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 U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has revived a Puerto Rico bond fraud lawsuit brought by Puerto Rico Employee Retirement System bondholders. The pension fund is the largest on the island and the plaintiffs are suing the territory’s government.  The bondholders brought their case after former Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla put into effect a fiscal emergency law that blocked the repayment of the debt owed to the Employee Retirement System, diverting the funds that were promised to the Employee Retirement System as collateral. Invoking the fiscal emergency law has allowed the island to keep up its public services. The pension bondholders, however, are arguing that diverting the money is hurting them because there may not be enough money left to repay the bondholders what they are owed.

Also, under PROMESA (the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act) which is the federal rescue law that was passed last year, lawsuits brought against the island over debt payments have been temporarily frozen to give the territory time to restructure the deals it would need so it can try to pay back its $70 billion of debt the Commonwealth owes. However, this has not stopped creditors from suing Puerto Rico for their money. Many bondholders are contending that the fiscal emergency law is not constitutional and that the litigation stay should not affect them.

Although the First Circuit did not rule on whether the funds owed to the bondholders should continue to be repaid, it ordered a lower court to decide whether the case could go forward. The appeals court, however, blocked a similar lawsuit brought by holders of the bonds issued by Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority (PRHTA). Those same bondholders also believe that their collateral was confiscated. The First Circuit said that these plaintiffs did not succeed in demonstrating that they were harmed.

Meantime, in Puerto Rico, a judge is currently deliberating over whether to halt another bond fraud lawsuit by invoking the litigation stay. This case involves general obligation bondholders who are owed $13 billion. The plaintiffs claim that they are the ones who should get the sales tax revenue that was promised to another group of creditors.

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Investment Adviser Settles SEC Case for $575K
John W. Rafal, a Connecticut-based investment adviser, has agreed to settle US Securities and Exchange Commission charges for $575K. As part of the settlement, Rafal is admitting wrongdoing in a civil case that accuses him of bilking a client and then trying to mislead the SEC while lying to other clients about the regulator’s probe.

The SEC said that Rafal paid attorney Peter D. Hershman in secret for referring one of his client’s to Essex Financial Services, which is the firm that Rafal founded. He is no longer affiliated with Essex. Rather than disclose the referral deal to the older widow who was that client, Rafal and Hershman concealed the payments as “legal fees.” Even after Essex officers found out about and stopped the referral arrangement, the deal between the two men continued in secret. The SEC also said that Rafal responded to rumors that he had violated a securities law by emailing his clients and falsely stating that the regulator’s probe had been resolved. He also purportedly tried persuading the Commission that his arrangement with Hershing was over.

Essex Financial Services will pay $180K in disgorgement and interest to resolve charges connected to Rafal’s wrongful behavior. Herhsman will pay over $90K to resolve the civil charges accusing him of aiding and abetting the violations committed by Rafal. The two men agreed to a securities industry bar and from serving in the roles of director or officer for any publicly traded company. They also are no longer allowed to represent clients regarding SEC matters.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission is charging two brokers with securities fraud. The regulator claims that Donald J. Fowler and Gregory T. Dean fraudulently employed an in-and-out trading strategy that was not suitable for customers so that they could make more in commissions. Because of their actions, 27 customers alleged lost substantial amounts of money. Fowler and Dean are accused of violating the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10-B5.The Commission said that they examine trading patterns involving over two dozen of the brokers’ customer accounts.

The SEC contends that the two men did not engage in any due diligence to figure out whether their investment strategy could help customers obtain even the smallest profit. With their strategy, they engaged in the frequent purchase and sale of securities, which would both take place within a two-week or shorter timeframe. They charged customers a commission for every transaction. Meantime, Fowler and Dean were the only ones who had a chance of making a profit.

SEC Warns Investors to Look Out for Excessive Trading, Churning

Along with its announcement of this securities case, the SEC put out an Investor Alert cautioning the public about churning and excessive trading. In its alert, the regulator warned about red flags that may be signs of these types of fraud, including trading that a customer did not authorize, which is known as unauthorized trading, trading that happens more often than seems reasonable for a customer’s investment objectives and/or the level of risk that the portfolio can handle, and suspicious and/or unusually high fees.

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Jon S. Corzine, the former head of MF Global Inc. has arrived at a securities settlement with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission in which he will pay a $5M penalty for his involvement in the firm’s illegal use of nearly $1B in customer money and for not properly supervising the way these funds were handled. A federal judge has approved the deal.

The regulator sued Corzine in 2013 and he must now pay the civil penalty out of his own funds rather than have an insurer cover the costs. Also part of the deal, Corzine has agreed to a permanent bar from heading up a futures broker or registering with the CFTC. This means that he will no longer be allowed to trade other people’s funds in the future industry unless the trades are below specific threshold limits.

Corzine’s settlement with the SEC comes after he’d resolved most of the private litigation against him related to MF Global. Investors and the industry were flummoxed when the almost $1B in customer couldn’t be accounted for. Fortunately a trustee has since recovered the missing funds for the investors, which are both individuals and hedge funds, to whom the money belonged. The money, which were segregated customer funds, was inappropriately used to fund the futures commission merchant’s proprietary operations and that of its affiliates, pay FCM customers for withdrawals involving customer funds, and pay brokerage firm securities customers.

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An investor who is retired and suffering from health issues is seeking $1M from Morgan Stanley (MS). The investor, a former inventor, claims that the broker-dealer did not properly supervise the financial adviser who handled his multi-million dollar account.  He filed a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority claim and is accusing the firm of breach of fiduciary, negligence, unauthorized trading, excessive trading, fraudulent inducement, and significant tax liability.

The investor believes that over-concentation in risky sectors and over trading in too many individual stocks occurred, causing significant damage to his retirement funds. Among the investments that were involved were oil and gas investments, including Master Limited Partnerships. The claimant claims that Morgan Stanley hid the risks involved, even as the financial adviser engaged in a purportedly deceptive investment strategy. The result was that the investor’s account became heavily concentrated in risky investments.

The alleged broker negligence also purportedly caused tax consequences for the investor while benefiting Morgan Stanley with transactions costs of over $1M. The unsuitable taxable gains that were created by  led to investment losses for the investor, even as the broker claimed that the investor’s account was profiting.

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Halliburton Co. (HAL.N) has agreed to settle a securities fraud class action case for $100M. The case, brought in Dallas, accuses the oil field services providers of misrepresenting its possible liability in asbestos lawsuits and the benefits it expected from certain construction contracts, as well as a merger from nearly twenty years ago.

Lead plaintiff Erica P. John Fund Inc. filed the complaint in 2002 after the US Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Halliburton’s accounting for revenue made from certain construction projects. The securities case accused the company of misleading investors when it purportedly understated its liabilities in the asbestos cases, overstated revenue from construction, and inflated the benefits of the Halliburton-Dresser Industries merger.

Former US Vice President Dick Cheney, who was chief executive of the company during the period at issue, settled the regulator’s charges against him for $7.5M in 2004. However, the lawsuit against the company has gone on for years.

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Two Men Are Accused of Scamming Indiana Investors in More than $3.5M Ponzi Scam 
Prosecutors are charging two Indiana men with securities fraud involving a Ponzi scam. They claim that Richard E. Gearhart and his business partner George R. McKown sold securities to investors who moved their annuities, pensions, cash, and 401ks to invest in Asset Preservation Specialists Inc. The investors were purportedly promised a guaranteed return rate.

The authorities say that McKown and Gearhart were not registered with the state of Indiana or the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell these securities.

It was in 2013 that a number of Gearhart’s clients filed complaints against him after he filed for Chapter 13 federal bankruptcy. They contended that their losses collectively totaled over $2M. Court records, however, indicate that the two men allegedly stole over $3.5M from over two dozen investors. between ’08 and ’13.

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UBS Financial Services (UBS) has terminated the employment of Connecticut broker Phil Fiore Jr. The broker-dealer says that even while Fiore was under heightened supervision he did not tell the firm about his outside business activities.

UBS contends that he violated firm policies, such as not disclosing that he was serving as an unpaid director for a not-for-profit entity affiliate, along with a client, as well as not obtaining internal approval to create blog posts, failing to obtain approval to run a charity golf tournament, and not disclosing that a new client had invested in his outside business.

Fiore, who was let go in November, had been a top UBS broker and was rated as a leading adviser in Connecticut. He’d worked at UBS since 2009 and was a senior VP. Previously, he’d been employed with Merrill Lynch.

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is barring a number of market participants from the penny stock industry for their involvement in a number of purportedly fake initial public offerings of microcap stocks. The regulator says that investors were bilked because of these schemes.

Among those barred is Newport Beach, CA securities attorney Michael J. Muellerleile. He is accused of authorizing misleading and bogus registration statements that were employed in fake IPOs for several microcap issuers. The statements were generated to purportedly move unrestricted penny stock shares to offshore market participants. Muellerleile’s firm, M2 Law Professional Corp, attorney Lan Phuong Nguyen, and American Energy Development Corp. CFO Joel Felix are also charged in this microcap fraud case.

Nguyen allegedly signed misleading and false legal opinion letters. Felix is accused of making misleading and false statements. Earlier this month, the regulator suspended trading in American Energy Development.

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Even after more than three years since the Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end bond funds originally dropped in their initial value, many investors are still waiting to recoup losses they sustained from investing in these securities. Meantime, the U.S. territory continues to deal with its financial woes as it struggles to pay back its $70 billion of debt. At Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, our Puerto Rico municipal bond fraud attorneys have worked hard this year in helping our clients, who are among the thousands of investors from the Commonwealth that suffered significant losses when the island’s securities plunged in value in 2013, in trying to recoup their money.

Below is a recap of some of the significant claims recovered for Puerto Rico investors this year that made the headlines:

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Arbitration panel ordered Morgan Stanley (MS) to pay a New Jersey widow over $95,000. Morrisa Schiffman accused the broker-dealer of making unsuitable recommendations to her, as well as of inadequate supervision and disclosure failures. Her FINRA Panel ultimately agreed.

Merrill Lynch was ordered to pay $780,000 in restitution to customers who invested in Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds and municipal bonds. FINRA found that the brokerage firm did not have the proper procedures and supervisory systems in place to ensure that all of the transactions were suitable for a number of these investors. Customers affected, in particular, are those with holdings that were heavily concentrated in Puerto Rico municipal bonds, as well as with holdings were highly leveraged via loan managed accounts or margin. FINRA said that from 1/2010 through 7/2013, 25 leveraged customers who had moderate or conservative investment objectives and modest net worths saw the securities they’d invested in sustain aggregate losses of nearly $1.2M. The customers had at least 75% of their assets in Puerto Rico securities that were ultimately liquidated to meet margin calls.

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