Articles Posted in Morgan Stanley

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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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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Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) and Citigroup Global Markets (MS) have settled civil charges brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the two firms of making misleading and false statements about the CitiFX Alpha, which is a foreign exchange trading program. Without denying or admitting to the regulator’s findings, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup will each pay more than $624K of disgorgement, interest of over $89K, and a $2.25M penalty.

Citigroup’s ownership interest in Morgan Stanley was a 49% stake during the period at issue, from 8/2010 to 11/2011, when the firms’ registered representatives were marketing the CitiFX Alpha to Morgan Stanley customers.

However, according to the regulator, the oral and written representations that these representatives made were based on previous risk metrics and performance. Meantime, they purportedly did not do an adequate enough job of disclosing to investors that the latter could be put into the forex trading program with the use of more leverage than what was promoted, as well as that there would be markups for each trade.

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Morgan Stanley Accused of Overbilling Investment Advisory Clients

The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) will pay a $13M penalty to resolve charges accusing the firm of overbilling clients through billing system and coding mistakes and violating the custody rule regarding yearly surprise exams.

As a result, said the regulator’s order, Morgan Stanley has agreed to pay over $16M in excess fees because of billing mistakes that took place from ’02 to ’16. Investment advisory clients that were affected have been paid back the excess fees in addition to interest.

According to the Commission, Morgan Stanley overcharged over 149,000 investment advisory clients. The reason for this is that the firm did not put into place compliance policies and procedures that were designed reasonably enough to make sure that clients were accurately billed according to their advisory agreements. The SEC said that Morgan Stanley did not validate billing rates that were in its billing system against client billing histories, contracts, and other documents.

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An investor who is retired and suffering from health issues is seeking $1M from Morgan Stanley (MS). The investor, a former inventor, claims that the broker-dealer did not properly supervise the financial adviser who handled his multi-million dollar account.  He filed a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority claim and is accusing the firm of breach of fiduciary, negligence, unauthorized trading, excessive trading, fraudulent inducement, and significant tax liability.

The investor believes that over-concentation in risky sectors and over trading in too many individual stocks occurred, causing significant damage to his retirement funds. Among the investments that were involved were oil and gas investments, including Master Limited Partnerships. The claimant claims that Morgan Stanley hid the risks involved, even as the financial adviser engaged in a purportedly deceptive investment strategy. The result was that the investor’s account became heavily concentrated in risky investments.

The alleged broker negligence also purportedly caused tax consequences for the investor while benefiting Morgan Stanley with transactions costs of over $1M. The unsuitable taxable gains that were created by  led to investment losses for the investor, even as the broker claimed that the investor’s account was profiting.

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Even after more than three years since the Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end bond funds originally dropped in their initial value, many investors are still waiting to recoup losses they sustained from investing in these securities. Meantime, the U.S. territory continues to deal with its financial woes as it struggles to pay back its $70 billion of debt. At Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, our Puerto Rico municipal bond fraud attorneys have worked hard this year in helping our clients, who are among the thousands of investors from the Commonwealth that suffered significant losses when the island’s securities plunged in value in 2013, in trying to recoup their money.

Below is a recap of some of the significant claims recovered for Puerto Rico investors this year that made the headlines:

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Arbitration panel ordered Morgan Stanley (MS) to pay a New Jersey widow over $95,000. Morrisa Schiffman accused the broker-dealer of making unsuitable recommendations to her, as well as of inadequate supervision and disclosure failures. Her FINRA Panel ultimately agreed.

Merrill Lynch was ordered to pay $780,000 in restitution to customers who invested in Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds and municipal bonds. FINRA found that the brokerage firm did not have the proper procedures and supervisory systems in place to ensure that all of the transactions were suitable for a number of these investors. Customers affected, in particular, are those with holdings that were heavily concentrated in Puerto Rico municipal bonds, as well as with holdings were highly leveraged via loan managed accounts or margin. FINRA said that from 1/2010 through 7/2013, 25 leveraged customers who had moderate or conservative investment objectives and modest net worths saw the securities they’d invested in sustain aggregate losses of nearly $1.2M. The customers had at least 75% of their assets in Puerto Rico securities that were ultimately liquidated to meet margin calls.

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Massachusetts claims that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) ran a high-pressure sales contest to give its financial advisers incentive to get clients to borrow funds against their brokerage accounts. Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin filed the complaint against the firm. 
 
According to the state, from 1/14 through 4/15, Morgan Stanley conducted two contests in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that involved 30 advisers. The object of the contests were to convince customers to take out loans that were securities-based. It involved them borrowing against the value of securities found in their portfolio. The securities were to be collateral.
 
Galvin’s office said that the contests urged Morgan Stanley advisers to cross-sell loans that were backed by investment accounts in order to enhance lending business, as well as banking, and stay competitive with other firms.  Galvin claims that advisers were told to get clients to establish credit lines even if they had no plans of using them. The state’s complaint said that clients would be targeted after they’d mention certain key “catalysts” including graduations, weddings, and tax liabilities. 
  

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel has awarded former NBA basketball player Keyon Dooling and ex-NFL athlete John St. Clair $819,000 in damages in their securities case against Morgan Stanley (MS). The two men accused the firm of negligent supervision of a former broker whom they blame for their investment losses.

The rogue broker, Aaron Parthemer, has since been barred from the securities industry. It was Parthemer who recommended that the former professional athletes put money into two businesses. Dooling invested $700K in apparel company Global Village Concerns and Miami Beach night spot Club Play. St. Clair invested $200,000 in Global Village Concerns. According to the ex-pro athletes’ securities fraud lawyers, the two investments proved worthless.

Now, the FINRA arbitration panel says that Morgan Stanley must pay Dooling and his spouse over $608K while St. Clair and his wife are to get over $200K. Meantime, Morgan Stanley disagrees with the panel’s ruling, contending that that it was Parthemer who failed to let the firm know that he was engaged in external investment activities. This was the alleged reason that FINRA barred him from the industry.

For instance, Parthemer is accused of lending $400K to three clients without getting his firm’s consent, giving former employers Wells Fargo (WFC) and Morgan Stanley, as well as FINRA, false information, presenting private securities transactions that went undisclosed and involved clients that invested over $3M, running a nightclub, operating a marketing firm, and winning a contract to promote a tequila brand.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission says that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (MS) will pay a $1M penalty to resolve charges involving its purported failure to protect customer data. Some of this information was hacked and violators attempted to sell the data online.

According to the regulator, the firm did not put into place written policies and procedures that were designed in a manner reasonable enough to protect customer information. Because of this, said the SEC, from ’11 to ’14, former Morgan Stanley employee Galen J. Marsh was able to access without permission information regarding approximately 730,000 accounts and move them to his own server. This made it possible for third parties to access and hack the information from there.

The Commission said that Morgan Stanley had two internal portals that made it possible for employees such as Marsh to access confidential customer account information and it was for these internal applications that the firm lacked the needed authorization modules that would have restricted which employees could see this information. This deficiency existed for over a decade.

It was just last week that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that it was censuring and fining E*Trade Securities LLC for supervisory violations related to customer order information protection and for not performing sufficient review of the quality of customer order executions. As a firm that offers online services for securities investing and trading to retail customers, E*Trade is supposed to evaluate the competing markets that it routes customer orders to, including exchange and non-exchange market centers. Firms such as E*Trade are also supposed to conduct periodic and stringent reviews of the quality of customer order executions to see if there are any differences among the markets, which is why the firm set up a Best Execution Committee to do this job.

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