The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering Ameriprise Financial Services (AMP) to pay $50K for failing to properly supervise and notice that one of its brokers was bilking his own family members. According to the self-regulatory organization, the registered representative took over $370K from five firm customers, which included his domestic partner, mother, grandparents, and stepfather.From 10/11 to 9/13, the broker moved the funds to a business account. The transfers went undetected for two years because Ameriprise purportedly neglected to adequately supervise the moving of customer funds to third parties. It wasn’t until 9/13 that evidence was found that the broker had been practicing the signature of a family member.The Ameriprise broker turned in forms to move the money from the brokerage accounts of customers into a business bank account. The transfer was under the guise of making investments. Instead, said FINRA, the broker allegedly used the money to pay himself commissions and an additional salary.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority announced that UBS Financial Services and its Puerto Rico subsidiary (UBS) must collectively pay three investors $750,000 in damages for losses they sustained from investing in UBS’s proprietary Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds and Puerto Rico bonds. The claimants are Jenny Robles Adorno, Desarrollos Jarra SE, and Jose A. Rivera.
The investors accused UBS of recklessness, fraud, and negligence. They sought compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reimbursement of commissions that they said were unlawful. In San Juan, the FINRA arbitration panel awarded Rivera $562,500, Robles $30,000 and Jarra $157,500. UBS said it was “disappointed” with the panel’s decision to award any damages to the claimants.
This is not the first Puerto Rico bond fraud arbitration case in which UBS has been ordered to pay investors. Just this March, the firm had to pay over $470,000 to three investors who said their accounts were over-concentrated in the same Puerto Rico focused investments. The claimants in that case alleged negligent supervision and fraud. Similarly, UBS was ordered to pay a former television executive over $1,400,000 in the fall of 2015 for over-concentrating the former customer in UBS’s proprietary funds and misrepresenting the risks of those investments.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission has filed a civil case against Deutsche Bank AG (DB). According to the regulator, for five days the firm, which is a provisionally registered Swap Dealer, did not report any swap data for a number of asset classes, turned in untimely and unfinished swap information, failed to supervise the staff responsible for the reporting of the swap data, and had an inadequate Business and Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan.
The bank’s swap data reporting system had suffered a System Outage. The CFTC said that the swap data reported prior to and after the outage showed that there had been ongoing problems with specific data fields and their integrity. As a result, the market data issued to the public was affected. Some of it purportedly continues to be affected to this day. The CFTC said that a reason for the System Outage and the reporting problems is that Deutsche Bank lacked an adequate Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan or another supervisory system that was equally satisfactory.
Earlier this month, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority fined Deutsche Bank $12.5M for substantive supervisory failures involving trading-related information and research that the firm had issued to employees over internal speakers, also referred to as squawk boxes. The self-regulatory organization said that even though there were red flags related to this matter, Deutsche Bank neglected to set up supervision that was adequate over both the access that registered representatives had to the “squawk,” or “hoots,” which is the information issue through the squawk boxes, and the communication of this data to customers.
Investment Advisor Firm Accused of Paying Off Terminally Ill Patients to Commit Fraud
The SEC has filed fraud charges against Donald Lathen and his Eden Arc Capital Management. Lathen is accused of recruiting at least 60 individuals who had less than six months to live and agreeing to pay them $10K each for the use of their names on joint brokerage accounts. When one of these individuals would die, he would allegedly redeem the investments by falsely representing that he and the terminally individual person were joint account holders.
Lathen recruited the terminally ill patients through contacts he had at hospices and nursing homes. In reality, it was Lathen’s hedge fund that owned the option investments.
As a result, of the purported omissions and misrepresentations, issuers paid over $100M in early redemptions. Lathen is accused of violating the custody rule by not properly putting the securities and money from the hedge fund in an account under the name of the fund or in one that held only client money and securities.
SEC Stops Trading in Neromamam Ltd.
The SEC has stopped the trading of Neuromama Ltd. (NERO) shares. The shares trade on the mostly unregulated over-the-counter markets and the regulator is concerned about transactions that may be “potentially manipulative, as well as other red flags that have purportedly been cropping up for years.
Neruomama’s paper value went up times four to $35B this year despite not much volume. The company’s shares went up by four times to $56/share. (On January 15, ’14, its value was $4.73B.)
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that a UBS Group AG (UBS) unit will pay $250K to resolve charges accusing it of not waiving certain fees for mutual fund customers that were eligible for the reduction. FINRA said that the broker-dealer overcharged customers $277,636 to invest in mutual funds. The failure to wave these fees purportedly took place from 9/09 to 6/13.
The self-regulatory organization cited alleged supervisory failures. According to the settlement notice, UBS depended largely on its registered representatives to identify when sales charge waivers were warranted and identifying them. These waivers were linked to the reinstatement rights that let investors get around having to pay front-end sales charges.
Under these rights, individual investors are generally allowed to reinvest money made from selling class A mutual fund shares in the same fund family or the same fund without having to pay fees at the front end. They are given 90-120 days to reinvest for the waiver to be applicable.
Ex-Merrill Lynch Adviser Accused of Misleading Clients with IRAs
Landon L. Williams, and ex-Merrill Lynch adviser who is no longer registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is accused of misleading five of the firm’s clients by giving them inaccurate information when issuing recommendations for investments. All of the clients had individual retirement accounts. At the time, Williams served as a Merrill Lynch Edge Advisory Center adviser for a year until August 2014.
Merrill Edge customers have less than $250K in accounts. Instead of working with one broker, they work with a team of advisers.
In its complaint, FINRA note a couple of examples, including when Williams allegedly told one customer that the yearly operation cost of a fund was 1.113% when, in fact, it was 1.28%. He purportedly informed one client that she would be able to make up her front-end sales charges in three years even though his notes related to that fund said that she would make them up in seven years.
FINRA is seeking monetary sanctions.
Life Insurance Companies Settle with U.S. States Over Unclaimed Death Benefits
Securian Financial Group Inc., Hartford Financial Services Group, Standard Insurance Co., and Great American Insurance Group have reached a $3.4M settlement with the state insurance departments of North Dakota, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. The deal is related to the payment of unclaimed death benefits.
According to Bloomberg.com, in the wake of Puerto Rico’s default on July 1 of $911 million of bond payments it owes creditors—including $779 million of general obligation bonds—Ameriprise Financial Inc. (AMP) is recommending that clients sell their OppenheimerFunds (OPY) municipal bond funds that are holding any of the island’s debt. In a report this week, Ameriprise senior research analyst Jeffrey Lindell said that with the acceleration of Puerto Rico bond defaults—as the island tries to lower its $70 billion debt via bondholder losses—mutual funds holding these bonds could end up having to “cut dividend rates.” He also wrote that as Puerto Rico bonds respond to “speculation and news,” the mutual funds’ net asset value could turn “volatile.”
In its recent article, Bloomberg provided data from Morningstar Inc., which reports that as of the end of March, Oppenheimer held $3.5 billion of Puerto Rico securities in 19 funds, which is more than anyone else. Now, Ameriprise wants clients to look at investment options that are not as risky as the funds holding Puerto Rico municipal bonds. The firm is suggesting that clients sell investments involving 16 Oppenheimer muni funds. Included in the recommendation to sell are a number of state specific municipal bond funds, including the:
· Oppenheimer Rochester Virginia Municipal (ORVAX)
· Oppenheimer Rochester Pennsylvania Municipal (OVPAX)
· Oppenheimer Rochester Maryland Municipal (ORMDX)
· Oppenheimer Rochester North Carolina Municipal (OPNCX) and
· Oppenheimer Rochester Arizona Municipal (ORAZX)
Several days after the July 1 default, credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (SP) reduced the U.S. territory’s credit rating to “default” status. The default was not the first time Puerto Rico was unable to cover debt payments that were due—although it was the first default involving Puerto Rico’s general obligation debt, which was supposed to have a constitutional guarantee.
It was in May that NY City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito asked the SEC to investigate whether OppenheimerFunds played a part in causing Puerto Rico’s financial crisis to worsen. Mark-Viverito believes that banks, hedge funds, and other investors who bought into Puerto Rico utility debt and general obligation bonds contributed to the territory’s debt woes.
FINRA has banned Winston Wade Turner from the securities industry. The former Prudential (PRU) and MetLife (MET) broker is accused of engaging in deceptive variable annuities sales. Turner was fired from Pruco Securities, a Prudential subsidiary, in 2015. The cause of his firing was deceptive sales practices.
Now, FINRA has barred him for a number of causes, including giving false information to clients about variable annuity sales, the fraudulent misrepresentation and omission of key facts to customers about the sales, providing false information in VA-related documents, and not giving testimony to the self-regulatory organization during its probe into this matter.
According to the SRO, Turner fraudulently misrepresented and omitted material facts about VA sales and concealed that he had persuaded a lot of customers to give up existing variable annuities or other investments so that they would buy the newer VAs that he was selling. He is accused of persuading at least 12 clients to trade their existing investments for this purpose, costing them over $150K in surrender charges.
Ex-LPL Financial Supervisor Settles with FINRA
Peter Neuberg, a former LPL Financial (LPLA) supervisor and broker, will pay a $15K fine and serve a six-month suspension to settle claims accusing him of not reasonably supervising a registered representative. According to an enforcement document signed by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Neuberg stopped looking at paperwork that the representative prepared. This made it possible for the broker to modify documents about customer accounts and reuse signatures from forms that had been completed. Neuberg is settling without admitting or denying FINRA’s findings.
The purported supervisory failures would have taken place from September ’11 to June ’12. The broker, whom Neuberg supervised, falsified documents to expedite transactions to accommodate certain customers. Neuberg is accused of not properly training the broker.
Ex-GL Capital Partners CEO Gets Nine Years in Prison
In other news, Daniel Thibeault, the former CEO of GL Capital Partners, is sentenced to nine years behind bars for misappropriating at least $15M. He must pay $15.3M in restitution for the criminal charges. He also is contending with civil charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Merrill Lynch will pay $415M to resolve civil charges accusing the firm of misusing customer funds and not safeguarding customer securities from creditor claims. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the firm violated the regulator’s Customer Protection Rule by using customer funds inappropriately instead of depositing them in a reserve account.
Instead, said the SEC, Merrill Lynch took part in complex options trades that artificially lowered how much in customer funds needed to be in the reserve account. This liberated billions of dollars a week from ’09 to ’12. The firm used the funds for its own trades. If Merrill had failed with these trades there would have been a substantial shortfall in the reserve account.
Merrill Lynch, which is owned by Bank of America (BAC), has admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
The SEC said that the firm violated the Customer Protection Rule when it didn’t abide by the requirement that customer securities that had been fully paid for be kept in lien-free accounts and protected from third parties claims in the event that Merrill Lynch were to collapse. Such a failure would have exposed customers to great risk and there would have been uncertainty as to whether they’d be able to get their securities back.
Also, contends the Commission, from ’09 to ’15, Merrill held up to $58B of customer securities a day in a clearing account that was subject to a general lien to be handled by its clearing bank.