Articles Posted in Investment Fraud

The smoke has been steadily rising from GPB Capital Holdings for about a year at this point. Over the last few months, however, it has been all quite on the GPB Capital front. The main talking points being communicated by GPB Capital to brokers and financial advisors to then deliver to their investor-clients, have been that everything at GPB Capital is fine and that the audited financial statements will be delivered in no time. Well, as the Wizard of Oz said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Just today, InvestmentNews published a story reporting that an executive at GPB Capital has been indicted for obstruction of justice. Nothing happening indeed.

According to a press release issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, on Wednesday, October 23, 2019, a superseding indictment was unsealed charging Michael S. Cohn, Managing Director and Chief Compliance Officer with obstruction of justice, unauthorized computer access, and unauthorized disclosure of confidential information. According to the indictment, Mr. Cohn was an employee of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) when he left the commission for a position with GPB Capital Holdings. In the course of that transition, Mr. Cohn is alleged to have stolen investigatory files and materials relevant to the ongoing SEC investigation into GPB Capital and then delivered those materials to his brethren at GPB Capital. FBI Assistant director-in-charge William Sweeney was quoted in the press release stating, “When Cohn left the SEC to join GPB, he left with more than his own career ambitions.” What’s worse, when Cohn was interviewing for his job with GPB, he let them know he had this information and shared it. The grand jury indictment  contains allegations, which if proven beyond a reasonable doubt, could land Mr. Cohn in prison for decades.

The fact that GPB Capital hired Mr. Cohn after he told them that he had inside information about the SEC’s ongoing investigation into GPB, is as clear an indication yet that GPB Capital is running an unreliable and highly questionable business, where at a minimum, ethics are of no concern. Investors should be concerned about this latest development because it indicates a few important points. First, it’s an indication that the SEC’s investigation into GPB is still ongoing. Second, the indictment reflects the acts of an allegedly corruptible person who was entrusted at GPB with being the company’s chief compliance officer – a position for the incorruptible. It is staggering that GPB would hire Mr. Cohn after he approached the firm with clearly illegally obtained information and highly confidential documents.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. continues to investigate investor claims and reports involving former Invest and LPL Financial  registered representative James T. Booth, of Norwalk, Connecticut, who was indicted on charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, and investment advisory fraud on September 30, 2019.  According to the unsealed indictment, Booth is alleged to have executed a Ponzi scheme which effectively converted almost $5 million from forty clients. The unsealed indictment was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Case No. 19-CRIM-699, and can be viewed here. Although Booth operated his own company called Booth Financial Associates, he was at all time relevant to this scheme a licensed and registered representative with FINRA member brokerage firms Invest Financial Corporation and LPL Financial.

As we previously discussed on this blog, James Booth was  terminated from LPL Financial on June 26, 2019 for allegedly converting $1 million from his clients. On July 1, 2019, Booth consented to a lifetime ban from the securities industry after FINRA investigated information provided to it by LPL established that Booth converted – or stole – $1 million from clients by depositing the funds into personal accounts for his own use. According to the FINRA Acceptance Waiver and Consent (AWC), Booth committed these alleged acts from approximately April 2014 to May 2019. Looking back, it appears that both LPL and FINRA underestimated the scope of this scam because the SDNY now alleges that Booth stole $4.9 million.

According to FINRA, numerous clients have filed complaints against Invest and LPL Financial to recover funds stolen by Booth. Some of these complaints have already been settled with full recoveries. FINRA Rules and securities industry regulations require brokerage firms like Invest Financial and LPL Financial to supervise their financial advisors. The foundation for this obligation to supervise to found in the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 which states:

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is investigating recent reports that James T. Booth, of Norwalk, Connecticut, was terminated from LPL Financial on June 26, 2019 for stealing upwards of $1 million from his clients. On July 1, 2019, Booth consented to a lifetime ban from the securities industry after FINRA investigated information provided to it by LPL established that Booth converted – or stole – $1 million from clients by depositing the funds into personal accounts for his own use. According to the FINRA Acceptance Waiver and Consent (AWC), Booth committed these egregious acts from approximately April 2014 to May 2019. If you or someone you know was victimized by Booth, you should contact Stoltmann Law Offices to discuss your legal options.

According to FINRA, Booth’s spree occurred while he was registered with Invest Financial Corporation and then LPL Financial. Depending on when an investor’s funds were actually converted by Booth, either Investment Financial or LPL Financial could be held responsible for this misconduct. In almost every case where a financial advisor like Booth converts or steals client money, there are various red flags and compliance failures that facilitate the theft. For example, in some cases, financial advisors will arrange for transfers of funds from a client account to a third party account, like an LLC or some outside business, from which the advisor then steals the money. In other cases, the advisor asks the clients to write a check or wire funds to either the advisor to a company he owns. In any instance, the brokerage firm’s knowledge of what their agent is up to is a phone call away. Part of a compliance department’s responsibility to supervise their agents includes making contact with clients directly to make sure they are satisfied with how their accounts are being managed and to inquire with them about their experience. It does not take a brilliant compliance examiner to figure out that a broker has been stealing money from clients for upwards of five years, like Booth.

FINRA Rules and securities industry regulations require brokerage firms like Invest Financial and LPL Financial to supervise their financial advisors. The foundation for this obligation to supervise to found in the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 which states:

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