Articles Posted in FINRA

Investor Awarded Over $1M After Allegedly Misleading Sales Pitch by Wilbank Securities Broker

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel has awarded investor Grace S. Huitt over $1 million in her broker fraud claim against Wilbanks Securities. According to Huitt, one of the firm’s brokers presented her with a sales pitch about the ING Landmark Variable Annuity that not only was misleading but also promised too much and then under-delivered. She alleged breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent supervision.

Huitt claims that when she bought the variable annuity in 2008, she was told that it came with a guaranteed 7% compound yearly return. Other investors who also had made investment puchases through Wilbanks Securities reportedly claimed similar problems with what they were promised.

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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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The US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network are investigating brokerage firm Aegis Capital Corp. The reason for the probe has not been disclosed.

In Aegis Capital’s latest audited financial statement, the firm said that it has responded to the joint inquiry. A lawyer for the broker-dealer said that it would not comment further. The attorney, however, did note that regulators have yet to file a complaint and that Aegis Capital is not in litigation at the moment with any of these agencies.

According to Aegis Capital’s BrokerCheck profile, the firm has 27 previous disclosures, including one in 2015 that the broker-dealer settled with FINRA, agreeing to pay $950K over the allegedly improper sales of billions of unregistered penny stock shares and purported lapses in anti-money-laundering supervision. Two ex-Aegis Capital chief compliance officers were suspended and ordered to pay related fines.

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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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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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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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Ex-Financial Adviser Who Worked for Texas-Based Firm is Barred by SEC After Defrauding Pro Athletes 
Ash Narayan, an ex-California financial adviser, has been barred by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Narayan, who is accused of secretly receiving almost $2M from companies that he invested in on behalf of his professional athlete clients, agreed to no longer associate with advisory or brokerage firms to resolve the regulator’s allegations.

Narayan worked for Dallas firm RGT Wealth Advisors, but he was based in California as the managing director of its Irvine office. He also is accused of misrepresenting himself as a CPA and placing clients in unsuitable private investments. In October, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards issued a temporary suspension against him while an investigation was conducted into the allegations. RGT Wealth Advisers fired Narayan early this year.

According to the SEC, Narayan’s alleged fraud occurred between 2010 and 2016, during which time he directed $33M to a company that he was involved in and was in poor financial health. By settling, Narayan is not denying or admitting to the SEC charges.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority says that Oppenheimer & Co. (OPY) must pay $3.4M in sanctions. According to the regulator, for eight years the firm was about four years late when submitting 365 filings about disciplinary actions that it brought against its brokers and in arbitration and litigation settlements. FINRA is also accusing Oppenheimer of not giving seven claimants the documentation they needed in their arbitration against Mark Hotton, an ex-registered representative, and of overcharging 825 customers more than $1M collectively for mutual fund shares over a six-year period.

The self-regulatory organization claims that the late filings to FINRA took place between 2008 and 2016 and that Oppenheimer failed to provide claimants the documentation related to the Mark Hotton allegations between 2010 and 2013. The failure to apply the appropriate fee waiver discount for mutual fund shares purportedly occurred between 2009 and 2015.

Already, Oppenheimer has paid over $6M to settle customer disputes alleging inadequate supervision of Hotton and another $1.25M to 22 customers who did not file arbitration cases but suffered losses, too. Oppenheimer also was ordered to pay a $2.5M fine to FINRA last year over the Hotton claims. The former broker, whom FINRA permanently barred from the securities industry three years ago, was sentenced sentenced to 11 years in prison for stealing client monies and excessively trading their brokerage accounts.

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Ex-Newbridge Securities Broker Involved in $131M Fraud Pleads Guilty 
Gerald Cocuzzo, has pleaded guilty to securities fraud related to his involvement in a $131M market manipulation scam involving Forcefield Energy Inc. (FNRG). According to the U.S. Justice Department, between 1/2009 and 4/2015, Cocuzzo and others sought to bilk investors in the publicly traded company that globally distributes and provides LED lighting products. They did this by artificially manipulating the volume and price of the shares that were traded.

Meantime, Cocuzzo received kickbacks for buying Forcefield stock in his clients’ brokerage accounts. He did not tell the customers that he was receiving these payments. Instead, he and several others sought to hide their involvement.

Newbridge Securities fired Cocuzzo earlier this year following the federal indictment. Before working at Newbridge, he was registered with IAA Financial, previously called CBG Financial Group Inc.

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