Articles Posted in Financial Firms

Federal Reserve Imposes First Fine to a Bank Over A Volcker Rule Violation
For violating the Volcker Rule’s ban on making risky market bets, Deutsche Bank (DB) must pay a $157M fine for not making sure its traders didn’t make such bets and for allowing its currency desks to engage in online chats with competitors, during which time they allegedly disclosed positions. It was just last year that the German lender admitted that it did not have sufficient systems in place to keep track of activities that could violate the ban.

Under the Volcker Rule, banks that have federal insured deposits are not allowed to bet their own funds. They also are supposed to makes sure that when their traders help clients sell and buy securities, they aren’t engaging in bet making.

For the system lapses, the Federal Reserve fined Deutsche Bank $19.7M. The remaining $136.9M fine is for the chats and because the bank purportedly did not detect when currency traders were revealing positions or trying to coordinate strategies with competitors.

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Former Wells Fargo and LPL Financial Broker Receives 41-Month Prison Term for Elder Financial Fraud
Robert N. Tricarico, an ex-broker for both Wells Fargo Advisors (WFC) and LPL Financial (LPLA), will serve 41 months behind bars and pay restitution of over $1.2M after he pleaded guilty to elder financial fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which brought a civil case against Tricarico, has barred him from the securities industry.

Court documents note that from 1/2010 to 6/2013, Tricarico was the financial adviser for a sick and elderly investor. He misappropriated over $1.1M from her by writing a number of checks to himself without the client’s consent, misappropriated checks written to her, liquidated her coin collection, and used her funds for his own expenses.

He has also admitted to bilking two other victims of $20K when he falsely represented that their money would go toward a business venture. He kept their money for himself.

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Hedge fund Whitebox Advisors has filed a lawsuit against Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon) over revenues from Puerto Rico’s sales tax bonds, which are commonly called COFINAs, that support $17 Billion of the island’s debt. Currently, the US territory is continuing to struggle to pay back the $70 Billion of debt it owes to creditors and BNY Mellon is a trustee for the island. (A number of hedge funds aside from the plaintiff, hold about $2.5 Billion in senior COFINA bonds, but they are not part of this case.)

In its lawsuit, brought in state court in New York, Whitebox Advisors accused BNY Mellon of breaching its duties to senior COFINA bondholders by continuing to make payments to junior creditors even after the US territory indicated that it wants to make concessions related to different kinds of debts. The hedge fund wants a court order stopping further payments to junior creditors, as well as a statement declaring that BNY Mellon has a conflict of interest. The plaintiff is also seeking monetary damages.

This week, the island is set to begin confidential talks with COFINA creditors as well as holders of competing general obligation debt. Creditors have until May 1 to arrive at mutually agreed upon settlements. The deadline was put into place, temporarily halting creditor lawsuits, to give the federally appointed oversight board a chance to work out a debt restructuring deal outside of court. At this moment, an extension to the freeze is unlikely.  After that, the board is allowed to try to place Puerto Rico into quasi-bankruptcy proceedings.

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Credit Suisse Unit and Ex-Investment Adviser Settle SEC Charges, Pay $8M Fine
Credit Suisse AG (CS) unit Credit Suisse Securities and Ex-investment adviser Sanford Michael Katz have settled SEC charges accusing them of improperly investing the funds of clients in “Class A” mutual fund shares instead of “institutional” shares that were less costly. According to the regulator, the firm and Katz did not adequately disclose the conflict of interest presented by choosing the Class A investment, which allowed them to profit more at investors’ expense. They are accused of breaching their fiduciary duties.

The SEC’s orders state that Credit Suisse made about $3.2M in 12b-1 fees that could have been avoided. According to the Commission, about $2.5M of those fees came from Katz’s clients. The regulator said that the firm did not put into place policies and procedures to prevent fiduciary breaches.

Both Credit Suisse and Katz settled the SEC charges without denying or admitting to the regulator’s findings. Together, they have to pay over $3.2M of disgorgement, over $577K of prejudgment interest, and an over $4.1M penalty. A fair fund has been set up to compensate clients.

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Once again, a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel has ordered UBS Financial Services (UBS) to pay a large arbitration award to an investor. Dr. Luis E. Cummings claimed losses related to his investing in Puerto Rico bonds and Puerto Rico closed-end funds. Cummings also said sustained losses from loans made against these securities.

In his Puerto Rico bond fraud case, Cummings accused UBS of negligence, recklessness, deceit, fraud, and fault. Meantime, the brokerage firm is once again claiming that this is yet another investor who was experienced enough to make a “fully informed decision” about whether to leverage investments and invest a healthy portion of his portfolio in Puerto Rico closed-end funds and bonds.

But as Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas Partner Sam Edwards said when commenting on a previous case in which UBS also was ordered to pay an investor over their similar losses, “even customers who are business savvy can be abused.” The FINRA Panel ultimately awarded Dr. Cummings more than $5 million in compensation as well as forgiveness of a similar amount of debt.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel said that Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. (“Stifel”) must pay June and Perry Burns over $100K for losses they sustained from Puerto Rico bonds and oil and gas investments. The Burns are in their eighties and they invested a “substantial” amount of their life savings with Stifel.

In their Puerto Rico bond fraud arbitration claim, the couple accused Stifel of negligence, unauthorized trading, and unsuitable investments, among other violations. For that portion of their case, the FINRA panel awarded the Burns $79,709, which was everything they lost, and also fees and interest. Despite the ruling, Stifel, in its own filings, continues to deny the couple’s allegations. The broker-dealer tried to have the case thrown out and removed from its FINRA records.

Senior Investors Sustained Losses From Investing in Puerto Rico Bonds
Unfortunately, the Burns are not the only senior investors whose retirement savings were seriously harmed because brokerage firms and their brokers recommended that retirees invest in Puerto Rico bonds and Puerto Rico bond funds even though these securities were too risky for their portfolios and/or not aligned with their investment objectives. For the past few years, our senior financial fraud lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas have been working with older investors in the US mainland and the island of Puerto Rico to help them get their lost investments back. Aside from Stifel, other brokerage firms are accused of inappropriately recommending Puerto Rico bonds and close-end bond funds to investors, including UBS Puerto Rico (UBS-PR), Santander Securities (SAN), Banco Popular, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley (MS) and others.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Panel has ruled that Wells Fargo Advisors (WFC) must pay investor Anthony J. Pryor $357K related to purportedly unsuitable housing and energy investments. In his securities fraud claim, Pryor alleged negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision, breach of fiduciary, and other causes. Wells Fargo denies Pryor’s allegations.

His advisor, Jeff Wilson, who was not named as a party in the securities case, has three customer disputes on his BrokerCheck record. One of the other claims that was settled for $250K also allegedly involving unsuitable investments.

Unsuitable Investments
Not every investment is suitable for every investor. Some investments may too be risky for certain investors or are not in alignment with their investment goals or financial needs. For example, many older retail investors that are about to retire will likely require a more conservative investment plan that a much younger, single investor.

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FINRA Suspends Broker For Accepting $105K in Gifts
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. has suspended Adam C. Smith from the securities industry for a year. The former Merrill Lynch broker, who was fired from the firm, will pay a $10K fine.

According to the self-regulatory organization, while at Merrill Lynch, Smith and his wife accepted $26K in checks from a couple whom he represented. The money was to help fund the education of Smith’s children. When one of the client’s passed away, the remaining spouse gifted Smith and his wife another $53K, again to pay for their kids’ education. Smith received $26K from other clients.

Although he is settling, Smith is not denying or admitting to FINRA’s findings.

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FINRA Bars Registered Rep For $15M In Unauthorized Trades
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred Craig David Dima, a former registered representative with KC Ward Financial, for making about $15M in unsuitable and unauthorized trades in the account of a 73-year-old retiree. According to the self-regulatory organization, there were 11 times when Dima sold nearly all of the customer’s stock in Colgate-Palmolive that she’d accrued from working with the company for nearly thirty years and he did that without permission.

After the elderly client told Dima not to sell the stock, he proceeded to sell them anyways. When the customer confronted Dima, he purportedly misrepresented that a computer or technical mistake had caused the sale. Meantime, the client was “deprived” of the “substantial dividends” from the Colgate shares she used to own. Dima charged the customer over $375K in fees, mark-downs, and mark-ups.

By settling, Dima is not denying or admitting to FINRA’s charges.

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A federal judge has ruled that general obligation bondholders in Puerto Rico may go ahead with a securities fraud lawsuit arguing that the U.S. territory’s government has to pay them what they are owed even as it pays off other bondholders and workers and restructures its nearly $70 billion of debt. U.S. District Court Judge Francisco Besosa said the bondholders’ case could proceed despite a new law that has placed a stay on the majority of creditors’ legal actions brought against Puerto Rico.

Owners of general obligation bonds which includes individuals and hedge funds such as Monarch and Aurelius, are arguing that Puerto Rico general obligation bonds are supposed to be constitutionally guaranteed, therefore other Puerto Rico obligations cannot be paid before general obligation bondholders. Judge Besosa said that because the general obligation bondholders’ debt lawsuit does not seek to get any kind of payment from the territory or confiscate commonwealth property, the case should be exempted from the stay.

Following Judge Besosa’s ruling, creditors of COFINA bonds, Puerto Rico’s sales tax authority, are now asking a federal court to keep the island’s government from being told to redirect bond payments to the general bond holders. The COFINA plaintiff group, which includes funds holding more than $2 billion in debt and also hedge funds such as Canyon Capital and Goldentree, contend that the general obligation bondholders’ claims are “self-serving” and without merit.

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