Articles Posted in Selling Away

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating claims made by the Securities and Exchange Commission that financial advisor Scott Fries of Piqua, Ohio engaged in a Ponzi-like scheme , defrauding investors of nearly $200,000.  According to the complaint filed by the SEC last week, Fries raised approximately $178,000 from investors and used that money to pay personal expenses like his mortgage, payday loans, and credit cards. The SEC further alleges that Fries attempted to fraudulently conceal his activities by creating fake account statements which he delivered to his clients that purported to show their money invested in legitimate investments. The SEC alleges Fries’ misconduct violated several federal securities laws including Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b), and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, 17 C.F.R. 240.10b-5, Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”), 15 U.S.C. § 77q(a), and Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 80b-6(1) and 80b-6(2).

Before the SEC took action, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) barred Fries from the securities industry in November 2019 for violating FINRA Rule 8210. In response to being terminated for cause by his broker/dealer firm TransAmerica, FINRA launched an investigation into the allegations which led to Fries’ termination. If a broker/advisor fails to respond to these requests for information under FINRA Rule 8210, they can be barred for life from the securities industry. In many instances, brokers refuse to answer Rule 8210 requests because doing so would put them in the untenable position of having to answer question under oath.  It is likely, given the SEC’s allegations, that Fries chose not to answer FINRA Rule 8210 requests because it was not in his best interest for their to be a record of whatever this scheme actually was.

Investors who were caught up in this scheme run by Fries have legal options to attempt to recover their losses.  First and foremost, at all times relevant, Fries was a registered, licensed, representative of TransAmerica. This means victims – even those that were not contractual customers of TransAmerica – can file an arbitration action against TransAmerica to seek recovery of their losses. As a FINRA registered broker/dealer firm, TransAmerica is legally obligated to supervise the conduct of its financial advisors. This supervision requirement is rooted in the Securities Act and all applicable state laws, including myriad FINRA Rules and regulations, including FINRA Rule 3110.  Case law also supports the proposition that even non-customers of the firm can sue for the firm’s role in facilitating or failing to supervise their advisors. See McGraw v. Wachovia Securities, 756 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (N.D. Iowa 2010). When “red flags”of misconduct present themselves, firms like TransAmerica have a duty to act and to take steps to protect investors.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses as a result of financial advisors who sell investments that are technically “unauthorized” by their firms. These side gigs, while profitable for the broker due to high commissions, are prohibited by FINRA, the industry regulator.

Brokers may pitch clients on a private securities transaction, for example. Of course, the investors rarely have any clue that what they are being asked to invest in is “unauthorized” or a “private securities transaction.” Sometimes these take the form of stock offerings that are unlisted. Broker Henry A. Taylor III, for example, then working for the Cetera brokerage firm, sold $30,000 in private stock that invested in a trucking firm. Taylor did not notify his firm of the sale and had initially deposited his client’s check in his personal account.

After a FINRA arbitration claim was filed, the regulator fined Taylor $7,500 and suspended him for three months earlier this year. Taylor neither admitted nor denied the findings of the FINRA action. The original transaction took place three years ago.

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.

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.

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, 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.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is evaluating investor claims in connection with recently disbarred financial advisor Philip Nalesnik from Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  According to a document signed by Mr. Nalesnik on April 15, 2019, he voluntarily consented to a permanent bar from FINRA. This is a professional death sentence for anyone who wants to provide financial services or financial advice to clients. The Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) states that Mr. Nalesnik refused to provide on-the-record testimony to FINRA in connection with its investigation into his outside business activities.  Prior to signing the AWC, according to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Mr. Nalesnik was terminated for cause by LPL Financial on July 8, 2018 as a result of LPL’s internal investigation into his outside businesses, including not cooperating with LPL’s investigation.

Mr. Nalesnik’s FINRA BrokerCheck Report reveals a few other troubling red flags.  He has been named in five customer complaints, with one of them resulting in an adverse arbitration award in November 2010.  He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in January 2012 and more recently, was hit with two tax liens.  Financial troubles like these can be red flags or indications that a financial advisor could slip into various forms of misconduct, including selling away, where an advisor has investor-clients invest money in an outside entity without the formal authorization of his firm.

Mr. Nalesnik did prominently disclose several outside businesses on his CRD Report.  These include Ridgeview Wealth Management which was disclosed as a company through which Mr. Nelsnik sold non-variable insurance products.  He also disclosed Integrated Insurance Management, LLC which looks to be an insurance agency. Mr. Nalesnik also reports an affiliation with Private Advisor Group, LLC, which is a registered investment advisory firm headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey. Doing business with any of these entities would be required to be supervised by LPL Financial.

Stoltmann Law Offices and its securities arbitration practice group are investigating Jay Weiser of small-town Mendota, Illinois in LaSalle County in connection with serious allegations involving the sale of notes offered by Woodbridge and notes offered by Future Income Payments (FIP). Both of these entities have been exposed as Ponzi schemes. According to Mr. Weiser’s FINRA BrokerCheck Report, he was discharged with cause from DesPain Financial in connection with allegations he sold Woodbridge and FIP notes to investors. Mr. Weiser was then barred from the securities industry by FINRA on January 17, 2019 when he refused to provide information to FINRA pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210.  As we have discussed in previous blogs, there are various reasons why brokers refuse to provide “on the record testimony” (OTR) or provide documents in connection with a FINRA regulatory investigation pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210. Sometimes it is because a broker simply is no longer interested in being licensed and is making a career change and does not want to go through the hassle or the expense of complying with FINRA’s requests. Other times it is because submitting information or testimony to FINRA may do the broker more harm than good.  Here, given the allegations made by two clients against Weiser that he sold them notes in Woodbridge and FIP, it is reasonable to conclude Mr. Weiser voluntarily submitted to a lifetime ban from the securities industry because his misconduct is serious.

According to a Notice of Hearing filed the the Illinois Securities Department on November 5, 2018, Mr. Weiser, while affiliated with Weiser Financial and DesPain Financial, sold at least $611,000 in investments in FIP to at least six Illinois residents. According to the publicly available Notice, Mr. Weiser also sold at least $795,000 in Woodbridge notes to at least seventeen Illinois investors. According to the Illinois Securities Department, by selling interests in FIP and Woodbridge, Mr. Weiser violated numerous provisions of the Illinois Securities Law, including Section 12.A, Section 12.F, Section 12.G, Section 12.H, and Section 12.I.

The Notice of Hearing, along with the FINRA action, both find that Weiser failed to disclose these activities to his broker/dealer firm, DesPain Financial. It is critical not to confuse Weiser’s failure to disclose certain activities as if it in any way disclaims potential liability of DesPain or any other entity responsible for supervising Weiser, his firm, and his dealing with investors, because it does not. This failure to disclose does not alleviate the  regulatory, statutory, and common law responsibility to supervise the conduct of Mr. Weiser and specifically, if there are “red flags” present that Weiser was conducting investor business with FIP or Woodbridge, the burden would be on DesPain Financial to establish reasonable measures taken in reaction to these “red flags” of potential misconduct.

Did you invest in Selden Companies LLC at the recommendation of Ameriprise financial advisor John S. Elliot? If so, the FINRA arbitration process can be used to recover the losses you have incurred in Selden Companies LLC. Brokerage firms are required to reasonably supervise the activities of their financial advisors. “Selling away,” or the recommendation of an unapproved investment product by a financial advisor can make the brokerage firm liable for any investment losses sustained. We believe investors who invested in Selden Companies LLC have sustained a complete loss in their investment. Please call our Chicago-based investment fraud law firm at 312-332-4200 to learn about lawsuit and FINRA options for recovering these losses.

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