Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating allegations against Eric Hollifield that came to light as a result of a regulatory filing by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  According to FINRA, the regulator launched an investigation into Eric Hollifield who was a registered representative of LPL Financial and Hamilton Investment Counsel.  The investigation was in connection with a customer complaint filed in arbitration against Dacula, Georgia-based Hollifield that alleges he stole or misappropriated $1,240,000 from the account of an elderly client. This complaint was filed on August 25, 2021 and came on the heels of LPL terminating Hollifield for cause for “failing to disclose an outside business activity.”  On September 1, 2021 Hamilton Investment Counsel followed LPL’s lead and terminated Hollifield for cause or failing to disclose an outside business activity.

Since Hollifield failed to respond to FINRA’s request for information, pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210, Hollifield accepted a lifetime ban from the securities industry.  Brokers agree to these lifetime bans, instead of cooperating with an investigation, for any number of reasons.  Obviously, given the allegations made by the pending customer complaint and the terminations from LPL and Hamilton, a reasonable conclusion to draw is, Hollifield chose to accept a lifetime bad from FINRA as opposed to disclosing or admitting information to FINRA that could be used against him by criminal authorities. It is important to realize, the facts in the customer complaint and the information contained in the FINRA AWC are mere allegations and nothing has been proven.

LPL has a long history of failing to supervise its financial advisors, like Hollifield. We have blogged on these issues numerous times.  Pursuant to FINRA Rule 3110, brokerage firms like LPL have an iron-clad responsibility to supervise the conduct of their brokers, like Hollifield.  Similarly, brokers have an obligation to disclose “outside business activities” to their member-firm pursuant to FINRA Rule 3270.  LPL cannot get off the hook, however, just because Hollifield failed to disclose an outside business. There are a few reasons for this and they are important.  First, brokers do it all the time and LPL knows it. Therefore, as required by both FINRA regulations and LPL’s open internal policies the procedures, LPL’s compliance and supervision apparatus is geared towards detecting undisclosed outside business activities because it is commonly through these outside businesses, that financial advisors execute their worst schemes and frauds on their clients.  Further, to the extent red flags existed that Hollifield was running an undisclosed outside business or doing something else that violated securities regulations, then LPL can be held liable for negligent supervision, at a minimum. Case law supports the imposition of liability on LPL under these circumstances.  See McGraw v. Wachovia Securities, 756 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (N.D. Iowa 2010).

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is a Chicago-based securities and investment fraud law firm that offers representation to victims on a contingency fee basis, nationwide. We are investigating claims for investor/victims of Ron Harrison’s alleged options trading scheme. On September 30, 2021, the SEC filed a civil complaint against Ron Harrison and his company Global Trading Institute, LLC seeking an injunction and to have a restraining order put in place to freeze his assets.  The SEC complaint alleges that Harrison ran a substantial options trading scheme where he charged clients a percentage of alleged gains in their brokerage accounts on a monthly basis. The problem is, as alleged by the SEC, there were no gains, only losses. According to the complaint, Harrison traded directly through access to his clients’ brokerage accounts.  Twenty-two investor victims suffered losses of over $2 million.  The SEC alleges that Harrison received at least $900,000 in ill-gotten fees from the scheme, a lot of which was transferred to his Russian fitness instructor girlfriend.

Harrison was not licensed to provide investment advice or trade securities with any regulator or state. In fact, he was barred from the securities industry way back in 1992 for misappropriating funds and excessively trading customer accounts. This trading scam dates back to 2016 and continued on well into 2021.  Records reviewed by Stoltmann Law Offices reveals that Harrison’s clients used TD Ameritrade as their broker/dealer. Part of Harrison’s scheme was to have investors provide him with their credentials to log into their brokerage accounts and trade options pursuant to his alleged strategy.  The options trading Harrison engaged in was highly speculative and aggressive, including writing naked put options and using hefty amounts of margin.  Because of the activity Harrison engaged in, and because of the highly regulated market options trading takes place in, TD Ameritrade could be liable to Harrison’s victims for aiding and abetting his scheme.

In order to trade options in any brokerage account, the brokerage firm must perform a high level and detailed know your customer analysis. To qualify for the level of margin Harrison used, referred to as portfolio margin, the account owner in many cases has to take a test to even qualify for that level of margin clearance.  Furthermore, technical metrics and electronic log-ins and tracing would have revealed that Harrison was logging into multiple client accounts from the same device and IP address. Since he was unlicensed, he could not do this and TD Ameritrade’s compliance system should have caught on to what he was doing, but failed to do so.  FINRA Rules, Anti-Money Laundering, and Bank Secrecy Act regulations mandate that TD Ameritrade have adequate compliance systems to detect and deter violations of this sort.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices represents investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve defrauded their clients. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged Michael F. Shillin with defrauding at least 100 investment advisory clients by “fabricating documents and making misrepresentations about their investments,” according to Thediwire.com.

According to the SEC, Shillin, a former Raymond James advisor, allegedly told certain clients, many of whom were elderly, that they had “subscribed for Initial Public Offering (IPO) or pre-IPO shares, or that he had bought stock on their behalf, in certain `coveted companies.’” In addition, Shillin is accused of misrepresenting the purchase of life insurance policies with long-term care benefits, with several clients rolling over their existing policies into new ones, which were either non-existent or had far fewer benefits than he claimed.

For example, The SEC stated, “one of his clients reportedly decided to retire early when he was told that he was $450,000 richer after Shillin had purchased SpaceX stock for him. Another client was allegedly told that his life insurance policy contained a long-term care benefit, which the client learned was untrue after he was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.” According to the SEC, Shillin “went to great lengths to deceive his clients,” including setting up an online portal so they could monitor their portfolio of securities and profits – much of which were “pretend.”

Stoltmann Law Offices, a Chicago-based securities, investor, and consumer rights law firm has spoken to victims of the DeepRoot Funds scam and continues to investigate claims against third parties to recover these losses. On August 20, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against Robert J. Mueller, DeepRoot Funds, LLC, Policy Services, Inc., and several other “relief defendants” alleging that Mueller and DeepRoot abused their roles as investments advisors to the two primary DeepRoot funds; the 575 Fund, LLC and the Growth Runs Deep Fund, LLC. The SEC flat-out alleges that Mueller used these funds as his personal piggy bank, including paying for weddings to wives number 2 and 3, and paying for the divorce from wife number 2.  Investors are likely looking at a total loss of funds invested amounting to nearly $58 million. Because the SEC has already gone after Mueller and the Funds, investors need to look for viable third parties that could have liability for investor losses.

The first and most obvious target for investors here would be the financial or investment advisor that solicited the transactions in the first place.  If your RIA or broker solicited you to invest in DeepRoot, it is almost certain this solicitation constituted a breach of fiduciary duty. RIAs will, with a straight face, ask clients in these situations rhetorically “how were we supposed to know?” Well, the investment advisor with the licenses, training, education, and statutory fiduciary duties to their clients are paid to know.  Whether your advisor is a FINRA registered broker or a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), they have obligations to understand and know the products they sell to their clients.  On their faces, these DeepRoot Funds were unregistered, private, unproven, and speculative private-investment plays. Right there is enough information to disqualify these funds for investment by almost every retail investor in America.

To put it bluntly, the law obligates fiduciary investment advisors to understand the risks and characteristics of the investments they offer to their clients. Failing to do so constitutes a breach of a fundamental and basic duty. Investment advisors can be liable to their clients for this fundamental breach of duty. How are they supposed to know? They are paid to know and they are licensed professionals who are obligated to know whether the fund that are recommending uses investor funds to legitimately invest, or, as with DeepRoot, used investor funds to pay for divorces, a wedding, amongst other abuses.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve hidden their outside financial activities. Sometimes, brokers have “side deals” while working at an advisory firm, which they may pitch to existing clients. In a heavily regulated industry, they have to tell their employers and these so-called “outside business activities”, including outside brokerage accounts. When they fail to disclose their other businesses, they can be fired.

FINRA, the federal securities regulator, fined and suspended an ex-Wells Fargo broker “who was terminated by the wirehouse for failing to close three outside brokerage accounts despite being told to do so numerous times by the firm,” according to ThinkAdvisor.com. Without admitting or denying FINRA’s findings, Jacob Popek signed a FINRA Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent on Aug. 31 “in which he consented to the imposition of a $2,500 fine and a three-month suspension from associating with any FINRA member in all capacities.” Wells Fargo declined to comment.

Between November 2018 and April 2020, FINRA stated, “while associated with Wells Fargo, Popek maintained outside brokerage accounts without the firm’s written consent. In October 2018, Popek informed the firm that he maintained three outside brokerage accounts at two other member firms.” Wells Fargo said it “directed Popek to close those accounts. But despite receiving that instruction and multiple subsequent instructions from the firm to close the accounts in 2019, he maintained each of these accounts until July 2019, December 2019, and April 2020, respectively,” according to FINRA.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago-based securities, investment, and consumer protection law firm offering representation on a contingency fee basis to investors and victims nationwide, is concerned about the slow drip of news coming out of Bermuda about the NorthStar Financial liquidation. Recently, investors received a letter from the NorthStar informing them about the appointment of  representatives for the various investor classes. These representatives would serve the function similar to a creditor’s committee in US bankruptcy court. These representatives would stand in the shoes of and represent the investors from each class of NorthStar investors. The Chief Judge overseeing the liquidation in Bermuda along with the group known as the “joint provisional liquidators” will ultimately choose the representatives.

Regardless of how this liquidation ultimately unfolds, investors need to realize they are looking at substantial losses on their annuities and insurance contracts. There does not appear to be assets sufficient to make investors whole, really, nowhere close to it.  As this liquidations process unfolds and crawls along through this process, investors hoping for a miracle, need to splash some cold water on their face and look to other options to recover their investment losses.

If you were sold your NorthStar Bermuda insurance or annuity contracts by a U.S.-based financial advisor, broker, or investment advisor, you could have viable claims to pursue against the brokerage firm that employed the advisor at the time of sale.  These actions cannot be filed in a U.S. Court. Instead, pursuant to the contract binding you, the investor/client, to the brokerage firm, you must submit all disputes to arbitration through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  The FINRA Arbitration process is simpler than filing a claim in court. There are no depositions and motion practice is limited, specifically, motions to dismiss which bar claims for legal reasons without being heard. In FINRA Arbitration, these sorts of motions to dismiss are greatly limited, making it easier for investors to gain access to the discovery they need from the brokerage firm to win their case.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices represents investors who’ve suffered losses from financial advisors who’ve swindled investors by converting or stealing their money.

Marcus E. Boggs, a Chicago-based registered investment advisor and former Merrill Lynch financial advisor, told his clients that he would use their funds to buy securities. Instead, in the ultimate deceit, he stole their money to pay for his personal expenses. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago, Boggs “spent more than $3 million of his clients’ funds over a ten-year period to pay his personal credit cards and the mortgage on his residence.  His credit card purchases included international vacations, expensive dinners at restaurants, and rent for multiple apartments that Boggs leased in Chicago.”

Moreover, Boggs even stole money from a client who received a wrongful imprisonment settlement. “One of the defrauded clients was wrongfully imprisoned for several years after being convicted of a 1991 sexual assault, kidnapping, and murder of a teenage girl.  After DNA testing exonerated the client and led to his release from prison, he received approximately $5 million from the State of Illinois and retained Boggs to manage and invest some of the money.  Boggs instead stole approximately $800,000 of the client’s funds.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from financial advisors who’ve swindled investors through unauthorized transactions. Can financial advisers trade your portfolio or buy investments without your permission? Only if you give them “discretionary” authority and definitely not if they’ve failed to obtain your written okay.

Without a doubt, brokers can’t do anything with your assets if they forge your signatures to make a transaction. Joffre Salazar, a former broker with LPL Financial, was terminated by the brokerage firm after he “forged two customers’ signatures and initials on documents connected to the purchase of fixed annuities, which Salazar then also submitted without the customers’ authorization,” according to FinancialAdvisorIQ.com.

Salazar, who first registered with Finra, the federal securities regulator, in 1991, registered with LPL in 2016, according to Finra. In April 2019, LPL filed a termination notice for Salazar, stating that he resigned voluntarily, but two months later amended the form to disclose that it started a review of Salazar’s “involvement in processing [an] annuity application without customer authorization,” Finra stated.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating regulatory filings establishing that former Fifth Third and Merrill Lynch financial advisor David S. Wells has accepted a permanent bar from the securities industry. According to a publicly filed Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Wells accepted the lifetime ban in lieu of appearing for or providing information to FINRA pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210. Wells did not admit to any misconduct. He chose to accept a lifetime bar from the securities industry instead of sitting for an OTR (on the record) interview, answer questions, or provide information to FINRA.

According to David Wells’s FINRA broker/check report, he “resigned” from Fifth Third Securities on June 30, 2021 after admitting he misappropriated funds from three clients. There is no other information available publicly about how much Wells stole or whether he refunded the victims. One fact is certain: his registration with Fifth Third Securities gives victims a change to recover those stolen funds. As a a matter of law, Fifth Third Securities is responsible for the conduct of their agents, like David Wells. Fifth Third had a duty to supervise Wells, his office, his client accounts, and to exercise supervisory authority over Wells to prevent violations of securities rules and regulations. These supervision rules and regulations are a critical part of the securities industry regulatory system and brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch and Fifth Third Securities can be held liable for damages for failing to properly supervise financial advisors like David Wells.

FINRA wields mighty authority over the registered representatives they license under Rule 8210. When FINRA comes calling for information in connection with an investigation under FINRA Rule 8210, financial advisors have two options. 1) They can cooperate fully with FINRA’s investigation or 2) they can voluntarily accept a lifetime bar. It would seem obvious why a financial advisor would accept the life time bar – they do not want to provide FINRA with any information because FINRA is on to something.  Its not quite that simple however. Complying with and responding to a FINRA Rule 8210 request can be difficult and if done without counsel is not advisable. If the registered representative is not being supported by his brokerage firm, it can be a terrifying experience.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago-based investors rights and securities law firm offering nationwide representation on a contingency-fee basis, has represented hundreds of investors over the years who have suffered losses in non-Traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).  These investments are sold, not bought, meaning financial advisors push these products on investors because of the high commission rates they pay out. These investments are illiquid, meaning an investor cannot just sell out and get their money out, and they are on the speculative side of the risk scale.  Although they are sold by financial advisors as providing stable value and high income in a low interest rate environment, REITs are anything but stable and are certainly high risk.

Recently, the SmartStop Strategic Student & Senior Housing Trust sent a letter to shareholders, on behalf of the board of trustees, warning of the REITs financial problems.  The letter, as reported by TheDIWire, paints a dire picture about the REIT’s financials, including blaming Covid twice for its underperforming properties. The REIT only owns two student housing properties and four senior housing properties. The REIT came to market in 2017 through a private placement and then opened to the public market in May 2018, raising about $110 million from investors.  According to the letter sent to investors, the Strategic Student & Senior Housing Trust is mired in debt and does not have sufficient cash to make necessary payments on certain bridge loans, absent a restructuring of that debt. These are certainly dire times for this REIT and the investors could be left holding the empty bag if the REIT liquidates.

Non-Traded REITs are by nature illiquid and high risk. Although pitched by financial advisors as being “non-correlated” to the stock market, the only reason this is the case is because the non-traded characteristic means the price doesn’t reset every day, like publicly-traded funds, for example. These non-traded REITs are mired in conflicts of interest, are very complicated structurally, and are designed to do one thing: save the owner of the real estate on taxes.  That’s the entire purpose of the REIT structure – its a tax savings vehicle for SmartStop.

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