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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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Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LLP (“SSEK”) is pleased to announce that a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration panel has awarded an SSEK client a net of almost $9 million for his losses in Puerto Rico bonds and Puerto Rico Bond Funds. SSEK client, Dr. Luiz Romero Lopez, won his securities arbitration claim against UBS Puerto Rico with the FINRA panel awarding him a net of almost $8 million in compensatory damages and an additional $1 million in punitive damages.

According to the FINRA arbitration panel, UBS exhibited “extreme recklessness and indifference” to the consequences of abuses in its “non-purpose” loan program in Puerto Rico. The panel accused UBS of either purposely using a “non-purpose” loan to be “recycled” in a manner that violates Regulation U or doing so with “reckless” indifference to the consequences that could arise from such abusive loans.

The FINRA arbitration panel found that the loan created “additional excessive leverage.” Because of this, when the market dropped in 2013, the Claimant lost more money than if his funds had been more suitably invested with “less leverage.”

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According to the AARP Investment Fraud Vulnerability Study, published by the AARP Fraud Watch Network, active, older investors who get involved in unregulated investments may be more vulnerable to investment fraud. 214 fraud victims were interviewed, along with 814 members of the public who are considered general investors.

The study said that there are appear to be certain traits that may identify why some people are more likely to become fraud victims, including:

· Usually men, age 70 or older.

· These men are often risk-takers.

· They’re more likely to value wealth accumulation as a sign of financial success.

· They’re typically open to sales pitches and to answering remote sales pitches.

Doug Shadel, the lead researcher for the AARP Fraud Network, noted that if an older investor is able to identify whether/not she has a predisposition toward risky conduct, this could make the person more mindful of that tendency and he/she might potentially avoid becoming vulnerable to fraud.

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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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Arizona Man to Pay $500K To Settle SEC Fraud Charges
James P. Toner will pay over $500K to settle charges accusing him of taking investors’ money. The Arizona man claimed to be a real estate manager and allegedly told investors that he would be personally managing three real estate ventures in which they were buying interests. The stated purpose of every investor’s offering was to buy a residential property in the Phoenix area. The property was to be renovated and then sold at a profit.

According to the SEC’s securities fraud complaint, Toner raised at least $915K from 18 investors from mid-’13 through ’14. The investors lost about $682K. Toner is accused of misappropriating about $51K of investor money that he purportedly tried to hide through bank account transfers. (The regulator’s complaint stated that Toner was paid $31K in undisclosed management fees even though he never actually managed the offerings, and that he flat-out stole $20K from an investor.)

Toner also purportedly did not perform any due diligence when he entrusted a real estate broker to manage the investments. This broker was later sent to jail for other crimes.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority hearing panel has expelled a Plano, Texas-based brokerage firm from the industry, barred its CEO, and ordered both of them to pay customers $24.6M in restitution. Red River Securities LLC and Brian Keith Hardwick are accused of engaging in fraudulent sales involving five oil and gas joint ventures. Of the more than $25M that customers invested in the oil and gas offerings, they were paid distributions of under $500K in total.

According to the Texas securities case, the regulator claims that over a four-year period, Hardwick and the Texas brokerage firm purposely and fraudulently misrepresented and left out material facts related to interests in oil and gas joint ventures that were issued by affiliate Regal Energy LLC issued. Also, contends the SEc;

· The oil and gas ventures failed to properly represent how much income was distributed to investors in other Regal Entity joint ventures.

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Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) has consented to pay a penalty of $8M to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the firm of wrongdoing involving single inverse exchange-traded fund investments. Morgan Stanley admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

According to the SEC’s order, Morgan Stanley failed to adequately put into place procedures an policies to make sure that clients comprehended the risks involved in buying inverse ETFs and did not procure signatures from several hundred clients on a client disclosure notice that stated that these ETFs are usually not suitable for investors intending to keep them longer than a trading session unless the securities are part of a hedging or trading strategy.

Morgan Stanley persuaded investors to buy single inverse ETFs in accounts, including retirement accounts. Securities were held-long term. As a result, many of these advisory clients suffered losses.

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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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Source Capital Group Inc. must pay three elderly investors their full investment of $810K plus $147K in interest, as well as $250K in legal fees, in a securities arbitration case accusing one of the investment bank’s brokers of selling them unsuitable investments. William Lashlee and Joyce and Keith McCrea filed their elder financial fraud claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

According to the retirees, the broker sold them stock in a health care tech start-up in 2012. Lashlee invested $220K while the McCreas invested $590K. Unfortunately, the start-up, iPractice Group, shuttered its business in 2013.

The claimants claim that Source Capital was negligent in supervising the broker who sold them the securities. Although the broker was assigned to the firm’s Bowling Green, Kentucky branch, the manager there was purportedly never notified that this particular financial representative was under his supervision.

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