A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration Panel has ordered brokerage firm Morgan Stanley to pay Morrisa Schiffman (Schiffman) $95,632 for the losses she sustained from investing in Puerto Rico securities. Schiffman, who is a widow from New Jersey, had been using the income from the Puerto Rico investments to supplement her retirement. She accused the firm of making unsuitable recommendations and engaging in negligent supervision and disclose failures.
Bloomberg reports this is one of the first cases involving an investor in the U.S mainland seeking financial recovery related to the Commonwealth’s debt. More than 1,300 FINRA arbitration cases have already been filed in Puerto Rico for residents of the island who sustained heavy losses when Puerto Rico bonds began their fall in 2013.
Puerto Rico bonds were a big draw for investors in and out of Puerto Rico for a number of years because the securities are tax-exempt in the U.S. However, since these bonds dramatically declined in value nearly three years ago, investors have come forward to file arbitration claims against brokerage firms who recommended the bonds to them.
Our securities firm’s analysis has shown that, despite their tax advantages, most Puerto Rico bonds were not suitable for many customers' investment goals or their portfolios. Brokers should have steered customers away from the Puerto Rico securities instead of toward them. Because of their negligence, there are investors who have lost all of their money in these bonds.
Firms named in recent Puerto Rico muni bond fraud cases include UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico (UBS), Banco Santander, Banco Popular, Stifel Nicolaus & Co. (SF), Bank of America’s (BA) Merrill Lynch, and others.
Puerto Rico owes $70 billion in debt. The Commonwealth recently defaulted on $37 million of payments that were due to certain creditors so that it could pay more of the general obligation debt that the island owes.
Insurers Ambac Assurance Corporation (AMBAC), Financial Guaranty Insurance Company (FGIC), and Assured Guaranty Corp. (Assured) are now suing the territory over the default, for which they’ve had to pay millions of dollars on claims.