SEC Charges Hawaii-Based Investment Adviser for Misleading Clients and Cherry PickingThe 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.
Sethi Petroleum Inc. and its founder Sameer P. Sethi are asking a federal judge to send the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against it to trial. Sethi Petroleum is based in Dallas, Texas. The regulator had sought summary judgment in the Texas lawsuit, which accuses Sethi Petroleum and Sethi of fraudulently selling securities to investors for a drilling project in Montana and the Dakotas. However, the two of them claim that a jury needs to decide whether the interests that investors are holding are even securities.
The Commission claims that Sethi raised over $4M in a little over a year for the oil venture with the promise of 20 gas and oil wells. 90 investors in nearly 30 states were promised 62.5% net working interest on these wells. They were purportedly told that wells were already making 1 million barrels/month, when Sethi Petroleum actually only held interests in just eight wells—and not all of them were being drilled—in which investors held only .15 to 2.5% interest. These wells produced far less than the 1 million barrels/month touted, claims the regulator. The actual figure was closer to 9,000 to almost 14,000 barrels/month.
The SEC claims that Sethi invested just $950K of investor funds in the wells, while he used $577K to pay himself and his dad. $1.1M of investor funds purportedly went to employees at Sethi Financial Group, with sales employees getting $1.04M. Seth is accused of lying about his own record of regulatory and criminal violations and his company is accused of lying when it claimed that it was working with Hess Corp. and Mobil Corp.
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.
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.
Chad Peter Smanjak has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Smanjak admitted to operating a pump-and-dump scam linked to a company founded by Daniel Ruettiger, also known as Rudy. Ruettiger’s time playing football at Notre Dame was retold in the movie “Rudy.”
Smanjak is accused of targeting over 250 investors in his penny stock scam, which made at least $5M in profits. Although he had co-conspirators, Smanjak was the only person indicted in this securities case.
The penny stock in the scam was issued by Rudy Nutrition, which Ruettiger founded. The sports drink company claimed it was selling health conscious drinks.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said that BOK Financial Corporation subsidiary BOKF NA will pay over $1.6M to resolve charges accusing the Oklahoma-based bank of ignoring signs that businessman Christopher F. Brogdon was engaged in suspect activates related to his management of municipal bond offerings for investors. Brogdon was charged by the regulator with fraud last year and he must pay back investors $85M.
The federal government accused him of collecting almost $190M through private placement offerings and muni bond offerings. Investors thought they would earn interest from money made by assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or another retirement community project. Instead, Brogdon commingled accounts and redirected investor funds to other ventures and his own expenses.
According to the regulator, BOKF and ex-senior VP Marrien Neilson found out that Brogdon was taking money out from reserve funds for the muni bond offerings and not replacing the money. They also became aware that he had neglected to file annual financial statements for the bond offerings.
Paul Mata, the founder of Logos Wealth Advisors, has been barred by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Mata and fund manage David Kayatta, whom the SEC has also barred, are accused of fraudulently raising over $14M in investor funds.
Mata drew in investors through investment seminars and online videos that came with the promise of “Indestructible Wealth.” During presentations to church groups, he touted “Finances God’s Way.”
Kayatta was the manager of two unregistered investment funds while at Logos Wealth Advisors. According to the Commission, beginning in 2008, the two men raised this money from over 100 investors in the unregistered funds. Kayatta and Mata promised guaranteed returns, did not make any disciplinary history known, and misused investor money.
In the order against him, the SEC said that Kayatta was responsible for the misleading and false statements in private placement memoranda for the Funds. According to InvestmentNews, in 2010, Kayatta was ordered by the state of Nevada to cease-and-desist from pursuing investors in unregistered securities and taking part in investment advisory conduct without the proper licensing.
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.