Articles Posted in Securities Fraud

Eight People Implicated in $39M Penny Stock Fraud Get Prison Sentences, Must Pay Restitution
In Ohio, eight people were sentenced to prison terms ranging from almost two years to a dozen years for their involvement in a penny stock scam that caused investors to suffer $39M in losses. One of the defendants, Zirk de Maison, received the 12-year sentence. He was ordered to pay $39.1M in restitution. The other defendants also were ordered to pay restitution in lower amounts.

According to prosecutors, the defendants conspired to bilk investors and potential ones in a number of public issuers. They did this by putting out millions of shares and artificially controlling the price and volume of the shares that were traded. This was accomplished through undisclosed commissions paid to brokers, boiler room operators, and promoters who got investors to invest, as well as through the fraudulent concealment of ownership interests in the companies in which the funds were invested.

In some instances, brokers and ex-brokers were paid illegal kickbacks of sometimes up to 50%. Clients were not told of these payments. The co-conspirators used most of investors’ money to enrich themselves. Some of the defendants were boiler room owners.

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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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Chicago Hedge Fund Manager Gets Over Four Years in $1.8M Fraud
Clayton Cohn is sentenced to more than four years behind bars and he will pay $1.55M in restitution for targeting military veterans in a $1.8M hedge fund fraud. Cohn is an ex-US Marine. He pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against him.

Cohn is accused of pretending to be a successful hedge fund manager to persuade clients to invest with his Marketaction Capital Management. Of the over $1.8M that was invested,he lost more than $1.5M and spent at least $400K on his luxury lifestyle and business investments.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission had brought civil charges against him in 2013 when they accused Cohn of soliciting investors through his Veterans Financial Education Network. The non-profit was supposed to help veterans handle their money. Instead, he diverted some of their funds toward himself. The regulator stayed its case against him following the federal indictments. Now, the civil fraud charges will proceed.

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Citigroup is Accused of Overcharging At Least 60 Investment Advisory Clients
Citigroup Global Markets (C) will pay $18.3M to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the firm of overbilling clients and misplacing client contracts. According to the regulator’s order, at least 60,000 investment advisory clients were overcharged about $18M in unauthorized fees because Citigroup did not confirm the accuracy of the billing rates in its computer systems compared to the fees noted in client contracts and other documents. The firm also purportedly improperly collected fees even when clients suspended their accounts. The SEC says that the billing mistakes took place over a 15-year period.

The regulator also contends that the investment advisory firm has been unable to locate about 83,000 advisory contracts. Their absence made it impossible for Citigroup to correctly validate whether the fees that clients were billed are the same ones that they negotiated.

The SEC believes that affected clients paid Citigroup about $3.2M in excess fees.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed an administrative case against Windsor Street Capital and John D. Telfer, its ex-anti-money laundering officer. The regulator’s enforcement division claims that the New York-based broker dealer did not file Suspicious Activity Reports for $24.8M of suspect transactions, including those connected to an alleged pump-and-dump scam.

The regulator claims that Windsor Street Capital, at the time known as Meyers Associates LP, and Telfer should have been aware of the suspect circumstances involving a lot of these transactions and conducted a probe—in particular, into transactions involving William Goode and Raymond Barton. These men are microcap stock financiers accused of running a multi-million dollar pump-and=dump scam.

The SEC has filed separate charges against them, as well as against Kenneth Manzo, Matthew Briggs, and Justin Sindelman. The five of them are accused of acquiring shares of dormant shell companies that were supposed to be part of the dietary supplement industry, falsely marketing products and news related to the company, and then dumping the shares onto the market for investors to buy at inflated rates.

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Bond Fraud Case Leads to Conviction for Former Visium Asset Management 

A jury has convicted Stefan Lumiere, a former Visium Asset Management LP portfolio manager, of wire fraud and securities fraud. Lumiere was accused of conspiring to artificially inflate the value of a fund that was invested in debt issued by healthcare companies. Prosecutors said that his actions caused the fund’s net asset value to become overstated by tens of millions of dollars, compelling investors to pay more than they should have for the securities. They argued that Lumiere got fraudulent price quotes from brokers who worked outside the firm in order to override prices that the credit fund’s administrator had calculated. They say that he mismarked securities for years.

Ex-Former Hilliard Lyons Broker Doesn’t Appear to Testify, Gets Barred by FINRA 

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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Jon S. Corzine, the former head of MF Global Inc. has arrived at a securities settlement with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission in which he will pay a $5M penalty for his involvement in the firm’s illegal use of nearly $1B in customer money and for not properly supervising the way these funds were handled. A federal judge has approved the deal.

The regulator sued Corzine in 2013 and he must now pay the civil penalty out of his own funds rather than have an insurer cover the costs. Also part of the deal, Corzine has agreed to a permanent bar from heading up a futures broker or registering with the CFTC. This means that he will no longer be allowed to trade other people’s funds in the future industry unless the trades are below specific threshold limits.

Corzine’s settlement with the SEC comes after he’d resolved most of the private litigation against him related to MF Global. Investors and the industry were flummoxed when the almost $1B in customer couldn’t be accounted for. Fortunately a trustee has since recovered the missing funds for the investors, which are both individuals and hedge funds, to whom the money belonged. The money, which were segregated customer funds, was inappropriately used to fund the futures commission merchant’s proprietary operations and that of its affiliates, pay FCM customers for withdrawals involving customer funds, and pay brokerage firm securities customers.

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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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