Articles Posted in FINRA

Texas-Based Brokerage Firm Accused of Inadequate Supervision Involving VA Exchanges
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering IMS Securities Inc. to pay a $100K fine. The Texas-based brokerage firm is accused of failures related to its monitoring of variable annuity exchanges. By settling, however, it is not denying or admitting to the allegations. 
According to the self-regulatory authority, the firm exhibited inadequate supervisory procedures for “problematic rates of exchange” in transactions involving variable annuities. FINRA claims that from 7/ 15/13 through 7/8/14, IMS Securities depended on its CFO to review annuity exchanges but did not provide tools or guidance to help look for “problematic rates of exchange.”  The broker-dealer is accused of not probing possibly “problematic patterns” of VA exchanges and not enforcing written supervisory procedures related to consolidated reports. 

A Cetera Financial Group network brokerage firm will pay $1.1M in fines and restitution related to its sale of unit investment trusts. The broker-dealer is Investors Capital Corp.
According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, in 74 clients’ accounts, certain advisers recommended steepener notes, as well as short-term trading of UITs that were not suitable for these investors.  Investors Capital is also accused of not applying discounts when applicable to certain UIT purchases. 
The regulator claims that two representatives at Investors Capital recommended these unsuitable short-term UIT transactions between 6/2010 and 9/2015. 

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 SEC Charges Hawaii-Based Investment Adviser for Misleading Clients and Cherry Picking
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Oracle Investment Research, which is based in Hawaii, and its owner Laurence I. Balter. The regulator claims that the investment adviser cherry picked trades that were profitable for his own accounts. He is also accused is  misleading clients, including senior citizens, about the risks involved in the investments he recommended, as well as about the fees they would be charged.
According to the SEC Enforcement Division, Balter and Oracle Investment Research bought options and equities in an omnibus account but waited to distribute the trades until their execution. Then, he would allegedly move the profitable trades into his accounts and the unprofitable ones to the accounts of clients. 

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has ordered Avenir Financial Group to pay a $229K fine over allegations that the latter engaged in the fraudulent sale of promissory notes and equity interests in the firm. Avenir is suspended from taking part in the self-offerings of securities for two years.
According to the FINRA hearing panel, the firm, its ex-CEO/CCO Michael Todd Clements, and registered representative Karim Ahmed Ibrahim, also known as Chris Allen, purposely omitted or misrepresented material facts related to the sale of equity interests in the firm. Avenir is accused of making misrepresentations when selling debt and equity interests in the holding company of its branch office.
The FINRA ruling said that in 2013, Avenir solicited investors through funds via an equity self-offering because the firm needed capital. The self-regulatory organization said that Clements told Ibraham to tell customers that this money would go toward day-to-date operations and growth at Avenir but did not tell him about the firm’s financial issues and certain other information.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred ex-broker Douglas Wayne Studer after it was discovered that he was named to inherit a 91-year-old customer’s Florida waterfront condominium. FINRA’s investigation, which began last year, sought to determine whether he violated his ex-employer’s policy by being named in the estate documents belonging to the elderly investor.

Without denying or admitting to FINRA’s allegations Studer agreed to the sanction. Until July, Studer had worked for Kovack Advisors Inc.  since last October. 

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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.

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Caldwell International Securities Gets $2M Fine to Settle Churning Allegations
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has imposed a $2M fine on Caldwell International Securities Corp. It is fining Greg Caldwell, who is the principal of the financial firm, $50K. He is now barred from serving as a principal in the securities industry.

FINRA contends that supervisory failures is what allowed Caldwell International Securities’ brokers to allegedly engage in churning. This involves a trader taking part in excessive trading to make the most in commissions possible. The self-regulatory organization said that the firm’s failures caused fifteen clients to pay over $1M in commissions and fees on investment recommendations that were not appropriate for them.

FINRA believes the firm grew too fast and that this was one of the reasons its inadequate supervisory system was purportedly inadequate. The SRO said that it was this lack of proper supervision that made it possible for advisors to make unsuitable investment recommendations.

The regulator said that even after customers complained, Caldwell and other senior employees did not remedy this matter. In 2015, ex-Caldwell registered representative Richard Adams was barred by FINRA. The regulator claimed that Adams made $57K in commissions while clients sustained $3K in losses because of overtrading that took place in two customer accounts.

Alabama Attorney is Accused of Defrauding Professional Athletes, Other Investors Of Over $6M
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is charging Donald Watkins and his companies with fraud. According to the regulator, the Alabama lawyer and his Masada Resource Group LLC and Watkins Pencour LLC bilked investors, including professional athletes, out of more than $6M in supposed waste-to-energy ventures.

The SEC complaint said that the defendants made the false claim that an international waste treatment company was considering acquiring Watkins’ two companies and their affiliated companies in a multi-billion dollar deal. In reality, said the regulator, Waste Management Inc. only had a brief first meeting with the defendants in 2012. This was over a year after the defendants started telling investors that talks were moving forward and an acquisition was going to happen.

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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.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Arbitration Panel is ordering AOG Wealth Management chief executive and president Frederick Baerenz to pay Roger and Barbara Bond $331K in compensatory damages. The panel found Baerenz liable for unsuitable trading because he allegedly misled the Bonds about the risks involved in the direct private placements they invested in from ’06 to ’09. At the time, Baerenz was affiliated with Pacific West Securities.

The Bonds invested about $941K in private placements. Their legal team contends that these were not suitable investments for them.

Private Placements
Private placements are offerings of a company’s securities that are not registered with the SEC. They are not offered to the general public.

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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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