Articles Posted in Broker-Dealers

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against broker Demitrios Hallas accusing him of making unsuitable investments in five clients accounts and misappropriating over $170K from these customers. The regulator is seeking a permanent injunction and the return of ill-gotten gains, along with interest and penalties.

According to the SEC, Hallas repeatedly traded investments that were not appropriate for these customers. In just over a year, the broker allegedly traded 179 daily leveraged ETFs and ETNs. both of which are generally “risky, complex, and volatile.” The net loss involving all positions was about $150K.

His customers were not experienced or sophisticated investors and they could not handle the degree of volatility and risk to which he exposed them. Meantime, Hallas made about $128K in fees and commission.

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Investor Awarded Over $1M After Allegedly Misleading Sales Pitch by Wilbank Securities Broker

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel has awarded investor Grace S. Huitt over $1 million in her broker fraud claim against Wilbanks Securities. According to Huitt, one of the firm’s brokers presented her with a sales pitch about the ING Landmark Variable Annuity that not only was misleading but also promised too much and then under-delivered. She alleged breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent supervision.

Huitt claims that when she bought the variable annuity in 2008, she was told that it came with a guaranteed 7% compound yearly return. Other investors who also had made investment puchases through Wilbanks Securities reportedly claimed similar problems with what they were promised.

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According to the Massachusetts Securities Division, brokerage firms that hire brokers with troubled disciplinary records are not doing a proper job of supervising them. The state, which recently released its findings from its examination of 241 broker-dealers who are registered in the state and retain an above average number of rogue brokers, said that this relaxed way of self-policing could be harming investors.

According to the division’s report, not a lot of these brokers were put on more rigorous supervision despite their questionable pasts. Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin said that it appeared to his office that certain firms were not willing to take on the duty of “zealously monitoring” the way these brokers were interacting customers.

It was in June that the Massachusetts Securities Division announced it was cracking down on broker-dealers who hired rogue brokers. The news of its sweep came soon after the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority announced it was conducting its own probe.

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In his continued sweep to target broker-dealers who have hired brokers with disciplinary histories,  Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has filed complaints against two New York-based brokerage firms. The cases were brought against Spartan Capital Securities, broker Dean Kajouras, Revere Securities, and broker Jonathan Eric Altman.

Galvin claims that the agents named in both cases already had “numerous” reports of misconduct on their records and then went on to engage in more wrongful conduct involving older investors. The state regulator contends that the firms knew—or if they didn’t, then they should have—that Kajouras and Altman posed a risk to clients because of their histories. Galvin said that Spartan Capital and Revere Securities had a duty to put the two men on “special heightened supervision.”

Responding to the complaint, Spartan Capital said that it had retained 60 reps with previous disciplinary records between 1/2014 and 6/2016  but only felt the need to put six of them on heightened supervision.

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Massachusetts claims that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) ran a high-pressure sales contest to give its financial advisers incentive to get clients to borrow funds against their brokerage accounts. Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin filed the complaint against the firm. 
 
According to the state, from 1/14 through 4/15, Morgan Stanley conducted two contests in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that involved 30 advisers. The object of the contests were to convince customers to take out loans that were securities-based. It involved them borrowing against the value of securities found in their portfolio. The securities were to be collateral.
 
Galvin’s office said that the contests urged Morgan Stanley advisers to cross-sell loans that were backed by investment accounts in order to enhance lending business, as well as banking, and stay competitive with other firms.  Galvin claims that advisers were told to get clients to establish credit lines even if they had no plans of using them. The state’s complaint said that clients would be targeted after they’d mention certain key “catalysts” including graduations, weddings, and tax liabilities. 
  

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has announced that PNC Investments will pay nearly $225K in restitution for charging retirement clients too much for mutual fund investments. According to the regulator, the brokerage firm did not apply waivers for investors in certain Class A share mutual funds even though there was a waiver for front-end charges for eligible customers.

Instead, said FINRA, PNC Investments sold Class A shares customers with a front-end load or other shares that had a back-end load and higher fees and expenses, some of which were charged on an ongoing basis. Because of this, certain customers were charged excessive fees and paid them.

FINRA said that PNC Investments charged 121 customer accounts in excess of $191,740 for mutual funds—although the actual amount, with interest, was closer to $224,750. PNC will pay restitution to eligible investors.

The brokerage firm self-reported the overcharges after reviewing its own conduct last year to assess whether it was issuing the sales waiver to those that were eligible. FINRA said that the broker-dealer experienced lapses in supervision, did not keep up written policies and procedures that were adequate, and failed to help advisers assess when to waive the sales charges.

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Guy Gentile, who owns a New York-based brokerage firm, is charged with fraudulently inflating two micro-cap stocks’ prices before selling them to investors. His alleged actions purportedly allowed him to make $17.2M in gross trading proceeds.

Gentile was indicted in federal court. He and co-conspirators Itamar Cohen and Michael Taxon, both Canadian stock promoters, are accused of buying Kentucky USA Energy Inc. and Raven Gold Corp. shares from 4/07 to 6/08 and then using misleading marketing collateral and manipulative trading to inflate the shares. Taxon and Cohen have already pleaded guilty to their involvement in the Ponzi scheme. Gentile, who is charged with securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud, could be facing twenty years in prison.

Running a Ponzi scam is not the only way to get in trouble for it. Connecticut fund manager Marlon Quann has been ordered to surrender nearly $81M in profit for helping Thomas Petters run his $3.5B Ponzi scheme. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said that Quann hid evidence of the fraud in part with $187M in “round trip” transactions.” The SEC also sued Quan’s Acorn Capital Group LLC, Stewardship Investment Advisors LLC, and ACG II LLC.

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Former AIG Affiliate Brokerage Firms to Pay $7.5M Fine, $2M Restitution Over High-Priced Mutual Funds
Royal Alliance Associates, FSC Securities Corp., and SagePoint Financial have agreed to pay over $9.5M to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing them of guiding clients toward expensive mutual fund share classes so that the firms could garner additional fees. The brokerage firms were formerly under the AIG Advisor Group umbrella.

According to the regulator, the firms put clients in share classes that charged 12b-1 fees for distribution and marketing even though they were eligible to purchase shares that didn’t come with these added fees.

Because of the placement in the costlier fund classes, the firms collected an additional $2M in fees and did not disclose their conflict of interest in choosing the share classes that would make them more money.

The AIG affiliates are accused of not monitoring advisory accounts quarterly to make sure that churning didn’t take place. The SEC order is claiming breach of fiduciary duty and numerous compliance failures.

California Businessman Allegedly Stole Investor Money, Covered Up Fraud
Daniel R. Nase is accused of stealing investor assets and then trying to conceal the theft once the SEC discovered his scam. The regulator claims that the California businessman raised funds from investors via an unregistered offing of common stock in his Bic Real Estate Development Corp. He then used the funds to cover his own bills.

The Commission said that Nase, who was not registered with any state regulator or the SEC to sell investments, told investors that his company would invest in promissory notes and real estate. Instead, he improperly placed those under his name, his wife’s name, of the name of their family trust. He allegedly tried to hide his fraud by investing the assets that he stole back into BIC to make it look like he was raising his equity stake in the company.

California Water District Accused of Misleading Investors in $77M Bond Offering
The SEC is charging Westlands Water District with misleading investors about its financial state while issuing a $77M bond offering. The agricultural water district is the largest one in the state of California.

According to the SEC, Westland, in prior bond offerings, consented to keep a 1.25 debt service coverage ratio but discovered in 2010 that a lower water supply and drought conditions would keep it from making enough money to keep up that ratio, which measures an issuer’s ability to make future bond payments. To meet the ratio without upping customer rates, Westlands reclassified the funds.
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A Financial Industry Arbitration panel says that Ameriprise Financial (AMP) must pay over $2M to the estate of Glenny B. White for losses related to fraud committed by an ex-firm broker. The executor of White’s estate claims that Ameriprise Financial Services did not properly supervise former broker Jeffrey Davis.

In 2014, Davis admitted to stealing money from White and other clients. White was his client for almost ten years before she found out in 2013 that he was stealing funds from her. She died at the age of 91 in 2014.

Davis has since been fired from Ameriprise, and FINRA barred him from the brokerage industry. Last year, he was sentenced to over four years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and admitting to stealing almost $200K from clients.

On Finra’s BrokerCheck report about Davis, it is noted that in at least two cases involving Ameriprise clients the firm had reported to the regulator that their funds were misappropriated.
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The Securities and Exchange Commission has approved the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s plan to shorten the waiting period for when certain information reported on Form U5 can be released on BrokerCheck.com from 15 days to three days. This includes information about broker firings. The modification will go into effect on December 12.

Brokerage firms use Form U5 to give notice of when a broker has been let go. This notification is published on BrokerCheck, which is a public database that includes background information about registered brokers, as well whether any of them have a disciplinary history and what that may be.

The 15 days was so that brokers could have time to explain why they were fired. FINRA, however, has now decided that it is important to notify the public of such terminations sooner than that so that the investors who are thinking hiring these brokers receive this employment history right away. The self-regulatory organization says that it believes three business days still gives a broker a chance to comment on his/her firing.

BrokerCheck.com is an excellent resource for looking up information about a broker and his/her history. It’s important as an investor that you do your due diligence when considering whether to have someone handle your investments and finances. You can also get information about a broker from the Central Registration Depository, which is a computerized database. Another way to find out about a broker is to call your state securities regulator and request access to his/her registration, disciplinary, and employment information. You can get information about how to reach your state regulator through the North American Securities Administrators Association’s website.
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