Articles Posted in Broker Fraud

SEC Charges SunTrust With Collecting Over $1.1M in Excess Mutual Fund Fees

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges accusing SunTrust Investment Services of collecting over $1.1M in unwarranted fees from mutual fund clients. The SunTrust Banks subsidiary will pay an over $1.1M penalty to resolve the regulator’s civil charges.

According to the regulator’s order, SunTrust Investment Services improperly recommended costlier mutual fund share classes to clients when less expensive shares of these funds were available. The SEC says this was a breach of the investment services firm’s fiduciary duty to take actions in the client’s best interests.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is barring Jaime R. Rodriguez, an ex-HSBC Securities (HSBC) broker, in the wake of a charge accusing him of bilking an older customer, who is also legally blind, of $200K. HSBC fired Rodriguez in 2014.

Rodriguez is accused of using about $70K of the client’s money in 2012 to buy an apartment that was supposed to be for the customer. However, because the man couldn’t read or see the documents related to the purchase, he did not know that Rodriguez had named himself as the sole beneficial owner.

According to InvestmentNews, Rodriguez met the man in 2010 and began helping him with his errands. Also in 2012, Rodriguez purportedly recommended to the client that they set up a joint account together so that the then-HSBC broker could assist him in paying his bills. The account was opened using about $42K of the client’s money and at one point it held $153K.

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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

After Pleading Guilty, Massachusetts Money Manager Must Repay Investors
Stephen Eubanks is sentenced to 30 months behind bars for bilking investors of $437K. He also must pay restitution in that amount to his more than 20 victims.

Eubanks presented himself as a hedge fund manager at Eubiquity Capital, which he founded. He raised over $700K from investors and claimed that he was running a hedge fund that had ties with UBS (UBS), TD Ameritrade (AMTD), Fidelity, and Goldman Sachs (GS).

While Eubanks invested some of the clients’ funds for them he also spent a healthy amount of their money on his own spending. Eubanks also is accused of on occasion operating his fund as if it were a Ponzi scam.

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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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SEC Charges Man Accused of Running $10M Ponzi Scam
Mark Anderson Jones, whom the US Securities and Exchange Commission has charged with fraud, has been sentenced to 70 months in prison in a parallel criminal case. Jones pleaded guilty to running a $10M Ponzi scam.

According to the SEC, Jones solicited investors in a number of US states, as well as in Washington DC. He did this by issuing promissory notes, as well as providing personal guarantees to clients that were willing to invest in The Bridge Fund, which supposedly lent money to Jamaican businesses that were waiting to get commercial bank loans.

However, rather than investing their money the way he said he would, Jones used a portion of investors’ cash to pay his own expenses as well as make Ponzi payments.

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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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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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