Articles Posted in Financial Firms

Ameritas Investment Corp. Must Pay $180K for Inadequate Supervision Involving VA Sales
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering Ameritas to pay $180K for an inadequate supervisory system that oversaw its multi-share class variable annuity sales. The self-regulatory organization claims that between 9/2013 and 7/2015, the brokerage firm failed in its supervision of the VA sales and did not have adequate written supervisory procedures in place.

It was during this period that the firm sold almost 4,100 variable annuity contracts, making more than $58M in the process. 697 of the sales were L-share contracts, rendering approximately $11M. These types of contracts usually come with a shorter surrender period than the more common B-share contracts. FINRA believes that the broker-dealer failed to provide its registered representatives proper guidance on the different share classes that were for sale or on how to discern which ones would be best for each customer.

Fired Broker Will be Paid $3M by UBS
A FINRA arbitration panel is ordering UBS Financial Services (UBS) to pay $3M in compensatory damages to a broker that it fired. The Claimant, James L. Springer, had made numerous claims, including wrongful termination, emotional distress, negligence, unfair competition, breach of fiduciary duty, unpaid wages, and others.

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Wedbush Securities Accused of Failing to Oversee Owner, Who May Have Cherry Picked Investments
The NYSE Regulation has filed a disciplinary case against Wedbush Securities Inc. accusing the firm of not properly overseeing the trading activities of firm owner and principal Edward Wedbush. According to the complaint, Mr. Wedbush, “actively” managed and traded in over 70 accounts and he had limited power over attorney over the accounts of relatives, friends, and some staff members. NYSE contends that he was never properly overseen, which increased the possibility of conflicts and manipulation, including cherry picking. For example, the regulator believes that the inadequate supervision of Mr. Wedbush gave him the “unchecked ability” to give the best trades to family members and himself because there was no system in place to make sure trades were fairly allocated.

Wedbush Securities has previously been subject to at least $4.1M over supervisory deficiencies. Last year, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ordered Mr. Wedbush to pay $50K for supervisory deficiencies involving regulatory filings. He also was suspended for 31 days from serving as a principal.

Wedbush Securities has been named in investor fraud complaints over the handling of their money.

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Former Ameriprise (AMP) Jack McBride has been ordered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to pay a $12,500 fine and serve a 40-day suspension over alleged violations involving margin trades. He was registered with Ameriprise from 1994 to 2014.

FINRA contends that it was during this period that he committed a number of violations, including settling a customer complaint without telling Ameriprise, sending emails that had inflated account values to two clients, and mismarking order tickets as unsolicited when they had been solicited.

Regarding the margin trade violations, the regulator notes in the Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent that McBride settled with one couple by sending them almost $12,845 from his personal account rather than reporting their complaint to Ameriprise. The couple was charged margin interest after incurring a margin balance because McBride mistakenly bought $320K in securities for them using their Ameriprise account that did not have the balance to cover the cost. They had multiple accounts with the brokerage firm.

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California Treasurer John Chiang announced this week that the state has decided to extend the sanctions it imposed against Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) for one more year. The bank is barred from doing business with California in the wake of the sales practice scandal involving the set up of at least two million unauthorized credit card and bank accounts. Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185M to regulators to resolve related charges.

As the country’s largest municipal debt issuer, California oversees a $75B investment portfolio. Its sanctions include suspending the state’s investments in Wells Fargo Securities, barring the bank from being used as a brokerage firm to buy investments, and prohibiting it from serving as bond underwriter whenever Chiang is authorized to appoint said underwriter.

When explaining why he sought to extend the state’s sanctions, Chiang pointed to recent disclosures, including that Wells Fargo overcharged veterans in a federal mortgage-refinancing program and, in another program, made loan borrowers pay for unnecessary insurance. The state treasurer sent a letter to Wells Fargo’s board and its Chief Executive Tim Sloan noting that a number of demands have to be fulfilled before he will lift the sanctions.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network and Wells Fargo Clearing Services LLC must pay over $3.4M in restitution to customers who were impacted by unsuitable recommendations involving exchange-traded products and the supervisory failures involved. By settling, Wells Fargo (WFC) is not denying or admitting to the regulator’s charges.

According to FINRA, between 7/1/200 and 5/1/2012, there were registered representatives at Wells Fargo (WFC) who recommended these volatility-linked ETPs without fully comprehending the investments’ features and risks. The self-regulatory organization also found that the broker-dealer did not put into place a supervisory system that was reasonable enough to properly supervise the ETP sales during the period at issue.

The regulator said that the brokers did not have reasonable grounds for recommending these ETPs to customers whose risk profiles and investment goals were considered moderate or conservative. The representatives are accused of making inappropriate recommendations about when to leave these positions in a “timely manner.”

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The financial fallout caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria is being felt not just on the island of Puerto Rico, but in the U.S. mainland as well. Puerto Rico bonds, which were already in trouble prior to the storms because of the island’s faltering economy and bankruptcy, are expected to take even more of a hit. Moody’s Investors Service assesses the future of the bonds, which were already at a Caa3 rating, as negative. The ratings agency said that the “disruption of commerce” caused by hurricanes will drain Puerto Rico’s “already weak economy” further. All of this is expected to impact not just the Puerto Rico bonds but also the mutual funds based on the U.S. mainland that hold them, which means that investors will be impacted.

According to InvestmentNews, Morningstar stated that 15 municipal bond funds, “14 of them from Oppenheimer Funds (OPY),” have at least 10 % of their portfolios in the island’s bonds. The 15th fund is from Mainstay. Morningstar reported that through September 28, the funds lost a 1.57% average for the month. The Oppenheimer Rochester Maryland Municipal Bond (ORMDX), which has 26% of its portfolio in Puerto Rico bonds, was considered the worst performer. In addition to Oppenheimer and Mainstay, other U.S.-based funds that are losing money from Puerto Rico bonds, include, as reported by The New York Times:

· Paulson & Co., which has invested billions of dollars in Puerto Rico securities. The Wall Street firm is run by hedge fund manager John A. Paulson.

According to InvestmentNews, there are six pending FINRA arbitration claims against Morgan Stanley (MS) and its former broker Angel Aquino-Velez (Aquino-Velez) concerning his selling Puerto Rico investments. The claimants are alleging misrepresentation and unsuitability regarding the sale of Puerto Rico closed-end funds and bonds they purchased through Aquino-Velez, who is based in Miami, and the brokerage firm.

InvestmentNews also reports that according to FINRA’s BrokerCheck database, Morgan Stanley has already resolved four FINRA arbitration claims valued at $2.4 million related to Aquino-Velez and Puerto Rico municipal bond investments. Aquino-Velez, who left Morgan Stanley a few months ago, was recently selling Puerto Rico COFINA bonds, which are securities backed by the U.S. territory’s sales tax revenue. Prior to working at Morgan Stanley, Aquino-Velez was with UBS Financial Services (UBS) and Merrill Lynch (BAC).

Puerto Rico Bond Fraud Losses
At Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD LLP, our Puerto Rico bond fraud lawyers have been working hard these past four years to help investors who sustained serious losses when the island’s municipal bonds began to fall in value in 2013. For many of our clients, their portfolios should not have been so heavily concentrated in Puerto Rico bond funds and bonds, if at all, except that they were given bad investment advice. Many investors lost everything.
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Former LPL Broker Indicted for $850K Securities Fraud and Theft
Sonya Camarco, an ex-LPL (LPLA) financial broker, has been indicted in Colorado on seven counts of theft and six counts of securities fraud. She is accused of taking over $850K in client funds for her own use between 1/2013 and 5/2017.

Camarco was fired by LPL last month. Her BrokerCheck record on the FINRA database indicate that she was let go for depositing third-party checks for clients into an account she controlled. Camarco is accused of failing to disclose to clients, including one elderly investor who had dementia, that she was depositing the funds in this manner. If this is true then not only is this a matter of financial fraud but also this would be a case of senior financial fraud.

Securities Fraud Involving Earth Energy Exploration Bilks Investors of $3M
In Indiana, fifteen people were convicted and ordered to prison in a securities fraud case involving Earth Energy Exploration Inc. Investors in Texas and other states lost $3M.

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In an effort to fight a $20 million coverage lawsuit brought by insurance carriers over Puerto Rico bond fraud cases, UBS Financial Services, Inc. (UBS) argued in court that the exclusions at issue cannot be applied to these investors’ claims. The plaintiffs in the case include XL Specialty Insurance Co., Hartford Fire, and Axis.

According to Law360, a Securities and Exchange Commission filing notes that as of last year UBS is contending with $1.9 billion in claims – including civil, arbitration, and regulatory cases – over its Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds, and to date has already paid $740 million to resolve some of those claims. The bank has come under fire for the way it handled $10 billion of these closed-end bond funds, including claims that they pushed the securities onto investors who could not handle the risks involved and, in some cases, encouraged them to borrow funds to buy even more.

The bank wants coverage under new subsidiary policies that the insurers agreed to even though it includes a specific exclusion for claims that involve the closed-end fund debacle in any way. In its opposite brief, submitted to Puerto Rico federal court, UBS argued that the plaintiffs have not made much of an effort to argue how the exclusion could preclude every related claim, of which there are more than 1600. UBS noted in its brief that insurance law in the U.S. territory mandates that an insurance company defend the whole action even if just one claim is potentially covered.
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Two years after the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) barred former UBS Financial Services of Puerto Rico (UBS-PR) broker Jose Ramirez, nicknamed the Whopper, our UBS Puerto Rico fraud attorneys are continuing to provide representation to investors who sustained losses because they took his and other UBS-PR brokers’ advice to borrow from credit lines in order to invest in even more securities. If you are one of these investors and you would like to explore your legal options, please contact Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD LLP today.

It was in 2015 that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought charges against Ramirez accusing him of fraud in the offer and sale of $50 million of UBS-PR affiliated, non-exchange traded closed-end mutual funds. The former UBS broker allegedly enriched himself by advising certain customers to use non-purpose credit lines that a firm affiliate, UBS Bank USA, was offering so that they could buy even more shares.

These customers were not, in fact, allowed to use credit lines to buy the securities and Ramirez allegedly knew this. He is accused of getting around restrictions by telling customers to move money to a bank that had no affiliation with UBS and then re-depositing the funds to their UBS Puerto Rico brokerage account in order to buy additional closed-end mutual funds or Puerto Rico bonds. Such a scheme was a violation of numerous rules and regulations and, if misrepresented to the investors as the SEC has alleged, would have been a major legal violation.

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