The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering Ameriprise Financial Services (AMP) to pay $50K for failing to properly supervise and notice that one of its brokers was bilking his own family members. According to the self-regulatory organization, the registered representative took over $370K from five firm customers, which included his domestic partner, mother, grandparents, and stepfather.From 10/11 to 9/13, the broker moved the funds to a business account. The transfers went undetected for two years because Ameriprise purportedly neglected to adequately supervise the moving of customer funds to third parties. It wasn’t until 9/13 that evidence was found that the broker had been practicing the signature of a family member.The Ameriprise broker turned in forms to move the money from the brokerage accounts of customers into a business bank account. The transfer was under the guise of making investments. Instead, said FINRA, the broker allegedly used the money to pay himself commissions and an additional salary.
According to Bloomberg.com, in the wake of Puerto Rico’s default on July 1 of $911 million of bond payments it owes creditors—including $779 million of general obligation bonds—Ameriprise Financial Inc. (AMP) is recommending that clients sell their OppenheimerFunds (OPY) municipal bond funds that are holding any of the island’s debt. In a report this week, Ameriprise senior research analyst Jeffrey Lindell said that with the acceleration of Puerto Rico bond defaults—as the island tries to lower its $70 billion debt via bondholder losses—mutual funds holding these bonds could end up having to “cut dividend rates.” He also wrote that as Puerto Rico bonds respond to “speculation and news,” the mutual funds’ net asset value could turn “volatile.”
In its recent article, Bloomberg provided data from Morningstar Inc., which reports that as of the end of March, Oppenheimer held $3.5 billion of Puerto Rico securities in 19 funds, which is more than anyone else. Now, Ameriprise wants clients to look at investment options that are not as risky as the funds holding Puerto Rico municipal bonds. The firm is suggesting that clients sell investments involving 16 Oppenheimer muni funds. Included in the recommendation to sell are a number of state specific municipal bond funds, including the:
· Oppenheimer Rochester Virginia Municipal (ORVAX)
· Oppenheimer Rochester Pennsylvania Municipal (OVPAX)
· Oppenheimer Rochester Maryland Municipal (ORMDX)
· Oppenheimer Rochester North Carolina Municipal (OPNCX) and
· Oppenheimer Rochester Arizona Municipal (ORAZX)
Several days after the July 1 default, credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (SP) reduced the U.S. territory’s credit rating to “default” status. The default was not the first time Puerto Rico was unable to cover debt payments that were due—although it was the first default involving Puerto Rico’s general obligation debt, which was supposed to have a constitutional guarantee.
It was in May that NY City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito asked the SEC to investigate whether OppenheimerFunds played a part in causing Puerto Rico’s financial crisis to worsen. Mark-Viverito believes that banks, hedge funds, and other investors who bought into Puerto Rico utility debt and general obligation bonds contributed to the territory’s debt woes.
A Financial Industry Arbitration panel says that Ameriprise Financial (AMP) must pay over $2M to the estate of Glenny B. White for losses related to fraud committed by an ex-firm broker. The executor of White’s estate claims that Ameriprise Financial Services did not properly supervise former broker Jeffrey Davis.
In 2014, Davis admitted to stealing money from White and other clients. White was his client for almost ten years before she found out in 2013 that he was stealing funds from her. She died at the age of 91 in 2014.
Davis has since been fired from Ameriprise, and FINRA barred him from the brokerage industry. Last year, he was sentenced to over four years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and admitting to stealing almost $200K from clients.
On Finra’s BrokerCheck report about Davis, it is noted that in at least two cases involving Ameriprise clients the firm had reported to the regulator that their funds were misappropriated.
SEC Names More Brokers in Penny Stock Rigging Case Filed Last Year
The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging three more people related to a $300M penny stock rigging case that it filed last year. In federal court, the regulator sought to lift the stay in its civil case to submit an amended lawsuit and now also name brokers Ronald Heineman and Michael Morris, as well as lawyer Darren Ofsink.
The SEC says that Morris and Heineman executed the scam through their brokerage firm awhile Ofsink made money illegally by selling unregistered shares even though no exemption for registration was valid. Meantime, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York is fling criminal charges against Ofsink ad Morris.
Per the amended SEC complaint, in 2013 Abraxas Discala, Marc Exler, and brokers Craig Josephburg and Matthew Bell were involved in a scam to raise the price of CodeSmart Holdings stock. The men intended to make money at the expense of Josephberg’s customers and Bell’s clients. Heineman and Morris, who own Halcyon Cabot Partners-the firm where Josephberg was employed-allegedly were involved in the securities scam. The two men are accused of secretly consenting to buy shares of CodeSmart at pre-set prices so that Discala could liquidate his positions at prices that were artificially raised. Meantime, Ofsink, who played a part in the execution of the company’s reverse merger into a public shell company, made money by illegally selling securities of CodeSmart that were not registered.
Trading in CodeSmart has been suspended because the company hasn’t submitted periodic reports since late 2014 and due to purportedly suspect market activity.
Former Ameriprise Adviser Gets Prison Term for Defrauding Clients of Over $1M
Former Ameriprise (AMP) adviser Susan Elizabeth Walker wills serve more than seven years behind bars for defrauding at least 24 retirement accounts of over $1.1M. Walker was convicted of tax evasion and mail fraud. She pled guilty last year to the criminal accounts.
Walker offered financial planning services through the firm from October 2008 through March 2013. She also was registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and was a securities agent under the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
SusanWalker, an ex investment adviser with Ameriprise Financial Inc. (AMP), has pleaded guilty to bilking two dozen clients of $980,000. She stole the funds from clients between ’08 and ’13, using the money to cover her own spending, including costly vacations.
Walker is accused of setting up investment accounts under several customers’ names but without their consent. She took money from clients’ retirement and brokerage accounts, placed the funds into the accounts under her control, and took out the funds to spend as she pleased. Ameriprise has paid back the customers that were harmed.
The firm fired Walker and her mother Barbara Stark in early 2013. Stark is not charged in this criminal case.
Former Ameriprise Adviser Ordered to Jail, Must Pay $3M Restitution
Oscar Donald Overbey Jr., an ex-Ameriprise Financial Services (AMP) financial adviser, must pay back the $3 million he allegedly stole from investors while operating a Ponzi scam. The 47-year-old has been sentenced to three and a half years behind bars.
Court documents say that from 1996 into 2007, Overbey stole about $4 million of client funds that he was supposed to invest. Instead, the money was used to pay earlier investors, cover his personal expenses, and pay off his gambling debts.
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Galvin announced today that the state has reached a $9.6M securities settlement with five independent brokerage dealers-Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. (AMP), Commonwealth Financial Network, Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., Royal Alliance Associates Inc., & Securities America Inc.-over the allegedly inappropriate sale of nontraded real estate investment trusts to investors. $8.6M of this is restitution to them.
Galvin says that the investigation, which was triggered by complaints from customers, led to the discovery of a “pattern of impropriety” in the sale of these securities by independent broker-dealers where supervision has been hard to “maintain.” As part of the nontraded REIT settlement, Ameriprise will pay $2.6 in restitution and a $400K fine, Securities America will pay $778K in restitution and a $150K fine, Royal Alliance will pay $59K in restitution and a $25K fine, Commonwealth Financial Network will pay a $2.1M restitution and a $300K fine, and Lincoln Financial will pay a $504K restitution and a $100K fine.
The non-traded REIT agreement with these independent brokerage firms comes just three months after Galvin settled a similar securities fraud case with LPL Financial Holdings Inc. accusing that financial firm of inadequately supervising their brokers tasked with selling the financial instruments. LPL Financial agreed to pay $2.5M in restitution and a $500K administrative fee over seven nontraded REITs that were sold.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. and American Enterprise Investment Services Inc. $750,000 for failing to properly supervise wire-transfer requests and customer fund transmissions to third parties. Also, the SRO has barred Jennifer Guelinas, an ex-Ameriprise broker, for allegedly forging the signatures of two clients on wire-transfer requests and moving about $790,000 to her bank accounts. Ameriprise is an American Financial Inc. (AMP) unit.
FINRA said that Ameriprise had gone on to pay full restitution to its clients and that it was the latter’s affiliate clearing firm, American Enterprise Investment Services, that failed to put in supervisory systems for monitoring funds when they were transferred from client accounts to third parties. The SRO contends, however, that it was Ameriprise that did not detect that Guelinas wrongful actions even though there were a number of red flags. For example, she turned in three requests to send funds from a client’s account to bank account that appeared to belong to her. Amerirpise went ahead and put through the forged requests and moved the funds without asking questions. A third wire-transfer request by Guelinas also went through, says FINRA, but this time Ameriprise caught the wrongdoing before she could get to the money.
Amerirpise says that the since these incidents, which occurred several years ago, the financial firm has improved its related procedures, policies, and technology. By settling, Ameriprise and American Enterprise Investment Services are not admitting to or denying the securities allegations.
In a civil case that is still underway, a number of Ameriprise Financial Inc. workers are suing their employer for what they claim was $20 million in excessive costs that resulted because the company put their 401(k) contribution in proprietary funds. The complaint, filed in September in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota last September, has been seeking class action status.
The 401k plan under dispute was launched in 2005 and the class action securities lawsuit is looking to represent everyone that the plan has employed since then. Over 10,000 members may qualify to become part of the class. The group is led by several former and current Ameriprise plan participants.
Also named as defendants in this civil suit are Ameriprise’s 401(k) investment committees and employee benefits administration. According to the plaintiffs, the defendants violated their fiduciary obligation to the retirement plan, which included investments involving mutual funds and target date funds from RiverSource Investment LLC (an Ameriprise subsidiary that is now called Columbia Management Investment Advisers LLC). The plaintiffs say that about $500 million in plan assets went into Ameriprise Trust Co. and RiverSource yearly.
The plaintiffs claim that the investment that their money went into resulted in fees generated for Ameriprise Trust, RiverSource, and its affiliates. The Ameriprise workers say that the plan suffered over $10 million in losses due to excessive fees and expenses. They also believe that RiverSource was behind in their benchmarks, suffered outflows in the billions of dollars in 2006 and 2005, and was given poor ratings by Morningstar Inc.
The plaintiffs believe that defendants selected the more costly funds with the poorer performance stories to create revenue for ATC and RiverSource and that this also benefited Ameriprise. They say that Ameriprise violated its fiduciary duty, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, to the retirement fund.
The plaintiffs are seeking disgorgement of all revenues, restitution, and all the money that was lost. They want the court to make sure the plan’s losses are paid back and participants are placed in the position they would have been in if only the plan had been administered correctly.
401K Plan Lawsuits
There are fiduciaries and owners of businesses that could find themselves in legal hot waters in the wake of the Department of Labor regulations that now require that the hidden, excessive fees in 401(k) plans be disclosed. Unbeknownst to participants, these fees have been reducing retirement plan balances. Also, the government is now pushing for full disclosure of all fees and wants retirement plan offerings to be provided to employees at the lowest costs possible.
There have ben other employees of other companies that have also filed their 401(k) fees class action lawsuits. For example, just last December, Walmart settled a $13.5 million class action complaint with its employees. The lawsuit blamed the company and Bank of America‘s Merrill Lynch unit for passing along expenses and high fees that were unreasonable to some two million workers.
Ameriprise workers sue over company’s own 401(k) funds, Investment News, September 29, 2011
Ameriprise workers seek class-action suit on 401(k), Star Tribune, September 29, 2011
More Blog Posts:
Ameriprise to Sell Securities America Even as it Finalizes Securities Settlement with Investors of Medical Capital Holdings and Provident Royalties Private Placements, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 26, 2011
Ameriprise Broker Arrested for Defrauding Investors – Clients Say He Cashed Checks Made Out to Ameriprise, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 7, 2007
Bank of America to Pay $335M to Countrywide Financial Corp. Borrowers Over Allegedly Discriminating Lending Practices, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, December 21, 2011 Continue reading
In its first quarter earnings report, Ameriprise Financial (NYSE: AMP) says it intends to sell Securities America. The news comes while the financial firm is still in the process of finalizing its securities fraud settlement with investors accusing the brokerage unit of selling allegedly fraudulent private placements of Medical Capital Holdings and Provident Royalties.
Investors sustained about $400 million in losses after taking part in Medical Capital Holdings-sponsored debt sales and shale gas investments with Provident Royalties. Although originally Securities America had about $400 million in outstanding obligations, the proposed settlement is worth $150 million. The independent broker-dealer unit is accused of failing to do proper due diligence on millions of dollars in investments that it sold, which later proved to be worthless.
Investors who filed securities arbitration cases against Securities America will receive $70 million. Those who are seeking to get back their losses through a class action securities lawsuit will get $80 million. The financial firm could be facing over $300 million more in arbitration claims over the fraudulent placements.
There is speculation over why Ameriprise’s decision to sell comes now. Does this mean that the financial firm has other issues of concern, beside the securities allegations, with Securities America? The sale may also mean that Ameriprise has decided to focus on its core business.
Per the earnings report, Securities America entered into the settlement agreements last month. This has resulted in a $118 million pre-tax charge for Ameriprise during 2011’s first quarter, as well as the $40 million pretax charge it incurred during last year’s fourth quarter.
Related Web Resources:
Securities America Agrees To Settlement With Investors-Sources, The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2011
Ameriprise profit up, selling Securities America, AP/Bloomberg Businessweek, April 25, 2011
Ameriprise profit up, selling Securities America, Bloomberg Business Week, April 25, 2011
More Blog Posts:
Texas Securities Fraud: Three FINRA Cases Against Securities America Over Sale of Private Placements Halted, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 22, 2011
Securities America Inc. to Pay $1.2M in Compensatory and Punitive Damages Over Allegedly Fraudulent Medical Capital Notes, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, January 6, 2011
Securities America & Ameriprise Financial Inc. Sued For Selling Allegedly Faulty Private Settlements, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 10, 2009 Continue reading