Articles Posted in Investment Advisers

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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RIA Misappropriated Over $865K and Withdrew $640K in Excess Fees, Say Prosecutors
Broidy Wealth Advisors CEO Mark Broidy has pleaded guilty to taking $640K in excess management fees from clients and misappropriating over $864K in stock that were in trusts of which he was the trustee. Now, the registered investment advisor must make restitutions to those whom he defrauded. He could end up serving up to five years behind barsamong other penalties.

According to the Justice Department, from around 11/2010 to 7/2016 Broidy billed more than what he was allowed to in compensation, which caused three clients to pay more than $640K in excess fees. He concealed his theft by falsifying those clients’ IRS Form 1099s.

After one client demanded that Broidy pay back the stolen funds the latter allegedly sold over $865K of stock from another client’s trust accounts, which were for that person’s children. Broidy also suggested that several clients invest in startups with which he had deals to pay him part of any money he raised on the companies’ behalf. The clients didn’t know about these arrangements.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed Texas fraud charges against Patrick O. Howard, Optimal Economics Capital Partners, LLC (OE Capital) and Howard Capital Holdings, LLC. Howard controls the two Dallas-based companies., which have raised about $13M from 119 investors. The regulator is alleging that the money went to fraudulent offerings involving private fund investments in three limited liability companies and that Howard falsely presented himself as a registered investment adviser when, in fact, he was not. In addition to offering and selling units through OE Capital, he retained two firms to do the same and paid them a 5% commission.

The SEC is charging Howard and his companies with violating the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The regulator wants permanent injunctions, disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties.

According to the Commission, which filed its complaint under seal in Dallas federal court, Howard and his two companies promised investors 12-20% yearly returns, along with minimal risk. They also purportedly claimed that almost all invested money would go toward acquiring interest in revenue streams of the portfolio companies and that promised returns were insured.

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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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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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Investment Adviser Settles SEC Case for $575K
John W. Rafal, a Connecticut-based investment adviser, has agreed to settle US Securities and Exchange Commission charges for $575K. As part of the settlement, Rafal is admitting wrongdoing in a civil case that accuses him of bilking a client and then trying to mislead the SEC while lying to other clients about the regulator’s probe.

The SEC said that Rafal paid attorney Peter D. Hershman in secret for referring one of his client’s to Essex Financial Services, which is the firm that Rafal founded. He is no longer affiliated with Essex. Rather than disclose the referral deal to the older widow who was that client, Rafal and Hershman concealed the payments as “legal fees.” Even after Essex officers found out about and stopped the referral arrangement, the deal between the two men continued in secret. The SEC also said that Rafal responded to rumors that he had violated a securities law by emailing his clients and falsely stating that the regulator’s probe had been resolved. He also purportedly tried persuading the Commission that his arrangement with Hershing was over.

Essex Financial Services will pay $180K in disgorgement and interest to resolve charges connected to Rafal’s wrongful behavior. Herhsman will pay over $90K to resolve the civil charges accusing him of aiding and abetting the violations committed by Rafal. The two men agreed to a securities industry bar and from serving in the roles of director or officer for any publicly traded company. They also are no longer allowed to represent clients regarding SEC matters.

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Two Men Are Accused of Scamming Indiana Investors in More than $3.5M Ponzi Scam 
Prosecutors are charging two Indiana men with securities fraud involving a Ponzi scam. They claim that Richard E. Gearhart and his business partner George R. McKown sold securities to investors who moved their annuities, pensions, cash, and 401ks to invest in Asset Preservation Specialists Inc. The investors were purportedly promised a guaranteed return rate.

The authorities say that McKown and Gearhart were not registered with the state of Indiana or the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell these securities.

It was in 2013 that a number of Gearhart’s clients filed complaints against him after he filed for Chapter 13 federal bankruptcy. They contended that their losses collectively totaled over $2M. Court records, however, indicate that the two men allegedly stole over $3.5M from over two dozen investors. between ’08 and ’13.

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Investment Adviser Who Bilked Pro Athletes Gets CFP Board Suspension
The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards has issued a temporary suspension against Ash Narayan. The California-based investment adviser is accused of bilking professional athletes of millions of dollars.

Narayan was recently named in a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint. In June, the regulator accused him of misrepresenting his professional qualifications and misappropriating client monies when he allegedly siphoned funds from investors’ accounts and invested the money in Ticket Reserve, a flailing online sports and entertainment ticket business.

Narayan is accused of moving  $33M of investor funds to the company and did not tell the athletes that he was a member of Ticket Reserve’s board, owned stock in the company, and was paid a $2M in finder’s fees for making the investments. The CFP Board called the investments “unsuitable” and not in line with clients’ objectives. The board also noted that some of the investments were made without client consent or knowledge.

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Once again, financial adviser Dawn Bennett is in the news. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has reportedly filed a securities case against Bennett, who is the owner of Bennett Group Financial Services, for not appearing four times to testify in the regulator’s probe into her retail clothing business, DJBennett.com. FiNRA said that her failure to appear to testify violates its rules. Bennett was recently investigated for fraud while she was an independent broker at Western International Securities.

She stepped down from that firm last year after FINRA found that she may have committed securities fraud, as well as been involved in private securities transactions, undisclosed external business activities, and the misappropriation of investor funds.

It was in 2015 that she allegedly solicited Western clients in a debt deal that her retail clothing company was supposed to guarantee. Bennett sold $6M of convertible and promissory notes to about 30 investors.

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has put out an emergency asset freeze against Peter Kohli, a former broker. According to the regulator, the Pennsylvania resident bilked at least 120 investors when he fraudulently raised over $3.2M from them between 2012 and 2015. The regulator attributes the funds collapse to the ex-broker’s “extreme recklessness.”

At the time, Kohli was CEO and president of DMS Advisors, a dually-registered investment adviser and brokerage firm. He began the DMS Funds series, comprised of four emerging market mutual funds, in 2012. The SEC claims that he overstated the funds’  level of sophistication while disregarding the risk that he and DMS Advisors might not be able to cover certain expenses.

The Commission claims  that Kohli stole money from investors as the funds became beleaguered and he committed three other frauds to keep his scam going.  He also purportedly misappropriated money he solicited to invest in one of the funds and his accused of drawing in two kinds of investments in Marshad Capital Group, which was DMS advisors’ holding company.

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