Articles Posted in Mutual Funds

Direct Services LLC and Voya Investment LLC, two Voya Holdings Inc. investment adviser subsidiaries, will pay about $3.6M to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing them of failing to make certain disclosures related to securities lending. Of that amount, over $2M will go straight to mutual funds that were impacted.

The two investment advisers worked with a number of “insurance-dedicated mutual funds” that insurers affiliated with Voya Holdings and Direct Services offer to life insurance and annuity customers. The two advisers lent fund-held securities to certain parties. They then called back the securities so that the insurer affiliates would get a tax benefit. These same affiliates were record shareholders for the funds’ shares. Meantime, this led to the funds and their investors losing income while not getting to avail of the tax benefit.

According to SEC Enforcement Division Asset Management Co-Chief Anthony S. Kelly, the mutual funds and its investors were not notified that they would be losing money in order for the affiliates to get this tax benefit. The regulator said that Voya advisors did not disclose that this conflict of interest existed.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Ameriprise Financial Services (AMP). The regulator is accusing the brokerage firm and investment adviser of recommending to retail retirement account customers that they purchase mutual fund shares that charged higher fees. Ameriprise purportedly failed to employ sales charge waivers when applicable.

The Commission’s order contends that the broker-dealer neglected to determine when certain retirement account customers qualified for mutual fund share classes that were not as costly. Instead, the firm would recommend and sell the more costly mutual fund shares even when the less pricey options were available. Ameriprise is accused of not letting these customers know that the firm would make more from the costly mutual fund shares even as their overall investment returns were harmed.

The SEC said that about 1,971 customer accounts paid nearly $1.8M in up-front sales fees that were not warranted, costlier ongoing fees, “contingent deferred sales charges,” and other expenses because of the way that Ameriprise handled the recommendation and sale of mutual funds to retirement account clients. The firm is cooperating with the regulator and has paid back customers that were affected with interest. Retirement account customers eligible for the less expensive mutual fund share classes have been moved to those classes free of charge.

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The LJM Preservation and Growth Fund (LJMIX, LJMAX, LJMCX) is facing allegations that it made false and misleading statements to investors. In particular, the fund represented that it was appropriate for capital preservation investors who wanted conservative growth of their account. In reality, the mutual fund exposed investors to high risks that made them vulnerable to massive losses when it lost nearly all of its value within two days, dropping more than 80% earlier this month. In a filing with securities regulators, The LJM Partners, LTD., which is based in Chicago, announced that it was shuttering operations by March 29 and is going into liquidation.

The latest earnings report for the fund, filed at the end of October, noted $768 million of net assets. Reuters reports that the fund’s net assets were $812 million at the start of month but that is now reduced to $14 million. After this massive drop, the fund announced that it would no longer be open to new investments. Soon after, investors brought a class action securities lawsuit against the mutual fund. The plaintiffs are alleging that the LJM Preservation and Growth Fund violated the Securities Act and misled them by claiming it was committed to “preserve capital, particularly in down market.”

LJM, operated by Anthony Caine and Anish Parvatanen, was among a number of companies involved in selling liquid alternative funds that were complex and came with high fees. Investors that sought these funds out were generally hoping to enhance their returns even while reducing the risks. However, the fund did not accomplish that goal. It instead embarked on a risky strategy involving complex options trading and other investments that are not appropriate for any investor seeking capital preservation.

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Two Brokers Barred After Not Appearing at FINRA Hearings
Guillermo Valladolid, an ex-Morgan Stanley (MS) broker, has been barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. According to the regulator, Valladolid did not show up at a hearing into whether, according to InvestmentNews, he “sold investments away from his employer” and neglected to disclose certain outside business activities.

Morgan Stanley terminated Vallodolid’s employment. Previous to that he worked with Merrill Lynch.

In a different FINRA case, the regulator barred another broker, Bradley C. Mascho, also after he did not appear at his hearing. Some of Mascho’s activities while at Western International Securities had come under question. The firm fired him last month, which is also when the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges against Mascho and Dawn Bennett of the Bennett Group Financial and DJP Holdings. Mascho was CFO of the latter.

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SEC Charges SunTrust With Collecting Over $1.1M in Excess Mutual Fund Fees

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges accusing SunTrust Investment Services of collecting over $1.1M in unwarranted fees from mutual fund clients. The SunTrust Banks subsidiary will pay an over $1.1M penalty to resolve the regulator’s civil charges.

According to the regulator’s order, SunTrust Investment Services improperly recommended costlier mutual fund share classes to clients when less expensive shares of these funds were available. The SEC says this was a breach of the investment services firm’s fiduciary duty to take actions in the client’s best interests.

Financial Firm and Its CEO Settle Life Settlement Fraud Charges
The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Verto Capital Management and its CEO William Schantz III have settled civil charges accusing them of running a Ponzi-like scam involving life settlements. As part of the settlement, Verto Capital and Schantz will pay over $4M.

According to the regulator’s complaint, the two of them raised about $12.5M through promissory note sales that were supposed to pay for the firm’s purchase and sale of life settlements. The notes were sold mostly through insurance brokers in Texas.

Investors who were religious were the main target of the alleged fraud.They were allegedly told that that the securities were short-term investments that were at low risk of defaulting.

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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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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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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that a UBS Group AG (UBS) unit will pay $250K to resolve charges accusing it of not waiving certain fees for mutual fund customers that were eligible for the reduction. FINRA said that the broker-dealer overcharged customers $277,636 to invest in mutual funds. The failure to wave these fees purportedly took place from 9/09 to 6/13.

The self-regulatory organization cited alleged supervisory failures. According to the settlement notice, UBS depended largely on its registered representatives to identify when sales charge waivers were warranted and identifying them. These waivers were linked to the reinstatement rights that let investors get around having to pay front-end sales charges.

Under these rights, individual investors are generally allowed to reinvest money made from selling class A mutual fund shares in the same fund family or the same fund without having to pay fees at the front end. They are given 90-120 days to reinvest for the waiver to be applicable.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has announced that PNC Investments will pay nearly $225K in restitution for charging retirement clients too much for mutual fund investments. According to the regulator, the brokerage firm did not apply waivers for investors in certain Class A share mutual funds even though there was a waiver for front-end charges for eligible customers.

Instead, said FINRA, PNC Investments sold Class A shares customers with a front-end load or other shares that had a back-end load and higher fees and expenses, some of which were charged on an ongoing basis. Because of this, certain customers were charged excessive fees and paid them.

FINRA said that PNC Investments charged 121 customer accounts in excess of $191,740 for mutual funds—although the actual amount, with interest, was closer to $224,750. PNC will pay restitution to eligible investors.

The brokerage firm self-reported the overcharges after reviewing its own conduct last year to assess whether it was issuing the sales waiver to those that were eligible. FINRA said that the broker-dealer experienced lapses in supervision, did not keep up written policies and procedures that were adequate, and failed to help advisers assess when to waive the sales charges.

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