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.
Read the SEC’s Complaint (PDF)
SEC Bars 2 Advisors Who Said They Managed Money ‘God’s Way’, Think Adviser, September 2, 2016
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.
Investment Advisor Firm Accused of Paying Off Terminally Ill Patients to Commit Fraud
The SEC has filed fraud charges against Donald Lathen and his Eden Arc Capital Management. Lathen is accused of recruiting at least 60 individuals who had less than six months to live and agreeing to pay them $10K each for the use of their names on joint brokerage accounts. When one of these individuals would die, he would allegedly redeem the investments by falsely representing that he and the terminally individual person were joint account holders.
Lathen recruited the terminally ill patients through contacts he had at hospices and nursing homes. In reality, it was Lathen’s hedge fund that owned the option investments.
As a result, of the purported omissions and misrepresentations, issuers paid over $100M in early redemptions. Lathen is accused of violating the custody rule by not properly putting the securities and money from the hedge fund in an account under the name of the fund or in one that held only client money and securities.
SEC Stops Trading in Neromamam Ltd.
The SEC has stopped the trading of Neuromama Ltd. (NERO) shares. The shares trade on the mostly unregulated over-the-counter markets and the regulator is concerned about transactions that may be “potentially manipulative, as well as other red flags that have purportedly been cropping up for years.
Neruomama’s paper value went up times four to $35B this year despite not much volume. The company’s shares went up by four times to $56/share. (On January 15, ’14, its value was $4.73B.)
Merrill Roberts Jr., an ex-Philadelphia Eagles football player, is charged with financial fraud. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Robertson bilked investors in a $10M scam.
The SEC claims that Robertson, Sherman Vaughn Jr. and their Cavalier Union Investments LLC promised investors they would invest in diversified holdings. Instead, they took nearly $6M of investors’ money to cover their own spending and pay earlier investors. Expenditures purportedly included cars, luxury items, spa visits, family vacations, and educational expenses.
The two men are accused of claiming that the unregistered debt securities they were selling were safe and would generate up to 20%. They also purportedly told people that experienced invest advisers were running Cavalier’s investment funds when there were no advisers or funds.
The investment firm, said the SEC was “functionally insolvent” soon after it was set up, yet the defendants allegedly concealed this from prospective investors and depended on the latter’s money to stay in business. The government said that Cavalier only invested in restaurants and all of them failed.
SEC Files Fraud Charges Against Unregistered Representatives in $5M Fraud
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained an asset freeze against Matthew White, Daniel Merandi, and Rodney Zehner for alleged financial fraud. The three men are not registered to sell investments. They are accused of raising over $5M from investors and spending the money on expensive shopping expeditions.
According to the SEC, Merandi, White, and Zehner fraudulently issued $1B in unsecured corporate bonds using their shell company. They said the funds would go toward developing a resort. Although they never raised enough money to begin the project, they took $5.6M that they did raise from investors and went shopping at Gucci, Prada, Saks Fifth Avenue, Versace, and Louis Vuitton. The men allegedly conducted bogus transactions to raise the bond’s price even though the securities were expired and had no value.
The Commission is accusing Merandi, White, Zehner, and their companies of violating the Securities Act of 1933’s Section 17(a) antifraud provision, the Exchange Act of 1934’s Section 10(b), and Rule10b-5. It wants permanent injunctions, penalties, and disgorgement.
Broker Pleads Guilty to Fraud Involving $131M Market Manipulation Scam
Registered broker Naveed Khan has pleaded guilty to securities fraud. Khan faces up to 20 years behind bars for his involvement in a $131M pump-and-dump scam that involved the market manipulation of ForceField Energy Inc. (FNRG).
Between 1/09 and 4/15, the defendant and others sought to bilk ForceField investors. The fraudsters are accused of using nominees to sell and buy the LED company’s stock without notifying current investors and potential ones, orchestrating trading to make it seem as if the public was interested in ForceField’s stock, and hiding payments made to brokerage firms and stock promoters. These broker-dealers purportedly marketed and sold the stock under the guise of being independent.
SEC Wins Asset Freeze Against Two Ex-Brokers in Alleged $5M Fraud
The Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained an asset freeze from a court to stop the alleged ongoing fraud by ex-brokers Douglas Albert Dyer and James Hugh Brennan III. They are accused of raising over $5M from investors and improperly using their money. Both men have disciplinary histories.
According to the Commission, since 2008 Dyer and Brennan had sold purported shares in several companies to over 240 investors but did not register the stock. They allegedly moved this money into their personal accounts or to their wives’ accounts. They also purportedly did not disclose that Brennan was banned from the brokerage industry or that Dyer had been fined and suspended for unrelated unauthorized transactions involving customer accounts.
Also named in the SEC case is Broad Street Ventures, which is Brennan and Dyer’s company. Their wives are relief defendants. The regulator wants ill-gotten gains, interest, penalties, and permanent injunctions.
Ex-Investment Adviser Faces Criminal Charges for Allegedly Stealing Over $5.1M from Clients
Bradley Smegal is charged with securities fraud. The ex-Washington State investment advisor is accused of stealing over $5.1M from at least 14 clients.
Prosecutors say that between 8/07 and 1/13 Smegal persuaded clients to invest with entities that he said “guaranteed” specific return rates and were “conservative.” According to court documents, he failed to disclose he had a stake in the investments, and he moved $825,00K of the funds into his own account.