Articles Posted in COVID-19

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C, a Chicago-based securities law firm specializing in representing investors nationwide, continues to hear from investors who have suffered devastating losses in alternative investments.  One of the most common and popular alternative investments peddled by brokers over the last several years are “business development companies” or “BDCs”. The most common issuer of BDCs is a company called Franklin Square, and brokerage firms have pushed hundreds of millions of dollars in these speculative investments to unsuspecting investors for a decade.

FSKR, the publicly-traded BDC called FS KKR Capital Corp. (NYSE: FSKR), was created by the merger of four Franklin Square non-traded BDCs in December 2019:

  • FS Investment Corporation II (FSIC II)

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented hundreds of investors who have been victims of one of the most egregious investment frauds: Ponzi schemes. These swindles promise quick riches and rely upon an increasing number of “investors” to keep the operation going, sometimes over a period of years. The schemes eventually blow up when new investors can’t be found to perpetuate it or promoters are outed by investors or associates for faking returns.

The most famous Ponzi scheme – and perhaps one of the largest – involved broker-money manager Bernie Madoff. Over a period of 17 years, Madoff defrauded thousands of investors, lying about profitable trades. In 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison, after pleading guilty to a $65 billion swindle of some 65,000 victims around the world. Many of Madoff’s victims, which ranged from non-profit organizations to celebrities, were financially ruined. A court-appointed “Madoff Victims Fund” has distributed nearly $3 billion to investors. His sons, who worked for their father’s firm, turned Madoff into authorities when they learned of the scam.

Despite the notoriety of the Madoff swindle, Ponzi schemes are still ensnaring innocent investors. As one of the oldest investment fraud vehicles around, the Ponzi scheme has two selling points: Promoters promise outrageous returns in a short period of time and rely upon continuing stream of new victims to “pay off” early investors in fake profits. This perennial false promise of easy riches makes it one of the most durable schemes for dishonest brokers, who continue to sell them — until the frauds collapse.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered investment losses at the hands of financial and investment advisers who churned and burned their accounts. One of the most prevalent abuses in the securities industry is excessive trading, or “churning” client accounts. This practice, which is forbidden by industry regulators like FINRA and the SEC, is done to generate commissions, almost always at the expense of the client. As the stock market swings wildly during the Covid-19 pandemic, brokers take advantage by trading their clients’ accounts to generate commissions.

Brokers can open the door to churning by asking customers if they want an “active” trading strategy, which gives brokers discretionary ability to trade at will. Unless clients give specific directions on how and when to trade, brokers may take the opportunity to trade excessively and charge needlessly high commissions.

Churning has been the subject of numerous regulatory actions over several decades. Broker Frank Venturelli, a representative for First Standard in Red Bank, New Jersey, was cited by FINRA for excessive trading between 2016 and 2018. According to FINRA settlement, clients lost more than $373,000 during that period. Venturelli was suspended from the industry for 11 months and ordered to pay partial restitution of $30,000 to his clients.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with unscrupulous investment brokers selling exchange-traded products. Many of these high-risk products are unsuitable for retail investors.

With the COVID-19 crisis roiling financial markets, many investors have been sold products that rise when market indexes or individual securities fall. Many “exchange-linked products” (ETPs) often use borrowed money, or leverage, to magnify gains when the market drops, but they can also increase losses. They are generally only suitable for sophisticated investors and are linked to complex underlying futures contracts.

When the coronavirus crisis first made major headlines in the U.S. in early March, the stock, bond and commodities markets crashed. Since markets over-react to widespread greed and fear, traders went into mass selling mode over (later justified) expectations that demand for nearly everything from luxury goods to commodities would drop dramatically.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. located in Chicago, Downers Grove, and Barrington, Illinois is investigating claims for Illinois businesses that have been shuttered or curtailed due to COVID-19 Coronavirus civil authority orders.  On Sunday, March 15, Governor J.B. Pritzker issued an executive proclamation ordering all Illinois bars and restaurants to close to in-dining customers. Although these companies can still stay open and cater to carry-out and delivery customers, there is no question many restaurants and bars will suffer potentially cataclysmic losses.  It is in situations like this, when paying all of those insurance premiums, could pay off.

Most businesses have some form of commercial property insurance coverage or some other policy that may cover losses attributable to business interruption due to civil authority orders.  These policies are usually riddled with exceptions and the language of each policy is the determining factor here. Insurance carriers will undoubtedly rely on various exclusionary language to deny claims outright.  However, depending on the language of your policy, your business could have a viable claim against the insurer for damages in connection with the closure of your business due to a civil authority order.  What Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot did on Sunday, effective immediately, to bars and restaurants across the state of Illinois and City of Chicago, constitutes civil authority orders.

It is situations like this current crisis where insurance companies should step up and pay the claims of those businesses that had civil authority order business interruption protection. However, insurance companies don’t get their names on all of those tall buildings downtown because they write checks readily. In order to impose the obligations of your insurance coverage on your insurance carrier, you will need a lawyer to file a formal demand and likely a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment. What this means is, the business owner, the insured, files a complaint in court against the insurance company, the insurer, seeking a declaration from the court that the losses at issue are covered by the terms of the insurance policy. This is not a quick fix, and could take considerable time especially in Cook County. But if you have business interruption protection, it would certainly be worth a shot.  It is definitely time to dig up all of those insurance policies and see what protections your business has been paying for.

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