Articles Posted in Fraud

Stoltmann Law Offices has been investigating Northridge Holdings and Glenn Mueller on behalf of several clients over the last several months. On September 5, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint against Glenn Mueller, Northridge Holdings, and several other Mueller-controlled companies, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  The complaint alleges that since at least 2014, Mueller, through his tangled web of entities, has orchestrated a veritable Ponzi scheme, raising in access of $40 million from investors based on the representation that he was purchasing properties with those funds. The truth is, Mueller has not purchased a piece of property since 2012. Instead of using investor money to purchase properties, Mueller used new investor funds to make interest and principal payments to previous investors, in class Ponzi-payment fashion. These funds were also used to pay “finders” commissions for referring new investors to Northridge. The SEC also alleges that Mueller used investor funds for personal and family use, including to make loans to family members and trade stocks and options in personal brokerage accounts.

The SEC’s allegations blow the lid off of Northridge and Mueller’s schemes. Although Mueller and his finders represented the “notes” sold by by Northridge were “secured” by property, they are not. In fact, although Mueller claims the full liquidation value of his real estate is over $100 million, he owes investors and mortgages on those properties more than that. Despite all of his representations to the contrary, Mueller and his companies are “upside-down”.  The Daily Herald also details the religion-based sale pitches used by Mueller which is an all too common hook used by schemers.

The next steps for investors is to await the appointment of a receiver. According to the docket report for this case, there is a hearing on Wednesday, September 11 during which the SEC will request the court appoint a receiver and freeze all of Mueller’s and his subsidiaries’ assets. Assuming this request is granted, which given the allegations seems likely, the receiver will begin the process of marshaling assets, selling off properties, and collecting funds to repay creditors and investors.  How long this process takes and how much money investors can expect to get out of this is anyone’s guess. The fact of the matter is, and according to the SEC, Mueller owes more money than his properties are estimated to be worth. Further, any liquidation of real estate creates a buyer’s market, so whatever purported value these properties have, they will likely be sold at a discount eventually.

FINRA permanently barred former Securities America financial advisor, Bobby Wayne Coburn (“Coburn”) on August 27, 2019 after he failed to appear at the disciplinary hearing. This came after Securities America terminated Mr. Coburn on March 20, 2019 for soliciting multiple clients to invest in an unapproved private securities transaction. He also tried to settle a complaint made by a customer without notifying the firm. According Mr. Coburn’s FINRA BrokerCheck report, the securities were in the form of promissory notes and real estate securities.

On notice of Coburn’s violations, FINRA promptly initiated an investigation into Coburn in July 2019. According to the Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (“AWC”) FINRA entered against Coburn, Securities America learned in January 2019 that Coburn sold unregistered securities to clients in 2010 and 2011. Securities America also discovered the Coburn settled a customer complaint relating to this scheme in 2016 without providing the required notice to his firm and FINRA.  When FINRA requested documents and information from Coburn, he informed FINRA that he was no longer working in the securities industry and refused to produce the documents and information, in violation of FINRA Rule 8210. FINRA also found that Coburn violated Rule 2010, which is a “catch all” rule requiring that brokers and firms conduct business with “high standards of commercial honor” and maintain “just and equitable principles of trade”. FINRA permanently barred Coburn from the securities industries for violating these rules.

Coburn’s career in the financial services industry began in 1986 at Ameritas Investment Corp. During his thirty-three year career, he bounced from firm to firm, and landed at Securities America in January 2009. He worked from the Fort Meade, Florida branch office. Two customers have filed complaints against Coburn, including one complaint related to the real estate investment scheme. According to his BrokerCheck report, Coburn sold the client an investment in a Costa Rica real estate development, which did not make the required payments pursuant to the promissory note. The complaint for $32,000 was settled for $7,000. The entire settlement was paid by Coburn. Another client of Coburn and Securities America formally complained about an unsuitable variable annuity that Coburn sold, and the $5,000 complaint was settled for nearly $55,000, with Coburn contributing $5,000.

No yield hungry investor wants to miss out on the next Google, the next big thing.  But as this Securities and Exchange Commission civil prosecution shows the only big things in some start-ups may be fraud.  A number of high net worth individuals thought an Orange County, California investment adviser was appealing.  But they were mistaken and taken to the cleaners for $14 million for undisclosed and excessive fees, claims the SEC.

According to an SEC court filing, Stuart Frost and his investment advisory firm, Frost Management Company, raised $63 million from the investors to put into another firm he owned, Frost Data Capital (FDC) that was supposedly performing operational support and other services to help incubate a portfolio of start-ups.  In reality, much of the money was said to have been diverted to fund a lavish lifestyle for him which included a boat, luxury cars and an archery range.

“When Frost needed more cash to fund his lavish lifestyle, he created new portfolio companies and, after investing more fund capital into the new companies, FDC then extracted even more incubator fees,” according to the SEC complaint.  The SEC is alleging Frost and his investment advisory firm violated their fiduciary duties by keeping the super-charged fees hidden from the investors.

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.

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.

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.

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.

If you or someone you know is a victim of financial fraud perpetrated by Ed Matthes of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, there is legal recourse that could lead to the recovery of those stolen funds.  According to published reports, Ed Matthes, who was a registered representative for Mutual of Omaha Investor Services until March 12, 2019, missappropriated and stole upwards of $1 million from his clients.  According to the cease and desist order entered by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Matthes stole money from client annuities after convincing them to give him authority to enter transactions and withdraw funds on their behalf.  Providing this level of authority to a financial advisor is rarely a good idea, but Ed Matthes was able to elicit a substantial level of trust and confidence from his clients. He created fake account statements which masked the withdrawals he had been taking, hiding his misconduct for years.  Matthes was also barred by FINRA – the regulatory body charged with overseeing and disciplining financial advisors and their firms.

According to Matthes’s FINRA Broker/Check report, several customer complaints have been filed against Matthes’s former firm, Mutual of Omaha Investor Services. These claims were filed as arbitration actions through FINRA’s Dispute Resolution program. Mutual of Omaha is certainly a viable target for Matthes’s fraudulent scheme since at all times he was a registered representative of the firm and as such, Mutual of Omaha had a duty to supervise his activities.  Case law establishes that brokerage firms like Mutual of Omaha can be held liable for negligent supervision even when the activities of the schemer fall outside the scope of his employment with the firm.  See McGraw v. Wachovia Securities, 756 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (N.D. Iowa 2010). Here, Mutual of Omaha had an obligation to supervise the withdrawal of funds from Matthes’s clients’ annuities to ensure they were legitimate, as part of the firm’s anti-money laundering compliance apparatus mandated by the Bank Secrecy Act, and NASD Notice to Members 02-21 and NASD Notice to Members 02-47.

Similarly, the annuity companies from which these funds were converted could have liability to the victims too. Anytime investors withdraw substantial amounts of money from annuities, the annuity company should be on alert, and presumably Matthes had the funds directed to a third party, which is a serious red flag. Stoltmann Law Offices will pursue all viable options to recover our clients’ funds.

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 ).

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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