September 30, 2015

UBS Puerto Rico to Pay $18.5M to Settle FINRA Sanctions Over Supervisory Failures Related to Closed-End Fund Sales

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is fining UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico (UBS PR) $7.5 million for supervisory failures involving its transactions in UBS sponsored Puerto Rican closed-end funds (CEF). The brokerage firm also must pay $11 million in client restitution for losses related to those shares.

According to FINRA, a self-regulatory organization for the brokerage industry, for over four years, UBS PR neglected to monitor the combined concentration and leverage levels in customer accounts to make sure transactions were suitable for the respective profiles and objectives of its customers. FINRA said that considering that the firm’s retail customers typically kept high concentration levels in the country’s assets and frequently used these concentrated accounts as cash loan collateral—and in light of the U.S. territory’s volatile economy—UBS should have put into place a system that could reasonably identify and prevent unsuitable transactions.

Instead, the regulator said, UBS PR persuaded certain customers to establish credit lines that were collateralized by their securities accounts. If the value of the account dropped under the required collateral level, the customer would have to deposit more assets or liquidate securities. A credit line that is collateralized by an account that is very concentrated could significantly increase an investor’s risk of loss. When the market dropped in 2013, and a lot of the CEFs lost value, customers were forced to sustain hefty losses to satisfy the calls they received notifying them that their account’s value was now under the required collateral level.

Continue reading "UBS Puerto Rico to Pay $18.5M to Settle FINRA Sanctions Over Supervisory Failures Related to Closed-End Fund Sales" »

September 29, 2015

UBS Puerto Rico To Pay the SEC $15M Over Closed-End Bond Fund Sales

UBS Financial Services Inc. of Puerto Rico (UBS PR) has consented to pay $15 million to resolve the Securities and Exchange Commission’s claims related to the brokerage firm’s supervision of the sale of its closed-end Puerto Rico bond funds (CEFs). The SEC contends that UBS PR did not properly supervise ex-broker Jose Ramirez, who is accused of increasing his compensation by at least $2.8 million when he allegedly had customers improperly borrow funds to invest in Puerto Rico bond funds. UBS fired Ramirez last year.

The funds came from UBS Bank USA, which is a bank affiliated with UBS PR. Under bank and UBS rule, the funds from UBS Bank are not allowed to be used to carry or purchase securities. According to the SEC, not only was using the funds from the Bank a violation, investors were placed at risk of losses while Ramirez profited. The SEC has filed a separate complaint against the ex-UBS broker.

The regulator claims that Ramirez misled customers about how safe the CEFs were, as well as misrepresented the risks involved. He purportedly lied to his branch manager when he was asked about suspect transactions.

To avoid getting caught, Ramirez allegedly told customers to move money from their credit line to an external bank account before placing the funds into their brokerage account at UBS PR and then buying the CEFs. The CEFs, which were heavily invested in Puerto Rico bonds, dropped in value when the Puerto Rican bond market started to decline in the Fall of 2013. Customers then had a choice of either paying down part of the loans or risk liquidation of their investments.

The $15 million settlement will be put into a fund for investors who sustained losses when the funds dropped in value. The Commission's order instituting a settled administrative proceeding claims that UBS PR did not have the systems and procedures to prevent or detect the misconduct that Ramirez was engaging in. Even though UBS PR was allegedly apprised at least twice that customers of Ramirez might be violating the loan policy, the brokerage firm’s policies did not provide for reasonable follow up. UBS PR also purportedly lacked a system to make sure that credit line proceeds that were moved out of firm accounts were not used to buy securities.

Continue reading "UBS Puerto Rico To Pay the SEC $15M Over Closed-End Bond Fund Sales " »

September 26, 2015

Broker Fraud News: Ex-Dallas Broker Faces Prison, Fintegra Files for Bankruptcy, and Broker Who Promised Investors They’d Double Their Money Can No Longer Sell Securities

Ex-Dallas Broker Accused of Texas Securities Fraud Face Five Years
Wade Lawrence, a former Dallas broker, has pleaded guilty to Texas securities fraud. As part of his plea bargain the 43-year-old will have to forfeit $1.5 million and pay over $250,000 in fines. He also faces up to five years behind bars for his $2.1 million securities scam.

According to prosecutors, over the course of working for several securities firm over the last seven years, Lawrence falsely offered risky investments with the promise of 20% to 100% returns. He lost a significant amount of money and invested just a portion of investors’ funds. Lawrence used a lot of investors' cash to cover his own living expenses, personal travel, as well as pay for fancy jewelry. The Associated Press reports that to date Lawrence has given back $581,000 to investors.

Minnesota-Based Brokerage Firm Files for Bankruptcy
Broker-dealer Fintegra has filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Minnesota. The firm had to stop its securities business in June after it was hit with a $1.5M arbitration award that placed it under the $250,000 regulatory net capital requirements of minimum.

According to the FINRA arbitration panel, Finestra and a broker violated state anti-fraud provisions related to the sale of Miasole Investments II, an unregistered security. The securities fraud complaint, submitted by Fintegra customers, states that the broker-dealer could only pay $300,000 of the award. However, InvestmentNews reported that the attorneys for one of the clients said that to date none of the award has been paid.

Fintegra, in its FOCUS report with the SEC, admitted that it had been named in five separate lawsuits, all involving the alleged sale of securities that were either unsuitable or violated state securities laws.

Continue reading " Broker Fraud News: Ex-Dallas Broker Faces Prison, Fintegra Files for Bankruptcy, and Broker Who Promised Investors They’d Double Their Money Can No Longer Sell Securities" »

September 23, 2015

LPL to Pay $3.2M Over Nontraded REIT and ETF Sales

LPL Financial (LPLA) has agreed to pay 3.2 million fine to settle penalties related to its sale of nontraded real estate investment trusts and leveraged exchange-traded funds. The settlements were reached with the Non-Traded REIT Task Force of the North American Securities Administrators Association and regulators in Massachusetts and Delaware. The firm sold the REITs at issue for six years beginning in 2008.

Under the agreement, LPL will pay $1.425 million in civil penalties for its purported failures to put into place a supervisory system that was adequate enough to handle its nontraded REIT sales and enforce written procedures related illiquid trust sales. The money will be divvied up between the District of Columbia, 48 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. By settling with NASAA, LPL is not denying or admitting wrongdoing.

Also, the Delaware Attorney General and the Massachusetts Attorney General have arrived at their own settlements with LPL’s Boston arm. The firm consented to pay $1.8 million for putting about 200 clients from Massachusetts in high-risk leveraged ETFs. The broker-dealer and Massachusetts had come to an earlier settlement about nontraded REIT sales two years ago.

Continue reading "LPL to Pay $3.2M Over Nontraded REIT and ETF Sales" »

September 21, 2015

SEC Headlines: Regulator Settles Private Equity Fund Fraud Case for $6.8M, Accuses R.T. Jones of Not implementing Cybersecurity Measures, and Files A Securities Case Over Stock Manipulation

Men Accused of $6.8M Private Equity Fund Fraud Allegedly Bilked Friends and Family
The Securities and Exchange Commission has settled charges with two men and their unregistered investment advisory firm for allegedly bilking investors in a private equity fund. Under the agreement, William B. Fretz, John P. Freeman, and their Covenant Capital Management Partners, L.P. will owe the regulator about $6.8 million. Any money collected will go to investors that were defrauded.

According to the SEC order instituting administrative proceedings over the alleged private equity fund fraud, the two men, their firm, and Covenant Partners, L.P., which is the fund they managed, sold partnership interests in the fund to friends and family. However, instead of investing the money, they used the cash for themselves and their other business.

Fritz and Freeman are accused of taking more than $1 million and placing it with their brokerage firm, Keystone Equities Group L.P., which was failing. They also purportedly paid close to $600,000 in performance fees they didn’t make and used assets from the fund to pay back personal obligations.

Freeman, Fretz, and CCMP consented to settle charges accusing them of willfully violating federal securities laws and SEC anti-fraud laws. However, they are not denying or admitting to the SEC fraud charges.

Investment Adviser R.T. Jones Capital Settles SEC Charges Related to Cybersecurity
R.T. Jones Capital Equities Management has settled SEC charges accusing it of not putting into placed required cyber security procedures and policies prior to a breach that compromised the personal identifiable (PII) information of thousands of its clients. Without denying or admitting to the findings, the investment adviser agreed to pay a $75,000 penalty and consented to cease and desist from future violations of the Securities Act of 1933’s Rule 30(a) of Regulation S-P.

According to an SEC probe, R.T. Jones violated federal securities laws’ “safeguard rule.” The rule mandates that registered investment advisers put into place written procedures and policies that are designed in a manner reasonable enough that they protect customers’ information and records from security threats. The regulator said that for four years R.T. Jones did not adopt any such policies.

Continue reading "SEC Headlines: Regulator Settles Private Equity Fund Fraud Case for $6.8M, Accuses R.T. Jones of Not implementing Cybersecurity Measures, and Files A Securities Case Over Stock Manipulation" »

September 19, 2015

FINRA Headlines: Regulator Seeks to Curb Broker Record Expungement, Continues to Fight Elder Abuse and Issues Liquidity Risk Management Guidance

FINRA Takes Action to Make It Harder for Brokers to Expunge Their Disciplinary Records
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Board has given the regulator permission to ask for public comment on a plan that would establish tougher requirements for when a broker would be allowed to expunge disciplinary actions from his/her BrokerCheck record. The proposed rule would update existing arbitration rules regarding the expungement of information related to customer disputes.

One proposed requirement is that an arbitration panel would have to get a copy of the BrokerCheck report when determining whether to grant an expungement request. The panel then would have to give more details about its reason to recommend a request.

According to a 2013 study by the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association, expungement requests have been granted in up to 90% of cases that ended in an award or settlement. However, in 2014 the SEC signed off on a rule preventing broker-dealers from conditioning a settlement so that a claimant cannot counter expungement after the case is resolved.

FINRA Board Continues to Fight Elder Financial Abuse
FINRA’s board has given the self-regulatory authority permission to put out a rule proposal that would protect older investors and other vulnerable investors.

Under the rule, firms would be obligated to get the name and contact data of a trusted individual when opening an account for a customer. The rule also would let a firm, if it suspects financial fraud, freeze the money in accounts of senior investors age 65 and over, as well as the accounts of adults with physical or mental impairments. The concern is that such impairments may make it difficult for them to protect their best interests especially when they are being bilked.

Continue reading "FINRA Headlines: Regulator Seeks to Curb Broker Record Expungement, Continues to Fight Elder Abuse and Issues Liquidity Risk Management Guidance " »

September 16, 2015

SEC Files Fraud Charges in $18M Arizona Securities Scam that Bilked 225 Investors

The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging James Hinkelday, Jason Mogler, Brian Buckley, Casimer Polanchek, and James Stevens with bilking millions of dollars from investors. The regulators claims that the Arizona residents misappropriated about 97% of $18 million from 225 investors who thought their money was being used to acquire and develop beachfront property in Mexico, run recycling facilities, and buy foreclosed residential properties to resell. The men are accused of making Ponzi-like payments to investors who threatened to sue them.

In its complaint, the SEC says that the men—none of whom were registered with the agency to sell investments—solicited prospective investors via magazine, radio, and Internet ads, along with cold calls, marketing materials, and investor presentations. Polanchek purportedly looked for investors at cruises, bars, and self-help seminars. The men also were involved in The Investment Roadshow, which is an Arizona radio program that instructed listeners on how to use self-direct IRAs to put money in their companies. Prospective investors were guided to a website where they could schedule appointments and join seminars to find out more about the investment opportunities.

Continue reading "SEC Files Fraud Charges in $18M Arizona Securities Scam that Bilked 225 Investors" »

September 14, 2015

FINRA Bars Global Arena Capital Brokers for Cockroaching, Churning, and Other Securities Violations

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred seven brokers accused of committing violations and repeatedly transferring from one brokerage firm to another from the securities industry. The brokers worked at the brokerage firm Global Arena Capital Corp. Also barred is the broker-dealer’s president, Barbara L. Desiderio. She is accused of letting the brokers engage in stockbroker fraud and deceiving the regulator.

The other brokers are David Awad, Alex Wildermuth, Peter Snetzko, James Torres, and Michael Tannen. Global Arena branch managers Kevin Hagan and Richard Bohak have been barred from serving in a principal role. Brokers Andrew Marzec and Niaz Elmazi were barred for not cooperating with the regulator’s probe.

According to FINRA, while at the firm, the brokers used sales pitches that were misleading, churned accounts, and committed other abusive acts. Seven of the brokers who were barred had been placed on heightened supervision by the self-regulatory organization when they exited HFP Capital Markets to go work at Global Arena. HFP Capital Markets has since been expelled from the industry by FINRA.

Continue reading "FINRA Bars Global Arena Capital Brokers for Cockroaching, Churning, and Other Securities Violations" »

September 12, 2015

US Study Says Older People Are More Susceptible to Financial Fraud Because of How The Brain Works

According to a study published previously in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the reason why elderly people are more susceptible than younger folk to financial fraud is because the ability to identify trustworthiness decreases with age. The researchers looked at two different groups—one group was comprised of younger adults (ages 20 to 42) and older adults (ages 55-84.)

The groups judged faces in photographs. These faces had been pre-rated for approachability and trustworthiness.

While both groups identified those that had been pre-rated as neutral or trustworthy as approachable and trustworthy, the older group was more likely than the younger group to identify the faces that had been pre-rated as ‘untrustworthy’ as trustworthy. Shelly Taylor, a UCLA psychologist who was involved with the study, said that the reason for this was that older adults did not detect certain “easily distinguished” facial cues indicative of untrustworthiness.

The researchers asked another forty-four participants to undergo functional magnetic resonance while rating the faces. While the older adults did not display much of an activation in the anterior insula, which is the part of the brain known for regulating "gut feelings” that affect decision-making, the younger adults’ anterior insula exhibited a stronger response. Taylor said that while the younger adults were getting that ‘uh-oh’ feeling, the older adults were not.

Continue reading "US Study Says Older People Are More Susceptible to Financial Fraud Because of How The Brain Works " »

September 10, 2015

Another RIA/Financial Radio Show Host Charged with Securities Fraud

The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging Bennett Group Financial Services founder and host of the radio show “Financial Myth Busting” with allegedly inflating her investment adviser firm’s assets under management, as well as its investment returns, to try to gain more clients.

Dawn J. Bennett is accused of claiming that the Washington-based firm had over $2 billion in assets even though it never oversaw more than $407 million. She made the inflated claim multiple times on her radio show. She also purportedly said that the Bennett Group’s investment returns were among the top 1% globally. The SEC said that these bragged about returns came from a model portfolio and did not represent any real customer returns.

At one point Bennett was number five on Barron’s “Top 100 Women Financial Advisors” list and number two on the DC “2011 Top Advisors” because of her alleged misstatements. She touted these rankings to potential customers.

In the regulator’s complaint, the Commission said that from at least 2009 to early 2011 Bennett and her investment adviser firm made material misstatements and omissions to try to bring in more clients. They also allegedly made other misstatements to attempt to conceal their fraud.

Continue reading "Another RIA/Financial Radio Show Host Charged with Securities Fraud" »

September 9, 2015

SEC Moves to Stop Financial Fraud That Bilked Over 100 Investors Of Over $14 Million

The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed fraud charges and obtained an asset freeze against three individuals accused of stealing investor money. According to the regulator, David Kayatta, Paul Ricky Mata, and Mario Pincheira raised over $14M from over 100 investors for two unregistered funds. The money was supposed to be placed in real estate.

The SEC’s complaint noted that on a website run by Mata, the alleged fraudsters advertised an “Indestructible Wealth Bootcamp” and promised said wealth when, in truth, both funds never made a profit. Online videos on the website and YouTube marketed this investment seminar and another one titled “Finances God’s Way.” Retirees were encouraged to sell their securities holdings and get involved in the unregistered funds.

The complaint states that Mata is an ex-licensed securities professional with a lengthy disciplinary record that he hid from investors. He and Kaytata allegedly promised guaranteed returns for one fund even though a state regulator had sanctioned them for making such promises. The two men are accused of diluting the investments in the other fund by bringing in new investors while making false assurances to current investors that the two funds were doing well. Pincheira, Kayata, and Matta purportedly charged dinners, entertainment, travel, and other expenses on Pincheira’s credit card and paid off the balances with investor money. Monthly balances on the card were often above $40,000.

Unfortunately, new technologies are making it easier for fraudsters to reach more investors. Well-edited videos and legitimate looking ads can make scammers appear as if they are experienced and qualified to offer financial advice when they are not. At Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD LLP, our securities fraud lawyers are here to help investors who have sustained losses because of financial scams.

Continue reading "SEC Moves to Stop Financial Fraud That Bilked Over 100 Investors Of Over $14 Million" »

September 5, 2015

Ex-NHL Star’s Financial Manager Convicted of Multimillion-Dollar Fraud, Ponzi Scam

Joseph Zada, the man accused of bilking former Red Wings hockey player Sergei Fedorov of $43 million, was convicted of fifteen counts of mail fraud. Prosecutors say that Zada was involved in a $50 million Ponzi scam that went on for a decade.

Zada’s other victims included an ex-Olympic equestrian champion, a pawnbroker, a jeweler, a veterinarian, several hockey players, and dozens of others. He is accused of telling investors that he was placing their money in oil and currency trading via a secret board based in London. Instead, he spent their money on funding his expensive lifestyle.

Zada pretended to be a rich businessman with oil ventures in Saudi Arabia. He touted quick and substantial profits. When investors asked for their money back he claimed he was waiting for a billion dollar inheritance from Saudi Arabia’s royal family. He faces up to 20 years behind bars for each count of mail fraud.

Continue reading "Ex-NHL Star’s Financial Manager Convicted of Multimillion-Dollar Fraud, Ponzi Scam" »