Articles Posted in Broker-Dealers

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred three brokers in separate, unrelated cases for alleged misconduct. They are ex-Morgan Stanley (MS) representative Thomas Alain Meier, ex-Fortune Financial broker Michael Giokas, and ex-Northwestern Mutual broker Michael Cochran.

Former Morgan Stanley broker Thomas Alan Meier is accused of making unauthorized trades in customer accounts. In the self-regulatory organization’s letter of acceptance, waiver, and consent, FINRA stated that from 7/2012 through 3/2016, Meier “effected” over 1000 transactions that were not authorized in six customers’ accounts. His allegedly unauthorized transactions involved discretion without written permission or the accounts garnering discretionary acceptance and impacted four clients.

Between 4/2016 and 10/2017, Morgan Stanley submitted 21 amended Forms U5 for Meier. The forms showed that 14 customer complaints were filed against Meier, including two arbitration cases. AdvisorHub reports that because of Meier’s alleged misconduct, customers sustained $818K in losses and over $2M in unrealized losses. To date, the brokerage firm has paid customers about $2.5M in settlements and resolved 13 of the claims.

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FINRA Arbitration Panel Awards Allegis Investment Advisors Client $404,482
A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel has awarded Mark Watson $404,482 in his unauthorized trading case against Allegis Investment Services, Allegis Investment Advisors, and ex-broker Brandon Curt Stimpson. Watson is accusing Stimpson of placing his life savings in investments that were too risky and complex and of making unauthorized trades involving index put options connected to the Russell 2000 Index even though he had told the broker that he only wanted up to 25% of his portfolio involved in these. Instead, Watson alleges, Stimpson invested way more of his money in the index put options.

In his securities arbitration case, Watson also alleged breach of fiduciary duty. Now, a FINRA panel has awarded him nearly $275K in compensatory damages, nearly $54K in interest, and other costs.

Stimpson was fired by Allegis last year for not abiding by the firm’s ethics code and policies. According to his BrokerCheck records, he has been named in eight other customer disputes.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against four former brokers for allegedly persuading federal employees to roll over holdings from federal retirement accounts into variable annuity products that charged higher fees. Their targets were Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) participants. The plan is administered by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which is an independent government agency.

According to the regulator’s broker fraud case, then-brokers Jonathan Cooke, Christopher Laws, Brandon Long, and Danny Hoode promoted the VA products under the Federal Employee Benefits Counselors because they wanted the high commissions. Their alleged victims were federal employees who were 59 ½ years of age and older and with TSP account holdings that could be moved over into variable annuities, tax-free, in certain plans at annuity carriers.

Ex-Brokers Made High Commissions From the Alleged Elder Investor Fraud

The Financial Industry Regulatory has barred Lawrence M. Thomas, an ex-Woodbury Financial Services Inc. broker who was under investigation for unauthorized product sales. Thomas was previously registered with Essex Securities.

Last year, Thomas was fined $5K and suspended for three months after he consented to findings that he told an assistant to forge three customers’ signatures on about 10 documents. FINRA had been looking into whether Thomas recommended to Woodbury clients that they purchase an unauthorized product. The self-regulatory organization barred him after he failed to testify in FINRA’s investigation into the claims.

In an unrelated FINRA case, the SRO has filed charges against Kim Dee Isaacson, an ex-Morgan Stanley (MS) broker, for allegedly misleading a client about the size of his account, engaging in unauthorized trading, and attempting to resolve these issues directly with the client instead of along with the firm. According to FINRA, Isaacson told the client that the account was valued at $3.1M even though that was false.

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In interviews with Reuters, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority admitted that even though investors are harmed when broker-dealers hire brokers with checkered histories, there is not much that the regulator can do to stop this practice because it is not illegal. This is undoubtedly causing even more investors to suffer losses as some of these high-risk brokers continue to engage in more misconduct or other violations at their new places of work.

For example, reports the news agency, since 2007 broker Mike McMahon and brokerage firms where he has worked, including National Securities Corporation, have shelled out $1.35M to resolve 10 client cases in which he was purportedly involved. McMahon is currently contending with another four broker fraud cases that were brought by other ex-clients.

One of the reasons the complaints keep coming is because he has been able to move from one firm to another even with the cases that have already been brought against him. Unfortunately, McMahon is not the only one.

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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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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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