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

ClearPath Wealth Management owner and president Patrick Churchville has been sentenced to seven years in prison for bilking investors in a $21M Ponzi scam. He also must pay restitution and perform 2,000 hours of community service.

Churchville also was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015 over the scam, which the regulator said cost investors at least $11M in losses. According to the SEC, Churchville and his company used newer investors’ money to pay earlier investors, used investor funds as loan collateral for investments, for paying back the loans, and for investments that would benefit ClearPath. He also stole about $2.5M of investors’ money to buy a waterfront home. Churchville employed misleading accounting tactics and engaged in deceptive actions to hide the fraud.

In 2013, when a lot of ClearPath investors began asking for distributions on their investments, he delayed the scam by lying to them about the investments. Meantime, investors were persuaded that at least part of their investments were still fine even though the funds were gone.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel said that Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. (“Stifel”) must pay June and Perry Burns over $100K for losses they sustained from Puerto Rico bonds and oil and gas investments. The Burns are in their eighties and they invested a “substantial” amount of their life savings with Stifel.

In their Puerto Rico bond fraud arbitration claim, the couple accused Stifel of negligence, unauthorized trading, and unsuitable investments, among other violations. For that portion of their case, the FINRA panel awarded the Burns $79,709, which was everything they lost, and also fees and interest. Despite the ruling, Stifel, in its own filings, continues to deny the couple’s allegations. The broker-dealer tried to have the case thrown out and removed from its FINRA records.

Senior Investors Sustained Losses From Investing in Puerto Rico Bonds
Unfortunately, the Burns are not the only senior investors whose retirement savings were seriously harmed because brokerage firms and their brokers recommended that retirees invest in Puerto Rico bonds and Puerto Rico bond funds even though these securities were too risky for their portfolios and/or not aligned with their investment objectives. For the past few years, our senior financial fraud lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas have been working with older investors in the US mainland and the island of Puerto Rico to help them get their lost investments back. Aside from Stifel, other brokerage firms are accused of inappropriately recommending Puerto Rico bonds and close-end bond funds to investors, including UBS Puerto Rico (UBS-PR), Santander Securities (SAN), Banco Popular, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley (MS) and others.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network are investigating brokerage firm Aegis Capital Corp. The reason for the probe has not been disclosed.

In Aegis Capital’s latest audited financial statement, the firm said that it has responded to the joint inquiry. A lawyer for the broker-dealer said that it would not comment further. The attorney, however, did note that regulators have yet to file a complaint and that Aegis Capital is not in litigation at the moment with any of these agencies.

According to Aegis Capital’s BrokerCheck profile, the firm has 27 previous disclosures, including one in 2015 that the broker-dealer settled with FINRA, agreeing to pay $950K over the allegedly improper sales of billions of unregistered penny stock shares and purported lapses in anti-money-laundering supervision. Two ex-Aegis Capital chief compliance officers were suspended and ordered to pay related fines.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Panel has ruled that Wells Fargo Advisors (WFC) must pay investor Anthony J. Pryor $357K related to purportedly unsuitable housing and energy investments. In his securities fraud claim, Pryor alleged negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision, breach of fiduciary, and other causes. Wells Fargo denies Pryor’s allegations.

His advisor, Jeff Wilson, who was not named as a party in the securities case, has three customer disputes on his BrokerCheck record. One of the other claims that was settled for $250K also allegedly involving unsuitable investments.

Unsuitable Investments
Not every investment is suitable for every investor. Some investments may too be risky for certain investors or are not in alignment with their investment goals or financial needs. For example, many older retail investors that are about to retire will likely require a more conservative investment plan that a much younger, single investor.

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FINRA Suspends Broker For Accepting $105K in Gifts
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. has suspended Adam C. Smith from the securities industry for a year. The former Merrill Lynch broker, who was fired from the firm, will pay a $10K fine.

According to the self-regulatory organization, while at Merrill Lynch, Smith and his wife accepted $26K in checks from a couple whom he represented. The money was to help fund the education of Smith’s children. When one of the client’s passed away, the remaining spouse gifted Smith and his wife another $53K, again to pay for their kids’ education. Smith received $26K from other clients.

Although he is settling, Smith is not denying or admitting to FINRA’s findings.

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San Angeleno Man Goes to Prison Over Investment Scams
Stanley Jonathan Fortenberry of Texas has been sentenced to 78 months behind bars for running two investment scams and bilking investors of about $900K. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and mail fraud in 2016. Now, Fortenberry must pay over $890K in restitution and forfeit more than $311K.

Fortenberry ran Premier Investment Fund and raised money for social media projects operated by another company. According to prosecutors, the Texas man misled investors about that company’s profitability and regarding what their money would be used for. He admitted to diverting about half of investors’ money to himself and to his fundraising operation.

Fortenberry also ran Wattenberg Energy Partners, a company that raised money for oil and glass drilling projects in Colorado. He admitted to establishing the company under his son’s name because the US Securities and Exchange Commission was already investigating him about the way Premier investors’ funds were being used.

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Susan C. Daub and William D. Allen have each been sentenced to six years in prison for running a Ponzi scam that involved issuing loans to professional athletes. Allen, a former NFL player with the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, and Daub have been both the subject of a criminal case and an Securities and Exchange Commission case over this matter.

The two of them were arrested in 2015 on criminal charges of wire fraud, conspiracy, and charging money related to a specified illegal act. Along with their Capital Financial Partners Enterprises, Capital Financial Holdings, and Capital Financial Partners, the two of them raised nearly $32M from investors, who were told that they were providing loans professional athletes but would get back their money in full along with interest when the loans were repaid.

In its civil case, SEC said that Daub and Allen only advanced about $18M to the athletes even though they’d raised over $31M from investors. The regulator said that from 7/2012 through 2/2015, even though the defendants had only gotten back a little over $13M in loan repayments from the pro athletes, they paid back about $20M to investors by using investors’ funds to make up for the almost $7M deficit.

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Herschel “Tress” Knippa III, a Dallas, Texas resident, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud. The former registered broker, who owned a commodities trading firm, was implicated over fraudulent market rigging involving ForceField Energy Inc. (FNRG), which was a supposed global distributor and provider of LED lighting products and solutions. Investors lost $131M because of the scam. 

According to court filings and facts submitted at the plea hearing, between 1/2009 and 4/2015, Knippa and others worked together to bilk those who invested in ForceField.  The conspirators artificially manipulated the price and volume of ForceField shares by 1) using nominees to buy and sell the stock but without disclosing this to investors and potential investors, 2) manipulating ForceField stock trading to make it seem as if there was real interest and genuine trading volume, and 3) hiding payments made to brokerage firms and stock promoters that marketed and sold the stock.

All the while, Knippa and others claimed that ForceField was an independent company. Also, they used disposable prepaid cell phones, encrypted message applications to communicate, and paid kickbacks in cash.

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FINRA Bars Registered Rep For $15M In Unauthorized Trades
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred Craig David Dima, a former registered representative with KC Ward Financial, for making about $15M in unsuitable and unauthorized trades in the account of a 73-year-old retiree. According to the self-regulatory organization, there were 11 times when Dima sold nearly all of the customer’s stock in Colgate-Palmolive that she’d accrued from working with the company for nearly thirty years and he did that without permission.

After the elderly client told Dima not to sell the stock, he proceeded to sell them anyways. When the customer confronted Dima, he purportedly misrepresented that a computer or technical mistake had caused the sale. Meantime, the client was “deprived” of the “substantial dividends” from the Colgate shares she used to own. Dima charged the customer over $375K in fees, mark-downs, and mark-ups.

By settling, Dima is not denying or admitting to FINRA’s charges.

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RIA Misappropriated Over $865K and Withdrew $640K in Excess Fees, Say Prosecutors
Broidy Wealth Advisors CEO Mark Broidy has pleaded guilty to taking $640K in excess management fees from clients and misappropriating over $864K in stock that were in trusts of which he was the trustee. Now, the registered investment advisor must make restitutions to those whom he defrauded. He could end up serving up to five years behind barsamong other penalties.

According to the Justice Department, from around 11/2010 to 7/2016 Broidy billed more than what he was allowed to in compensation, which caused three clients to pay more than $640K in excess fees. He concealed his theft by falsifying those clients’ IRS Form 1099s.

After one client demanded that Broidy pay back the stolen funds the latter allegedly sold over $865K of stock from another client’s trust accounts, which were for that person’s children. Broidy also suggested that several clients invest in startups with which he had deals to pay him part of any money he raised on the companies’ behalf. The clients didn’t know about these arrangements.

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