Articles Posted in LPL Financial

Ex-Newbridge Securities Broker Involved in $131M Fraud Pleads Guilty 
Gerald Cocuzzo, has pleaded guilty to securities fraud related to his involvement in a $131M market manipulation scam involving Forcefield Energy Inc. (FNRG). According to the U.S. Justice Department, between 1/2009 and 4/2015, Cocuzzo and others sought to bilk investors in the publicly traded company that globally distributes and provides LED lighting products. They did this by artificially manipulating the volume and price of the shares that were traded.

Meantime, Cocuzzo received kickbacks for buying Forcefield stock in his clients’ brokerage accounts. He did not tell the customers that he was receiving these payments. Instead, he and several others sought to hide their involvement.

Newbridge Securities fired Cocuzzo earlier this year following the federal indictment. Before working at Newbridge, he was registered with IAA Financial, previously called CBG Financial Group Inc.

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has barred John Leo Valentine from working in the financial services industry, but he can re-apply after two years. The adviser is the founder and president of Valentine Capital Asset Management.
According to the regulator, Valentine did not disclose to clients that he had certain conflicts of interest related to a commodities fund in which they invested.  The SEC contends that from ’07 to late ’11, Valentine recommended that clients, who were mostly retirees, purchase shares of Bridgeton Global Directional Fund, which invested in commodity futures contracts. After Valentine could no longer make commissions from the managed futures fund, he purportedly advised the investors to put their money in Valt, which was a commodities fund he created that allowed him to earn compensation.
However, said the SEC, Valentine did not tell clients that he had a financial incentive to recommend Valt instead of Bridgeton. After just a few months in operation, Valt’s clearing broker and custodian filed for bankruptcy related to a fraud involving the broker’s CEO, and Valt stopped almost all trading activity. In addition to the industry bar, Valentine must pay $140K in penalties.

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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.

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New Hampshire’s Bureau of Securities Regulation says that LPL Financial has consented to pay $750,000 to resolve charges involving the sale of nontraded real estate investment trusts to an elderly investor. The state says that transactions were not only unlawful but also they were suitable for the 81-year-old customer.

The state says that the sale of the nontraded REITs were unsupervised, causing the investor to sustain substantial losses in 2008. Aside from the $750K, which includes $250K to the bureau, $250K in administrative fees, and $250K to the investor education fund, LPL will offer remediation to any client in New Hampshire that bought a nontraded REIT through the firm since 2007 if the sale did not meet the firm’s product-specific limitations or guidelines.

Nontraded REITS
Nontraded REITs can be high-risk investments. They are liquid and may come with substantial front-end fees of up to 15%. Distributions are not guaranteed and are determined by the alternative investments’ board of directors. REITs are not traded on exchanges and there is a limited secondary market for them, which can make them difficult for investors to sell.
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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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Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has fined LPL Financial (LPLA) $250K to resolve charges that its representatives misrepresented their qualifications when working with older investors. The state’s regulator claims that the brokerage firm approved having brokers use senior-specific titles on their business cards. The titles were not in compliance with the state’s regulations regarding senior designations.

After Galvin’s office discovered one such incident, LPL conducted an internal probe and discovered that at least 10 brokers may have been using titles that were not in compliance with the state’s Senior Designations Regulations. The regulator said that the firm had even approved the title on one broker’s business card more than once.

Galvin contends that since June 2007, LPL failed to establish or enforce a procedure allowing it to look at senior-specific titles to make sure they complied. He noted the importance of not using titles that imply one has an expertise in advising senior investors when there is none. The Senior Designations Regulations prohibit the use of titles that imply a training or certification that the titleholder doesn’t actually possess.
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The New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation wants LPL Financial (LPLA) to pay clients $2.4 million in buybacks and restitution for 48 sales of nontraded real estate investment trusts that were purportedly unsuitable for elderly investors. The regulator, which says the firm did not properly supervise its agents, is also fining LPL $1 million plus $200,000 in investigative expenses.

The securities case springs from transactions involving an 81-year-old state resident that purchased a nontraded REIT from the firm in 2008. The investor, whose liquid net worth was $2.5 million and invested $253,000 in the financial instrument, would go on to lose a significant amount of money. A probe ensued.

The state regulator contends that the 48 REIT sales, totaling $2.4 million lead to concentration that went beyond LPL guidelines and that the firm sold hundreds of nontraded REITs to clients in New Hampshire on the basis of “clearly erroneous “client financial data, while frequently violating its own policies. LPL has reportedly admitted that 10 of the 48 transactions deemed unlawful by the state were unsuitable according to its own guidelines. The Securities Bureau wants to take away the firm’s license to sell securities in New Hampshire.

James “Jeb” Bashaw, the former star financial adviser at LPL Financial (LPLA) from Texas is now registered with International Assets Advisory, a small brokerage firm. LPL Financial fired Bashaw last month over allegations involving selling away. Then, for a while this month, he was with Wunderlich Securities Inc.

Selling away typically involves engaging in private securities transactions sans the required written disclosure or brokerage firm approval. It can also include borrowing from a client, as well as engaging in a transaction that is a potential conflict interest, again without the required disclosure in writing or firm approval.

Responding to the selling away allegations, Bashaw noted that he was “home supervised” and underwent more than a dozen perfect audits while affiliated with LPL. After his firing, Wunderlich took steps to hire Bashaw but there was a delay in transferring his license to the firm. In the end, the broker-dealer and Bashaw reportedly decided not to pursue a working relationship.

Blake B. Richards, an ex-LPL Financial (LPLA) broker, must pay close to $2 million in penalties and disgorgement over allegations that he defrauded clients of close to $1.7 million. According to the case, submitted in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia, Richards told at least seven clients to write checks to entities under his control. The clients thought that the money would be invested in variable annuities, fixed-income investments, or equities. Instead, contends the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the funds were used to pay for his personal spending.

According to the SEC, most of the investors’ money came from life insurance proceeds or retirement savings. Two of the investors involved were widowed and at least two others were elderly customers.

Per the regulator’s complaint, Richards won one investor’s trust by delivering pain meds to her husband during a snowstorm. The spouse was suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer at the time.

In a settlement reached with the Illinois Securities Department, LPL Financial (LPLA) agreed to pay a $2 million fine and $820K in restitution for inadequate books and records maintenance involving 1035 exchanges. According to the firm’s BrokerCheck file, LPL Financial did not enforce “supervisory system and procedures” when certain persons documented variable annuity exchange activities.

Following the settlement, a company spokesperson said that LPL Financial is enhancing its procedures related to surrender charges resulting from variable annuity exchange transactions. This is to make sure these are accurately documented in records, books, and any disclosures that are issued to clients. The brokerage firm is also taking steps so that advisers are properly documenting why variable annuity recommendations were made.

State regulators have been taking a closer look at LPL as they investigate investment product sales. Last year, the broker-dealer settled with the Massachusetts for at least $2 million and a $500,000 fine over nontraded real estate investment trusts. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority fined the firm $7.5 million for 35 e-mail system failures.

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