The securities fraud attorneys at Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. continue to investigate investor claims against brokerage firms that sold their clients investments in various GPB Capital Holdings offerings.  On March 22, 2019, attorney Joe Wojciechowski announced the filing of a Statement of Claim with FINRA Dispute Resolution for an investor who was sold units in GPB Automotive Fund, L.P. The claim was filed against NewBridge Securities and also includes allegations in connection with various non-traded REITs issued by American Realty Capital (ARC). The claim is for a retail investor whose financial advisor recommended she invest nearly 100% of her accounts in alternative investments offered by GPB Capital and ARC.  The claim alleges misrepresentations and omissions of material facts in violation of the Securities Act of Washington, consumer fraud in violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, negligence for violating numerous regulatory rules including FINRA Rules 2111 (suitability) and 3110  (supervision), and breach of fiduciary duty. Our client seeks rescission of her GPB Automotive Fund investment and compensatory damages for her realized losses in the ARC REITs, plus attorneys fees, costs, interest, and punitive damages.

Investors who were solicited by financial advisors and brokers to invest in GPB Capital funds should consider their legal options to seek rescission of those investments.  Under the state securities laws (frequently referred to as the Blue Sky Laws), the primary remedy for investors is called rescission, which means the investor sues to force the brokerage firm to buy the investment back.  The rescission remedy seeks to put the investor back in the same place she was prior to purchasing the investment. This is important for investors who own alternative investments like GPB Capital Funds.  These are not liquid or tradable investments, meaning an investor cannot call their advisor and sell it and realize a gain or a loss. Essentially, the investor is stuck. Given the troubling news about GPB Capital over the last several months, something Stoltmann Law Offices has written about extensively, investors are correct to be wary and should consider an exit strategy. Unfortunately, because there is no way out of the GPB Funds, the only option for investors may be to pursue arbitration claims against the brokerage firm responsible for soliciting the investments in the first place.

In the last several years, as interest rates remained very low, it has been difficult for investors to find fixed income investments, like corporate and municipal bonds, that offered higher yields without exposing them to speculative risk. Likewise, due to the long term low interest rate environment, the principal value of the bonds begin to drop as interests rates have risen. The solution to these problems for brokerage firms has been to sell “alternative investments” that offer relatively high yields, but because they are non-traded and do not report any real market value, they have the appearance of a stable value for investors. The bonus for brokerage firms is that these alternative investments offer the advisors commissions they could never achieve by selling standard fixed income securities like corporate bonds or municipal bonds. Advisors sell the sizzle of a high yield and fixed prices and either gloss over or completely misrepresent the speculative risk being taken by investors who entrust their money to private entities like GPB Capital.

Investors who were solicited to invest in Direct Lending Investments (DLI) in Glendale, California by their financial advisor may have actionable claims to recover their money.  This week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged registered investment advisor Direct Lending Investments LLC with a fraud spanning multiple years that caused an $11 million over charge of management and performance fees to its private funds https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2019/lr24432.htm.  The company allegedly fraudulently inflated it annual returns by 2 percent to 3 percent per year for multiple years.

According to the SEC:

Brendan Ross, DLI’s owner and then-chief executive officer, arranged with QuarterSpot to falsify borrower payment information for QuarterSpot’s loans and to falsely report to Direct Lending that borrowers made hundreds of monthly payments when, in fact, they had not. The SEC alleges that many of these loans should have been valued at zero, but instead were improperly valued at their full value, because of the false payments Ross helped engineer.

The securities fraud attorneys at Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. are continuing to investigate due diligence and suitability claims against brokerage firms that sold their clients investments in various GPB Capital Holdings offerings.  The most recent news has to do specifically with the Waste Management Fund, which buys and sells private waste haulers and garbage collectors. Not exactly the most glamorous of funds certainly, but new allegations have surfaced that GPB Capital purchased a company called Five Star Carting in March 2017, which has been embroiled in litigation amid allegations of a poor safety record. To make matters worse for GPB Waste Management, according to an InvestmentNews report,  GPB’s director of waste strategy – that is seriously the reported title – is Rod Proto, formally of Waste Management. He was fired from his position as President and COO of Waste Management 1999 and then charged with insider trading in 2003 by the SEC for which he paid a $3.7 million fine and stipulated to a ban from serving as an officer or director of a publicly traded company for five years.  It is unknown at this time if the FBI search warrant or other searches conducted by the New York City Business Integrity Commission – which happens to regulate waste haulers in New York City – has anything to do specifically with the GPB Waste Management Fund. In any event, the continued bad press and regulatory pressure is not good for GPB Fund investors.

Almost weekly more negative news comes out about GPB Capital Holdings. We have written considerably about many of these issues.  Brokers sell private placements like GPB Waste Management Fund, or the more popular GPB Automotive Fund for one reason – commissions. There is no other logical reason and exposure to a particular sector is not an excuse. If an investor needs exposure to the automobile sector, there are hundreds of publicly traded, low-commission options, including common stocks of car companies  or the companies from the automotive supply chain. If an investor is seeking a high-income investment, there are literally thousands of publicly-traded corporate or municipal bond options available at a fraction of the cost of a private placement like the GPB Funds. These private placements offer investors a toxic cocktail of 1) illiquidity, meaning once your money goes in it does not come back out until GPB says it does, 2) speculative risk, meaning the highest risk investment product available, and 3) a poor risk/return profile, meaning the risk you are taking is not being compensated by some potential of a high return. GPB Funds  were simply bad deals for investors. The only people that make out in situations like this are the brokerage firms like NewBridge Securities, FSC Securities, Cetera Advisors, Royal Alliance, and many others, who sold an estimated $1.5 billion of these funds to their clients.  At a 10% commission rate, these brokerage firms generated approximately $150 million in revenue just from selling these speculative and opaque funds.

If you were sold investments in any of the GBP Capital offerings by your financial advisor and wish to know your legal options, please call 312-332-4200 for a no obligation free consultation with an attorney. Stoltmann Law Offices is a Chicago-based  contingency fee firm which means we do not get paid until you do.

Many retail investors who were recommended GPB Capital Holding related investments by their financial advisors are asking the question “What’s next”?  Unfortunately, the answer will likely be unpleasant.  GPB Capital Holdings, LLC is a New York-based issuer of private placements offered under the “GPB” moniker. Over the last several years, GPB has raised at least $1.3 billion dollars from mostly retail investors through eight separate private offerings. These offerings include the GPB Automotive Portfolio, LP along with the GPB Waste Management Fund, and GPB Holdings Fund, I, II, and III, GPB New York Development, LP, and GPB Cold Storage, LP.  The GPB Automotive Portfolio was organized as Delaware limited partnership on May 27, 2013 with an expressed purpose to acquire, operate, and resell auto dealerships. The sale of these Class A units were expressly intended to be sold only to “accredited” investors, as that term of art is defined in Regulation D.

It was disclosed this week that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating GPB Capital and made an unannounced appearance at the headquarters last week.  As we have previously discussed , last year, the firm stopped taking in new investor money and ceased distributions.  It also restated its financial statements on top of an investigation by Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin.  While the company took great pains to point out that it has not been named in any action by any regulatory authority and it is not the target of any active investigation, the events of recent weeks gives all of the appearances that a major financial disaster is in store for investors in GPB.

Brokers at firms like Royal Alliance, FSC Securities, NewBridge Securities, and Cetera Advisors heavily peddled these high risk investors to investors.  Why?  Because of the fees and commissions. The GPB Fund paid out brokers between 8% and 11% of every dollar sold to clients. So for selling a $100,000 investment in the GPB Fund, brokers and their firms received between $8,000 and $11,000 for this one recommendation.  It is useful to put this extraordinary commission into context with those received for more standard, marketable securities like stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.  Financial Advisors in the traditional brokerage setting employed by an independent broker/dealer like NewBridge Securities, would earn between 0.5% and 1.5% on equity trades or corporate/municipal bonds trades.  Mutual funds, depending on share class, charge sales loaded and back-end fees that can be as high as 4.5%, but ETFs like those offered by Vanguard, are virtually fee-free. Moreover, many brokerage firms offer electronic trading for clients on a per trade basis as low as $4.95 per trade regardless of the amount of the transaction. Crucially, there are no break-point discounts available for private placements, meaning if an investor invests a million dollars, the broker gets the same commission rate. Publicly traded options like mutual funds and UITs, however, offer commission breakpoints; the more money an investor invests, the lower the commission rate. At 8%-11%, there is simply nothing that competes with this level of compensation, which is why many brokers spent their career selling “alternative investments” like GPB.

The investor advocate attorneys at Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. view the latest news about GPB Capital Holdings as  potentially bad news for investors.  According to published reports, along with the SEC and FINRA, the FBI is now investigating GPB Holdings after an “unannounced” visit to GPB’s New York office last week. According to GPB Capital, along with the FBI, the New York City Business Integrity Commission also paid a visit.

We have written considerably about issues related to GPB Capital Holdings since December 2018 and it seems every month something else happens.  We also have since been retained by investors to pursue claims against the brokerage firms that sold these various GPB Capital funds to them. The one misnomer we continue to see published about clients who invested in GPB Capital Holdings offerings is that these investors were “accredited” or “sophisticated.” These labels are routinely bandied-about whenever an offering like GPB Capital Holdings burns investors.  The fact is, these labels are nothing more than defenses used by the brokerage firms that sell these exempt, private-placement securities to their clients. In fact, an investor usually must qualify as “accredited” to even participate in these offerings as an investor.  According to FINRA Regulatory Notice 10-22 and FINRA Rule 2111, these labels do not obviate the brokerage firm’s obligation to only recommend investments that 1) have been vetted by the firm prior to offering it and that 2) are suitable in light of the client’s investment objectives and risk tolerance. In order for the brokerage firm to adhere to this standard of care, it must satisfy both of these requirements. A brokerage firm cannot rely blindly on the representations made by an issuer like GPB Capital, nor is the disclosure of risks in an offering memorandum sufficient to satisfy the firm’s due diligence obligations which are intended to be gatekeeper in nature.

Our investigation has revealed that NewBridge Securities, FSC Securities, Cetera Advisors, Royal Alliance, and a cacophony of other FINRA registered brokerage firms sold investors units or shares in various GPB Capital offerings. If you were sold investment in any of the GBP Capital offerings and wish to know your legal options, please call 312-332-4200 for a no obligation free consultation with an attorney. Stoltmann Law Offices is Chicago-based  contingency fee firm which means we do not get paid until you do.

Stoltmann Law Offices and its securities arbitration practice group are investigating Jay Weiser of small-town Mendota, Illinois in LaSalle County in connection with serious allegations involving the sale of notes offered by Woodbridge and notes offered by Future Income Payments (FIP). Both of these entities have been exposed as Ponzi schemes. According to Mr. Weiser’s FINRA BrokerCheck Report, he was discharged with cause from DesPain Financial in connection with allegations he sold Woodbridge and FIP notes to investors. Mr. Weiser was then barred from the securities industry by FINRA on January 17, 2019 when he refused to provide information to FINRA pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210.  As we have discussed in previous blogs, there are various reasons why brokers refuse to provide “on the record testimony” (OTR) or provide documents in connection with a FINRA regulatory investigation pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210. Sometimes it is because a broker simply is no longer interested in being licensed and is making a career change and does not want to go through the hassle or the expense of complying with FINRA’s requests. Other times it is because submitting information or testimony to FINRA may do the broker more harm than good.  Here, given the allegations made by two clients against Weiser that he sold them notes in Woodbridge and FIP, it is reasonable to conclude Mr. Weiser voluntarily submitted to a lifetime ban from the securities industry because his misconduct is serious.

According to a Notice of Hearing filed the the Illinois Securities Department on November 5, 2018, Mr. Weiser, while affiliated with Weiser Financial and DesPain Financial, sold at least $611,000 in investments in FIP to at least six Illinois residents. According to the publicly available Notice, Mr. Weiser also sold at least $795,000 in Woodbridge notes to at least seventeen Illinois investors. According to the Illinois Securities Department, by selling interests in FIP and Woodbridge, Mr. Weiser violated numerous provisions of the Illinois Securities Law, including Section 12.A, Section 12.F, Section 12.G, Section 12.H, and Section 12.I.

The Notice of Hearing, along with the FINRA action, both find that Weiser failed to disclose these activities to his broker/dealer firm, DesPain Financial. It is critical not to confuse Weiser’s failure to disclose certain activities as if it in any way disclaims potential liability of DesPain or any other entity responsible for supervising Weiser, his firm, and his dealing with investors, because it does not. This failure to disclose does not alleviate the  regulatory, statutory, and common law responsibility to supervise the conduct of Mr. Weiser and specifically, if there are “red flags” present that Weiser was conducting investor business with FIP or Woodbridge, the burden would be on DesPain Financial to establish reasonable measures taken in reaction to these “red flags” of potential misconduct.

The Chicago-based securities and investment fraud attorneys at Stoltmann Law Offices are investigating claims by victims of former Securities America financial advisor Hector May. According to the criminal information filed against Mr. May in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Mr. May was indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and investment advisory fraud in Case No. 18-cr-00880. On January 14, 2019, May’s guilty plea was formally accepted by Judge Vincent L. Briccetti. His sentencing date has yet to be provided by the court. By pleading guilty, May consented to a monetary judgment of $11,452,185 and agreed to forfeit certain property including multiple fur coats, Cartier bracelets, and Rolex watches.

According to published reports, on February 14, 2019, the SEC formally barred May from the securities industry. This bar seems obvious given he pleaded guilty to criminal charges, but the SEC cannot proceed with any portion of a civil case until the criminal matter wraps up. The SEC complaint against May provides some details about his scam which included selling bonds to his fiduciary advisory clients that did not exist. The SEC states May’s scam bilked at least $7.9 million from at least 15 advisory clients. The SEC also states that May executed this scheme with his daughter, Vania May Bell. This father-daughter duo devastated several families.

At all times relevant, May was a licensed, registered representative of Securities America which is a registered broker/dealer and subsidiary of Ameriprise Financial. May also provided his investment advisory services under the umbrella of a Registered Investment Advisor called Executive Compensation Planners, Inc.  According to FINRA Rules, Securities America had an obligation to supervise Mr. May and his conduct even if it was executed through Executive Compensation Planners. According to FINRA Rule 3280 and  at least three NASD Notices – NTMs 91-32, 94-44, and 96-33 – Securities America was responsible for supervising May’s conduct. In a case decided by the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, the court ruled that this duty and obligation to supervise can apply to even those people that are not formally clients or account owners of the firm, like Securities America here. See McGraw v.Wachovia Securities, 756 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (N.D. Iowa 2010 ).

For the few hundred investors who bought about $28 million in preferred stock in SteadyServ Technologies, the recent bankruptcy filing by the company is terrible news. Stoltmann Law Offices has spoken to SteadyServ investors about their legal options. According to the Chapter 11 filings, SteadyServ has liabilities of $6,457,359, most of which are secured, on assets of less than $50,000. SteadyServ further discloses gross revenue of $664,666 in 2017 and only $379,010 in 2018. To make matters more challenging for SteadyServ, the primary secured creditor is an individual who assumed bank debt for the company and was a former executive of SteadyServ who wanted to take the company in a much different strategic direction than where it ended up going. A lawsuit filed by this individual in Indiana state court is what forced the company to file for Chapter 11 relief. Unless this secured creditor is willing to negotiate and make some major concessions, SteadyServ could be in real trouble as a going concern.

The reality for shareholders is, SteadyServ Technologies will cease to exist as an entity, wiping out shareholders completely. In other words, if you invested in SteadServ, your investment is gone. If the Chapter 11 plan works, a new SteadyServ entity will emerge from Bankruptcy, but how that effects current shareholders is unknown. You might get a slight discount, maybe 10%, on shares in the new company and the first shot to invest. This is probably the best case scenario for investors. So, in order to get any return on your current SteadyServ investment, you will need to invest more money in the new entity.

For investors who are already in the hole, this is a pretty large ask and other options should be explored to recover this money. The financial disclosures by SteadyServ are really glaring when compared to advertising materials and “estimates” contained in offering memoranda for the company’s preferred stock. These ad slicks, which we have reviewed, were presented by financial advisors and brokerage firms who sold SteadyServ preferred stock to their clients.  The financial “projections” contained on these advertising materials appear to be totally baseless.  They reflect a company projected to experience explosive growth including revenue increases of some 600% year over year 2016-2017-2018.  Although these materials were presented and drafted in 2016, they include revenue projections for that year of over $4 million, when any brokerage firm promoting and selling shares in this start-up company would have to know such a projection was completely ridiculous. In reality, SteadyServ had revenue of only $664,600 in 2016, as disclosed in their bankruptcy filings. These advertising materials were used by brokerage firms to promote this company and entice investors to put their money into SteadyServ. Unfortunately, these materials were false, misleading, and at a minimum, the brokerage firm responsible for disseminating these materials could be liable to investors who relied on them to their detriment.

The investment fraud attorneys at Stoltmann Law Offices are evaluating recent reports that the NorthStar Healthcare Income, Inc. Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) has announced it will completely stop making distributions to investors in order to retain cash. This most recent announcement follows up on the decision in April 2018 by the NorthStar Healthcare Income to suspend investor distributions. It should come as no surprise, that as the income component of this income investment was suspended, the purported value of the shares of this non-traded REIT has also plummeted.

According to HealthCare Income REIT, its NAV, or net-asset-value, is down to $7.10 per share, an almost 30% decline from its listing price of $10 per share. Importantly, shares of HealthCare Income REIT are not publicly traded, so investors cannot simply put in an order to sell their shares and have an exchange, like the NYSE, fill an order for the sale at a bid price. Because these non-traded REITs are illiquid, if investors want to sell their shares, this can only be facilitated through secondary market auctions.  According to  recent secondary market sales information,  shares of NorthStar Healthcare Income REIT were sold for only $4.76 per share on January 25, 2019 – a more than 50% decease from the offering price.  There have been no reported sales since, and the official announcement ending distributions is sure to drive the price of this REIT down even more.

Suspending distributions, ending distributions, freezing redemptions, and share prices that rarely reach the offering price are all too common storylines with non traded REITs. Non-Traded REITs have played a prominent role in our representation of investors since 2005. Financial Advisors commonly use non-traded REITs, like the NorthStar Healthcare REIT, as a piece of the fixed-income portion of an investor’s overall portfolio. They also use these non-traded REITs to fill the part of the diversification plot as exposure to the real estate sector. Neither of these reasons is sufficient to expose investors to a traditionally underperforming asset class. The fixed-income allure of these non-traded REITS really took hold after the dust settled from the financial crisis. Due to persistently low interest rates, investors just could not get any sort of yield from traditional fixed income securities. Financial advisors began to really push non-traded REITs offering distribution rates of more than 7%, all the while allegedly protecting the principal  investment with a portfolio of real estate. If this sales pitch sounds familiar and you have money stuck in the NorthStar Healthcare REIT, please call our Chicago-based securities attorneys at 312-332-4200 for a no-obligation free consultation.

Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating misconduct reported by FINRA alleging that Kristian Gaudet of Cut Off, Louisiana, utilized customer funds for personal use. According to his publicly available FINRA BrokerCheck Report, FINRA initiated an investigation into Mr. Gaudet on November 30, 2018 based on suspicions that Mr. Gaudet was involved in potentially fraudulent activities. Only a few weeks later, Mr. Gaudet was terminated by Ameritas Investment Corp., alleging Mr. Gaudet used client funds for personal use. Finally, on January 24, 2019, FINRA barred Mr. Gaudet for failing to appear for  on-the-record testimony in connection with the allegations he used client funds for personal use.  Pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210, if FINRA requests a broker sit for on the record testimony (called an OTR) and the broker either refuses or simply does not show up, it can be grounds for being permanently barred from the securities industry.  FINRA also cited Mr. Gaudet for violating FINRA Rule 2010.

Typically, brokers who refuse to show up for a Rule 8210 request do so knowing they are sacrificing their securities licenses. Some brokers may be near retirement or are not interested in maintaining their licenses, so they rather not submit themselves to an OTR, which can be stressful and require retaining legal counsel. Other brokers fail to show up for an OTR because they fear the testimony they will give may be incriminating if they are truthful. The FINRA AWC agreed to and signed by Mr. Gaudet only states he failed to show up for the OTR and provides no further explanation for barring him from the securities industry.

Routinely, financial advisors who steal money from their clients do it in such a manner which should have alerted their firm’s compliance or supervision departments. Whether there were unauthorized withdrawals or transfers from your accounts, every FINRA brokerage firm, like Ameritas, is required to adhere to Anti-Money Laundering rules and regulations in order to ensure a level of alertness in these circumstances. Failing to properly execute these procedures which result in a broker absconding with clients money results in liability for the firm for negligent supervision.

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