Articles Posted in Financial Firms

The criminal trial of former UBS Group AG (UBS) trader Andre Flotron is underway. Flotron is accused of engaging in spoofing in the gold market, including making orders for precious metals futures contracts not to actually execute them but to manipulate futures contracts prices. Flotron also is accused of training a more junior UBS trader on how to spoof orders. During opening arguments, US prosecutor Avi Perry explained to jurors that while Flotron may be accused of “spoofing,” this is still “fraud.” As in, it is no joke. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act declared spoofing illegal in 2010.

Flotron is accused of colluding with others on the UBS precious metals desk to make fake orders so that others in the market, including high-speed trading algorithms, would change their prices. They allegedly made big orders for precious metals futures with no plans to see the trades through. Instead, they sought to profit from the price changes that resulted through the placement of smaller trades on the other side of the market. Meantime, Flotron and his alleged co-conspirators are accused of making it seem as if there was a certain supply or demand at play, which caused other market participants to respond accordingly. Flotron is accused of spoofing a number of times between 2008 and 2013.

In a parallel Commodity Future Trading Commission case announced earlier this year, Flotron was charged with spoofing and taking part in a “manipulative and deceptive scheme.”

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According to the New York Times, even though Morgan Stanley (MS) executives have known for years about the domestic violence allegations against Douglas E. Greenberg, who was one of their leading brokers, the firm continued to allow him to stay employed in its wealth management division. However, after the NY Times tried to contact the firm about him, Greenberg was finally suspended, pending review. Now, the media is reporting that Greenberg has been fired. Still, a number of the former-Morgan Stanley broker’s exes have retained their own lawyers in light of the fact that he wasn’t let go until now.

Four women have come forward accusing him of domestic abuse. Court filings indicate that not only did Greenberg’s accusers go to the police seeking protection against the now former Morgan Stanley financial adviser, but also, according to one of the women’s attorneys, the firm was issued a federal subpoena notifying it about at least one of the allegations. Morgan Stanley was also aware that Greenberg was charged for allegedly violating a restraining order.

Still, no action was taken against Greenberg, who belonged Morgan Stanley’s exclusive Chairman’s Club as one of the firm’s highest earning brokers. Ironically, the members of this club are expected to maintain certain standards when it comes to “conduct and compliance.” Greenberg is considered one of the leading wealth managers in Oregon. Firmwide, he was among Morgan Stanley’s top 2% of brokers when it came to bringing in revenue.

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Barclays Capital Inc. (BARC) and a number of its affiliates will pay $2B to settle the United States government’s civil case alleging fraud involving the underwriting and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities. The settlement comes after a three-year probe. The case is US v. Barclays Capital Inc.

The US accused Barclays of taking part in a fraud to sell three dozen residential mortgage-backed securities deals, causing investors to suffer billions of losses. More than $31B of Alt-A and subprime mortgage loans were securitized and over half of these went on to default. The RMBSs were sold leading up to the 2007 financial crisis.

The bank and its affiliates allegedly misled investors about the quality of the loans backing the RMBS deals, including purposely misrepresenting key features of the loans that involved. The British bank, meantime, maintains that it did not mislead investors about the quality of the loans. The government, however, contends that Barclays committed wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud, and violated the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Wedbush Securities Inc. The regulator is accusing the brokerage firm of not supervising registered representative Timary Delorme, 59, and disregarding warning signs that she was involved in a pump-and-dump fraud that targeted retail investors. Delorme has settled the SEC’s charges against her.

According to the SEC, Delorme took part in certain trades to manipulate the stocks. She received benefits, which were paid to her spouse, for getting customers to invest in microcap stocks that were part of a pump-and-dump fraud run by Izak Zirk Engelbrecht, who also has been subject to civil, as well as criminal charges. Engelbrecht, previously called Izak Zirk de Maison before adopting his wife’s last name, is accused of running the scam that involved microcap company Gepco Ltd.

Also, Delorme and her husband are accused of selling shares for Engelbrecht and sending him the money for the sales while she was paid a commission. This purportedly allowed Engelbrecht to hide the sales.

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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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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Panel has ruled that UBS must pay claimant Antonio Gnocchi Franco $204,000 in compensatory damages and $66,000 in costs for his Puerto Rico bond fraud case. Franco, a Puerto Rico resident who was also the trustee of his law firm’s pension plan, accused the brokerage firm of negligence, misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, unauthorized trading, unsuitability, overconcentration, failure to supervise, unauthorized use of loan facilities, and unjust enrichment. According to the complaint, UBS had recommended that Franco invest in UBS bond funds and Puerto Rico bonds.

This customer win is yet another in a long line of customer wins against UBS for its investment and brokerage services provided in Puerto Rico. To date, FINRA arbitrators have ordered UBS to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to investors and UBS has paid many hundreds of millions more in settlements. Recently, UBS Puerto Rico and UBS Financial Services lost another Puerto Rico bond fraud case and were ordered to pay five former customers $521,000 in compensatory damages.

In total, UBS has been named in FINRA arbitration claims brought by thousands of investors that lost money from investing in UBS-packaged bond funds and Puerto Rico bonds. UBS Puerto Rico brokers, especially, have come under fire for allegedly recommending customers concentrate their investments in UBS Puerto Rico products, even when they were not suitable for customers in almost any amount. Moreover, many of these investors have alleged that UBS encouraged them to borrow against their own accounts so that customers could invest more. For example, the firm’s financial representatives are accused of advising clients to leverage their accounts and use them as collateral, sometimes for the purposes of purchasing even more UBS investments. This is a practice that should have never happened.

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LPL Financial Holdings (LPLA) brokers and investment advisers will now be able to offer their clients securities lending services through Goldman Sachs (GS). Under the new arrangement, LPL clients can borrow anywhere from $75,000 to $25 million against the securities held in their accounts. In a press release, Goldman Sachs spoke about how through its Goldman Sachs Private Bank Select, LPL clients would be able to borrow these funds for “life events,” including travel or education, without having to sell their investments. However, the money borrowed cannot be used to purchase more investments. Goldman noted that its “high-tech platform” would be able to reduce wait time for a non-purpose securities- based loan from weeks to days, with no fees charged.

Over 15,000 LPL financial advisors will now be able to offer clients access to Goldman’s securities lending capabilities. The independent investment advisory firm joins 40 other such firms and broker-dealers on Goldman’s GS Select platform.

Securities Lending Comes with Significant Risks
The ability to borrow against securities is often touted as a benefit to investors. However, securities lending may not be the best choice in the long run for many investors. While such loans allow clients to borrow against what is in their accounts, certain risks come with this advantage, including forced liquidation of accounts during bad market moves.

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The US state of Massachusetts is investigating Wells Fargo Advisors (WFC) over whether the firm engaged in unsuitable recommendations, inappropriate referrals, and other actions related to its sales of certain investment products to customers. The news of the probe comes after Wells Fargo disclosed that it was evaluating whether inappropriate recommendations and referrals were made related to 401(K) rollovers, alternative investments, and the referral of customers from its brokerage unit to its own investment and fiduciary services business.

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin said it would examine Wells Fargo’s own internal probe and wants to make sure that Massachusetts investors who were impacted by “unsuitable recommendations” would be “made whole.” He noted that while moving investors toward wealth management accounts brings “more revenues to firms,” these accounts are “not suitable for all investors.”

As Barrons reports, referring clients to managed accounts tend to earn fee-based advisors significantly more. The article goes on to note that Galvin is looking into the use of managed accounts related to the US Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule, which includes best practices standards for the protection of consumers. The Massachusetts regulator recently referred to that same rule when the state became the first one to file such related charges in its case against Scottrade over sales contests. In that case, Galvin accused the broker-dealer of improper sales practices, including contests that offered incentives to agents who targeted retiree clients and prospective retiree clients in particular.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Ameriprise Financial Services (AMP). The regulator is accusing the brokerage firm and investment adviser of recommending to retail retirement account customers that they purchase mutual fund shares that charged higher fees. Ameriprise purportedly failed to employ sales charge waivers when applicable.

The Commission’s order contends that the broker-dealer neglected to determine when certain retirement account customers qualified for mutual fund share classes that were not as costly. Instead, the firm would recommend and sell the more costly mutual fund shares even when the less pricey options were available. Ameriprise is accused of not letting these customers know that the firm would make more from the costly mutual fund shares even as their overall investment returns were harmed.

The SEC said that about 1,971 customer accounts paid nearly $1.8M in up-front sales fees that were not warranted, costlier ongoing fees, “contingent deferred sales charges,” and other expenses because of the way that Ameriprise handled the recommendation and sale of mutual funds to retirement account clients. The firm is cooperating with the regulator and has paid back customers that were affected with interest. Retirement account customers eligible for the less expensive mutual fund share classes have been moved to those classes free of charge.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred Jeffrey Palish, an ex-Wells Fargo (WFC) broker in the wake of allegations of senior investor fraud. The regulator is accusing him of stealing over $180K from an elderly client with no plans or means of paying her back.

Palish was let go by the firm last year after an internal probe found that he had made misstatements about these transactions. He was arrested last week in New Jersey and charged with theft by deception involving over $75K.

According to prosecutors, Parish may have stolen at least $600K from elderly clients and failed to pay back a $100K loan from two clients. NorthJersey.com reports that Palish took clients’ money by selling their stock holdings and putting the funds from those sales into a bank account in which he deposited checks from clients. He also is accused of making more than three dozen unauthorized wire transfers of about $300K in total to pay his credit card bills.

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