Merrill Lynch has paid $40,000,000 to settle a case involving Boston financial advisor Charles Kenahan.  According to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, two other clients have pending claims, one for over $42,000,000.  These cases all allege that, for many years, Charles Kenahan excessively traded and churned their accounts, resulting in extraordinary losses. Pursuant to an article published in InvestmentNews, one of those clients was the former New Hampshire governor, Craig Benson.

Churning or excessive trading is an all too common tactic used by unscrupulous brokers and financial advisors to generate commissions.  Especially in consistently “up” stock markets like the one currently being experienced, clients may not notice the deleterious impact this volume of trading has on their accounts. Churning/Excessive trading is considered a fraudulent act under state securities statutes.

Whether an account has been churned or excessively traded starts with the numbers. The two key components are turnover rate – meaning the rate at which the balance of the account is traded on an annualized basis.  The second important number is the cost/equity ratio, which is the rate of return your account must generate simply to cover fees and commissions. Courts traditionally look to the “2-4-6” rule to determine firstly whether trading is in fact excessive. The higher the number, the more likely a trier of fact will determine the account has been churned. Similarly, the higher the cost/equity ratio, the more likely there could be a finding of churning. If your account has to generate 15% returns just to pay your broker, chances are you’re being churned.

If you lost money with Puerto Rico financial advisor Pedro Gonzalez-Seijo, Stoltmann Law Offices may be able to help you recover these losses. Gonzalez-Seijo, a registered representative of Transamerica Financial Advisors, Inc. from September 1991 through May 2016, solicited clients to purchase variable annuities, but instead deposited their money into his personal bank account. The Securities and Exchange Commission barred Gonzalez-Seijo from the securities industry on July 5, 2019. Through its investigation, the SEC found that he stole $480,813.15 from five clients between 2013 and 2016. He pled guilty to one count of bank fraud in the criminal action that was pending against him in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico on January 31, 2019.

Rather than terminate Gonzalez-Seijo, Transamerica gave him a slap on the wrist when they discovered “unauthorized check withdrawals” in client accounts and permitted him to resign. He did not register with any other broker dealer after resigning from Transamerica in May 2016 and, given the bar imposed by the SEC last week, he will no longer be allowed to work in the securities industry in any capacity. According to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Gonzalez-Seijo also sold life insurance and annuities through PGS Insurance, Inc. There are two client complaints disclosed on his BrokerCheck report for this scheme, one has been closed and one is pending.

Stoltmann Law Offices is highly experienced in representing investors who lost money in similar theft and selling away, or “Ponzi” schemes. You can find information on just a few of those cases in which Stoltmann Law Offices successfully recovered their clients’ stolen assets, and in some cases attorney’s fees, costs, interest and punitive damages on our website. “Selling away” is when a broker sells an investment to clients that is either unregistered, or not approved by the brokerage firm. Common forms of these alleged investments are promissory notes, bonds, and limited partnerships. Often times the advisor uses a shell company to misappropriate client funds. In some cases the advisor will even represent that he is investing the money in publicly traded stocks and mutual funds and will go as far as creating phony account statements to hide the theft. If the broker is not properly supervised by his firm, he can engage in this scheme for a long enough time period to abscond with the money, leaving their clients with nothing by the time they discover that the investment was fake.

In the past year, proposed legislation requiring vaccines for all children has skyrocketed. As of February 2019, over 100 bills were proposed across 30 states to amend vaccine requirements and rights. Through these bills, state and federal government seek to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions, and limit medical exemptions.

On a Federal level, Representative Frederica Wilson (Democrat) of Florida’s 24th Congressional District introduced H.R. 2527 “Vaccinate All Children Act of 2019” on May 3, 2019. This bill proposes to “amend the Public Health Service Act to condition receipt by States (and political subdivisions and public entities of States) of preventive health services grants on the establishment of a State requirement for students in public elementary and secondary schools to be vaccinated in accordance with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and for other purposes.” This act does not provide for any religious or philosophical vaccines exemptions. A child with a medical exemption must provide written certification annually, in which the physician must “demonstrat[e] (to the satisfaction of the individual in charge of the health program at the student’s school) that the physician’s opinion conforms to the accepted standard of medical care.” There is no further explanation provided as to what constitutes a medical exemption the in the bill.

The conditions in a recipient that may warrant a medical exemption are referred to as “contraindications”. The CDC also recognizes “precautions” that should be taken and result in the delay of some vaccines. Unfortunately, these contraindications and precautions are often viewed as “temporary”, or are only present after an individual or immediate relative has already had an adverse reaction to a vaccine. For example, the CDC does not recommend vaccinating children with the MMR vaccine to “severely immunocompromised persons”. In another example, only after a child has suffered encephalopathy (i.e. brain injury) after receiving a pertussis vaccine does the CDC advise against the child receiving another dose of the vaccine. In many cases, for these children the damage is already done. It is common for children to experience less severe symptoms, such as fevers, from the first dose of vaccine, only to be forced to receive additional doses. The compounding affect can cause more severe injuries, immune deficiency disorders, and irreversible damage. This is why medical exemptions are often insufficient to protect children.

LiquidSpace, Inc. is an illiquid Regulation D private placement in which investors have lost their hard-earned retirement savings. LiquidSpace is a flexible office space rental start-up that rents office space and meeting rooms on an hourly or monthly basis. The first Regulation D offering by LiquidSpace was registered on December 16, 2012 for $412 and a second registered on the same day for $1,805,740. The second offering stated that $1,299,999 had already been sold. On June 2, 2014, Robertson Stephens, an investment bank that provides capital to entrepreneurial clients, affiliated with LiquidSpace and registered the Robertson Stephens LiquidSpace LLC in California. Subsequently, LiquidSpace Inc. filed a third Regulation D offering of $19,999,997 with $14,015,701 sold.

Stoltmann Law Offices is aware that this investment was sold by brokerage firm Uhlmann Price Securities, LLC. Gordon Fallone and James Kozak serve as the “Advisor to CEO” and “Board Observer” of LiquidSpace, respectively. They are also registered brokers of Uhlmann Price Securities. Fallone and Kozak are co-founders of OnPoint Analytics Capital Partners, which is a “boutique capital advisor firm dedicated to sourcing and introducing alternative investment opportunities to qualified investors around the world.” According to their FINRA BrokerCheck reports and the OPAC website, OPAC securities are offered through Uhlmann Price and OPAC advisors are compensated by Uhlmann Price. Fallone and Kozak’s involvement with LiquidSpace and employment by Uhlmann Price creates a conflict of interest that may have not been disclosed to Uhlmann Price clients who were sold this investment.

Investments in LiquidSpace were sold as “convertible promissory notes”. According to the “Convertible Note Purchase Agreement”, the outstanding principal and unpaid accrued interest of the client’s note would be converted into Conversion Shares upon the closing of a Qualified Equity Financing. Stoltmann Law Offices has addressed the issues with promissory note investments in other articles. It is common for clients to be sold investments in the form of promissory notes, which are considered securities. Unfortunately, it is also common for promissory notes to be used in fraudulent investment schemes, such as Ponzi schemes, selling away (i.e. when a broker sells you an investment that was not approved by the brokerage firm), and theft. Given that these investments also are not publicly traded, it is impossible for investors to know the true value of their investment. It also makes it extremely difficult, and in many cases impossible, for them to liquidate the investment, unless the investment becomes publicly traded or the investment offers a liquidation period. At least some investors have not received any distributions or income from their investment in LiquidSpace, and it is unclear when they will be able to liquidate their investment.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is investigating claims regarding now former LPL Financial Advisor Kerry Hoffman, of Mundelein, Illinois. According to a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 1, 2019, Hoffman along with a co-conspirator and convicted securities recidivist Thomas Conwell, sold investors securities in a company called GT Media, Inc. The SEC further alleges that the pair raised over $3.3 million from 46 investors, across twelve states. According to Hoffman’s FINRA BrokerCheck Report, he is currently registered as a financial advisor for Union Capital Company in Chicago, Illinois. On September 7, 2018, Hoffman was allowed to “resign” voluntarily from LPL Financial after more than 8 years with the firm. According to public filings, Hoffman’s “voluntary resignation” from LPL was in connection with raising money from clients for a private company. This wasn’t the first time Hoffman departed a place of employment under questionable circumstances. In 2007 he was discharged for cause from UBS Financial for unauthorized trading.

The allegations against Hoffman state that he sold approximately $850,000 in GT Media stock and promissory notes to five of his LPL clients. The SEC also alleges that Hoffman loaned funds to GT Media and was paid back using investor funds. The allegations made by SEC state that Hoffman failed to disclose conflicts of interest to clients to whom he sold GT Media securities and further failed to disclose he would be paid back on loans he provided to the company through investor funds.

What is really disconcerting about this scam is that Hoffman knowingly exposed his clients to Conwell and his company even though Conwell was sentenced to forty-eight months of prison time for wire fraud (see U.S. v Conwell, Case No. 03- Cr-334-1 (N.D. Ill.) and had been barred by the securities industry almost twenty years ago. (See In the Matter of Thomas V. Conwell, Exchange Act Rel. No. 43006, 72 SEC Docket 2011 (July 3, 2000).  Hoffman knew about Conwell’s past because the two have known each other since they were children.

There are different kinds of real estate investment trusts (REITS) in Chicago. Generally, a non-traded real estate investment trust (REIT) is a type of real estate investment that is designed to lower or eliminate taxes for the owner of the underlying real estate, while providing competitive, higher-yield income payments to investors. Non-traded REITS aren’t traded on securities exchanges. Some investors perceive non-traded REITs as less volatile than listed REITs. However, the extent to which real estate exposure is suitable for a particular investor depends on multiple factors including the investor’s tolerance for risk, high costs, and the illiquidity of the non-traded REIT.

According to investment bank Robert A. Stanger & Co. Inc., non-traded REITS sales were at all time high of $869 million in May. The year-to-date fundraising of $3.6 billion is more than double the same period 2018. It is projected that non-traded REITs will raise more than $7 billion this year, an increase over $4.6 billion last year.

In one survey, around $7.6 billion in alternative investments was raised through retail, and these alternative investments include publicly registered non-traded REITS, along with non-traded preferred stock of traded REITS, private placement offerings, non-traded business development companies, and others.

Stoltmann Law Offices is pursuing investment losses for investors in IGF Investment Grade Funds I, LP (“IGF Fund”). IGF Fund is a real estate private placement that invests in single-tenant, net leased commercial properties, with 75% of the portfolio being “investment grade rated tenants with the remainder being of quality private credit tenants or those trending to investment grade.” IGF Fund advertises that it pays 6% annual returns to investors, paid monthly, with two-thirds of the income being tax-deferred. On its website, IGF Fund solicits property owners and brokers for “single tenant triple net or double net leased assets…retail, office, restaurants, and C-stores, and leases backed by investment grade tenant credit of AAA or BBB-“. While IGF solicits properties from $1 million to $16 million, it raised less than $12 million as of August 2018. IGF Partners Realty LLC is the general partner of the IGF Fund and is headquartered in Santa Barbara, California. The IGF Fund is a Delaware limited partnership and a Regulation D private placement.

Generally, Regulation D private placements should only be sold to accredited investors, with some exceptions. Some of the criteria considered is the investor’s annual income, net worth, and sophistication and investment experience. In order to qualify as an “accredited investor”, an investor must have a $200,000 annual income, or $300,000 joint income for the past two years, or a net worth of $1 million (excluding their home). When considering the suitability of a real estate investment for a client, a broker must take into consideration the client’s current asset allocation. For most client’s, their home is already one of the largest pieces of their net worth, so investing in more real estate (and particularly illiquid real estate investments, like IGF Fund) simply does not make sense.

IGF Fund is desperate to raise cash. The initial offering of $60 million was made on March 29, 2016. As of August 21, 2018, the fund raised only $11,720,000. This means that over 80% was left to be sold two years after the initial offering. Because of this, IGF Fund notified investors in early 2019 that it was extending its offering period from December 31, 2018 to April 30, 2019. IGF Fund and brokers selling this investment have been wining and dining current and potential investors to convince them to invest more cash. The lack of capital raised limits IGF Fund’s ability to purchase properties, thus minimizing any potential return for investors. Moreover, extending the offering period also extends the time period before the Fund can be liquidated. The IGF Fund is still paying distributions to investors, however without sufficient funding to purchase assets it will run dry, leaving investors with nothing.

On June 10, 2019, the Illinois Securities Department, Massachusetts Securities Division, New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation, and New Jersey Bureau of Securities each charged Glenn C. Mueller of West Chicago, Illinois, and his companies for selling unregistered securities. Mueller developed his scheme for over 40 years, building a web of at least 32 real estate development companies and selling at least $47 million of unregistered securities in the form of promissory notes in these companies to consumers. He referred to these promissory notes as “CD alternatives”, “CD IRAs”, or represented them as being real estate investment trusts (“REITs”). His companies include, but are not limited to, Northridge Holdings, Ltd., Eastridge Holdings, Ltd., Southridge Holdings, Ltd., Cornerstone II Limited Partnership,  Unity Investment Group I, 561 Deere Park Limited Partnership, 1200 Kings Circle Limited Partnership, & 106 Surrey Limited Partnership (collectively referred to as “Mueller Entities”). Mueller organized Northridge in North Dakota with the subsidiaries incorporated in Illinois.

Northridge, founded by Mueller in 1984, is the primary property management company through which Mueller ran his scheme and is the general partner of many of his other limited partnerships. Mueller, through Northridge and the Mueller Entities, owned properties through the Chicagoland area. Mueller set up a “CD Account” through the Northridge website for investors. Once Northridge received the funds, he solicited investors to use the funds in their Northridge CD Account to invest in his various companies.

The Illinois Securities Department filed a Temporary Order of Prohibition against Mueller, Northridge, and several of the Mueller Entities. Mueller solicited 140 Illinois residents to invest over $19 million through 244 promissory notes. Some of these investments were sold to clients in their IRAs.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C is investigating recent filings by both FINRA and Ameritas Investment Corp. regarding the sales practices of James F. Anderson of Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. Mr. Anderson also serviced clients through offices in Iowa and Nebraska. According to Mr. Anderson’s publicly-available FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Mr. Anderson was registered with Ameritas Investment Corp. from July 2004 until he was terminated by the firm for cause in February 2019. According to Ameritas, Mr. Anderson was discharged after the conclusion of an internal investigation which determined he had sold clients indexed annuities and promissory notes without authorization from the firm.  Not surprisingly, about two months later the first customer complaint appeared on Mr. Anderson’s BrokerCheck report, alleged that he sold $400,000 in promissory notes to the investor. Just this past week, on June 3, 2019, FINRA finally stepped in and barred Mr. Anderson from the securities industry for life. Mr. Anderson was technically barred for failing to respond to requests for information and to provide on-the-record (OTR) testimony pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210. Although the FINRA Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent does not reference his selling away activities, it does not take a grand leap of faith to conclude that his termination and the customer complaint specifically referencing selling away and selling promissory notes to clients was the crux of the investigation by FINRA. By refusing to show up and provide testimony, Mr. Anderson’s silence about his misconduct is deafening indeed.

Promissory notes are an all too common tool used by brokers and financial advisors to lure investor money into their pockets. First, it is important to understand that in almost all circumstances, promissory notes are securities, which means in order to be legal in your state, they must either be registered with the state securities department, or they must be exempt from registration. The exemption is still something that must be filed with the state. So, if your financial advisor wants to sell you a promissory note, or a loan agreement, or a “memorandum of indebtedness”, it does not really matter what they call it, functionally its the same: its a promissory note. Do yourself a favor and decline the offer and call your state securities department.  Stoltmann Law Offices has prosecuted dozens of cases involving “promissory notes”, many of which turned out to be Ponzi Schemes. Just recently, we have been litigating on behalf of investors who were sold promissory notes – called “Memorandum of Indebtedness” – in now bankruptcy 1 Global Capital.

The good news for investors who get swindled into investing in promissory notes, including those who bought them from Mr. Anderson, regardless of whether Ameritas says these were approved, Ameritas is legally bound to supervise the activities of all of its registered representatives.  Further, because a promissory note is a security, and because Mr. Anderson’s job through Ameritas was to provide financial advice and sell securities, Ameritas can be liable for Mr. Anderson’s conduct through what is called Respondeat Superior. This legal theory means that the principal (Ameritas) is responsible for the conduct if its agent (Anderson) performed within the scope of his employment (selling securities and providing investment advice).  So, for investors who purchased promissory notes through Mr. Anderson, you have two avenues of recovery against Ameritas and Stoltmann Law Offices urges you to call our Chicago-based law firm at 312-332-4200 to discuss filing a FINRA Arbitration claim to recover your losses.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is evaluating investor claims in connection with recently disbarred financial advisor Philip Nalesnik from Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  According to a document signed by Mr. Nalesnik on April 15, 2019, he voluntarily consented to a permanent bar from FINRA. This is a professional death sentence for anyone who wants to provide financial services or financial advice to clients. The Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) states that Mr. Nalesnik refused to provide on-the-record testimony to FINRA in connection with its investigation into his outside business activities.  Prior to signing the AWC, according to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Mr. Nalesnik was terminated for cause by LPL Financial on July 8, 2018 as a result of LPL’s internal investigation into his outside businesses, including not cooperating with LPL’s investigation.

Mr. Nalesnik’s FINRA BrokerCheck Report reveals a few other troubling red flags.  He has been named in five customer complaints, with one of them resulting in an adverse arbitration award in November 2010.  He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in January 2012 and more recently, was hit with two tax liens.  Financial troubles like these can be red flags or indications that a financial advisor could slip into various forms of misconduct, including selling away, where an advisor has investor-clients invest money in an outside entity without the formal authorization of his firm.

Mr. Nalesnik did prominently disclose several outside businesses on his CRD Report.  These include Ridgeview Wealth Management which was disclosed as a company through which Mr. Nelsnik sold non-variable insurance products.  He also disclosed Integrated Insurance Management, LLC which looks to be an insurance agency. Mr. Nalesnik also reports an affiliation with Private Advisor Group, LLC, which is a registered investment advisory firm headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey. Doing business with any of these entities would be required to be supervised by LPL Financial.

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