Articles Posted in LPL Financial

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating allegations against Eric Hollifield that came to light as a result of a regulatory filing by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  According to FINRA, the regulator launched an investigation into Eric Hollifield who was a registered representative of LPL Financial and Hamilton Investment Counsel.  The investigation was in connection with a customer complaint filed in arbitration against Dacula, Georgia-based Hollifield that alleges he stole or misappropriated $1,240,000 from the account of an elderly client. This complaint was filed on August 25, 2021 and came on the heels of LPL terminating Hollifield for cause for “failing to disclose an outside business activity.”  On September 1, 2021 Hamilton Investment Counsel followed LPL’s lead and terminated Hollifield for cause or failing to disclose an outside business activity.

Since Hollifield failed to respond to FINRA’s request for information, pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210, Hollifield accepted a lifetime ban from the securities industry.  Brokers agree to these lifetime bans, instead of cooperating with an investigation, for any number of reasons.  Obviously, given the allegations made by the pending customer complaint and the terminations from LPL and Hamilton, a reasonable conclusion to draw is, Hollifield chose to accept a lifetime bad from FINRA as opposed to disclosing or admitting information to FINRA that could be used against him by criminal authorities. It is important to realize, the facts in the customer complaint and the information contained in the FINRA AWC are mere allegations and nothing has been proven.

LPL has a long history of failing to supervise its financial advisors, like Hollifield. We have blogged on these issues numerous times.  Pursuant to FINRA Rule 3110, brokerage firms like LPL have an iron-clad responsibility to supervise the conduct of their brokers, like Hollifield.  Similarly, brokers have an obligation to disclose “outside business activities” to their member-firm pursuant to FINRA Rule 3270.  LPL cannot get off the hook, however, just because Hollifield failed to disclose an outside business. There are a few reasons for this and they are important.  First, brokers do it all the time and LPL knows it. Therefore, as required by both FINRA regulations and LPL’s open internal policies the procedures, LPL’s compliance and supervision apparatus is geared towards detecting undisclosed outside business activities because it is commonly through these outside businesses, that financial advisors execute their worst schemes and frauds on their clients.  Further, to the extent red flags existed that Hollifield was running an undisclosed outside business or doing something else that violated securities regulations, then LPL can be held liable for negligent supervision, at a minimum. Case law supports the imposition of liability on LPL under these circumstances.  See McGraw v. Wachovia Securities, 756 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (N.D. Iowa 2010).

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from financial advisors who’ve swindled investors through unauthorized transactions. Can financial advisers trade your portfolio or buy investments without your permission? Only if you give them “discretionary” authority and definitely not if they’ve failed to obtain your written okay.

Without a doubt, brokers can’t do anything with your assets if they forge your signatures to make a transaction. Joffre Salazar, a former broker with LPL Financial, was terminated by the brokerage firm after he “forged two customers’ signatures and initials on documents connected to the purchase of fixed annuities, which Salazar then also submitted without the customers’ authorization,” according to FinancialAdvisorIQ.com.

Salazar, who first registered with Finra, the federal securities regulator, in 1991, registered with LPL in 2016, according to Finra. In April 2019, LPL filed a termination notice for Salazar, stating that he resigned voluntarily, but two months later amended the form to disclose that it started a review of Salazar’s “involvement in processing [an] annuity application without customer authorization,” Finra stated.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is a Chicago-based investment fraud and investor rights law firm that offers representation to victims of investment fraud nationwide. We have tried and won many cases against LPL Financial over the years and represented hundreds of investors who were victims of various types of investment fraud as a result of the misconduct of LPL financial advisors.

According to multiple reports, including a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, for upwards of ten years, James K. Couture, while a registered representative for LPL Financial based in Boston, Massachusetts, stole upwards of $2.9 million from clients.  Couture pulled this off by convincing his clients to sell legitimate securities in their accounts and transfer the funds to an “investment” in a company owned and controlled by Couture called Legacy Financial.  Once Couture gained control of his clients’ money, he converted it and spent it for his own use. This is a classic scheme in the brokerage and advisory world known as “selling away”.  According to the SEC and the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Couture kept the scam going by fabricating account statements for his clients that showed money being “reinvested” and also provided account reviews which disguised the fact that he was committed rote fraud.  When clients would request withdrawals, Couture would take money from Client A and pay it to Client B, which is the classic sign of a Ponzi scheme.

According to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Couture was registered as a licensed securities broker and advisor through LPL Financial from February 2009 through July 2020 out of offices in Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts.  At that point, LPL fired him for cause based on the same misconduct that led to his indictment and the SEC complaint. A few months later, in October 2020, Couture accepted a permanent bar from the securities industry from FINRA when he knowingly failed to respond to a request for information from the regulator in connection with an investigation into his misconduct.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C., has represented hundreds of investors over the years in both arbitration and litigation against LPL Financial. Many of these claims involved situations where the financial adviser sold the investor an investment that ended up being a Ponzi-like scheme. Rhett Bedwell, it would seem, falls into that category of former LPL brokers who sold clients fraudulent investments.

According to published reports, Rhett Bedwell, of Rogers, Arizona, while a registered broker with LPL Financial allegedly transferred a client’s IRA to an IRA custodian, using forged documents, and invested the client’s IRA in a Ponzi scheme. According to regulatory documents filed by LPL Financial, Bedwell was under an internal investigation at the firm at the time he was “permitted to resign” and was also subject to customer complaints, event though there is only one customer complaint disclosed on his FINRA BrokerCheck Report.   On February 10, 2021, Bedwell signed a FINRA Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) which barred him for life from the securities industry. By failing to respond to FINRA’s request for information in connection with a regulatory investigation, Bedwell sealed his professional fate.

In circumstances like this, investors need to realize the brokerage firm with whom the broker was registered, in this instance, LPL Financial, is legally responsible for his misconduct under two independent legal theories. First, as a licensed, registered financial adviser, anything Bedwell did as a financial adviser, is part of the scope and course of his agency with LPL Financial. Investors don’t sue the brokerage firm when brokers cause property damage, for example, because LPL is not responsible for what the firm’s brokers do outside of providing financial and investment advice. But in this circumstance, surely from the investor’s perspective, Bedwell was providing financial and investment advice at all times.  The second road that should be taken is a direct claim against LPL for negligent supervision.  The securities rules are clear and the obligations are rock solid that LPL must maintain adequate supervision and compliance over its brokers in order to prevent and to deter violations of state and federal securities laws. Either way, LPL can be liable for the misconduct of its brokers.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors in cases against securities brokers and has been investigating claims against LPL and filing arbitration complaints for investors. Can securities brokers who’ve been fleecing investors somehow keep working in the industry? If a firm’s records systems are poorly managed, sadly, the answer is yes. Sometimes they slip through the cracks and continue to steal customers’ funds and place them in bad or fraudulent investments that turn out to be Ponzi schemes.

That was the case with former LPL broker James T. Booth, who worked for the firm from 2018 through 2019. Booth pled guilty to one count of securities fraud in October, 2019, and was barred from the industry by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). LPL was also cited for “supervisory deficiencies” by FINRA, the industry regulator, in connection with Booth stealing “at least $1 million of LPL customers’ money as part of a multi-year Ponzi scheme,” according to thediwire.com. The regulator fined LPL $6.5 million.

There was a bigger problem at LPL, though: FINRA claims that LPL’s recordkeeping system failed to report millions of customer communications. The firm’s failure “affected at least 87 million records and led to the permanent deletion of more than 1.5 million customer communications maintained by a third-party data vendor. These included mutual fund switch letters, 36-month letters, and wire transfer confirmations that were required to be preserved for at least three years.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices in investigating cases where brokers have been treated unfairly by their firms.  A growing issue for financial advisors is when they are pushed out of their firms or treated unfairly simply for getting older. When this happens, brokers can file age discrimination lawsuits against their former employers.

Judith Bovitz, a 70-year-old financial advisor with Wells Fargo, sued her employer last year for age and gender discrimination. She claimed Wells retaliated against her by transferring her to a smaller branch office when she complained that younger, male advisors were being assigned more lucrative accounts, according to Reuters. She had a $100 million book of business at the time of the lawsuit. Bovitz spent her 34-year career at Wells and its Prudential Securities predecessor. “I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because other advisors were given accounts,” Bovitz told Advisorhub.com. “I’m sick and tired of being passed over.” The company said it is “reviewing” Bovitz’s allegations.

In 2011, Wells Fargo Advisors, the wealth management unit of Wells Fargo & Co. agreed to pay $32 million to settle a gender bias class-action suit with about 3,000 women advisors. The women claimed that compared with their male advisor counterparts, female advisors were “provided fewer business opportunities by the company. The women also claimed that female advisors were impaired by limited career advancement, work assignments and distribution of accounts,” one of the ways firms chose to shift customers to younger, male advisors.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with brokers who’ve fleeced clients. This is a sad occurrence, but sometimes brokers take advantage of clients and steal their money. We’ve investigated countless cases when this has happened.

The instances are all too familiar to us: Usually it’s elderly, retired women who are preyed upon. A recent case involving a 73-year-old client is a case in point. A former LPL broker, Matthew O. Clason, of Chesire, Connecticut, is accused of stealing more than $300,000 from the client, “with whom he formed a personal relationship.” Clason, who had been a registered broker since 2004, sold securities from his client in 45 transactions over the last 20 months, the SEC said in its suit filed against the broker.

“He transferred about $330,000 [from proceeds of the sales of client assets] to a joint checking account they had opened at a large national bank, funding most of it through securities sold from a non-retirement account that charged the client 1.54% of her assets under management,” the SEC reported. The agency is requesting “that the court enter an order freezing Clason’s assets and requiring an accounting. The SEC also seeks permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement plus prejudgment interest, and civil penalties.” Clason, who was registered with LPL and Integrated Wealth Concepts, could not be reached for comment, according to AdvisorHub.com. He was fired by LPL on August 13 for failing to comply with firm policies with respect to handling client funds, the SEC said.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices continues to represent investors who’ve suffered losses in connection with financial advisors who have oversold energy stocks and other energy-related investments. With the COVID-19 pandemic depressing demand for everything from gasoline to jet fuel, it’s been a mostly rotten year for energy stocks. In fact, when news first hit the markets in early March, stocks in many oil & gas companies and funds that invested in them crashed. At one time, the Energy Select SPDR (XLE), an exchange-traded fund that invests in energy companies, was down as much as 58%.

The net effect of tens of millions of Americans sheltering in place, avoiding travel and not commuting slashed demand for fuels. Only a handful of people were getting on jets, buses, ships, trains, or driving to work. That resulted in energy companies eliminating dividends and losing money.  While the economy has recovered somewhat as more states have re-opened in recent months, energy demand is nowhere near where it was at the beginning of 2020. The U.S. economy is now in a recession, which may continue into 2021.

What is important to realize about oil/gas prices is, the decline in energy demand actually began a few years ago – primary energy consumption dropped by half in 2019 alone — hasn’t stopped brokers from selling investments in oil & gas companies. They have sold stocks, limited partnerships, and mutual funds that concentrate in fossil fuels, which are volatile commodities and have a long history or volatility.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices continues to see a surge of complaints from investors who bought unlisted or non-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). For most investors, the prospect of getting a higher yield on any investment has been alluring. With rates near zero, it’s been hard to earn a return that beats inflation. Enter REITs and funds that invest in them. These are special vehicles that bundle real estate properties into one investment: You can invest in everything from apartment buildings to storage units.

Many REITs are listed and traded on stock exchanges, but some are not, which are called “private” or “unlisted” REITs. In their heyday, REITs routinely paid double-digit yields. Unlisted or “non-traded” REITs have been a consistent sore spot for investors in recent years. Many are loaded with fees and commissions, which dramatically lower investors’ net returns. They even may be money losers, even though they are sold with the promise that 90% of the income generated by properties they hold must be paid to investors. Middleman expenses, which can be as high as 15%, eat up returns in most cases.

Disclosure of the actual financial condition of these vehicles has also been troublesome. It’s hard for investors to know the true value of the properties within these vehicles, which have been aggressively sold by broker-dealers, who make high commissions selling them. When the COVID-19 crisis wracked the economy earlier this year – at first hitting commercial real estate developers and owners particularly hard – REITs that specialized in retail and office properties got clobbered. Retail and Hotel REITs were down 48% and 53%, respectively (as of April 15), according to Deloitte. Investors in these funds, of course, may be still experiencing large losses.

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)
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