Massachusetts claims that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) ran a high-pressure sales contest to give its financial advisers incentive to get clients to borrow funds against their brokerage accounts. Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin filed the complaint against the firm.According to the state, from 1/14 through 4/15, Morgan Stanley conducted two contests in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that involved 30 advisers. The object of the contests were to convince customers to take out loans that were securities-based. It involved them borrowing against the value of securities found in their portfolio. The securities were to be collateral.Galvin’s office said that the contests urged Morgan Stanley advisers to cross-sell loans that were backed by investment accounts in order to enhance lending business, as well as banking, and stay competitive with other firms. Galvin claims that advisers were told to get clients to establish credit lines even if they had no plans of using them. The state’s complaint said that clients would be targeted after they’d mention certain key “catalysts” including graduations, weddings, and tax liabilities.
A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel has awarded former NBA basketball player Keyon Dooling and ex-NFL athlete John St. Clair $819,000 in damages in their securities case against Morgan Stanley (MS). The two men accused the firm of negligent supervision of a former broker whom they blame for their investment losses.
The rogue broker, Aaron Parthemer, has since been barred from the securities industry. It was Parthemer who recommended that the former professional athletes put money into two businesses. Dooling invested $700K in apparel company Global Village Concerns and Miami Beach night spot Club Play. St. Clair invested $200,000 in Global Village Concerns. According to the ex-pro athletes’ securities fraud lawyers, the two investments proved worthless.
Now, the FINRA arbitration panel says that Morgan Stanley must pay Dooling and his spouse over $608K while St. Clair and his wife are to get over $200K. Meantime, Morgan Stanley disagrees with the panel’s ruling, contending that that it was Parthemer who failed to let the firm know that he was engaged in external investment activities. This was the alleged reason that FINRA barred him from the industry.
For instance, Parthemer is accused of lending $400K to three clients without getting his firm’s consent, giving former employers Wells Fargo (WFC) and Morgan Stanley, as well as FINRA, false information, presenting private securities transactions that went undisclosed and involved clients that invested over $3M, running a nightclub, operating a marketing firm, and winning a contract to promote a tequila brand.
The Securities and Exchange Commission says that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (MS) will pay a $1M penalty to resolve charges involving its purported failure to protect customer data. Some of this information was hacked and violators attempted to sell the data online.
According to the regulator, the firm did not put into place written policies and procedures that were designed in a manner reasonable enough to protect customer information. Because of this, said the SEC, from ’11 to ’14, former Morgan Stanley employee Galen J. Marsh was able to access without permission information regarding approximately 730,000 accounts and move them to his own server. This made it possible for third parties to access and hack the information from there.
The Commission said that Morgan Stanley had two internal portals that made it possible for employees such as Marsh to access confidential customer account information and it was for these internal applications that the firm lacked the needed authorization modules that would have restricted which employees could see this information. This deficiency existed for over a decade.
It was just last week that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that it was censuring and fining E*Trade Securities LLC for supervisory violations related to customer order information protection and for not performing sufficient review of the quality of customer order executions. As a firm that offers online services for securities investing and trading to retail customers, E*Trade is supposed to evaluate the competing markets that it routes customer orders to, including exchange and non-exchange market centers. Firms such as E*Trade are also supposed to conduct periodic and stringent reviews of the quality of customer order executions to see if there are any differences among the markets, which is why the firm set up a Best Execution Committee to do this job.
FINRA Panel Awards Estate Over $34M from Morgan Stanley in the Wake of Churning Allegations
A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel awarded the estate of Home Shopping Network Roy M. Speer over $34M in its case against Morgan Stanley (MS). The panel ruled that the firm, branch manager Terry McCoy, and broker Ami Forte were jointly liable for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, unauthorized trading, constructive fraud, unjust enrichment, and negligent supervision. The alleged negligence would have occurred from 1/09 to 6/12 and involved investments in the financial services and banking sectors.
According to Mrs. Speer’s lawyer, in six of Mr. Speer’s accounts, about 12,000 transactions took place, most of them involving municipal bond trading and corporate trading. Many of these trades were unauthorized.
The arbitrators awarded $32.8M in compensatory damages to Speer’s widow, Lynnda Speer, and $1.5M for the costs involved in the arbitration process. The panel said that Morgan Stanley violated a law in Florida that prohibits the exploitation of vulnerable adults. Mr. Speer had dementia. Forte, who was his broker, is said to have been in a relationship with him.
Former Craig Scott Capital Broker Accused of Elder Financial Fraud
FINRA is accusing broker Edward Beyn of making over $1.7M in commissions and fees by engaging in excessive trading in client accounts while he was a registered representative at Craig Scott Capital. He is now with Rothschild Liberman. Beyn is accused of churning nine accounts of six customers, all of them over the age of 60, from 3/12 through 5/15. They all sustained losses.
Two North Carolina investors have filed an arbitration claim with FINRA against Morgan Stanley (MS) over unsuitable investments involving the financial firm’s Cushing MLP High Income Exchange Traded Note. The married couple, who are retirees in their sixties, are accusing the brokerage firm of:
· Common law fraud
· Breach of fiduciary duty
· Negligent supervision
· Failure to adequately disclose the risks
In a phone interview with InvestmentNews, the claimants said that they have lost over $100K. According to the couple, a Morgan Stanley broker invested about $150,000 of their money in the Morgan Stanley Cushing MLP High Income ETN, which is an exchange traded note connected to master limited partnerships with shipping and energy assets. Their legal team said that the couple did not understand the extent of the risks involved in that they could potentially lose their principal. This was a loss they could not afford. Instead, the claimants were purportedly told that their investment would make them money.
The Cushing MLP High Income Exchange Traded Note seeks to give investors cash upon maturity or early repurchase, as well as variable coupon payments every quarter (depending on how the underlying index, performs). The claimants’ broker fraud lawyers believe that Morgan Stanley recommended the exchange traded note to investors who were seeking to make money but may not have understood or been fully apprised of all the risks.
Brokerage Firms to Pay $1.2M for Not Applying UIT Discounts
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has charged Next Financial Group Inc., Stephens Inc., and Key Investment Services with failing to grant sales charge discounts when certain customers that were buying unit investment trusts were eligible for the reduced rates. The three broker-dealers are also face charges for inadequate supervision. The self-regulatory organization is ordering the three firms to pay $1.2M in restitution and fines. The FINRA settlements stated that Stephens did not give the discounts from 1/10 to 5/15 and the other two firms did not give them from 5/09 to 4/14.
Unit Investment Trusts
A UIT is a fund that combines a fixed portfolio of income-producing securities that are bought and held to maturity and an actively managed fund. These funds usually issue securities, also known as units that are redeemable-meaning that the UIT will repurchase the units from an investor at the approximate net asset value.
FINRA has been looking into whether firms are giving clients that are entitled to purchase discounts the reduced rates. Last year, the SRO ordered a number of firms to pay $6.7M in restitutions and fines for not giving discounts to clients when selling them UITs.
Broker Accused of Fraud, Targeting Native American Tribe
Broker Gopi Krishna Vungarala is facing FINRA charges for lying to a Native American Tribe about the $11M in commissions they paid him when he sold the tribe $190M of business development companies (BDCs) and nontraded REITS. The SRO said that from 6/11 to 1/15 Vungarala, who was the tribe’s treasury investment manager and registered representative, lied to the tribe about investments he recommended to them.
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.
United Development Funding IV Shares Fall After Allegations of Texas Ponzi Scheme
United Development Funding IV (“UDF IV”), a Texas-based real estate investment trust (“REIT”), saw its share price drop after Harvest Exchange published a post that said the REIT had been run like a Ponzi scheme for years. United Development was a nontraded REIT that became traded when it listed on Nasdaq last year under the symbol “UDF”.
In the report on the Harvest site, the anonymous author said that the UDF umbrella had traits indicative of a Ponzi scam, such as, it uses new capital to pay distributions to current investors and UDF companies and gives substantial liquidity to earlier UDF companies to pay earlier investors. The article said that once the funding of retail capital to the most current UDF stops, the earlier UDF companies do not seem able to stand on their own. This purportedly indicates that the structure will likely fail and investors will be the ones sustaining losses.
After the report by the online professional network of investors, UDF IV saw its share price plunge from $17.53 to $10.10. It later dropped further to $8.55/share.
Over $1M Awarded in Senior Financial Fraud Case Against Morgan Stanley and a Former Financial Adviser
A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. arbitration panel has awarded 92-year-old Genevieve Lenehan (“Mrs. Lenehan”) over $1M in her claim against Morgan Stanley (MS) and former Morgan Stanley advisor Justin Amaral (“Amaral”). Mrs. Lenehan accused Amaral of churning and reverse churning her account. Amaral also advised Mrs. Lenehan’s husband until his death five years ago.
Morgan Stanley (MS) has reached an agreement in principal with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve claims related to its sale of mortgage bonds. The government probe looked into allegations that the financial firm misrepresented the quality of home loans that were packaged into bonds.
The broker-dealer, however, still needs to negotiate with the DOJ about other terms, including what would be included in a signed statement of facts. The settlement doesn’t resolve probes by state litigators.
Morgan Stanley’s financial agreement is much smaller than what other firms have paid when settling with the Justice Department. Citigroup Inc. (C) paid $7 billion, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) paid $13 billion, and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) paid $16.65 billion.
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC (MS) has settled civil charges by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission accusing the firm of records violations and inadequate supervision involving its know-your-customer procedures. Aside from a $280,000 fine, the broker-dealer will have to disgorge commissions from the subject accounts involved.
According to the regulator, Morgan Stanley did not diligently oversee its employees, officers, and agents when they opened firm accounts for a family of companies known as SureInvestment, which purportedly ran a hedge fund that was partially based in the British Virgin Islands-considered to be a risky jurisdiction. Because of this geographic circumstance, when the accounts were opened the firm should have subjected them to special observation pursuant to the its procedures, including watching out for red flags indicating suspect activities.
The CFTC’s order, however, notes that even though there were a number of red flags in the account opening documents for SureInvestments, Morgan Stanley failed to identify them. Later, it was discovered that SureInvestment doesn’t even exist and that its owner, Benjamin Wilson, was conducting a $35 million Ponzi scam based in the U.K. (Wilson, who has pleaded to criminal charges brought by the Financial Conduct Authority, has been sentenced to time behind bars.)