra After Ponzi Scheme, New York Times, July 28, 2009
More Blog Posts:
Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and AXA Advisors Broker Charged in Ponzi Scheme Victimizing Church Members, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 5, 2009
AXA Rosenberg Entities Settle Securities Fraud Charges Over Computer Error Concealment for Over $240M, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 10, 2011