Articles Posted in Investor Fraud

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (CGMI) to pay $11.5M in restitution and fines to resolve charges accusing the firm of displaying “inaccurate research ratings” on over 1800 stocks—that’s more than 38% of the stock that CGMI covers. According to the self-regulatory organization, the result of the inaccurate ratings was that a lot of customers ended up buying shares they wouldn’t have purchased otherwise if the right information had been provided.

Citigroup settled the case without denying or admitting to wrongdoing. The alleged inaccurate ratings would have been issued between 2011 and 2015.

According to the self-regulatory organization, CGMI showed the inaccurate ratings not just to retail customers, but also to its brokers and supervisors. These inaccuracies were caused by errors in the firm’s electronic ratings data feed that it provides to its clearing firm. As a result: the wrong rating was displayed for certain securities, ratings for securities that CGMI did not cover were provided, and/or the ratings for securities that the firm did rate were not displayed at all. The research ratings on CGMI’s actual research reports, to which brokers had access, were not impacted by these mistakes.

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Ex-Wells Fargo Brokers Barred Over Unsuitable Energy Securities Sales
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred brokers Charles Lynch and Charles Frieda for making unsuitable recommendations to investors, resulting in substantial financial losses to the latter. Lynch and Frieda are former Wells Fargo (WFC) representatives who were based in Southern California. Both Lynch and Frida were fired from the firm. Previous to working at Wells Fargo, both men worked at Citigroup (C) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

According to the self-regulatory organization, between 11/12 and 10/15, the former brokers recommended an investment strategy revolving around certain speculative energy stocks to over 50 customers. These securities were volatile. Because investors became very concentrated in these energy securities, they were placed at risk of substantial losses.

FINRA contends that the two brokers did not do a proper job of making sure these investments were suitable for the customers to whom they were recommending these securities.

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The SEC has filed civil charges against Westport Capital Markets LLC and principal Christopher E. McClure. The Connecticut-based, dually registered brokerage firm and investment adviser and its principal are accused of defrauding clients, costing them over $1M in losses.

According to the regulator’s securities fraud complaint, the investment advisory firm and McClure invested clients’ money in risky securities on numerous occasions, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed mark-ups that went to Westport even as the clients lost more than $1M. The broker-dealer would allegedly buy securities from underwriters at a reduced rate and later re-sell them to its own clients at the full public offering price while keeping the difference.

Westport and McClure are accused of making false and misleading representations to clients about the compensation that the financial firm received from their accounts. Also, the brokerage firm is accused of receiving 12b-1 fees, which are mutual fund distribution fees, when clients’ money was placed in certain mutual fund share classes and again not telling clients about these fees. The SEC said that the fees created a conflict. McClure and Westport allegedly invested clients in mutual fund shares that charged these fees even when less expensive shares that didn’t carry the fees could have been purchased instead.

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Already under investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for financial fraud, the Woodbridge Group of Companies has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. According to InvestmentNews, this move comes a week after the luxury real estate developer missed payments due to investors on the notes they had purchased.

The company has raised over $1B from investors, including senior investors. InvestmentNews reports that many investors were told that their investments would be safe in real estate. Now, however, Woodbridge is saying that it has $750M of debt. Court documents submitted in US Bankruptcy Court state that this is how much nearly 9000 noteholders are owed.

Woodbridge Wealth sells the following investments: first positions in commercial mortgages, secondary market annuities, and a commercial bridge loan. However, reports InvestmentNews, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck doesn’t show any registered brokerage firm by that name.

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DOJ Begins Distributing Payments to Bernie Madoff’s Victims

Nearly nine years after Bernie Madoff was arrested for running a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scam, the US Department Justice has begun to pay out distributions owed to his victims. The money comes from the Madoff Victim Fund, a $4B fund set up for settlements paid by JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), which was the bank that the Ponzi mastermind used, and the estate of Jeffry Picower, who was one of Madoff’s longtime customers.

This fund will pay back over 24,000 victims some $772M during the first round of distributions. Another fund, which is supervised by bankruptcy court, has already paid out over $10B to investors. Investors who will be paid by from Madoff Victim Fund are those that did not qualify for recovery under the bankruptcy proceedings.

NY Woman Pleads Guilty to Running An Investment Scam

Alisa Adler has pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud. Adler is the ex-head of ASG Real Estate Services Group.

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Regulator Orders Alleged Ponzi Scammers to Pay $15.7M Plus Interest
In its final judgement against ex-pro football player William D. Allen, Susan Daub, and three entities, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is ordering the defendants to pay over $15.7M in disgorgement of ill-gotten gains in addition to prejudgment interest for an alleged Ponzi scam that raised nearly $32M from investors. Allen, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, and Daub, who both pled guilty to related to criminal charges last year, have been sentenced to six years in prison. They must pay $16.8M in restitution for that action. The SEC’s order will be deemed met “based on the restitution order” in the criminal case.

The SEC’s complaint contends that Daub and Allen and the entities misled investors about the loans, which were supposed to go to professional athletes. Instead, they allegedly used just part of the money to issue the loans while using investors’ funds to cover nightclub and casino expenses, other ventures, and to pay back other investors.

Microcap Issuer and Its Ex-CEO Resolve Investor Fraud Allegations
Integrated Freight Corporation and its ex-chairman/CEO David N. Fuselier have settled SEC charges accusing them of investor fraud. Both Fuselier and the company, however, did not deny or admit to the allegations.

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Texas Investment Adviser Suspend for Violating Earlier Securities Agreement
The Texas State Securities Board has suspended investment adviser John Michael McDonough for 90 days after he violated a past agreement that limited his business activities and required 212 Advisory Group to enhance its supervision of him. The undertaking agreement was a requirement for him to be approved as a registered investment adviser in Texas in 2015 while he worked with the Georgia-based firm.

At the time, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority had already sanctioned McDonough, who used to be registered with AXA Advisors, LLC, over allegations that he engaged in “outside business activities” and a number of undisclosed private securities transactions. He was fined $10K and suspended by the self-regulatory organization.

Earlier this year, the Texas State Securities Board found that McDonough was in total violation of the undertaking agreement. Meantime, 212 Advisory was found to have failed in making sure that McDonough did not engage in any supervisory-like acts nor did it ensure that a firm principal was appointed as his direct supervisor.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Singer Financial Corp. and its owner Paul Singer accusing them of illegally offering unregistered securities. The regulator’s complaint contends that they raised about $3.4M from at least 70 investors via unsecured promissory notes that were not registered while failing to qualify for an exemption from registration.

According to the Commission, Singer and his financial firm had at first tried for registration exemption for investment certificates that were almost identical to the promissory notes, but they gave up on their attempt and engaged in the illegal offering of the unregistered promissory notes instead. The SEC said that by not registering the promissory note offering with the regulator or obtaining qualification for registration exemption, investors were “deprived” of “critical information” about the risks involved in their investments. Also, investors in a previous offering ended up trading in their securities with promissory notes that had terms favoring Singer and his firm more than it did them. The notes also generally stretched out “repayment obligations.”

The SEC claims that Singer and his firm used marketing collateral that did not include financial statements, pervious performance facts, and other documents that are usually provided in such instances.

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Lawrence Allen DeShetler will serve 60 months in federal prison for Texas investor fraud. The Houston man pleaded guilty to mail fraud earlier this year after he fraudulently solicited $1.9M from five clients.

Starting in 2014, the former investment advisor, certified planner, and head of DeShetler & Company started persuading clients that if they let him invest their funds they would make higher returns. These clients took money from their investment accounts and gave them to him. Unfortunately, DeShetler used the money on himself.

He has since admitted to using some of investors’ funds to build a house abroad. DeShetler also admitted that he persuaded one widow who was an octogenarian to liquidate a trust and transfer nearly $190K to him. He even stayed in her home while she went away. Upon her return DeShetler was gone and so were her investment documents.

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Wedbush Securities Accused of Failing to Oversee Owner, Who May Have Cherry Picked Investments
The NYSE Regulation has filed a disciplinary case against Wedbush Securities Inc. accusing the firm of not properly overseeing the trading activities of firm owner and principal Edward Wedbush. According to the complaint, Mr. Wedbush, “actively” managed and traded in over 70 accounts and he had limited power over attorney over the accounts of relatives, friends, and some staff members. NYSE contends that he was never properly overseen, which increased the possibility of conflicts and manipulation, including cherry picking. For example, the regulator believes that the inadequate supervision of Mr. Wedbush gave him the “unchecked ability” to give the best trades to family members and himself because there was no system in place to make sure trades were fairly allocated.

Wedbush Securities has previously been subject to at least $4.1M over supervisory deficiencies. Last year, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ordered Mr. Wedbush to pay $50K for supervisory deficiencies involving regulatory filings. He also was suspended for 31 days from serving as a principal.

Wedbush Securities has been named in investor fraud complaints over the handling of their money.

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