Articles Posted in Financial Firms

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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Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) has consented to pay a penalty of $8M to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the firm of wrongdoing involving single inverse exchange-traded fund investments. Morgan Stanley admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

According to the SEC’s order, Morgan Stanley failed to adequately put into place procedures an policies to make sure that clients comprehended the risks involved in buying inverse ETFs and did not procure signatures from several hundred clients on a client disclosure notice that stated that these ETFs are usually not suitable for investors intending to keep them longer than a trading session unless the securities are part of a hedging or trading strategy.

Morgan Stanley persuaded investors to buy single inverse ETFs in accounts, including retirement accounts. Securities were held-long term. As a result, many of these advisory clients suffered losses.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed fraud charges against Sentinel Growth Fund Management and its owner Mark J. Varacchi. The regulator is accusing the Connecticut-based investment advisory firm of stealing at least $3.95M from investors. Over $1M was allegedly used to resolve private litigation in which Varacchi was the defendant.

According to the Commission, Sentinel Growth Management Fund and Varacchi misrepresented to investors that their money would go to hedge fund managers to be invested. Instead, the investment advisor firm allegedly commingled investor money and manipulated account balances, activities, and investment returns as part of a securities fraud.

Now, the SEC wants disgorgement and penalties brought against Varacchi and his firm in this investment advisor fraud case.

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Source Capital Group Inc. must pay three elderly investors their full investment of $810K plus $147K in interest, as well as $250K in legal fees, in a securities arbitration case accusing one of the investment bank’s brokers of selling them unsuitable investments. William Lashlee and Joyce and Keith McCrea filed their elder financial fraud claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

According to the retirees, the broker sold them stock in a health care tech start-up in 2012. Lashlee invested $220K while the McCreas invested $590K. Unfortunately, the start-up, iPractice Group, shuttered its business in 2013.

The claimants claim that Source Capital was negligent in supervising the broker who sold them the securities. Although the broker was assigned to the firm’s Bowling Green, Kentucky branch, the manager there was purportedly never notified that this particular financial representative was under his supervision.

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The Puerto Rico government has defaulted on more debt payments that were due to bondholders. The U.S. Territory did not meet the February 1, 2017 due date on $312 million in principal plus interest. The default includes Puerto Rico General Obligation bonds that are supposed to be constitutionally protected.

The Puerto Rican Government Development Bank owes $279 million of the defaulted debt. A spokesperson for Puerto Rico’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, however, said that the Commonwealth paid $295 million of interest, which was due on some of the debt.

Puerto Rico owes $70 billion of debt and the island has been embroiled in financial troubles for over three years. The territory has struggled to pay back the debt it owes, defaulting more than once on payments that were due. Last weekend, Puerto Rico’s federal oversight board voted to extend the stay placed on litigation against the island for debt payments that have been missed. The stay was supposed to lift on February 15, 2017. Now that date is May 1, 2017.

The island’s new governor, Ricardo Rosselló, was also granted an extension for when he has to turn in a fiscal blueprint, mapping out how Puerto Rico plans to restore its fiscal health. He now has until February 28, 2017.

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Citigroup is Accused of Overcharging At Least 60 Investment Advisory Clients
Citigroup Global Markets (C) will pay $18.3M to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the firm of overbilling clients and misplacing client contracts. According to the regulator’s order, at least 60,000 investment advisory clients were overcharged about $18M in unauthorized fees because Citigroup did not confirm the accuracy of the billing rates in its computer systems compared to the fees noted in client contracts and other documents. The firm also purportedly improperly collected fees even when clients suspended their accounts. The SEC says that the billing mistakes took place over a 15-year period.

The regulator also contends that the investment advisory firm has been unable to locate about 83,000 advisory contracts. Their absence made it impossible for Citigroup to correctly validate whether the fees that clients were billed are the same ones that they negotiated.

The SEC believes that affected clients paid Citigroup about $3.2M in excess fees.

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