Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered investment losses at the hands of financial and investment advisers who churned and burned their accounts. One of the most prevalent abuses in the securities industry is excessive trading, or “churning” client accounts. This practice, which is forbidden by industry regulators like FINRA and the SEC, is done to generate commissions, almost always at the expense of the client. As the stock market swings wildly during the Covid-19 pandemic, brokers take advantage by trading their clients’ accounts to generate commissions.

Brokers can open the door to churning by asking customers if they want an “active” trading strategy, which gives brokers discretionary ability to trade at will. Unless clients give specific directions on how and when to trade, brokers may take the opportunity to trade excessively and charge needlessly high commissions.

Churning has been the subject of numerous regulatory actions over several decades. Broker Frank Venturelli, a representative for First Standard in Red Bank, New Jersey, was cited by FINRA for excessive trading between 2016 and 2018. According to FINRA settlement, clients lost more than $373,000 during that period. Venturelli was suspended from the industry for 11 months and ordered to pay partial restitution of $30,000 to his clients.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with unscrupulous investment brokers selling exchange-traded products. Many of these high-risk products are unsuitable for retail investors.

With the COVID-19 crisis roiling financial markets, many investors have been sold products that rise when market indexes or individual securities fall. Many “exchange-linked products” (ETPs) often use borrowed money, or leverage, to magnify gains when the market drops, but they can also increase losses. They are generally only suitable for sophisticated investors and are linked to complex underlying futures contracts.

When the coronavirus crisis first made major headlines in the U.S. in early March, the stock, bond and commodities markets crashed. Since markets over-react to widespread greed and fear, traders went into mass selling mode over (later justified) expectations that demand for nearly everything from luxury goods to commodities would drop dramatically.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with unscrupulous investment brokers selling risky variable annuities.

Variable annuities are hybrid products that combine mutual funds within an annuity “wrapper.” As a retirement savings vehicle, you can invest in a variety of stock, bond and other funds that compound earnings tax free. Unlike “fixed” annuities, which pay a set rate of return and a guaranteed monthly payment, variables are not focused on guaranteed income and performance is based on market returns, so you could lose money. Both products provide a death “benefit,” that is, a lump-sum payment to survivors when the annuity holder dies.

The main reason variable annuities are often a bad deal for retirement investors is they are extremely expensive to own. In addition to sales commissions, mutual fund managers levy fees. There are also insurance-related expenses, riders, and other fees that act as a drag on return. Brokers often tout the tax “benefit” of owning a variable annuity, but then sell then to investors in their IRAs, which is a huge problem.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with unscrupulous financial advisors selling municipal bonds and municipal bond funds

One of the most prominent trouble spots for investors have been mutual funds and single bonds issued by Puerto Rico, which was slammed by a long-standing debt crisis in recent years in addition to a devastating hurricane and breakdown of its infrastructure.  The island’s government, which issued the bonds, filed for bankruptcy, which triggered a negotiation with bondholders to negotiate its outstanding debt. That meant that bondholders will receive pennies on the dollar. A deal reached earlier this year slashed $8 billion in debts by 40%, according to Bloomberg News.

To date, the Puerto Rican collapse is the largest governmental bankruptcy in U.S. history, involving $129 billion in debts, reports The New York Times. The crisis was first noticed in 2012, when Moody’s downgraded the island’s bonds to near-junk status, which sunk prices of those debt securities. Since the bonds carried constitutional guarantees, investors were led to believe that they were secure. The bankruptcy was triggered since the island’s government was unable to pay back its debts. Investors, who were not fully informed of the fiscal debacle early on, got burned.

It has taken longer than most practitioners expected, but finally, a securities regulator has formally filed a complaint against GPB Capital and its myriad private placement funds.  Stoltmann Law Offices has been representing GPB Fund investors since January 2019 and filed dozens of cases against a laundry-list of brokerage firms that sold these speculative, conflict-laden disasters to their clients. Those brokerage firms we have filed cases against include National Securities, Madison Avenue, Kalos Capital, Newbridge Securities, Ausdal Financial, D.A. Noyes, and others. Every client’s case is unique, but fundamentally, each one of our GPB cases begin with the brokerage firm’s duties and obligations to perform due diligence on private placements prior to offering these opaque, complicated, unregulated, and speculative investments. This obligation is rooted in FINRA RN-10-22 and several other notices. Stoltmann Law Offices has written extensively on this blog about GPB and its numerous issues.

The regulatory complaint filed by Secretary Galvin of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, alleges that GPB misrepresented material facts in connection with the offer of several of its funds. Galvin’s complaint details the gross conflicts of interest at play inside of and between these various GPB Funds. The Administrative Complaint alleges that GPB Capital Holdings, LLC violated MASS. GEN. LAWS ch. 110A, the Massachusetts Uniform Securities Act (the “Act”), and the regulations promulgated thereunder at 950 Mass. CODE REGS. 10.00 – 14.413 (the “Regulations”). The Enforcement Section also alleges that GPB Capital engaged in acts and practices in violation of Section 101 of the Act and Regulations. The Massachusetts action goes for the jugular, seeking ten forms of relief including rescission or all Massachusetts GPB investors, disgorgement of profits, civil penalties, and permanent bars from the securities and investment adviser industries.

Generally, the complaint alleges what those of us prosecuting FINRA cases for investors have known for some time. GPB began to pay investor distributions with new investor money beginning as early as 2017.  This created an accounting disaster and GPB cannot find an auditor worth its salt to perform and sign off on an audit. The complaint also confirms the exceptionally complex spider web of interrelated companies across the funds and holding companies, including hundreds of different bank accounts. Eventually, all road lead back to David Gentile, the founder. The Massachusetts complaint also confirms that GPB used the promise of high commissions payable to selling brokers, and lots of bold promises about 8% distributions and a profitable exist plan, to raise $1.5 billion from retail investors nationwide. Selling brokerage firms collectively earned close to 10% of that total raise, or $150,000,000 in commissions for selling these conflict-laden complicated funds.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with unscrupulous investment brokers selling municipal bonds.

Although municipal bonds are generally regarded as “safe,” that is, investors are, in most cases likely to be paid interest over the life of the bond, “muni” bonds don’t guarantee payments. The market has been under duress lately as the coronavirus pandemic has bruised government bodies by reducing tax revenues. If investors generally fear that they won’t be paid, then prices of these bonds fall.

Municipal bonds are debt securities usually issued by government entities to raise money for a wide range of projects from schools to airport expansions. Munis come in several varieties. Many “general obligation” bonds have interest payments, or coupons, that are not taxed while others are taxable. Like other bonds, their coupon yields are based on the amount of risk an investor takes in purchasing them. The higher the risk, the lower the bond’s credit rating – and the higher the interest payment. You’re usually compensated for taking on more risk.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is currently investigating claims on behalf of TCA Global Credit Fund and TCA Fund Management Group investors involving Royal Alliance advisor Mark Young, and Watts Capital, LLC and Thomas Watts. On May 11, 2020, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil suit in federal court in Miami, Florida against TCA Fund Management Group and TCA Global Credit Fund.

The SEC complaint seeks to prevent TCA Fund Management Group and the Global Credit Fund from committing ongoing securities law violations and also sought the appointment of a receiver. The SEC alleges that for many years, the TCA Global Credit Fund, through its affiliate TCA Fund Management, intentionally inflated the net-asset-value – or price – of the fund hiding massive losses from investors. The SEC alleges that TCA inflated these values in two ways.  First, the fund recognized revenues that it never actually received. It would essentially book a gain on loan fees prior to actually receiving them and if the loans never closed, TCA would not adjust their books to reflect reality. The second way TCA artificially inflated its books, according to the SEC, was to book investment banking fees it never actually earned, and actually knew in many instances that it would never earn. Basically, the way this scam worked, according to the SEC, is TCA would enter into a contract with a company to perform investment banking services for, let’s say, $100,000.  Instead of waiting to actually perform the services and receive the $100,000 payment, TCA would book the $100,000 as received on their books at the time the contract was executed. The result of these practices was to provide investors with inflated values of these funds. The SEC alleges that these practices violations Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. Section 77q(a), and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. Section 78j(b), and Exchange Act Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. Section 240.10b-5; and violations of Sections 206(1), (2), and (4), along with Section 2076 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, 15 U.S.C. Sections 80b-6(1), 80b-6(2), 80b6(4), and 80b-7, and Advisers Act Rules 206(4)-7 and 206(4)-8, 17 C.F.R. Sections 275.206(4)-7, 275.206(4)-8.

According to documents field with the SEC for TCA funds, called a Form D, TCA Fund Management Group used numerous FINRA-Registered broker/dealers to sell  investments in the TCA Global Credit Fund for many years including:

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices  represents investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with unscrupulous investment brokers. On April 28, 2020, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) Department of Enforcement filed a complaint against an ex-Ameriprise representative, alleging he converted more than $42,000 of an elderly client’s funds for his own use. Sean Michael Refsnider, of Haddon Heights, New Jersey, was a representative at Ameriprise from 2012 until Aug. 20, 2019. The company stated he was fired after it concluded that his client’s funds were “misappropriated.” FINRA is the chief U.S. regulator of broker dealers.

According to the FINRA complaint, Refsnider allegedly “procured a check from `Customer A’ in the amount of $20,000 and then used the funds to pay his mortgage and other personal expenses.” Refsnider allegedly also had used a debit card linked to the client’s account to make purchases totaling about $17,317, in addition to $4,300 in cash withdrawals, the complaint said. Ameriprise said in a statement that it “quickly detected and stopped the activity, ensured the client was fully reimbursed, terminated the advisor and notified the proper authorities.”

In the past, Ameriprise has been cited by regulators for failure to protect customer assets. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) fined Ameriprise $4.5 million in 2018 to settle charges “that it failed to safeguard retail investor assets from theft by its representatives.” According to the SEC’s order, five Ameriprise representatives “committed numerous fraudulent acts, including forging client documents, and stole more than $1 million in retail client funds over a four-year period.” The SEC also found that Ameriprise, a registered investment adviser and broker-dealer, “failed to adopt and implement policies and procedures reasonably designed to safeguard investor assets against misappropriation by its representatives.” The five Ameriprise representatives were based in Minnesota, Ohio, and Virginia, and three previously pled guilty to criminal charges. Each of the representatives was terminated by Ameriprise for misappropriating client funds and barred from selling securities by FINRA.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is a securities investor protection law firm offering representation nationwide to investors seeking to recover investment losses.  Our team is monitoring and reviewing information in connection with former LPL  financial advisor Donald Stephen Woods. According to published reports, Mr. Woods, of Louisville, Kentucky and currently registered with Thurston Springer Financial, intentionally manipulated and changed documents at LPL to qualify non-traded REIT sales that would have otherwise not been approved. LPL has certain limitations on how much of an investor’s declared liquid net worth can be concentrated in alternative investments, like non-Traded REITs.  Typically, LPL limits this exposure to 25% of liquid net worth, but can be lower for elderly investors and those with more conservative investment objectives. Brokers like Woods get around this limitation by inflating the client’s net worth numbers adjusting them upwards by a few hundred thousand dollars can be the difference between compliance approving the transaction and the broker getting paid his massive commission, and not approving it, leaving the broker to find something else to sell the client.

Ultimately, the responsibility for this sort of amateur chicanery engaged in by Mr. Woods falls on his firm. Stoltmann Law Offices has represented hundreds of investors in cases just like this. Almost always, there is an obvious disconnect or contradiction between the net worth numbers on the alternative investment forms, and the client’s new account forms. Compliance has a responsibility to ensure that brokers like Mr. Woods are not artificially inflating client net-worth numbers on these forms in order to qualify them for the investment. Most of the time all it would take is a simple phone call from compliance to the client to determine the accuracy of these numbers and reveal that the broker either forged the documents altogether, or advised the client to ignore the net worth numbers included on the form, to trust their adviser, and not worry about it.

Non-Traded REITs have been selling at rates not seen since before the financial crisis in 2008. There is one reason for this – commissions.  Non-Traded REITs like those offered by Northstar, Cottonwood, Highlands REIT, KBS Growth & Income REIT, Resource Innovation Office REIT, and InvenTrust Properties Corp., pay brokers like Mr. Woods and their firms like LPL commission rates that are many times higher than if they just sold clients publicly-traded, liquid REITs.  The SEC, FINRA, and NASAA all warn about issues related to these non-traded REITs.  Scholarly articles decry them as being poor investments long term compared to their publicly-traded cousins. Some of the issues about these non-traded REITs include:

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from risky municipal bonds. One of the most troubling investments for investors has been bond mutual funds and single municipal bonds issued by Caribbean territories like Puerto Rico. The island was devastated by Hurricane Maria and a debt crisis. The island’s government, which issued billions in municipal bonds, filed for bankruptcy, which forced bondholders to take losses. Like Puerto Rico, the neighboring Virgin Islands may be facing a debt meltdown of its own.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, also severely damaged by two hurricanes in recent years, is also dealing with an ongoing debt crisis. With only about 100,000 inhabitants spanning three Caribbean Islands, the U.S. protectorate had been issuing high-yield municipal bonds in recent years to fund essential government services such as a power utility. The government owes more than $6.5 billion to creditors, which averages some $19,000 per resident. In addition, the islands have billions in unfunded pension and healthcare obligations. That’s one of the highest per-capita debt loads in the Western Hemisphere.

The debt explosion in the Virgin Islands has gone from bad to worse. Three years ago, credit ratings agencies slashed the ratings on government bonds to junk status. While that made the bonds’ yields more attractive (they rose), it also indicated a higher risk of default. As a result, prices on those issues dropped.

CNBC
FOX Business
The Wall Street Journal
Bloomberg
CBS
FOX News Channel
USA Today
abc NEWS
DATELINE
npr
Contact Information