Articles Posted in Ponzi Scheme

Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating on behalf of defrauded investors claims made by the Securities and Exchange Commission that Lester W. “Chad” Burroughs, a financial advisor for Lincoln Planning of Torrington, Connecticut, misappropriated client money for personal use. Burroughs was also a registered investment advisor through Capital Analysts. According to the SEC complaint filed on December 9, 2019 in the Federal District Court, District of Connecticut, Burroughs ran his scheme from November 2012 through at least January 2019.  It was a simple scam, one that is all too common in fact.  Burroughs offered victims an investment called a “Guaranteed Interest Contract”, also known as a “GIC”.  The terms of these “GICs” offered by Burroughs included interest at either 4% or 7% per year for the term of the contract. Once again, and these scams are becoming so much more common, 4% to 7% per year is not an exorbitant return people typically think of when being sold a fraudulent investment.  In fact, 4% per year barely pays more than the average rate of inflation.

In furtherance of his scheme to defraud his clients, Burroughs created fake account statements, and according to the SEC, the reason he sold GICs to subsequent investors was to pay off previous investors – the hallmark of a Ponzi scheme. According to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Burroughs is no stranger to customers complaints. When he was hired by Lincoln Planning, Burroughs had fourteen customer complaints disclosed on his CRD Report, which is a statistically enormous number.  Burroughs also paid a fine to the Insurance Commission of the State of Connecticut in 2003 for violations. This history of complaints and compliance issues put Lincoln Planning on notice when they hired Burroughs in 2012 that he was a compliance risk.  Standard operating procedure at a brokerage firm like Lincoln Planning under these circumstances would be to place the advisor on “heightened supervision”.  These heightened supervision programs regularly require increased compliance surveillance like random, unannounced on-sight branch audits and direct communications with clients without the knowledge of the advisor. Certainly, had Lincoln Planning put the necessary resources into supervising Burroughs, he would not have so brazenly created and sold these phony GICs to clients.

This “heightened supervision” requirement for brokers like Burroughs with a history of customer complaints has been part of the regulatory lexicon required by FINRA for almost 20 years.  In NTM 03-49, then NASD (now FINRA) explained to brokerage firms like Lincoln Planning that brokers with a history of customer complaints should be more closely monitored because they are a compliance risk. NASD provided some statistics in this notice which were pretty shocking when one considers the number of complaints Burroughs had on his record prior to even being hired.  According to this notice, only 3.3% of all registered brokers had at least one customer complaint; 0.71% had two; 0.22% had three, and only 0.09% were subject to at least four customer complaints. The Fourteen complaints on  Burroughs record put him in extremely rare company.  Lincoln Planning had an obligation to adequately supervise Burroughs and the firm clearly failed to do that.  As such, Lincoln Planning can be liable for the damages caused by Burroughs to his clients.

Stoltmann Law Offices continues to investigate allegations that Robert Walberg of Arlington Heights, Illinois, defrauded a few dozens investors, including family, friends, and the Northwest Suburban Montessori School. As we previously discussed, on January 24, 2019, the Illinois Securities Department issued a Temporary Order of Prohibition against Robert C. Walberg, Chartwell Strategies LP, and Chartwell Advisory Group LLC. Chartwell Strategies LP is a hedge fund created and sold by Robert C. Walberg and his company, Chartwell Advisory Group LLC. According to the Illinois Securities Department, Mr. Walberg solicited an Illinois resident at the end of 2017 and early 2018 to invest in Chartwell Strategies LP. Mr. Walberg allegedly commingled his client’s funds with his personal assets. Walberg was charged in early October with wire fraud, investment advisor fraud, securities violations, and theft by deception. According to court papers, Walberg is alleged to have converted more than $600,000 from the Montessori school he acted as Treasurer for, which puts the school’s future at risk.  It was reported recently that Walberg also stole $45,000 worth of retirement money from his Aunt and Uncle.

Mr. Walberg was a registered FINRA broker on and off from 1984 through 2013, but he has not been registered with the SEC or FINRA since November 2013. Because he was not registered, in furtherance of his scheme, Walberg had his investor “clients” open accounts at Fidelity.  He then used the clients’ credentials to log-in to their accounts and transfer funds from their Fidelity accounts to Chartwell Strategies, a private entity allegedly created for investment purposes.

Depending on the nature of the transactions and specifically how Walberg gained access to his clients’ funds, Fidelity could be responsible for either negligence, or aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty. All too frequently, fraudsters use big named, well known companies like Fidelity to give their schemes an aura of legitimacy.  Fidelity has duties and obligations to all of its clients, including purported victims of Walberg’s scam, to at a minimum, perform its compliance, execution, and supervisory functions at or above the standard of care. Further, Fidelity, as a FINRA member firm, has explicit responsibilities to its clients to ensure it adaquetly monitors and supervises electronic access to their accounts and have reasonable measures in place to ensure someone other than the client is not logging-in using their credentials. This is a bright red flag that someone is acting in a questionable manner. In the normal investment advisor-client relationship which uses Fidelity as the broker/dealer, that investment advisor has his own log in credentials and uses the Fidelity RIA platform to run his business.  That Walberg did not do this and instead used client credentials is an indicia that he was not licensed or registered to act as an investment advisor. Upon information and belief, Walberg abused his trust in this way to numerous clients resulting in the theft of as much as $5 million.  Fidelity could have liability for these losses.

LPL terminated financial advisor Dain F. Stokes on August 28, 2019 for selling unregistered promissory notes to clients that purported to invest in a project in Africa allegedly sponsored by Taylor Swift. According to InvestmentNews, Stokes converted at least $576,000 from two clients, whom he solicited to invest in this phony charity project, which he sold as being created by Swift to help needy people in Africa. Stokes claimed to have a close relationship with Swift, telling clients that she personally hired him to manage the finances of the Africa project and to promote a new song release by her in June 2019. He also told clients that Bill Gates was involved in the project.

The State of New Hampshire Department of State Bureau of Securities Regulation filed a petition and order against Stokes after an investor (“Investor #1”) invested $201,000 in the Africa Project between August 1, 2018 and January 25, 2019. Stokes used promissory notes to facilitate these investments. According to the promissory notes, Investor #1 would receive the return of his entire principal plus 20% interest by making this investment. Payment on the first promissory note was initially due by November 8, 2018, however the due date was continually pushed back by Stokes. At one point, he even told his client that President Donald Trump allegedly froze his assets. Stokes was ordered to pay $201,000 plus interest in restitution to Investor #1 and a $20,000 fine for violating New Hampshire Blue Sky Laws, which prohibit the fraudulent sale of securities (RSA 421-B:5-501) and the sale of unregistered securities (RSA 421-B:3-301(a)). To date, a second investor who invested $375,000 has come forward.  The New Hampshire Department of State Bureau of Securities Regulation has since frozen Stokes’ assets and issued an injunction prohibiting him from speaking with those who invested in this scam.

New Hampshire authorities interviewed Stokes, who refused to provide any details about the African charity, claiming that all information, including the name, was privileged. He also refused to reveal whether the checks, which were made payable to him personally, were invested in his personal accounts.

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 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.

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.

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 ).

On December 27, 2018, John G. Schmidt was charged in a 128 count indictment by the Montgomery County, Ohio Prosecuting Attorney. According to Investment News, the Prosecutor alleges that Schmidt, while employed a financial advisor for Wells Fargo Advisors, stole money from clients while operating a Ponzi scheme. The Prosecutor further alleges that Schmidt created fictitious account statements in order to hide his fraud from his investor clients.

According to Schmidt’s publicly available FINRA BrokerCheck Report, he was employed with Wells Fargo Advisors Financial from 2006 to October 24, 2017 when he was terminated for cause “after allegations of unauthorized money movement between clients, and after the Firm was notified of an allegation of the existence of inaccurate statements which appear not to have been generated or approved by the Firm.” Only days after Schmidt was fired by Wells Fargo, the customer complaints began rolling in alleging he had stolen money. Some of those cases have been settled but a few are still pending.  On September 25, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against Schmidt outlining the details of this Ponzi scheme.

Schmidt’s Ponzi scheme is why the SEC and FINRA have mandated for generations now that brokerage firms adequately supervise their brokers.  In 1989 the SEC clearly outlined a brokerage firm’s supervisory responsibilities:

Sunil Sharma, a former stockbroker in Carlsbad, California, pleaded guilty in federal court to swindling more than $6 million from investors in a long-running ponzi scheme. He day-traded client money in very risky strategies and when those went south, Sharma turned the scam into a ponzi scheme. Sharma then allegedly told investors that their investments were doing well. He sent them false quarterly statements that showed promising returns of their funds. All the while, he was diverting $2.5 million of client money to himself, to fund things such as a cruise in the Mediterranean, two expensive cars and a down payment on a $2 million home.

If you were a victim of Sunil Sharma, please call Stoltmann Law Offices at 312-332-4200 to speak to an attorney. We may be able to help you recover your investment losses. The call is free with no obligation and attorneys are standing by.

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