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Although many of the thousands of cases investors in Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end funds have brought over the last three years have focused on UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico (“UBS-PR”), other brokerage firms in the Commonwealth engaged in the same wrongful sales practices. One such firm that has also been the subject of many FINRA arbitrations and other lawsuits is Santander Securities, LLC (“Santander”), a division of Banco Santander Puerto Rico.

Bloomberg reports that between the ends of 2012 and 2013, Santander marketed and sold over $280 million in Puerto Rico municipal bonds and close-end funds while getting rid of its own holdings of these same securities. In 2015, Santander settled allegations from FINRA of deficiencies in Santander’s structured product business, including those involving the sale of reverse-convertible securities to Puerto Rican retail customers when such investments were often unsuitable for them. FINRA also accused the brokerage firm of inadequate supervision of structured product sales. Santander agreed to pay customers over $7 million for their losses from reverse convertible securities.

In other Puerto Rico news, the office of the U.S. Trustee announced that it will appoint a committee of retired persons to negotiate for pensioners in the wake of the Commonwealth’s recent bankruptcy filing. The island is carrying about $50 Billion in unfunded pension liabilities, in addition to the more than $70 Billion in bond debt it still owes. At the first bankruptcy hearing for Puerto Rico, the island’s main creditors expressed interest in continuing mediation talks to figure out how to deal with these debts. Among those seeking repayment of the debts owed to them are general obligation bondholders and Cofina bondholders.

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In federal court in Sherman, TX, the US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed an emergency action to halt a $22.7M mortgage investment scam involving Thurman P. Bryant, III and his Bryant United Capital Funding, Inc. According to the regulator’s complaint, Bryant and his firm raised about $22.7M from about 100 investors by making false promises, including telling them that the investments were free of risk and guaranteed 30% minimum yearly returns.

The SEC claims that Bryant told investors that his firm would fund the mortgages, which would be sold right away to third parties for a fixed fee. He allegedly informed them that their money would be left in secure escrow account as evidence of funds in order to obtain a credit line to cover the mortgage loans. Bryant and his firm are accused of violating the Securities act of 1933’s Section 17(a) and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934’s Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.

According to the Commission, since the start of this year alone, Bryant has raised about $1.4M from investors. So far, Bryant’s firm has paid about $16.8M as supposed investment return and also as referral fees to investors who’ve helped identify additional prospective investors.

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Tamer Moumen, an ex-hedge fund manager, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud. He now faces up to 20 years in prison for a $9M investment.

Moumen defrauded over 50 investors. Many of his investors were close to retirement age. He advised dozens of them to liquidate retirement accounts, among other investments, and let him handle their funds.

Moumen used their funds to support his own spending, including the purchase of a $1M home, and also to pay back earlier investors. Moumen claimed to manage tens of millions of dollars through Crescent Ridge Capital Partners. He told clients he was a successful trader even though he lacked experience managing hedge funds and had lost money investing in securities before.

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A district court judge has sentenced Navin Shankar Subramaniam Xavier, formerly the CEO of Essex Holdings Inc., to 15 years behind bars because of his involvement in two fraud scams. Xavier pleaded guilty to two wire fraud counts in January.

He ran Essex Holdings from 9/2010 through 5/2014, raising over $30M from almost 100 investors who bought promissory notes that were supposedly for investments in shipping, sugar transportation, and iron ore mining in Latin America. Xavier used forged paperwork, including a bogus financial statement. He promised return rates to get prospective customers to participate. He used most of the funds for his and his wife’s expenses, including luxury cars and jewelry, cosmetic surgery, and wedding bills. He also used newer investors’ funds to pay earlier investors until the Ponzi scam failed. According to evidence brought to court, investors lost more than $29M.

In a separate fraud, Xavier used the company to secure $1.2M in payments and about $1.5M of commercial real estate from the South Carolina Coordinating Council for Economic Development (SCCCED). These were supposed to go toward developing an industrial property into a rice packaging facility and a diaper plant. Documents submitted in court indicate that the defendant gave the SCCCED fake financial documentation so the contract would go to him. He also provided other fake financial paperwork, including bogus contractor invoices, so he would get paid. He again used a chunk of the funds for his own living expenses.

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Two investment promoters are accused of running an advance fee scheme from what they claimed was a Dallas-based investment advisory firm. According to an Emergency Cease and Desist Order entered by the Texas Securities Commission, the Mark Diaz and Raymond Hill offered to buy investors’ stock under the condition that those selling would have to cover transaction costs. The two men promoted their alleged Texas-based securities fraud through social media, bogus websites, forged documents, and supposed IRS affiliations.

Two websites they set up had names similar to Cain Capital LLC, which is a firm that is actually registered with the SEC. According to the Texas regulator, one of the bogus websites directs visitors to a regulator filing that the real Cain Capital submitted to the SEC, as well as to that firm’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

Both sites and the social media accounts are not connected to Cain Capital in anyway. The two men are accused of sending unsolicited email that included documents with Cain Capital’s name in the letterhead to prospective investors.

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Financial Firm and Its CEO Settle Life Settlement Fraud Charges
The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Verto Capital Management and its CEO William Schantz III have settled civil charges accusing them of running a Ponzi-like scam involving life settlements. As part of the settlement, Verto Capital and Schantz will pay over $4M.

According to the regulator’s complaint, the two of them raised about $12.5M through promissory note sales that were supposed to pay for the firm’s purchase and sale of life settlements. The notes were sold mostly through insurance brokers in Texas.

Investors who were religious were the main target of the alleged fraud.They were allegedly told that that the securities were short-term investments that were at low risk of defaulting.

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The office of Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has fined LPL Financial (LPLA) $1M because the firm’s financial advisers allegedly made misrepresentations to consumers. According to the state regulator, the brokerage firm, which is based in Boston, failed to properly supervise its advisers located at Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) branches.

LPL financial advisers are allowed to work out of the DCU in return for part of the concessions. However, noted Galvin’s office, the problem was that LPL’s advisers conducted their business as DCU Financial, a reference that could have cause customers to think that they worked for the credit union.

The Massachusetts regulator said that an undercover sting operation was put into place, during which time one LPL adviser allegedly claimed to work for DCU and said that he was not paid commissions for offering investment advice, which was a false statement. Also, DCU paid these advisers bonuses in a sales contest that LPL never authorized.

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Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is now under bankruptcy protection. Since the island is not a municipality, it could not file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection as did the city of Detroit. It is, however, availing itself of a Title III process that resembles Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

The process will allow Puerto Rico to use the court to restructure part of the more than $70 Billion in debt the island owes. According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), mutual funds hold about $10 Billion of the territory’s outstanding bonds.

Title III, under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), includes bankruptcy provisions that will be applied for the first time ever and it deals with insolvent territorial governments. Puerto Governor Ricardo Rosselló sent his petition for Title III protection today and the federal board tasked with overseeing the island’s finances approved his request soon after. Now, Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will have to appoint a bankruptcy judge to Puerto Rico’s case.

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Hours after a May 1 deadline passed, unfreezing any creditor litigation against Puerto Rico, a number of creditors sued the U.S. territory over its outstanding bonds. Plaintiffs of these Puerto Rico bond lawsuits include general obligation bondholders, COFINA bondholders, and bond insurer Ambac.

The May 1 deadline was supposed to have given the island and its federal financial oversight board time to come up with a debt-reduction agreement with creditors as Puerto Rico owes more than $70 Billion of debt. No deals were made by the deadline.

Following the failure of the island to reach any debt reduction deals, Fitch Ratings downgraded $3.5 Billion of PRASA-issued debt from a “CC” rating to a “C.” PRASA is Puerto Rico’s water authority.

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Grand Jury Indicts Texas Woman in $1M Ponzi Scam
A federal grand jury has indicted Nemelee Liwanag Jiao on two wire fraud counts for allegedly running a Texas Ponzi scam that cost investors over $1M. At least 35 investors were bilked.

According to the indictment, Jiao, a Texas resident, had investors back promissory notes that were supposedly issued by two non-profit schools in the Philippines when, in reality, she was using their money on herself. Jiao told investors she represented both Lord of Peace Learning Center and Shepherd’s Light Learning Center and she got them to invest their money in the promissory notes after promising 10-100% in returns. She also promised that they would get back their principle plus interest within 30-days to a year of investing.

The indictment against Jiao stated that she will have to forfeit all proceeds if convicted. She faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud, as well as a $250K fine.

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