Articles Posted in Cherry Picking Scheme

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. represents clients nationwide in securities and investment arbitrations and litigation. One area we are very familiar with, is to look for all liable parties when investment advisors commit securities fraud. In many instances, there are multiple potentially liable parties beyond the primary bad actors, including banks that facilitate the illegal movement of funds and brokerage/clearing firms that facilitate illegal trading schemes.  Cherry-picking is one of those trading schemes that brokerage or clearing firms are geared to supervise for and prevent. In the event you are a victim of a cherry-picking scheme orchestrated by your trusted investment advisor, you may have a viable claim against the brokerage firm or custodial firm that executed the trades on behalf of the investment advisor.

According to published reports, Barrington Asset Management and Gregory D. Paris executed an allocation scheme which resulted in profits to the firm and losses to firm advisor clients.  In a civil complaint filed June 28, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Barrington Asset Management and Gregory D. Paris, who was the firm’s chief compliance officer, executed this “cherry-picking scheme” in violation of several federal securities laws including Sections 17(a)(1), 17(a)(2) and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act (“Exchange Act”) and Rules 10b-5(a), 10b-5(b) and 10b-5(c) thereunder; and Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act (“Advisers Act”). According to the SEC complaint, Barrington Asset Management executed this scheme through a pooled trading fund called the Barrington Opportunity Fund.

As investment advisors, Barrington Asset Management cannot execute securities transactions. They must use a FINRA registered broker/dealer to do so. In this circumstance, this brokerage firm plays the role of “custodial” firm, where the firm physically holds cash on behalf of the RIA’s clients and also executes or brokers securities trades. These are generally back-office functions and these companies, like Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, and Interactive Brokers, typically disclaim away any responsibility to supervise for the suitability of the transactions at issue. What they cannot disclaim away, however, are their obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act and Patriot Act to supervise for illegal activities. One of the most common schemes executed by RIAs like Barrington Asset Management is the “cherry-picking” scheme, and these firms typically do have compliance and supervisory systems in place to check for and prevent such illegal activity. When they fail to detect this sort of scam, they could be secondarily liable for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, or for negligent supervision.  Here, the facts also reflect that Barrington Asset Management trading in leveraged ETFs, which are extremely high risk and volatile investments.  According to the SEC complaint, the manner in which trades were allocated statistically represented a 1 in a billion outcome for the Advisor – Paris. The SEC identifies these firms as “clearing broker A”and “clearing broker B”.

Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating claims on behalf of defrauded victims of California Registered Investment Advisor Strong Investment Management. According to a complaint filed by the SEC on February 21, 2018, Strong and its President and sole owner Joseph B. Bronson defrauded its advisory clients by engaging in what is called a “cherry picking” scheme.   The complaint alleges that for at least four years Bronson abused his clients’ trust by earmarking profitable trades to himself while booking the losers in his clients’ accounts.  The complaint also alleged that Bronson and Strong misrepresented the trading strategy they were engaging in, stating that all trades were allocated pursuant to a pre-trade allocation statement. In reality, alleged the SEC, Bronson reaped substantial personal profits to his clients’ detriment.

On September 25, 2019, the SEC obtained a final judgment against Bronson and Orange County-based Strong Investment which were ordered to pay over $1 million in restitution to defrauded investors. Bronson also faces a lifetime bar from the securities industry. Cherry-picking schemes like that engaged in by Bronson are fairly common unfortunately.  On September 20, 2018, a Louisiana based investment advisory firm, World Tree Financial, was charged by the SEC with orchestrating a $54 million cherry picking scheme. In January 2017, the SEC uncovered another cherry-picking scheme engaged in by Massachusetts based investment advisory firm Strategic Capital Management with a $1.3 million cherry picking scheme.  The list of investment advisors that have engaged in this scheme goes on and on.

Cherry Picking schemes are pretty easy to execute which is why they’re fairly common.  A lot of investment advisors use omnibus accounts to trade their clients’ investments in bulk and then allocate the gains and losses directly to client accounts pursuant to an allocation practice. These practices have to be disclosed on the advisory firm’s Form ADV, but no one is looking over their shoulder to make sure these allocations are done correctly. No one audits these accounts to make sure the investment advisor, who is provided full discretion to execute these transactions, is not cherrypicking or skimming off the top.  The only entity that should be aware of this sort of scam is the brokerage firm through which these cherry-picking schemes are executed.

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