July 1, 2015

As Puerto Rico Asks Creditors for Concessions, S & P Downgrades the Territory’s Debt and Investors Get Ready for More Losses

Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla says that the U.S. territory cannot pay back its $72 billion debt without concessions from its creditors, including U.S. mutual funds and hedge funds. According to the Governor, the Commonwealth’s efforts to restructure its debt and cut spending have failed.

Following the Governor’s announcement, credit rater Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services downgraded Puerto Rico’s credit rating from CCC-plus to CCC-minus. The rating covers the island’s entire debt, including the debt of its Employees Retirement System and the Municipal Finance Agency.

García Padilla and Puerto Rico’s government development bank also issued a report backing his statements. The executive summary was written by Anne Krueger, a former World Bank Chief Economist and the International Monetary Fund’s first deputy managing director, as well as Ranjit Teja and Andrew Wolfe, who are both economists.

In their “Krueger Report,” the economists said that they found the territory’s debt to be unsustainable. Based on the report and Puerto Rico’s own analysis, García Padilla wants to defer debts so that Puerto Rico can continue to negotiate with creditors. Some payments could be deferred for up to five years. The Governor said, “This is not politics, this is math.”

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June 27, 2015

Federal Judge in Texas Says Law Firms Must Face Lawsuit Seeking Creditor Payments in Stanford Ponzi Fraud

Four years after Allen Stanford’s $7 billion Ponzi scam was uncovered in 2009, investors who lost money in the scheme are still trying to recover their funds. The 65-year-old Stanford is serving 110-years behind bars for selling investors bogus high-yield CD’s through his Stanford International Bank based in Antigua. Prosecutors said he used customers’ money to fund his expensive lifestyle.

This week, U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas said that law firms Proskauer Rose and Chadborne & Parke will have to contend with claims brought by a committee of these investors and Ralph S. Janvey, the court-appointed receiver for Allen Stanford’s companies.

Chadborne and Prosakuer had sought to have this lawsuit, which seeks to hold the two law firms liable for legal malpractice, dismissed. The plaintiffs contend that Thomas Sjoblom, who worked at the two firms, allegedly obstructed regulator probes into the Ponzi Scam and helped Stanford conceal the SEC’s investigation from auditors.

Now, the Texas-based judge has decided that Janvey and the investor committee can pursue claims of negligent supervision, professional negligence, civil conspiracy, and aiding and abetting fraud against the two firms. Judge Godbey stated that the allegations suggest that Sjobolm knew that Stanford was potentially running a Ponzi scam, and this awareness was imputed to both firms. Godbey said that the plaintiffs have alleged that the defendants knew that Stanford was engaged in sufficient wrongdoing.

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June 25, 2015

New SEC Program Will Examine Financial Firms and Their Retirement-Planning Guidance

The Securities and Exchange Commission said it would perform a number of exams on financial advice firms as part of its plans to more closely examine the guidance that investors are getting as they plan for retirement. The regulator’s new program is called the Retirement-Targeted Industry Reviews and Examinations Initiative. The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations will conduct exams. OCIE is responsible for more than 10,000 advisory firms and 4,500 brokerage firms.

Areas of scrutiny will include firm oversight and investment sales processes and procedures, as well as the areas where retail investors seeking to save for retirement may be at risk of sustaining financial losses. The SEC wants to look at whether the compensation provided to advisers establishes conflicts of interest and how firms deal with this.

The regulator also wants to examine the marketing material provided to customers and whether they are accurate, as well as if financial advisers are conducting enough due diligence on investments. Marketing collateral will be checked for accuracy, including making sure documents disclose the necessary information and are not misleading or contain omissions. The Commission will also study specific recommendations that are being made to clients.

In its alert about the initiative, the SEC acknowledged that a lot of retail investors have become more dependent than ever on their own investments to support them during retirement. OCIE will look at the complex and changing factors that investors deal with when deciding where to invest their money, including the wide variety of investments that are made available in this constantly changing market environment. The regulator will also study registrant sales, and disclosures.

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June 24, 2015

SEC Charges Unregistered Brokers for Handling Over $79M of Investments in Immigrant Investor Program

The SEC is charging Ireeco LLC and Ireeco Limited with serving as unregistered brokers for over 150 foreign investors. The two firms are accused of illegally brokering over $79M of investments by those who wanted to become U.S. residents under the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.

The program offers a way for foreigners to invest money in a U.S. enterprise or a designated, private regional center in exchange for legal residency in this country. The SEC contends that the two brokerage firms went online to solicit foreign investors, promising to help them select a regional center. Instead, the firms allegedly directed most of them to the centers that paid commissions of approximately $35,000/investor once the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved a green card petition. The SEC said that participants invested $79 million in the regional centers.

The SEC said that Ireeco LLC and Ireeco Ltd. raised money for immigrant investment projects without being registered to legally operate as securities brokers. The two firms agreed to settle without denying or admitting to the findings.

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June 22, 2015

Investor Want Wells Fargo Advisers to Pay $100K in Damages Over F-Squared Investment Losses

A client of Wells Fargo Advisors (WFC) is looking to recover at least $100,000 in damages for losses he sustained from investing with F-Squared Investments Inc. The arbitration case comes six months after F-Squared consented to pay $35 million to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the asset manager of making false claims about its flagship investment product’s performance. The 68-year-old widower’s claim will test whether investors can pursue broker-dealers for selling F-Squared products.

The claimant, a moderately conservative investor who was looking for moderately conservative growth for his retirement account assets, began working with a Wells Fargo financial adviser in 2011. The brokerage firm made F-Squared managed-accounts available to advisors in 2013.

According to InvestmentNews, The investor’s advisor put about $900K of the client’s money—most of his savings, says his attorney—in products managed by two ETF strategists. Over 50% of the money went into F-Squared’s AlphaSector Allocator Select. Meantime, the investor said it paid Wells Fargo about $19,000 in fees for recommending the products. He believes that the firm had a conflict when it recommended investments because they came with such high commissions. Also, the fees erased potential capital gains for the claimant.

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June 20, 2015

SEC Accuses Chicago Underwriters of Municipal Bond Offerings Fraud

The SEC has filed enforcement actions against 36 municipal underwriting firms, most of them located in the Chicago area, for alleged violations involving municipal bond offerings. These are the first cases against underwriters brought under the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation Initiative. Goldman Sachs & Co. (GS), Robert W. Baird & Co., J.P. Morgan Securities (JPM), Raymond James & Associates, Inc. (RJF), Morgan Stanley & Co. (MS), Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (C), Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc. (SF), Piper Jaffray & Co. (PJC), Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc., and RBC Capital Markets, LLC were the firms ordered to pay the largest financial penalty of $500,000, respectively.

The program offers favorable settlement terms to municipal bond issuers and underwriters that voluntarily self-report violations to securities laws, including those involving omissions and material misstatements in muni bond offering documents. In these actions, the SEC contends that between ’10 and ’14, the firms violated federal securities law when they sold muni bonds.

These acts purportedly included using offering documents that omitted or included materially false statements regarding the bond issuers’ compliance with continuing disclosure duties. The firms also are accused of not doing a good enough job of detecting omissions and misstatements before making bond sales to customers.

Continuing disclosure allows muni bond investors to have access to annual financial reports and other data on a continual basis. The SEC said that the issuers’ failure to comply with the duties related to continuing disclosure posed a challenge to investors wanting that information.

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June 18, 2015

San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan Addresses $20M-Plus Texas Securities Case Against His Former Financial Adviser

Earlier this year, our securities law firm published a blog post reporting that San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan had filed a Texas securities case against financial representative Charles Banks. Duncan contends that due to unsuitable recommendations made to him by Banks, he allegedly lost some $25 million.

Banks, a private-equity investor, was Duncan’s adviser for nearly two decades, since the beginning of his professional sports career. The NBA All-Star says that Banks persuaded him to get involved in investments that were bad for Duncan but good for the financial adviser. He also claims that Banks forged his signature and withheld his return on a loan. The San Antonio Spurs star says that over the years, he’s invested millions of dollars in products and businesses that Banks either owned or had a financial stake in.

Meantime, Banks claims that Duncan’s losses are because of the player’s own impatience or due to misunderstandings. He argued that Duncan is using the Texas securities case to exit certain limited partnership investments.

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June 17, 2015

SEC File Action Against Company Accused of Offering Security-Based Swaps to Retail Investors

The Securities and Exchange Commission said it has brought an enforcement action against Sand Hill Exchange for illegally offering complex derivative products to retail investors. The regulator said that the company, based in in Silicon Valley, was offering and selling security-based swaps contracts to investors who did not qualify as “eligible contract participants” (ECPs) according to the law.

Sand Hill Exchange was started as an online business not unlike a fantasy sports league. It dealt with the valuation of private start up companies in the area. However, its founders Elaine Ou and Gerrit Hall ended up revising the company business model numerous times, with Sand Hill eventually inviting people to use real funds to purchase and sell contracts referencing companies that have not yet had their initial public offering.

To fund accounts, Sand Hill solicited investors to use dollars or bitcoins. Users, however, were not asked about their financial holdings nor were offerings restricted to those who held a certain number of assets. Instead, anyone could qualify.

It was the Dodd-Frank Act that put into place two integral requirements for security-based swaps offered or sold to retail investors who fail to meet the eligible contract participant standards. First, there has to be a registration statement for the offering, and second, the contracts must be sold on a national securities exchange. The requirements give the retail investors full access to key information about the offering while limiting such transactions to platforms that are only subject to the highest regulatory scrutiny.

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June 15, 2015

FINRA Pursues Broker For Allegedly Trying to Bilk Elderly Investor with Alzheimer’s of $1.8M

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. has filed an elder financial fraud case against broker John Waszolek, who worked for UBS Wealth Management (UBS) at the time of the allegations. According to the self-regulatory organization, in 2009, Waszkolek took advantage of an 81-year-old client when he had her appoint him as a beneficiary of her trust even though she lacked the “testamentary capacity” to make such decisions and would not have been able to protect herself from exploitation. Testamentary capacity refers to a person’s mental and legal ability to make or modify a will.

The elderly widow lived by herself and had been a client of Waszolek since 1982. However, contends FINRA, it wasn’t until 2008 as her health worsened that the broker allegedly began to go above and beyond his professional obligation to her. He was the one that purportedly took her to see the doctor, who diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s. The regulator also says that he met with an estate planning lawyer so that he could be appointed as his client’s agent and given power of attorney. He wanted her trust modified so that he would be named the residual beneficiary.

When the estate planning lawyer refused because the elderly women lacked testamentary capacity, Waszolek purportedly suggested that his client see another lawyer. The amendment made to her trust would cause some $1.3 million that was supposed to be divided among four charities to go to the broker instead. That figure would eventually go up to $1.8 million.

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June 11, 2015

Two Stockbrokers, Biotech Employee Face Insider Trading Charges Related to Pharmaceutical Trials and A Merger

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is charging three men with insider trading in the stock and options of Ardea Biosciences Inc. Those charged included the company’s senior director of information technology Michael J. Fefferman, his brother in-law Chad E. Wiegand, and Akis C. Eracleous. Wiegand and Eracleous are stockbrokers.

According to the regulator, Fefferman had knowledge of material nonpublic data and tipped Wiegand prior to public announcements about two pharmaceutical trials, the acquisition of Ardea Biosciences by AstraZeneca PLC, and a licensing agreement for a cancer drug.

The Commission said that the insider trading happened from 4/09 to 4/12. SEC Philadelphia Regional Office Director Sharon B. Binger said that Fefferman breached his duty to his company’s shareholders when he shared confidential information about the important corporate events before the news was made public. She accused Eracleous and Wiegand of taking unfair advantage of the investing public by using this information to trade before others had access to the same knowledge.

Wiegand purportedly used the tip to buy stock in Ardea using different customer accounts. He then allegedly tipped Eracleous so he could do the same. The alleged insider trading generated about $530K in profits.

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June 10, 2015

Investors Targeted by Advanced-Fee Scams Using Bogus Regulator Websites and Fake Broker Identities

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority issued an alert warning non-U.S. and U.S. investors about scammers who use fake regulator websites and identities to steal money. Some scammers have even used FINRA’s name or pretended to be employed by the self-regulatory organization.

These fraudsters will typically ask for an advance payment of a service fee and then disappear upon receipt of the money. The fee is supposedly for services that involve buying non-performing stock that already belongs to the person they are targeting with the offer to pay a high price. The fraudster may even pretend to be a securities regulator or industry professional.

According to FINRA, there are investors in the UK who have received phone calls from individuals claiming to be with securities firm that were subject to disciplinary actions by regulators. These callers will typically try to procure advance payment for the return of money that was lost while the investor was associated with the firm.

U.S. investors have also been targeted. The Securities Investor Protection Corporation even issued its own warning against scammers pretending to be the SIPC or another organization with similar powers. SIPC has the authority to keep up a reserve fund for customers of brokerage firms that become insolvent. However firm liquidations that go through SIPC do not require investors to pay a fee so they can recover their monies.

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June 9, 2015

Trustee Says that Texas Company Life Partners Holdings Bilked Investors

According to bankruptcy trustee H. Thomas Moran II, Life Partners Holdings (LPHIQ) ran a scam to bilk its investors. The Texas company, which sold over $1.3 billion of fractional interests in individual life insurance policies to over 20,000 individuals, is accused of unnecessarily demanding that a lot of investors pay yearly premiums on policies that had enough funds to pay for future premiums. Many of these investors were forced to resell or abandon these investments while company insiders made money.

Now, Moran wants a court to give him permission to pool all of the policies and use accessible cash to pay premiums where necessary. This would relieve investors of having to continue to put more of their funds into the scam to keep their investments.

Life Partners used to be a huge player in the secondary market for life insurance. The company makes arrangements to purchase life insurance policies from people. Life Partners would then divide up the policies into fractional interests. Retail investors would buy the rights to collect on them.

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