We have represented thousands of investors nationwide and recovered losses and other damages* for them from stockbrokers and their firms *Results will vary depending on the facts of each case

The financial fallout caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria is being felt not just on the island of Puerto Rico, but in the U.S. mainland as well. Puerto Rico bonds, which were already in trouble prior to the storms because of the island’s faltering economy and bankruptcy, are expected to take even more of a hit. Moody’s Investors Service assesses the future of the bonds, which were already at a Caa3 rating, as negative. The ratings agency said that the “disruption of commerce” caused by hurricanes will drain Puerto Rico’s “already weak economy” further. All of this is expected to impact not just the Puerto Rico bonds but also the mutual funds based on the U.S. mainland that hold them, which means that investors will be impacted.

According to InvestmentNews, Morningstar stated that 15 municipal bond funds, “14 of them from Oppenheimer Funds (OPY),” have at least 10 % of their portfolios in the island’s bonds. The 15th fund is from Mainstay. Morningstar reported that through September 28, the funds lost a 1.57% average for the month. The Oppenheimer Rochester Maryland Municipal Bond (ORMDX), which has 26% of its portfolio in Puerto Rico bonds, was considered the worst performer. In addition to Oppenheimer and Mainstay, other U.S.-based funds that are losing money from Puerto Rico bonds, include, as reported by The New York Times:

· Paulson & Co., which has invested billions of dollars in Puerto Rico securities. The Wall Street firm is run by hedge fund manager John A. Paulson.

Leonard Vincent Lombardo, a former broker once employed at Stratton Oakmont, is now charged by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, along with his company and business partner, with involvement in an alleged real estate investment scam that defrauded over 100 investors, including retirees, of $6M. Lombardo, his firm The Leonard Vincent Group (TLVG), and CFO Brian Hudlin have settled the SEC charges.

According to the regulator’s complaint, investors were told that their money would be placed in “distressed real estate” and their money would grow by over 50 percent within months when, in fact, the investments did not make real earnings.

For their investments, investors were given shares or units in an LVG fund. They were under the impression that the funds were to be pooled with other investors’ money and then, according to the strategies in the LVG Funds’ Private Placement Memoranda, collectively invested in the distressed real estate.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Michael Scronic, a New York-based investment adviser accused of defrauding retail investors in a $19M Ponzi scam. According to the regulator, beginning in 2010, Scronic raised funds from 42 friends and acquaintances for a “risky options trading strategy” involving the Scronic Macro Fund, a fictitious hedge fund in which he was supposedly selling shares. Many of the investors he approached were from the community where he lives. Their investments ranged from $23K to $2.4M.

The SEC contends that Scronic lied to them about his investing track record, claiming he had a long history of proven returns while touting that the investments he was selling were liquid and easily redeemable. In reality, claims the Commission, the investors’ money was draining away because of massive trading losses.

Scronic is accused of not segregating the funds according to investor and transferring their money into his personal brokerage account. His investment agreements with investors stipulated that their funds would be placed in a hedge fund, in which he would serve as acting investment adviser, and he would send them quarterly reports. Scronic also noted in these agreements that he had a fiduciary obligation to investors and would comply with all state and federal laws.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has secured a final judgment by default in its broker fraud case against Demitrios Hallas. The former broker was charged by the regulator in April for allegedly trading unsuitable investment products in five customers’ accounts. The customers were unsophisticated investors with not much, if any, experience in investing. Their net worth and income levels were modest enough that risky investments were not a good fit for their portfolios.

According to the regulator’s complaint, in a period of a little over a year, Hallas traded 179 daily leveraged exchange traded funds and exchange traded notes in these accounts. (Both ETFs and ETNs products are considered high-risk, volatile, and only suitable for sophisticated investors.)

The SEC said that Hallas had no reasonable grounds for recommending these investments to customers. Meantime, the latter were charged fees and commissions of about $128K. The net loss sustained over all the positions was about $170K.

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According to InvestmentNews, there are six pending FINRA arbitration claims against Morgan Stanley (MS) and its former broker Angel Aquino-Velez (Aquino-Velez) concerning his selling Puerto Rico investments. The claimants are alleging misrepresentation and unsuitability regarding the sale of Puerto Rico closed-end funds and bonds they purchased through Aquino-Velez, who is based in Miami, and the brokerage firm.

InvestmentNews also reports that according to FINRA’s BrokerCheck database, Morgan Stanley has already resolved four FINRA arbitration claims valued at $2.4 million related to Aquino-Velez and Puerto Rico municipal bond investments. Aquino-Velez, who left Morgan Stanley a few months ago, was recently selling Puerto Rico COFINA bonds, which are securities backed by the U.S. territory’s sales tax revenue. Prior to working at Morgan Stanley, Aquino-Velez was with UBS Financial Services (UBS) and Merrill Lynch (BAC).

Puerto Rico Bond Fraud Losses
At Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD LLP, our Puerto Rico bond fraud lawyers have been working hard these past four years to help investors who sustained serious losses when the island’s municipal bonds began to fall in value in 2013. For many of our clients, their portfolios should not have been so heavily concentrated in Puerto Rico bond funds and bonds, if at all, except that they were given bad investment advice. Many investors lost everything.
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ServiceMesh Co-Founder Accused of Fraud
The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against Eric Pulier, the co-founder of ServiceMesh (SMI) and a former IT executive at Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). According to the regulator, Pulier bilked CSC of $98M related to its acquisition of SMI.

The SEC contends that Pulier bribed an ex-Commonwealth Bank of Australia VP and another ex-bank executive so that Commonwealth would go into contracts with CSC that would allow SMI to get a $98M earn-out payment from the former as part of the acquisition. This meant that the contracts had to satisfy a $20M revenue threshold prior to a specific date.

Meantime, claims the SEC, Pulier was the recipient of more than $30M of that $98M because he was a majority SMI shareholder. He allegedly used a nonprofit to funnel more than $2.5M to the two ex-Commonwealth Bank of Australia as kickbacks.

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Former LPL Broker Indicted for $850K Securities Fraud and Theft
Sonya Camarco, an ex-LPL (LPLA) financial broker, has been indicted in Colorado on seven counts of theft and six counts of securities fraud. She is accused of taking over $850K in client funds for her own use between 1/2013 and 5/2017.

Camarco was fired by LPL last month. Her BrokerCheck record on the FINRA database indicate that she was let go for depositing third-party checks for clients into an account she controlled. Camarco is accused of failing to disclose to clients, including one elderly investor who had dementia, that she was depositing the funds in this manner. If this is true then not only is this a matter of financial fraud but also this would be a case of senior financial fraud.

Securities Fraud Involving Earth Energy Exploration Bilks Investors of $3M
In Indiana, fifteen people were convicted and ordered to prison in a securities fraud case involving Earth Energy Exploration Inc. Investors in Texas and other states lost $3M.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against former Alexander Capital brokers who are accused of making unsuitable recommendations that garnered them commissions while causing investors to sustain significant losses. All three men, Rocco Roveccio, William Gennity, and Laurence Torres, are based in New York.

Because there are costs associated with each transaction for the customer, the security’s price has to go up significantly during the short time it is in an account for even the smallest profit to be made. Instead, eleven customers lost $683K while the NY brokers made $280K and $206K, respectively, in fees and commissions. Some of the investors they bilked had little education and/or were inexperienced investors. In the SEC’s complaint against Gennity and Roveccio, the brokers are accused of recommending investments that required the “frequent buying and selling of securities” despite a lack of reasonable grounds to think that this would make money for their customers.

The two men allegedly engaged in churning in customers’ accounts, unauthorized trading, and hiding material information from them, including that the transaction expenses (markups, commissions, markdowns, fees, postage, and margin interest ) for the investment recommendations would most likely exceed any possible profits.

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Brian R. Callahan, a former investment fund manager, has been ordered to serve 12 years in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in a $96M Ponzi scam. He also must pay $67.6M in restitution. Callahan pleaded guilty to wire fraud and securities fraud in 2014.

Between 12/2006 and 2/2012, Callahan raised over $118M from at least 40 investors related to four investment funds he oversaw. He told investors that their money would be placed in different securities, such as hedge funds and mutual funds. What happened instead was that the former investment manager misappropriated about $96M in a Ponzi scam.

Callahan is accused of diverting millions of dollars toward an unprofitable beachfront residence and resort development named Panoramic View that he co-owned with his brother-in-law, Adam Manson. The latter is a co-defendant in the Ponzi fraud.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel has ruled that J.J.B. Hilliard, W.L. Lyons LLC must pay claimants Troy and Elizabeth Benitone $569K. Also known as Hilliard Lyons, the wealth investment firm is accused of overconcentrating the Benitones’ accounts in Breitburn Energy Partners stock.

The claimants, in their oil and gas fraud case, alleged breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation and omission, common law fraud, breach of contract, and negligence supervision. The Benitones contend that Hilliard Lyons and its registered representative sold all of the claimants’ blue chip stocks, investing the money that was in their joint account and in Troy’s IRA in Breitburn. They lost $350K, with statutory damages at 10% on the purchase cost at $441K, from being overconcentrated in Breitburn.

The Benitones believe that it was the lack of diversification in their investments that put them at high risk of loss, especially as they had conservative investment goals and could not handle much risk at all. Also, Hilliard Lyons was the underwriter for the Breitburn Energy Partners stock.

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