Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve sold their clients variable annuities. One thing we see constantly in our practice is older investors who’ve been sold variable annuities that are onerously expensive and nearly always fail to live up to expectations. Variable annuities are investment products that offer restrictive access to mutual funds with an insurance wrapper. They are expensive to buy and carry ongoing fees and expenses that eat away at investor return. They also offer a tax incentive that brokers love to use as a sales point that in reality provides no benefit to most investors.

The main reason why variable annuities are usually poor investments is that they charge several layers of fees to investors. Everyone gets a cut from the insurance company to mutual fund managers. It’s very difficult for anyone outside of the middlemen to make money. Brokers and their advisory firms, however, sell them aggressively because the insurance companies that pilfer annuities pay out huge commissions to the salesmen who sell them.

Broker-advisors are perennially being cited for variable annuity marketing abuses. Transamerica Financial Advisors was recently fined $8.8 million by FINRA for “failing to supervise its registered representatives’ (brokers) recommendations for three different products,” which included annuities. The firm was ordered to pay more than $4 million in restitution.  The FINRA settlement cited Transamerica’s failure to monitor transactions that involved clients switching from other investments to annuities, which generated millions in commissions and fees for the firms. This is an egregious practice in the brokerage industry that mostly focuses on older and retired investors.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve obtained loans from their clients. When a broker asks a client for a loan, it almost always leads to trouble for the customer. Under securities laws, they are not permitted to do this, except under special conditions. The reasons are quite clear: They are supposed to propose suitable investments and prudently manage their money. Obtaining a direct loan is a conflict of interest that usually leads to chicanery.

Philip Anthony Simone, a former broker with AXA Advisors who worked with the firm from 2017-2019, borrowed a total of $133,000 from two clients. That violated three rules of FINRA, the main U.S. securities regulator, that prohibits brokers from obtaining loans from customers, who were elderly.

The AXA broker then “created and submitted falsified firm account statements and supporting documents to a third-party bank in support of a mortgage application,” FINRA stated. Simone was fined $12,500 and suspended from the securities industry for 11 months, beginning in November, 2020.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve sold their clients municipal bonds or funds that have defaulted or lost money. One of the many falsehoods that brokers tell their clients is that all municipal bonds “are a sure thing.” While most highly-rated “munis” are generally secure investments, some aren’t and you could get burned.

Investors recently lost money in municipal bonds sold to finance operations at Graceland, the legendary Memphis home of Elvis Presley. While Graceland has remained a steady tourist attraction over the years, like many venues, it was hit hard during the COVID crisis.

To put it mildly, 2020 was a rotten year for most businesses depending upon tourism and hospitality. Bonds sold to finance those kinds of businesses didn’t fare well. Reports Bloomberg:  “More than 50 municipal-bond issues worth $5 billion have defaulted, the most since 2011, according to Municipal Market Analytics, an independent research firm. Nearly two dozen more have drawn on reserve funds since the start of the year to cover debt payments when revenue fell short, a potential sign of more stress to come, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. represents GPB investors in claims against brokerage firms and financial advisors who solicited investments in the GPB Capital Funds.  GPB was named in a criminal indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice on February 4. GPB’s top executives were charged with fraud and running a Ponzi scheme. The government charged three GPB executives — David Gentile, Jeffrey Schneider and Jeffrey Lash — with securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy.

According to Investment News, “GPB raised $1.8 billion from investors starting in 2013 through sales of private partnerships, but it has not paid investors steady returns, called distributions, since 2018. More than 60 broker-dealers partnered with GPB to sell the private placements and charged customers charged clients commissions of up to 8%.” Stoltmann Law Offices pursues those brokerage firms for their investor-clients to recover GPB losses.

Gentile, the owner and CEO of GPB Capital, and Schneider, owner of GPB Capital’s agent Ascendant Capital, are charged with lying to investors about the source of money used to make 8% annualized investor payments, according to the SEC’s complaint. Using the marketing broker-dealer Ascendant Alternative Strategies, GPB told investors that the unusually high payments were paid exclusively with monies generated by GPB Capital’s portfolio companies, the SEC alleged. At first glance, the distributions were highly appealing to investors, since ultra-safe U.S. Treasury Notes are yielding around 1%.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from investments in GPB Capital Holdings. The company, named in civil and criminal complaints, is alleged to be part of a massive Ponzi scam. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently filed a $1.7 billion civil complaint against GPB Capital, its owners, officers, and affiliates, alleging a massive multi-year securities fraud, which will likely be devastating to investor fund holdings.

In recent years, GPB and the brokerage firms sold it to about 17,000 retail investors nationwide. The company told clients to “wait it out” and that “GPB will be fine.” Investors have been told repeatedly that the only issue with GPB was its inability to produce audited financial statements. GPB is now alleged to be a massive securities fraud scheme by the SEC. Criminal charges have also been filed.

According to the SEC complaint, filed on Feb. 4, “David Gentile, the owner and CEO of GPB Capital, and Jeffry Schneider, the owner of GPB Capital’s placement agent Ascendant Capital, lied to investors about the source of money used to make an 8% annualized distribution payment to investors. These defendants, along with Ascendant Alternative Strategies, which marketed GPB Capital’s investments, told investors that the distribution payments were paid exclusively with monies generated by GPB Capital’s portfolio companies. As alleged, GPB Capital actually used investor money to pay portions of the annualized 8% distribution payments.”

Stoltmann Law Offices, a Chicago-based investor rights and securities law firm, has been representing investors in cases against brokerage firms that sold the private placement limited partnership offerings in several GPB Funds, including:

  • GPB Automotive Fund
  • GPB Holdings Fund II

Chicago based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. has been representing GPB investors in FINRA Arbitration cases since January 2019.  Our securities lawyers continue to file claims against brokerage firms involving solicitations to invest in GPB Automotive Fund, GPB Holdings Fund II, GPB Waste Management, and GPB Cold Storage.  These claims are for violating FINRA rules and regulations in connection with offering speculative private placements to clients, fraud, and violations of state securities regulations.

On February 4, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission dropped the hammer on GPB, its funds, its owners. The complaint filed by the SEC alleges that GPB ran a massive securities fraud scheme for at least four years, defrauding investors of upwards of $1.7 billion.  Over the last few years, Stoltmann Law Offices has spoken to hundreds of GPB investors and many of them were not ready to move forward with claims against the brokerage firms responsible for selling them GPB based mostly on the ongoing representation of both GPB and their financial advisors that “everything will be fine” and “GPB just needs to get the audits done and you’re investment will come back.”  These dilatory and lulling tactics started with GPB and filtered through to financial advisors who were more concerned for their own best interests as opposed to what was in the best interest of investors.

INVESTORS NEED TO ACT NOW TO PRESERVE THEIR CLAIMS. Contact Stoltmann Law Offices at 312-332-4200 for a free, no obligation consultation with a securities attorney to determine whether you have a viable case against the brokerage firm that sold you GPB.  

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating claims of investment fraud against Altoona, Wisconsin based investment adviser, Michael Shillin. According to FINRA, the national regulator for brokers and brokerage firms, Shillin was registered with Alliance Global Partners from May 2018 until he submitted his resignation on October 2, 2020. Previously, Shillin was registered with Raymond James Financial, from where he was terminated for cause, according to FINRA.

Brokerage firms like AGP and Raymond James have legal obligations to supervise and monitor the conduct of their financial advisors.  Legally, individual brokers like Shillin are an extension of their firms, so long as their conduct is performed within the course and scope of providing investment advice. If you are a victim of any of Shillin’s misconduct, you have rights and could have a claim to pursue against the brokerage firm he was registered with at the time.

On December 21, 2020, FINRA barred Mr. Shillin from the securities industry permanently for filing to respond to a request for information under FINRA Rule 8210. According to FINRA, Shillin was alleged to have falsified documents and emails in connection with a phony life insurance policy.  He is also alleged to have represented to a client that he bought shares of Space-X for their account but instead may have converted the funds. Instead of cooperating with FINRA with respect to the agency’s investigation into these allegations made by clients, Mr. Shillin chose to accept a lifetime ban from the securities industry.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors in cases against securities brokers and has been investigating claims against LPL and filing arbitration complaints for investors. Can securities brokers who’ve been fleecing investors somehow keep working in the industry? If a firm’s records systems are poorly managed, sadly, the answer is yes. Sometimes they slip through the cracks and continue to steal customers’ funds and place them in bad or fraudulent investments that turn out to be Ponzi schemes.

That was the case with former LPL broker James T. Booth, who worked for the firm from 2018 through 2019. Booth pled guilty to one count of securities fraud in October, 2019, and was barred from the industry by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). LPL was also cited for “supervisory deficiencies” by FINRA, the industry regulator, in connection with Booth stealing “at least $1 million of LPL customers’ money as part of a multi-year Ponzi scheme,” according to thediwire.com. The regulator fined LPL $6.5 million.

There was a bigger problem at LPL, though: FINRA claims that LPL’s recordkeeping system failed to report millions of customer communications. The firm’s failure “affected at least 87 million records and led to the permanent deletion of more than 1.5 million customer communications maintained by a third-party data vendor. These included mutual fund switch letters, 36-month letters, and wire transfer confirmations that were required to be preserved for at least three years.”

Chicago-Based Stoltmann Law Offices has been representing California investors before FINRA arbitration panels for many years. We are looking into allegations made by an investor that allege that Ryan Raskin, who was registered with Merrill Lynch until he was discharged for cause in March 2020, executed unauthorized trades for a client. Merrill Lynch denied that complaint outright, which is a common practice used by brokerage firms when clients come to them with a complaint without being armed with an experienced FINRA investor-rights lawyer.

According to a story published by AdvisorHub.com, Raskin was employed with Merrill Lynch since 2016. On January 13, 2021, Mr. Raskin was barred by FINRA for failing to respond to requests for information. FINRA has the authority, under FINRA Rule 8210, to seek information and documents from any licensed, registered representative, even after the are terminated or are not working in the securities industry. As part of their enforcement mandate to enforce securities law and regulations, FINRA is given pretty broad discretion to seek out information related to its investigations, and in the event a broker like Raskin refuses to cooperate or ignores a valid request for information from FINRA, the penalty is a lifetime ban from the securities industry.  Sometimes brokers do this because they are out of the business and don’t really care if they lose their license to provide investment advice. Sometimes brokers ignore FINRA because they have something serious to hide.

Mr. Raskin was discharged from Merrill Lynch in March 2020 for “conduct involving business practices inconsistent with Firm standards, including inappropriate investment recommendation.” The impetus for FINRAs Rule 8210 request was this discharge by Merrill Lynch, which was reported to FINRA on Form U-5. Although the FINRA Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC), which was signed by Mr. Raskin, does not state any specific allegations with respect to misconduct. Still, Merrill Lynch discharged Mr. Raskin for “inappropriate investment recommendations” and one customer did make a complaint against him for unauthorized trading.

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