April 30, 2012

District Court Won’t Dismiss Securities Fraud Lawsuit Over Alleged Oral Misrepresentations

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has decided not to throw out a securities fraud lawsuit filed by a couple of unsophisticated investors contending that allegedly false oral misrepresentations were made to them causing them to think that their money would be placed in low risk, conservative investments when, in fact, the financial instruments recommended for them were very volatile and speculative. The case is Hemenway v. Bartoletta.

Plaintiff Jason Hemenway had received about $13.8 million in a lump sum after winning the Florida lottery in 2007. He and his wife then opened up an investment account at Capital City Bank Trust Co. Although they expressed a preference for investments with low risks, two of the financial firm’s representatives, private equity group High Street Capital Management LLC managers John Bartoletta and Erick Arnett, convinced the couple to move their money to a hedge fund limited partnership. High Street was that fund’s general partner.

Arnett and Bartoletta allegedly told the Hemenways that the investment was conservative and safe even though it wasn’t really appropriate for unsophisticated investors. The two men also failed to mention that the interests of the limited partnership were a lot risker than traditional equities and bonds and weren’t in line with the couple’s risk tolerance or investment goals.

Over 14 months the couple lost about $1.2 million. That is when they filed a federal securities fraud lawsuit against Bartoletta, Arnett, and High Street Capital Management, LLC, High Street Financial, LLC, and High Street Group, LLC.

The defendants sought to have the federal securities case dismissed on the grounds of failure to state a claim. Not only did they want the other allegations dropped due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but also they argued that the alleged misrepresentations and omissions could be countered because the plaintiffs had been given written documents that contradicted the statements made to them. Countering the defendants’ reasons for why the case should be dismissed, the plaintiffs argued that even though they were given written materials to counter any alleged misrepresentations (and omissions), they still had a valid claim under the 1934 Securities Exchange Act Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5.

Explaining its decision to reject the defendants’ dismissal motion, the district court noted that although per “usual presumption” a plaintiff has no justification for depending on oral representation rather than what is written, a previous decision issued by an appeals court in another case, Bruschi v. Brow, had found that there are circumstances that warrant a departure from this presumption. That ruling took into consideration the plaintiff’s sophistication regarding financial matters (or lack thereof), whether the defendant and plaintiff have a longstanding relationship and if it is a fiduciary one, how much access the plaintiff had to material information, if the plaintiff was the one that sought the transaction, and the specifics of the alleged misrepresentations.

Now, in Hemenway v. Bartoletta, this court has found that “no single factor” was “dispositive” and that all factors must be considered when deciding whether reliance is merited. Therefore, the defendants’ motion to dismiss is denied.

Hemenway v. Bartoletta

Reliance Issues Bar Dismissal Of Suit by Unsophisticated Investors,Bloomberg/BNA, April 19, 2012


More Blog Posts:
FINRA Bars Former Wells Fargo Advisors Broker that Bilked Child with Cerebral Palsy, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 26, 2012

Texas Broker-Dealer Pinnacle Partners Financial is Expelled by FINRA Hearing Officer Over Allegedly Fraudulent Sales of Unregistered Securities and Private Placements of Oil and Gas, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 25, 2012

SEC to Make Sure Rule Writing Process Incorporates Better Cost-Benefit Analysis, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 25, 2012

Continue reading "District Court Won’t Dismiss Securities Fraud Lawsuit Over Alleged Oral Misrepresentations" »

April 26, 2012

FINRA Bars Former Wells Fargo Advisors Broker that Bilked Child with Cerebral Palsy

Ralph Edward Thomas Jr., a former broker has been permanently barred from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Thomas, who misappropriated money from three clients, including a child suffering from cerebral palsy, has been sentenced to a prison term of four years. He also must pay $836,000 in restitution.

According to prosecutors, the former broker stole the money over several years. More than $750,000 came from the child’s trust fund, which held the proceeds from a medical malpractice settlement he received for $3 million. During this time, he worked for Invest Financial Corporation, Harbor Financial Services, and Wells Fargo Advisors, which terminated him as their broker in 2010.

This case of securities fraud started after the child’s mom moved the trust to the bank in 2001. This gave Thomas control over the money. He would give out up to $1,500 of the child’s almost $6,300 in monthly annuity payments. He would then use withdrawal slips with the mother’s signature already written on it to buy cashier’s checks and take out money. He would deposit the checks in his personal accounts at other banks. In addition to the over $750,000 that he converted from the child’s account, Thomas converted $12,500 of the mother’s money.

Also, between February 2004 and July 2010, he defrauded an elderly client of over $42,000. He took out the money from her annuity account without telling her. He used the money to buy cashier’s check payable to cash or credit card companies where he had accounts.

In bilking these investors, Thomas violated FINRA rules 2010 and 2150 and NASD Rules 2110 and 2330. As part of the permanent bar, he can no longer associate with a FINRA member in any capacity.

Elderly seniors are among the most vulnerable members of society when it comes to being targets of financial fraud. The fraudster may be a financial professional, another professional with access to their funds, a relative, a caregiver, or a friend. Unfortunately, in the securities industry, there are brokers, insurance firms, investment advisers, brokerage firms, and other financial scam artists who will not hesitate to take advantage of an elderly person’s lack of investment knowledge, debilitating mental state, or isolation to take their money. In regards to children with disabilities, defrauding their trusts that have been set up as a result of their special needs or serious injuries can deprive them of the support and care they need to maintain their quality of living and pay for medical bills and other related expenses.

At Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD, LLP, our FINRA securities fraud law firm has the experience to help elderly seniors, children and their families, and other individuals to pursue their financial losses. We have helped thousands of investors get their money back. One of our elder financial abuse lawyers would be happy to offer you a free case evaluation.

Finra bars broker who stole from sick child, Investment News, April 12, 2012

FINRA Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (PDF)


More Blog Posts:
Insurance Agent Convicted in Annuity Case Involving 83-Year-Old Dementia Patient, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 21, 2012

US Army Staff Sergeant Held in Afghan Civilian Massacre Was Once Accused of Securities Fraud, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 20, 2012

SEC Seeks to Impose Tougher Penalties for Securities Fraud, Institutional Investor Securities Fraud, December 29, 2011


April 25, 2012

Texas Broker-Dealer Pinnacle Partners Financial is Expelled by FINRA Hearing Officer Over Allegedly Fraudulent Sales of Unregistered Securities and Private Placements of Oil and Gas

In a default decision, San Antonio broker-dealer Pinnacle Partners Financial, Corp. has been expelled by a FINRA hearing officer for Texas securities fraud. The company’s president Brian Alfaro has also been barred. The financial firm and its head are accused of running a boiler room, engaging in the fraudulent selling of unregistered securities and private placements for gas and oil, and making numerous misrepresentations related to these investments. Alfaro is also accused of taking some of the investors’ money to pay for personal spending and unrelated business costs. The default decision was issued after Alfaro failed to show up at the FINRA panel hearing.

It was a year ago that FINRA issued an indefinite suspension against Alfaro and Pinnacle for not complying with a temporary order to cease and desist from making fraudulent misrepresentations. The two parties, however, allegedly kept making them, in addition to omissions related to the sale and offering of specific oil and gas joint interests.

According to the hearing officer, the Texas securities firm and its president operated the boiler room between August 2008 and March 2011. 10 brokers made cold calls numbering in the thousands to draw in investors for drilling investments involving gas and oil that was controlled or owned by Alfaro. They were able to get over 100 investors to put in more than $10 million.

Allegedly, between January 2009 and March 2011, Alfaro misused some of these monies, which investors thought were going toward well production and drilling, to cover some of his personal spending and other businesses. The misrepresentations and omissions that they are accused of purposely making in numerous private placements about a number of matters, include those involving inflated natural gas prices, cash flow, gross returns, and projected returns for natural gas. For example, they allegedly gave out a document claiming that over $14 million had been distributed to investors when, in fact, that figure was closer to under $1.5 million. Alfaro and Pinnacle also supposedly got rid of unfavorable, key information from well operator reports and gave investors maps that didn’t show undesirable wells that were located close to sites where drilling was supposed to take place.

To make restitution, Pinnacle and Alfaro will have to rescind the contracts of those that invested in the fraudulent offerings. They also must pay back the sales commission to clients who don’t ask for rescission.

FINRA Hearing Officer Expels Pinnacle Partners Financial Corp. and Bars President for Fraud, MarketWatch, April 25, 2012

Texas broker-dealer expelled by FINRA hearing officer, Reuters, April 25, 2012


More Blog Posts:
Texas Securities Fraud: US Supreme Court Turns Down Ex-Enron Corp Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling’s Appeal to Have His Criminal Conviction Overturned, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 18, 2012

Texas Securities Fraud: State Law Class Action in R. Allen Stanford’s Ponzi Scam Not Barred by SLUSA, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 20, 2012

Three Oil Service Executives Face SEC Charges in Texas Court For Allegedly Bribing Nigerian Customs Officials, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 22, 2012

Continue reading "Texas Broker-Dealer Pinnacle Partners Financial is Expelled by FINRA Hearing Officer Over Allegedly Fraudulent Sales of Unregistered Securities and Private Placements of Oil and Gas" »

April 24, 2012

FINRA Proposal Giving Collective Actions Exemption from Arbitration Gains SEC’s Accelerated Approval

The Securities and Exchange Commission has given accelerated approval to a proposed rule change by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The proposal modifies FINRA’s Dispute Resolution's Code of Arbitration Procedure for Industry Disputes exempts collective actions from arbitration. The SEC decided to approve the proposed rule change after determining that it is consistent with not just the Exchange Act’s requirements, but also with regulations and rules applicable to a national securities association.

While class actions have been exempt from arbitration, small and large customers claims, employee disagreements, and complex cases have not. However, with the increase in collective actions, FINRA now believes that it is better to hear such actions submitted under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the courtroom.

"This seems to be a reversal of FINRA's earlier goals to expand their arbitration system to perhaps even include class action cases,” said FINRA Securities Lawyer William Shepherd. “Noting that FINRA is really just a trade association of all securities dealers, the suspicions are that legislators and courts have become so friendly to Wall Street lately that they no longer need their own dispute forum to avoid responsibility for their misdeeds."


FINRA sought the rule change following the ruling issued by a district court that held that a collective action is not a class action, per the Industry Code’s Rule 13204 that precludes class action from arbitration. The case was Hugo Gomez et al. v. Brill Securities, Inc. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ignored FINRA’s Interpretive Guidance that the SRO’s intent was to have collective actions also precluded from arbitration, much like class actions as is interpreted within Rule 13204’s meaning.

Also, per FINRA’s proposal, the rule change would:
• Provide that a claim involving plaintiffs that are similarly situated and make a case against the same defendants will not be settled through FINRA arbitration.

• Bar an associated person/firm member from enforcing any arbitration agreement against a member of a putative/collective class action group as it relates to any claim subject to a putative/collective class action (unless collective certification is not given or decertification occurs.)

• Grant arbitrators the power to determine whether a claim belongs to a collective action.

(Also, last month FINRA submitted an amendment to its proposal that would let a party ask any forum presiding over the collective action to resolve the disagreement within a specified time frame.)

Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD, LLP represents investors in arbitration and the courts. Contact our securities fraud law firm to speak with a FINRA securities arbitration attorney today.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc.; Notice of Filing of Proposed Rule Change , FINRA, January 5, 2012

Notice of Filing of Amendment No. 1 and Order Granting Accelerated Approval of a Proposed Rule Change, SEC, April 9, 2012 (PDF)


More Blog Posts:
FINRA Says Charles Schwab Corp. is Making Customers Waive Right to Pursue Class Action Lawsuits, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 8, 2012

Citigroup Global Markets Inc. Sues Two Saudi Investors in an Attempt to Block Their FINRA Arbitration Claim Over $383M in Losses, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 22, 2011

US Supreme Court Once Again Upholds Enforcement of Arbitration Agreements, Institutional Investment Securities Fraud, February 17, 2012

April 20, 2012

Commodities/Futures Round Up: CFTC Cracks Down on Perpetrators of Securities Violations and Considers New Swap Market Definitions and Rules

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) are calling on the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to crack down on excessive energy market speculation. They believe that this type of speculation on oil that is “based on world events” is “abusive” and has been creating difficulties for Americans.

In their released statement, Murphy said that such speculation ups the price of a gallon of gas by 56 cents. The two lawmakers want the futures and option markets regulator to swiftly implement rules that have already been passed to curb excessive speculation.

In other commodities/futures trading news, last month the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas ordered two men and their company Total Call Group Inc. to pay over $4.8 million for allegedly producing false customer statements and making bogus solicitations related to an off-exchange foreign currency fraud. In CFTC v. Total Call Group Inc., Thomas Patrick Thurmond and Craig Poe will pay $1.62 million and $3.24 million, respectively. Per the agency, between 2006 through late 2008, the two men solicited about $808,000 from at least four clients for trading in foreign currency options.

Earlier this month, another company, registered futures commission merchant Rosenthal Collins Group LLC, consented to pay over $2.5 million over CFTC allegations that it did not adequately supervise the way the firm handled an account linked to a multibillion dollar Ponzi scam. The account, held in Money Market Alternative LP’s name, experienced “significant change” between April 2006 and April 2009 in how much money it took in. For instance, the CFTC says that even though the account at inception reported a $300,000 net worth and a $45,000 yearly income, deposits varied from $2 million to $14 million a year. RCG is also accused of failing to look into and report excessive wire activity involving the account. As part of the CFTC securities settlement, the financial firm consented to pay a $1.6 million fine and disgorge $921,260, which is how much RCT made in account fees.

Just three days before, the CFTC announced that its swaps customer clearing documentation rule packaging will expand open access to execution and clearing, enhance transparency, lower cost and risks, and generate competition. The rules will not allow arrangements involving swap dealers, designated clearing organizations, major swap participants, and futures commission merchants that would limit how many counterparties a customer can get into a trade with, impair a client’s ability to access a trade execution on terms reasonable to the best terms that already exist, limit the position size a customer can take with an individual counterparty, and not allow compliance for specified time frames for acceptance of trades into clearing. Also, the CFTC is thinking about adopting definitions for swap dealers, major security-based swap participant eligible contract participant, security-based swap dealer, and major swap participant. These entities were created under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Meantime, MF Global Inc. (MFGLQ.PK) liquidation trustee James Giddens reportedly believes that he can make claims against certain company employees. Possible claims again such persons could include allegations of customer funds segregation requirement violations and breach of fiduciary duty. Although MF Global had told regulators that it was unable to account for customer funds of up to $900 million when it filed for bankruptcy protection, investigators are now saying that this figure is closer to somewhere between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion.

Commodities Futures Trading Commission

Trustee May Sue MF Officials, NY Times, April 12, 2011

CFTC Orders Rosenthal Collins Group, LLC, a Registered Futures Commission Merchant, to Pay More than $2.5 Million for Supervision and Record-Production Violations, CFTC, April 12, 2012

CFTC v. Total Call Group Inc.


More Blog Posts:
CFTC Says RBC Took Part in Massive Trading Scam to Avail of Tax Benefits, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 12, 2012

Texas Man Sued by CFTC Over Alleged Foreign Currency Fraud, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 23, 2012

CFTC and SEC May Need to Work Out Key Differences Related to Over-the-Counter Derivatives Rulemaking, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, January 31, 2012

Continue reading "Commodities/Futures Round Up: CFTC Cracks Down on Perpetrators of Securities Violations and Considers New Swap Market Definitions and Rules " »

April 19, 2012

Silicon Valley Man Faces SEC Securities Fraud Charge After Allegedly Bilking Internet Start-Up Investors of the “Next Google” of Millions

The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Benedict Van with investment fraud. The San Jose, California man is accused of making false promises to get investors to put their money into two of his Internet companies that he claimed would become the “next Google.”

The names of the start-ups: eCity, Inc. and hereUare, Inc. Van allegedly falsely told prospective investors that the companies were to go public soon, which would result in millions of dollars in fast returns. However, according to the SEC, Van had no intention of taking his companies public and he used the money given to him by investors to stay in operation. About 100 investors gave funds to Van.

The Silicon Valley local would allegedly travel to cities in Northern California to visit potential investors in their own homes. Per the Commission’s complaint, investors gave Van over $6.2 million in 2007 and 2008 for hereUare. He was able to collected $880,000 in investor funds for eCity.

During presentations to potential investors, Van allegedly made it appear that he was a rich venture capitalist with previous IPO experience. He also claimed that the start-ups had lucrative patents and deals. He said that Goldman Sachs and an international law firm were poised to help him take the companies public. Van even offered to sell the shares at $9/share in a private offering, making it appear as if this was a “discount” and that the stock price would soon go up to $18 share for institutional investors. He bragged that after hereUare’s IPO, stock prices would likely hit $100. He showed investors Google’s stock price chart and caused them to think that they would make millions, much like the returns that happened with Google and Chinese search engine company Baidu. All of these were misrepresentations.

Van closed up shop in 2008 when money from investors ran out. The SEC says both companies committed securities fraud and antifraud violations.

To settle the investment fraud case, Van has agreed to a permanent bar from serving as a public company director or officer. Meantime, hereUare has consented to an order that it deregister its stock. Van won’t have to make a payment to settle the securities case because he has shown that he would not be able to pay it.

The people that Van targeted were inexperienced, retail investors. Unfortunately, it is their inexperience that makes retail investors a prime target for fraudsters. While commenting on the charges against Van, SEC San Francisco office director Marc Fagel, gave a shout out to investors warning them to be wary of pitches from companies with little track record or a small operations that are making claims of inevitable IPO wealth.

Our IPO Investment Fraud Lawyers represent investors throughout the US. Contact Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD, LLP today.

Read the SEC Complaint (PDF)

Read the SEC Administrative Order (PDF)


More Blog Posts:
FINRA May Put Forward Another Proposal About Possible SEC Rule Regarding Fiduciary Duty, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 28, 2011

SEC’s Proxy Access Rule is Rejected by Appeals Court, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 5, 2011

Wirehouses Struggle to Retain Their Share of the High-Net-Worth-Market
, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, April 6, 2012


April 18, 2012

Texas Securities Fraud: US Supreme Court Turns Down Ex-Enron Corp Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling’s Appeal to Have His Criminal Conviction Overturned

This week, the US Supreme Court decided not to hear the most recent appeal filed by Enron Corp’s former CEO Jeffrey Skilling to have his criminal conviction overturned. The justices offered no comment for why they decided not to review the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that turned down Skilling’s legal challenge.

A Houston jury had convicted Skilling in 2006 on 19 criminal counts for his role in orchestrating the massive corporate fraud crime that led to the demise of the energy trading giant. Over 4,000 company employees found themselves out of work when Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Many of them lost their life savings. Meantime, investors sustained losses in the billion of dollars. (In 2008, Enron investors and shareholders received their respective shares of over $7.2 billion from financial institutions accused of playing a part in the company’s collapse. Some 1.5 million entities and people were eligible.)

Prosecutors had accused Skilling of taking part in a scam to inflate Enron’s share price by concealing the company’s true financial shape from the public. They claimed that he engaged in accounting tricks, “hocus-pocus, trickery… half-truths… and outright lies.” Although Skilling was convicted of securities fraud, insider trading, making false statements to auditors, conspiracy, and other crimes, he maintains that he didn’t commit any crimes. He also contends that he never attempted to profit from Enron’s collapse. Skilling is currently serving a sentence of over 24 years in prison.

In 2010, he won a Supreme Court ruling that found his conviction to be flawed. The high court rejected the government’s use of a federal law that allowed prosecutors to bring cases against company executives who allegedly deprived employers of their honest services.

However, the 5th Circuit found that even if the honest services fraud law had been invalidated when the Texas jury was deliberating the case, the outcome of his criminal proceedings would likely have been the same. Noting the overwhelming evidence that was presented to show that Skilling intentionally commit securities fraud, the appeals court upheld the conviction against him. However, because of an earlier appeals court ruling that the trial judge made an improper application of an enhancement to Skilling’s prison term, the former Enron CEO will get a resentencing trial.

With law offices located in Houston, our Texas securities fraud lawyers represent clients throughout the state, Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD, LLP is not just the largest stockbroker fraud law firm in Texas, but also, it is one of the biggest in the country. We concentrate solely on helping individual and institutional investors recoup their lost investments.

Supreme Court declines look at Skilling case, The Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2012

Enron investors to split billions from lawsuit, CNN, September 9, 2008


More Blog Posts:
Morgan Stanley to Compensate A Number of Texas Homeowners for Alleged Misconduct by Saxon Mortgage Services, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 12, 2012

Texas Securities Fraud: State Law Class Action in R. Allen Stanford’s Ponzi Scam Not Barred by SLUSA, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 28, 2012

Three Oil Service Executives Face SEC Charges in Texas Court For Allegedly Bribing Nigerian Customs Officials, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 22, 2012

April 14, 2012

AARP, Investment Adviser Association, Among Groups Asking the SEC to Make Brokers Abide by 1940 Investment Advisers Act’s Fiduciary Duty

Several industry and consumer groups have written a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission asking it to put into effect a uniform fiduciary standard for both investment advisers and broker-dealers. The groups are AARP, National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, Fund Democracy, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., Consumer Federation of America, Financial Planning Association, and the Investment Adviser Association. They want the SEC to extend the duty as it exists under the 1940 Investment Advisers Act to brokerage industry members and not just investment advisers.

“This has been my position since the subject arose. No new definition of ‘fiduciary duty’ is warranted. For hundreds of years laws and legal decisions have fully defined the term,” said stockbroker fraud lawyer William Shepherd. “ Why should this not simply apply to Wall Street as it does the rest of us, including lawyers?”

Currently, broker-dealers have to abide by the “suitability" standard, which is considers a less strict standard of care. For example, under the suitability standard, brokers don’t have to reveal the majority of conflicts of interest to a client to get out of any obligation to control investment expenses.

Last year, the SEC recommended that its staff engage in rulemaking to create a uniform fiduciary standard. The finding was a result of a study mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. After the study was released, the brokerage industry started advocating for a completely new standard. Last summer, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association also recommended that the Commission set up a framework that is separate and distinct from the existing statutory standard.

SIFMA wants the SEC to create “detail and structure” that would let broker-dealers apply the standard according to their own business models. The securities industry trade group also recommended that key principles be tackled, including the three main principals of a uniform standard, the definition of “personalized investment advice,” clear specification regarding obligations, preservation of principal transactions, and the set up of distinct guidance on disclosure.

In their letter to the SEC, the groups said that although they were in agreement with many components of the framework that SIFMA is recommending, there are others that they strongly oppose. For example, they are concerned that the proposed framework fails to meet Dodd-Frank’s requirement for brokerage firms and investment advisers to have the same standard and that it be “no less stringent” than any standard that is already in place. They also didn’t like the recommendation that the Commission give clear guidance about disclosure for the new fiduciary framework.

Financial Planning Association, e Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors—all adviser groups—don’t want there to be an advisor SRO, which SEC staff had recommended in another Dodd-Frank mandated study.

Our securities fraud law firm represents investors, both individual and institutional, throughout the country. Contact Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD, LLP today.

A Standard for Brokers, The New York Times, August 26, 2011

Investment Advisers Act of 1940, SEC.gov (PDF)

A fiduciary relationship is generally viewed as the highest standard of customer care available under law, SIFMA


More Blog Posts:
Don’t Create Uniform Fiduciary Standard for Broker-Dealers and Investment Advisers, Say Some Republicans to the SEC, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, October 7, 2011

FINRA May Put Forward Another Proposal About Possible SEC Rule Regarding Fiduciary Duty, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 28, 2011

SEC’s Proxy Access Rule is Rejected by Appeals Court, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 5, 2011

April 12, 2012

Morgan Stanley to Compensate A Number of Texas Homeowners for Alleged Misconduct by Saxon Mortgage Services

The Federal Reserve Board has ordered Morgan Stanley (MS) to retain an independent consultant to evaluate foreclosures initiated by former subsidiary Saxon Mortgage Services in 2009 and 2010. Saxon, which intends to shut down its processing center in Forth Worth, is accused of engaging in a “pattern of misconduct and negligence" related to residential mortgage servicing and foreclosure processing. The order mandates that Morgan Stanley compensate homeowners who were hurt financially because of certain deficiencies, including wrongful foreclosures.

Per the Fed, Saxon initiated at least 6,313 foreclosures against homeowners during the years cited above. Regarding certain actions, Saxon is accused of failing to confirm ownership and other information, not properly notarizing signatures, failing to implement proper controls and oversight, and neglecting to adequately staff and fund its operations to handle the increase in foreclosures.

Morgan Stanley had bought Saxon for $706 million during the housing bubble. Earlier this month, the financial firm completed its sale of the mortgage lender to Ocwen Financial of Florida. In the wake of the sale, Morgan Stanley is no longer involved in mortgage servicing. However, should the financial firm reenter this market while the Consent Order is still in effect, it will have to execute better risk-management, corporate governance, compliance, servicing, borrower communication, and foreclosure practices similar in quality to what mortgage servicers who had to abide by enforcement actions in 2011 had to implement.

Monetary sanctions are expected in this case. Morgan Stanley has acknowledged responsibility for making any civil monetary penalty that can be assessed against Saxon over this alleged misconduct.

It was in 2010 that attorenys general from the 50 states announced that they would begin probing bank foreclosure practices following reports that manufactured or faulty documents were used to foreclose on residences. Last September, the Fed arrived at a similar action against Goldman Sachs (GS) and Litton Loan Servicing LP. Litton was accused of robo-signing foreclosure documents, leading to concerns that some borrowers may have been wrongfully removed from their homes. Robo-signing is the term used for company officials vouch for foreclosure documents without ensuring their accuracy.

Goldman Sachs was ordered to execute an independent review of foreclosures made by Litton in 2009 and 2010 as a result of this “pattern of misconduct and negligence.” So that the sale of Litton to Ocwen would be approved, Goldman Sachs agreed to pay penalties and write down $53 million of mortgages loans in New York.

Our Texas securities fraud lawyers represent institutional and individual investors with stockbroker fraud claims against broker-dealers, brokers, investment advisers and others in the financial industry. Contact Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD, LLP today.

Morgan Stanley to Pay for Some US Foreclosures, AP/ABC News, April 3, 2012

Goldman Sachs Sets Pact With Fed, N.Y. to Complete Litton Sale, Bloomberg Businessweek, September 1, 2011


More Blog Posts:
Texas Securities Fraud: State Law Class Action in R. Allen Stanford’s Ponzi Scam Not Barred by SLUSA, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 28, 2012

Three Oil Service Executives Face SEC Charges in Texas Court For Allegedly Bribing Nigerian Customs Officials, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 22, 2012

Texan R. Allen Stanford Convicted on 13 Criminal Counts Over $7.2B Ponzi Fraud, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 7, 2012

April 10, 2012

Stockbroker Fraud Roundup: SEC Issues Alert for Broker-Dealers and Investors Over Municipal Bonds, Man Who Posed As Investment Adviser Pleads Guilty to Securities Fraud, and Citigroup Settles FINRA Claims of Excessive Markups/Markdowns

The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations has put out an alert reminding broker-dealers about what their supervisory and due diligence duties are when it comes to underwriting municipal securities offerings. According to the examination staff, there are financial firms that are not maintaining enough written evidence to show that they are in compliance with their responsibilities as they related to supervision and due diligence. OCIE Director Carlo di Florio stressed how sufficient due diligence when determining the operational and financial condition of municipalities and states before selling their securities, is key to investor protection.

The SEC has also issued an Investor Bulletin to provide individual investors with key information about municipal bonds. Its Office of Investor Education and Advocacy wants to make sure investors know that the risks involved include:

Call risk: the possibility that an issuer will have to pay back a bond before it matures, which can occur if interest rates drop.

Credit risk: The chance that financial problems may result for the bond issuer, making it challenging or impossible to pay back principal and interest in full.

Interest rate risk: Should US interest rates go up, investors with a low fixed-rate municipal bond who try to sell the bond prior to maturity might lose money.

Inflation risk: Inflation can lower buying power, which can prove harmful for investors that are getting a fixed income rate.

Liquidity risk: In the event that an investor is unable to find an active market for the municipal bond, this could stop them from selling or buying when they want to or getting a certain bond price.

As a municipal bond buyer, an investor is lending money to the bond issuer (usually a state, city, county, or other government entity) in return for the promise of regular interest payments and the return of principal. The maturity date of a municipal bond, which is when the bond issuer would pay back the principal, might be years—especially for long-term bonds. Short-term bonds have a maturity date of one to three years.

In other stockbroker fraud news, Citigroup Inc. (C) subsidiary Citi International Financial Services LLC has agreed to pay almost $1.25 million in restitution and fines to settle claims by FINRA that it charged excessive markups and markdowns on corporate and agency bond transactions between July 2007 and September 2010. The SRO says that the markdowns and markups ranged from 2.73% to over 10% and were too much if you factor in the market’s condition during that time period, how much it actually cost to complete the transactions, and the services that the clients were actually provided. FINRA also claims Citi International failed to exercise “reasonable diligence” to ensure that clients were billed the most favorable price possible. To settle the SRO’s claims, Citi International will pay about $648,000 in restitution, plus interest, and a $600,000 fine.

Also, a man falsely claiming to be an investment advisor has pleaded guilty to securities fraud. Telson Okhio, president of the purported financial firm Ohio Group Holdings Inc., has pleaded guilty to wire fraud over a financial scam that defrauded one Hawaiian investor of about $1 million.

Okhio solicited $5 million from the investor while claiming that the money would be invested in the foreign currency exchange market using a $100 million trading platform. He said the investment was risk-free and would earn 200% during the first month. Okhio is accused of immediately taking $1 million of the investor’s money and placing the funds in his personal account. He faces up to 20 years behind bars.

Investor Bulletin: Municipal Bonds, SEC.gov

Individual Posing as Investment Advisor Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud Charges, FBI, March 16, 2012

FINRA Fines Citi International Financial $600,000 and Orders Restitution of $648,000 for Excessive Markups and Markdowns, FINRA, March 19, 2012


More Blog Posts:
Principals of Global Arena Capital Corp. and Berthel, Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. Settle FINRA Securities Allegations, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 6, 2012

CFTC Says RBC Took Part in Massive Trading Scam to Avail of Tax Benefits, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 4, 2012

Wirehouses Struggle to Retain Their Share of the High-Net-Worth-Market, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, April 6, 2012

Continue reading "Stockbroker Fraud Roundup: SEC Issues Alert for Broker-Dealers and Investors Over Municipal Bonds, Man Who Posed As Investment Adviser Pleads Guilty to Securities Fraud, and Citigroup Settles FINRA Claims of Excessive Markups/Markdowns" »

April 6, 2012

Principals of Global Arena Capital Corp. and Berthel, Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. Settle FINRA Securities Allegations

Harry Friedman, a principal of Global Arena Capital Corp. has agreed to a bar that prevents him from associating with any Financial Industry Regulatory Authority member. Although he has not admitted to or denied the allegations against him, Friedman has consented to the sanction and the entry of findings accusing him of not properly supervising a number of employees who used improper markups in a fraudulent trading scheme that, as a result, denied clients of best execution and the most favorable market price.

It was Friedman’s job to make sure that the head trader provided accurate disclosure on order tickets, such as when they were received and executed, the role that the broker-dealer played, and how much compensation the financial firm would get from each securities transaction. According to FINRA, Friedman either knew or should have known that order tickets were not being marked properly.

FINRA also found that Friedman, whose job it was to supervise and review trading activity involving his firm, failed to reconcile daily positions and trades in principal accounts. Also, per the SRO, Global Arena Capital Corp., through Friedman, did not set up, maintain, and enforce supervisory control policies and procedures that were supposed to ensure that registered representatives and others were in compliance with securities regulations and laws. Also, for three years, Friedman allegedly falsely certified that the financial firm had the necessary processes in place and that they had been evidenced in a report that the CCO, CEO, and other officers had reviewed.

In other FINRA-related news, Berthel, Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. registered principal Marsha Ann Hill has been suspended from associating with any Financial Industry Regulatory Authority member for a year. She also will pay a $20,000 fine.

Hill is accused of allegedly making unsuitable recommendations to a customer regarding the purchase of a variable annuity for $110,418.97 and two private placement offerings for $10,000 each. Per the findings, the transactions were not suitable because over 90% of the client’s liquid net worth had been placed in the variable annuity, which was illiquid and had a seven-year surrender period. (The SRO says that the private placement offerings were not only high risk, but also they failed to meet the client’s investment objectives.) Hill is accused of misusing the customer’s funds when she delayed the investments, resulting in her firm violating SEC Rule 15c3-3.

She also allegedly sold a private placement to an unaccredited investor. When her supervisor noted that this was an accredited-only investment, Hill erased certain information on the Account Information Form and put different yearly income, liquid net worth, and net worth amounts without letting her client know. Hill is settling the securities fraud allegations against her without deny or admitting to them.

Broker-Dealers are Making Reverse Convertible Sales That are Harming Investors, Says SEC, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 28, 2011

Despite Reports of Customer Satisfaction, Consumer Reports Uncovers Questionable Sales Practices at Certain Financial Firms, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, January 7, 2012

SIFMA Wants FINRA to Take Tougher Actions Against Brokers that Don’t Repay Promissory Notes, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, January 17, 2012

Continue reading "Principals of Global Arena Capital Corp. and Berthel, Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. Settle FINRA Securities Allegations " »

April 5, 2012

FINRA Bars Registered Representatives Accused of Securities Misconduct and Negligence

Registered representative Erick Enrique Isaac has turned in a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent that affirms his agreement to be barred from associating with any Financial Industry Regulatory Authority member. Although he isn’t denying or admitting to the findings, Isaac has consented to the described sanction and the entry of findings that claims he became affiliated with a member firm at the behest of a relative, a former registered representative who needed access to a broker-dealer to make trades for his clients.

While registered with the financial firm, Enrique allegedly gave trading directions from this relative to another firm representative, who then made the trades. He also allegedly started sending over hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions on those securities transactions to the relative.

FINRA’s findings contend that Isaac knew that his relative was controlling the trading in at least some of the client accounts that resulted in commission fees. He also kept sending the commission funds to the relative even after finding out that the latter was barred by the SRO from associating with a member firm.

Also submitting a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent in another FINRA case is First Merger Capital, Inc. registered principal Mark SImonetti who is not allowed to associate with any FINRA member for three months.

FINRA accused Simonetti of knowing that registered representatives at First Merger Capital were paying the operators and co-owners of a branch of the financial firm (a foreign-based publicly traded company) $350,000 for unspecified services. Even though this should have indicated to Simonetti that the financial firm’s COO was not appropriately discharging his compliance and supervisory duties, he still allegedly failed to properly supervise the brokers to make sure that everyone disclosed all material information about this consulting agreement when soliciting clients to buy stock in the company.

Also, per FINRA, when the counsel for another foreign-owned publicly traded company referred clients, who were current and former company employees, to First Merger Capital, no one at the financial firm spoke to these new clients to make sure that the information they provided when opening the accounts was accurate.

The customers deposited more than 3.8 million shares of company stock. The company’s CEO, who was given control of the sales of the stock, then gave the order for company shares to be sold. More than $23 million of company stocks were sold. These were the only transactions in the clients’ accounts. Also, a number of branch owners and operators who took part in securities transactions netted commission as a result. FINRA says that SImonetti should have monitored, analyzed, and investigated these transactions to figure out whether they warranted a Suspicious Activity Report. As part of the settlement, Simonetti has agreed to participate in the FINRA Department of Enforcement’s investigation into this matter and to testifying truthfully.

FINRA Fines AXA Advisors $100,000 For Allegedly Not Firing Broker who Ran Ponzi Scam Sooner, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 16, 2012

FINRA May Surrender Proprietary BrokerCheck Lock, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 8, 2012

Citigroup Ordered by FINRA to Pay $1.2M Over Bond Markups and Markdowns, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, March 27, 2012

Continue reading "FINRA Bars Registered Representatives Accused of Securities Misconduct and Negligence " »

April 4, 2012

CFTC Says RBC Took Part in Massive Trading Scam to Avail of Tax Benefits

The Commodities Futures Trading Commission has filed a lawsuit accusing Royal Bank of Canada of taking part in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of illegal futures trades to earn tax benefits linked to equities. In its complaint, the CFTC claims the Toronto-based lender made misleading and false statements about “wash trades” between 2007 and 2010, which allowed affiliates to trade between themselves in a manner that undermined competition and price discovery on the OneChicago LLC exchange. This electronic-futures trading exchange is partly owned by CME Group Inc.

The alleged scam is said to have involved RBC officials working with two subsidiaries on the selling and buying of futures contracts that give the right to sell the stock later on at certain prices. CFTC said that this removes the risk of RBC sustaining any losses on the investments, while locking in the tax breaks.

Also, according to the CFTC, RBC designed certain instruments related to the transactions that were traded on OneChicago. The transactions, which involved narrow-based indexes and single-stock futures, were used to hedge the risks involved in holding the equities. CFTC says that the Canadian bank tried to cover up the scam and even provided misleading and false statements when CME started asking questions.

RBC contends that CFTC’s allegations against it are “absurd” and the lawsuit “meritless.” The bank also claims that the trades in question were completely documented and reviewed, as well as monitored by the exchanges and CFTC.

CFTC Enforcement director David Meister said that the securities action shows that the regulator will not balk at bringing charges against those that illegally exploits the futures market for profit. The CFTC has been under pressure to get tougher on its oversight of the futures industry in the wake of MF Global Holdings Ltd.’s failure last year. The demise of that securities firm resulted in an approximately $1.6 billion shortfall in client funds. Measured by the futures contracts’ national dollar amount, this case against RBC is the biggest wash-sale lawsuit the CFTC has ever brought.

Meantime, RBC says that the CFTC’s allegations against it are “absurd” and the lawsuit “meritless.” The bank has issued a statement claiming that the trades in question were completely documented and reviewed, as well as monitored by the exchanges and CFTC.

The US regulator is seeking injunctions against additional violations and monetary penalties of three times the monetary gain for each violation or $130,000/per violation from 10/04 to 10/08 and $140,000/violation after that period.

CFTC Deals Out Royal Pain, Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2012

RBC Sued by US Regulators Over Wash Trades, Bloomberg Businessweek, April 3, 2012


More Blog Posts:
SEC Inquiring About Wisconsin School Districts Failed $200 Million CDO Investments Made Through Stifel Nicolaus and Royal Bank of Canada Subsidiaries, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 11, 2010

Texas Man Sued by CFTC Over Alleged Foreign Currency Fraud, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 23, 2012

CFTC and SEC May Need to Work Out Key Differences Related to Over-the-Counter Derivatives Rulemaking, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, January 31, 2012

Continue reading "CFTC Says RBC Took Part in Massive Trading Scam to Avail of Tax Benefits" »