Articles Posted in Securities Fraud

Minnesota-Based Investment Adviser Gets Six-Year Jail Term
According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Levi David Lindemann was ordered to serve a 74-month prison sentence—that’s six years—for bilking clients in a Ponzi scam.  Lindemann owned Gershwin Financial, which did business using the name Alternative Wealth Solutions. He pleaded guilty to money laundering and federal mail fraud charges.

Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said that Lindemann abused his position as a financial adviser when he defrauded clients, including older investors. He did this by promising to invest their funds in safe investments but instead used their money to make Ponzi-type payments to clients and pay for his own expenses.

Lindemann’s guilty plea states that he solicited money from about 50 investors. He attempted to hide the securities fraud by generating fake secured notes as supposed evidence of the clients’ investments. The SEC permanently barred him from the securities industry earlier this year.


SEC Accuses Barred Broker of Selling Securities to Older Investors 

According to the SEC, ex-Morgan Stanley (MS) broker Rafael Calleja solicited $2.7M from 10 retiree and elderly investors after he had already been barred from the securities industry. The regulator claims that Calleja told investors their principal was insured and they would get a fixed return rate in a year. Meantime, he allegedly used at least $12K of their funds to pay for cruises, golf outings, and other personal expenses. He also purportedly failed to tell investors that his broker license had been revoked.

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Broker-Dealer Owner and His Firm Settle SEC Case Alleging Overconcentration of Investor Money In Illiquid Investments

Jason Vanclef and his brokerage firm VFG Securities Inc. have settled the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s case accusing them of not adequately supervising their brokers so that clients’ portfolios did not end up concentrated in illiquid investments. Vanclef and VFG Securities, however, are not denying or admitting to the claims made in the complaint.

According to FINRA, from 11/2010 to 6/2012, nearly 95% of the broker-dealer’s revenue came from direct participation programs (DPP) and nontraded real estate investment trusts (nontraded REIT) sales. The illiquid investments were sold retail customers.

FINRA claimed that Vanclef had used “The Wealth Code,” which was the book that he authored, as a sales tool to promote investing in DPPs and nontraded REITs and to attract potential investors. The settlement with the regulator notes that in the book Vanclef repeatedly touted both types of illiquid investments as offering capital preservation and better returns—claims that FINRA said are “inaccurate and misleading” and conflict with information that the firm offered in prospectuses for the nontraded REITs and DPPs.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority says that Oppenheimer & Co. (OPY) must pay $3.4M in sanctions. According to the regulator, for eight years the firm was about four years late when submitting 365 filings about disciplinary actions that it brought against its brokers and in arbitration and litigation settlements. FINRA is also accusing Oppenheimer of not giving seven claimants the documentation they needed in their arbitration against Mark Hotton, an ex-registered representative, and of overcharging 825 customers more than $1M collectively for mutual fund shares over a six-year period.

The self-regulatory organization claims that the late filings to FINRA took place between 2008 and 2016 and that Oppenheimer failed to provide claimants the documentation related to the Mark Hotton allegations between 2010 and 2013. The failure to apply the appropriate fee waiver discount for mutual fund shares purportedly occurred between 2009 and 2015.

Already, Oppenheimer has paid over $6M to settle customer disputes alleging inadequate supervision of Hotton and another $1.25M to 22 customers who did not file arbitration cases but suffered losses, too. Oppenheimer also was ordered to pay a $2.5M fine to FINRA last year over the Hotton claims. The former broker, whom FINRA permanently barred from the securities industry three years ago, was sentenced sentenced to 11 years in prison for stealing client monies and excessively trading their brokerage accounts.

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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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According to parent firm Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services Inc. (LTS), the SEC  is scrutinizing Securities America Advisors Inc., which is the registered investment adviser arm of independent broker-deal Securities America Inc., and Triad Advisors Inc., over allegations that the firms sold mutual funds that charged clients yearly marketing fees when there were less costly options available. These marketing fees are referred to as 12b-1 fees. It is paid to advisors yearly for continuing education and service.

Ladenburg Thalmann’s disclosed news that its firms were under investigation in its quarterly earnings report. In the report, the firm said that SEC staff gave Securities America Holdings and Triad reports in May and August contending that the two firms had “acted inconsistently” regarding their fiduciary duty when recommending and choosing mutual fund share classes that paid these marketing fees. The SEC pointed out that there had been less costly share classes available in the same funds. 

Ladenburg Thalmann said that Securities America Advisors and Triad are looking at the SEC’s assessments and they may have to pay restitution to clients. 
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Texas Man and His Energy Company Must Pay Arizona Restitution, Penalties for Oil Well-Related Misrepresentations

Texas resident Kenneth White and his Marchant International Resources Inc. must pay almost $1.4M plus $150K in penalties for misrepresenting its participation in two oil well projects that was backed by 12 Arizona investors. The fine was issued by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), which accused White of failing to disclose the complete facts about his business, the company’s experience with well-drilling, and Merchant’s efforts with two wells. The $150K penalty is because White did not disclose that he was previously convicted for a $4.3M felony theft crime when he was marketing himself and his experience in energy extraction.

 

More than 700 Investors to Get $11.2M in Restitution Over Inadequate Disclosures 

White and his company are not the only ones facing fines brought by the ACC in an energy case. Brian C. Hageman and his Hydrotherm Power Corp. and Deluge Inc. now have to pay $11.2M in resittion to over 700 investors. According to the state, while  marketing a thermal hydraulic engine project, Hageman did not tell investors that the two companies were no longer in valid operation. He also must pay a $55K administrative penalty for bilking shareholders.

 

SEC Accuses Minnesota-Based Energy Company Co-Founder of Stock Price Manipulation

The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against the co-founder of a Minnesota-based energy company. Ryan Gilbertson is accused of rigging Dakota Plains Holdings’ stock price while hiding his control of the company in order make a lot of money.  The SEC claims that Gilbertson enriched himself by over $16M as he and others allegedly bilked shareholders through price rigging. Meantime, his co-founder, Michael Reger, will pay almost $8M to settle the charges brought against him.

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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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According to a Securities and Exchange Commission probe, Forcerank LLC will pay a penalty of $50K for illegally offering complex derivatives products to retail investors. The company did this via mobile phone games referred to as “fantasy sports for stocks.” Forcerank is settling the case without deny or admitting to the findings that it violated sections of the Securities Exchange Act and the Securities Act.

The SEC’s order said that Forcerank’s mobile phone games involved players predicting the order that 10 securities performed against one another.. Players earned points and sometimes even money prizes according to how accurately they predicted the outcomes. The New York-based company earned 10% of entry fees, as well as developed a data set regarding market expectations that it intended to sell to investors, including hedge funds.

The SEC said that the agreements between players and Forcerank were security-based swaps since they provided for a payment contingent upon an event linked to a possible commercial, economic, or financial result and were determined by individual securities’ values. The Commission also claims that Forcerank LLC neglected to submit a registration statement for a security-based swap offering and did not sell contracts using a national securities exchange. Both are required to make sure that full transparency about a security-based swap offering is provided to retail investors and transactions are restricted to platforms that are under the highest regulation.

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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. 

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.

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