We have represented thousands of investors nationwide and recovered losses and other damages* for them from stockbrokers and their firms *Results will vary depending on the facts of each case

California Treasurer John Chiang announced this week that the state has decided to extend the sanctions it imposed against Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) for one more year. The bank is barred from doing business with California in the wake of the sales practice scandal involving the set up of at least two million unauthorized credit card and bank accounts. Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185M to regulators to resolve related charges.

As the country’s largest municipal debt issuer, California oversees a $75B investment portfolio. Its sanctions include suspending the state’s investments in Wells Fargo Securities, barring the bank from being used as a brokerage firm to buy investments, and prohibiting it from serving as bond underwriter whenever Chiang is authorized to appoint said underwriter.

When explaining why he sought to extend the state’s sanctions, Chiang pointed to recent disclosures, including that Wells Fargo overcharged veterans in a federal mortgage-refinancing program and, in another program, made loan borrowers pay for unnecessary insurance. The state treasurer sent a letter to Wells Fargo’s board and its Chief Executive Tim Sloan noting that a number of demands have to be fulfilled before he will lift the sanctions.

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Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Galvin has filed civil fraud charges against Moser Capital Management and investment adviser Nicklaus J. Moser. Galvin’s office is accusing Moser and his firm of fraud involving two venture capital funds: the Moser Capital Fund, LLC and the Moser Capital Fund II, LLC.

The state regulator claims that the respondents engaged in fraudulent conduct and breached their fiduciary duties. The breaches alleged include making misrepresentations and omissions to investors and prospective investors by providing misleading information, not getting “valid investor signatures” when receiving more capital contributions, and charging a performance fee to the non-qualified account of an advisory client.

According to Galvin’s office, Moser set up the funds to raise cash for start-up companies. The investment adviser was allegedly a sales representative at a company that sold products to startup ventures, but he did not tell investors that he had financial reasons for making sure that the start-ups in operation.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has suspended broker Cecil Ernest Nivens for two years for allegedly causing harm variable annuity (VA) investors who were his customers. According to the self-regulatory organization’s filing, Nivens failed to abide by his firm’s written supervisory procedures when he didn’t properly process certain variable universal life purchase transactions as replacement trades even though he was the one who recommended that each purchase be paid for from an existing variable annuity fund.

Nivens earned over $185K in commissions for the variable annuity life purchase transactions, in addition to commissions he was already paid for the variable annuities when they were sold to the same customers. Now, Nivens must disgorge those commissions.

FINRA accused Nivens of causing “considerable” harm to customers. In addition to the excessive commissions, eight of his customers paid over $4K in unnecessary surrender charges. His former firm has paid over $55K to settle VUL fraud customer complaints involving him.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network and Wells Fargo Clearing Services LLC must pay over $3.4M in restitution to customers who were impacted by unsuitable recommendations involving exchange-traded products and the supervisory failures involved. By settling, Wells Fargo (WFC) is not denying or admitting to the regulator’s charges.

According to FINRA, between 7/1/200 and 5/1/2012, there were registered representatives at Wells Fargo (WFC) who recommended these volatility-linked ETPs without fully comprehending the investments’ features and risks. The self-regulatory organization also found that the broker-dealer did not put into place a supervisory system that was reasonable enough to properly supervise the ETP sales during the period at issue.

The regulator said that the brokers did not have reasonable grounds for recommending these ETPs to customers whose risk profiles and investment goals were considered moderate or conservative. The representatives are accused of making inappropriate recommendations about when to leave these positions in a “timely manner.”

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The financial fallout caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria is being felt not just on the island of Puerto Rico, but in the U.S. mainland as well. Puerto Rico bonds, which were already in trouble prior to the storms because of the island’s faltering economy and bankruptcy, are expected to take even more of a hit. Moody’s Investors Service assesses the future of the bonds, which were already at a Caa3 rating, as negative. The ratings agency said that the “disruption of commerce” caused by hurricanes will drain Puerto Rico’s “already weak economy” further. All of this is expected to impact not just the Puerto Rico bonds but also the mutual funds based on the U.S. mainland that hold them, which means that investors will be impacted.

According to InvestmentNews, Morningstar stated that 15 municipal bond funds, “14 of them from Oppenheimer Funds (OPY),” have at least 10 % of their portfolios in the island’s bonds. The 15th fund is from Mainstay. Morningstar reported that through September 28, the funds lost a 1.57% average for the month. The Oppenheimer Rochester Maryland Municipal Bond (ORMDX), which has 26% of its portfolio in Puerto Rico bonds, was considered the worst performer. In addition to Oppenheimer and Mainstay, other U.S.-based funds that are losing money from Puerto Rico bonds, include, as reported by The New York Times:

· Paulson & Co., which has invested billions of dollars in Puerto Rico securities. The Wall Street firm is run by hedge fund manager John A. Paulson.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against investment adviser Tarek D. Bahgat for allegedly stealing $378K from clients. Bahgat is accused of misappropriating funds from seven investment advisory clients, most of whom were elderly investors.

According to the regulator, from December 2014 through September 2016, Bahgat, using the alias Terry Dean Bahgat, misappropriated the clients’ funds online and transferred the money to his own account and that of WealthCFO, which was the payroll and accounting company that he controlled. FINRA’s BrokerCheck database shows that Bahgat was working for two brokerage firms: Cambridge Investment Research and Gradient Securities. After exiting Gradient, he was a state-registered advisor and used the name WealthCFO Partners.

The SEC’s complaint claims that Bahgat would sometimes obtain the internet bill-paying privileges in some client accounts by pretending to be the client or having his assistant, Lauramarie Colangelo, pose as the client during phone calls with the brokerage firms that held the accounts. Colangelo was the operations manager of WealthCFO.

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Leonard Vincent Lombardo, a former broker once employed at Stratton Oakmont, is now charged by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, along with his company and business partner, with involvement in an alleged real estate investment scam that defrauded over 100 investors, including retirees, of $6M. Lombardo, his firm The Leonard Vincent Group (TLVG), and CFO Brian Hudlin have settled the SEC charges.

According to the regulator’s complaint, investors were told that their money would be placed in “distressed real estate” and their money would grow by over 50 percent within months when, in fact, the investments did not make real earnings.

For their investments, investors were given shares or units in an LVG fund. They were under the impression that the funds were to be pooled with other investors’ money and then, according to the strategies in the LVG Funds’ Private Placement Memoranda, collectively invested in the distressed real estate.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Michael Scronic, a New York-based investment adviser accused of defrauding retail investors in a $19M Ponzi scam. According to the regulator, beginning in 2010, Scronic raised funds from 42 friends and acquaintances for a “risky options trading strategy” involving the Scronic Macro Fund, a fictitious hedge fund in which he was supposedly selling shares. Many of the investors he approached were from the community where he lives. Their investments ranged from $23K to $2.4M.

The SEC contends that Scronic lied to them about his investing track record, claiming he had a long history of proven returns while touting that the investments he was selling were liquid and easily redeemable. In reality, claims the Commission, the investors’ money was draining away because of massive trading losses.

Scronic is accused of not segregating the funds according to investor and transferring their money into his personal brokerage account. His investment agreements with investors stipulated that their funds would be placed in a hedge fund, in which he would serve as acting investment adviser, and he would send them quarterly reports. Scronic also noted in these agreements that he had a fiduciary obligation to investors and would comply with all state and federal laws.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has secured a final judgment by default in its broker fraud case against Demitrios Hallas. The former broker was charged by the regulator in April for allegedly trading unsuitable investment products in five customers’ accounts. The customers were unsophisticated investors with not much, if any, experience in investing. Their net worth and income levels were modest enough that risky investments were not a good fit for their portfolios.

According to the regulator’s complaint, in a period of a little over a year, Hallas traded 179 daily leveraged exchange traded funds and exchange traded notes in these accounts. (Both ETFs and ETNs products are considered high-risk, volatile, and only suitable for sophisticated investors.)

The SEC said that Hallas had no reasonable grounds for recommending these investments to customers. Meantime, the latter were charged fees and commissions of about $128K. The net loss sustained over all the positions was about $170K.

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According to InvestmentNews, there are six pending FINRA arbitration claims against Morgan Stanley (MS) and its former broker Angel Aquino-Velez (Aquino-Velez) concerning his selling Puerto Rico investments. The claimants are alleging misrepresentation and unsuitability regarding the sale of Puerto Rico closed-end funds and bonds they purchased through Aquino-Velez, who is based in Miami, and the brokerage firm.

InvestmentNews also reports that according to FINRA’s BrokerCheck database, Morgan Stanley has already resolved four FINRA arbitration claims valued at $2.4 million related to Aquino-Velez and Puerto Rico municipal bond investments. Aquino-Velez, who left Morgan Stanley a few months ago, was recently selling Puerto Rico COFINA bonds, which are securities backed by the U.S. territory’s sales tax revenue. Prior to working at Morgan Stanley, Aquino-Velez was with UBS Financial Services (UBS) and Merrill Lynch (BAC).

Puerto Rico Bond Fraud Losses
At Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD LLP, our Puerto Rico bond fraud lawyers have been working hard these past four years to help investors who sustained serious losses when the island’s municipal bonds began to fall in value in 2013. For many of our clients, their portfolios should not have been so heavily concentrated in Puerto Rico bond funds and bonds, if at all, except that they were given bad investment advice. Many investors lost everything.
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