Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with financial advisors who’ve stolen their money. Can a financial adviser ask you to pay him personally to buy investments? If he does, it may be considered theft. Former NY Life Securities broker Jeffrey Scott Anderson was barred by FINRA, the federal securities industry regulator, after he was accused of stealing approximately $26,600 from an elderly client.

According to FINRA, “Anderson convinced an elderly NYLife customer to write five checks totaling $26,600 from October through December 2019 to him personally to purchase investments and insurance. Rather than using the funds for those purposes, FINRA claims that he deposited the money into his bank account and paid personal expenses.” Anderson resigned in March 2020 after “an internal review raised a number of concerns regarding the quality of his business, including repeat replacement and suitability concerns and undisclosed customer complaints.”

Later that year, NY Life disclosed two other customer complaints against him, including one from a customer who provided NYLife with “copies of three personal checks…which were made payable to and endorsed by [Anderson] totaling $16,500.” After he left NY Life, Anderson’s BrokerCheck profile showed other customer theft issues: “Anderson became registered with Pruco Securities but was fired less than three months later for misappropriating funds from a customer while associated with another FINRA member and submitting altered documentation to company investigators during its internal investigation.”

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is a Chicago-based securities and investor rights law firm that offers representation on a contingency fee basis to victims of investment fraud nationwide. On August 20, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta) alleging that John Woods “has been running a massive Ponzi scheme for over a decade.” That is the first line of the complaint, which goes on to allege that more than 400 investors are owed over $110,000,000 on alleged investments in Horizon Private Equity Group, III, LLC.  The complaint also names Livingston Group Asset Management Company, d/b/a Southport Capital, which is a registered investment adviser firm owned and controlled by John Woods.

The sales pitch for these investments in Horizon promised returns of 6-7% interest guaranteed for 2 or 3 years.  These are not the sort of huge returns typically promised in a Ponzi scheme. In fact, these are pretty low returns when compared to the rate of return on the S&P 500 or even alternative investments like non-Traded REITs.  Ironically, now disgraced GPB Capital – which is also alleged by the SEC to be a massive Ponzi scheme, promised returns of 8%.  This sort of Ponzi scheme is more incendiary and falls into the Bernie Madoff category of promising lower, but consistent, rates of return. Investors who are victims of a Ponzi scheme promising 6-7% returns cannot say they should have known better because it was too good to be true.  Woods and his RIA represented that they would take investor funds and invest them in government bonds, stocks, and real estate projects. Investors were never told their money would be used to pay interest to earlier investors, which is what the SEC alleged they did on a massive scale. Horizon did not earn nearly enough returns through legitimate investments to pay investor interest payments and as such had to rely on new investor money to maintain those interest payments – a hallmark of a Ponzi scheme.

Victims need to look to potentially liable third parties for recovery while the SEC freezes Woods’ and Horizon’s assets and begins an accounting process that will likely take years.  The first target could be Oppenheimer.  According to the SEC complaint and FINRA, Woods was a registered representative for Oppenheimer until he was “asked to resign” in 2016 for failing to accurately disclose his involvement with Southport and Horizon. Many of his Oppenheimer clients invested in Southport and Horizon and unless Oppenheimer reached out to each of those clients and warned them that what Woods was doing was, at a minimum, not fully disclosed to Oppenheimer in violation of FINRA rules, then Oppenheimer could have liability to victims here.  Further, the SEC complaint states that Horizon primarily used two banks to move money, Bank of America and Iberiabank. They also used a custodial trust company.  These entities, depending on the details of their involvement, could also have liability to victims of this scam.

Stoltmann Law Offices is a Chicago-based securities and investor rights law firm dedicated to a nationwide practice to recover money lost by investors as a result of the misconduct of financial advisors and their brokerage and investment firms. We have prosecuted at least one hundred cases over the years against Morgan Stanley and were not surprised to learn about David Todd Levine and his being barred by FINRA, the State of Colorado, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. These bars were “by consent” meaning none of the allegations made against Mr. Levine were proven. It just means instead of fighting them, Mr. Levine will instead never be able to legally provide investment advice to anyone for the rest of his life.

According to an Order Instituting Administrative Proceedings (OIP) filed by the SEC, which parroted claims made by the Colorado Securities Commissioner, Mr. Levine recommended that clients invest in a Bitcoin investment being run by his brother. In so doing, Mr. Levine allegedly failed to disclose that his brother was a fugitive from the law in the United States, living abroad. The Commission further alleged that Mr. Levine failed to disclose this criminal history to any of his clients and further failed to verify the legitimacy and ownership of the Bitcoin that was apparently part of this investment scheme. The SEC also alleged that Mr. Levine failed to develop a method for ensuring the transfer of funds and Bitcoin, which allowed his brother to steal $1.5 million. Levine also allegedly failed to disclose the high risk nature of this investment scheme.  If you are a victim of Mr. Levine’s alleged Bitcoin scam, and you were a client of his and Morgan Stanley, you could have a viable claim to pursue against Morgan Stanley.

Although it is alleged that Levine failed to disclose this investment and his involvement in it to Morgan Stanley, that does not automatically release Morgan Stanley from potential liability.  Whether Morgan Stanley can be found liable by FINRA arbitrators depends on two issues regardless of disclosure by Levine.  1) Were there sufficient red flags that Levine was soliciting his clients to invest in this Bitcoin investment so has to put Morgan Stanley on constructive notice of it? 2) Were clients reasonable to believe that Levine was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Morgan Stanley in recommending an investment in a Bitcoin related deal? Typically, advisors leave enough of a paper trail behind them that reasonable supervision and compliance should discovery this sort of outside activity. Levine was offering it to Morgan Stanley clients after all, so a few phone calls by Morgan Stanley and they would have uncovered what was happening. Moreover, investors would certainly be reasonable in assuming what Levine was doing was legitimate and was through or at least tacitly approved by Morgan Stanley.  This “apparent agency” issue could make Morgan Stanley liable for your losses. Courts agree. See McGraw v. Wachovia Securities, 856 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (N.D. Iowa 2010).

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented Morgan Stanley clients who’ve suffered losses as a result of fraudulent or negligent misconduct by Morgan Stanley and the firm’s financial advisors.

Here is a simple question too many investors do not know the answer to: Can brokers decide on their own when to buy or sell an investment in your account? Answer: Not unless you give them written permission to do so. If brokers ignore your instructions, you can file an arbitration claim and be awarded damages.  Joan A. Rudnick and an entity owned by her, Oak Trail Associates, filed a claim against her broker, Morgan Stanley, in October 2020. The claim charged the broker with “unauthorized trading, breach of contract and duty of loyalty, unjust enrichment and conversion,” according to Investment News.

Rudnick’s claim was filed when her broker sold Apple stock in her portfolio against her wishes. A retiree in her late 70s, Rudnick “had held the Apple stock for a long time and did not intend to sell it,” her attorney told Investment News. “She had put a no-trade restriction on the stock, but it was sold around March 2019. Morgan Stanley acknowledged the shares were sold without Rudnick’s authorization.”  Rudnick was awarded “$482,000 in compensatory damages, $83,372 in federal and state taxes, $45,000 in attorneys’ fees, $25,000 in brokerage fees, $5,000 in expert fees, $1,863 in costs and $375 for a non-refundable filing fee.” A Morgan Stanley spokesperson declined to comment to Investment News. “The arbitration award states the firm denied the allegations in the FINRA statement of claim and asked that it be dismissed in its entirety.” FINRA is the federal securities regulator that handles arbitration claims for investors.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices represents investors have suffered losses from the negligence and breach of fiduciary duty of registered investment advisors (RIAs).  All too often brokers and RIAs trade in customers’ accounts to generate fees and commissions. This practice reduces their total returns while enriching broker-advisor firms. When regulators crack down on these practices, they usually find it’s a “failure to supervise” by the brokerage firm with whom the advisor is registered.

FINRA, the federal securities regulator, fined Next Financial Group, a $2.6 billion RIA and broker-dealer owned by Atria Wealth Solutions, $750,000 to settle charges that it failed to supervise ‘unsuitable’ trading of mutual funds and municipal bonds by one unnamed broker, according to citywireusa.com. “FINRA found that the broker engaged in short-term trading of Class A mutual fund shares in 19 client accounts, resulting in ‘unnecessary’ front-end sales charges of $925,000 from 2012 until February 19.” Additionally, FINRA found that “from June of 2013 to November of 2016, the broker engaged in short-term trading of Puerto Rican municipal bonds in 16 customer accounts, concentrating five of the accounts in these bonds.”

Certain classes of mutual funds and related investments carry higher commissions and fees than others. Broker-advisors are required to tell clients that trading in and out of these investments will generate higher income for the firm and its representatives. They are also required under FINRA rules to fully disclose the downside of the investments, which should be suitable for the client’s age and risk tolerance.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from brokers whose firms promote high risk alternative investments and private placements. Did you know that brokerage firms can be held accountable when their brokers sell high-risk, illiquid investments that are unsuitable for their clients? Such was the case with Sanctuary Securities, which was forced to pay more than $530,000 in fines and restitution to investors for  “failures to supervise certain product sales,” according to Advisorhub.com.

Sanctuary was fined $160,000 and ordered to pay restitution of $370,161.39 plus interest “for the various supervisory failures dating as far back as 2014 that were uncovered over multiple FINRA examinations, according to a letter of acceptance, waiver and consent finalized on July 1.” Formerly David Noyes and Company, Indianapolis-based Sanctuary has about 190 registered brokers and 35 offices. The company said that no current employees were involved in this action. The FINRA enforcement action involved the firm’s sales of money-losing, risky products called “leveraged exchange-traded funds (ETFs).” These investments multiply gains and losses based on market movements of popular securities indexes. These “non-traditional” or “alternative” investments can lose money for investors if brokers or investors guess wrong on market movements.

According to FINRA, from January 2014 through December 2018, “Sanctuary did not sufficiently address the unique features and risks related to solicited sales of inverse and leveraged ETFs (collectively, non-traditional ETFs) as required by suitability obligations under FINRA Rule 2111. Around 30 brokers recommended customers purchase about $5 million worth of non-traditional ETFs, resulting in significant net losses for those who held their positions for extended periods of time. The firm, meanwhile, generated roughly $60,000 in commissions over the course of about 600 purchases in 150 customer accounts,” FINRA stated.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices continues to hear from investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with financial advisor who sold them annuity products from Bermuda-based Northstar Financial Services. Northstar filed for bankruptcy last year. Investors have been filing claims as the company is being liquidated by the Bermuda Monetary Authority. Investors across the world are filing claims against Northstar and the many brokerage/financial firms that sold these “annuities” to investors.

One Japanese investor, for example, contends her “Bancwest Investment Services broker proposed a Northstar investment rather than keeping her money in savings and checking accounts.” She is just one of many investors who are filing claims against brokers through FINRA Dispute Resolution, charging they unsuitably recommended and sold Northstar’s fixed- and variable-rate annuity and other products that proved to be unsafe.

“Investors in Northstar Financial wanted their money and the company was unable to pay liquidation or redemption requests,” according to David Fox in the Royal Gazette. “The company was estimated to have incurred a deficit upwards of $260 million. By September 2020 they were reporting just $8 million in assets, and they filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating cases where investors have suffered losses from “robo-advisors.” In recent years, the rise of robo-advisors has been dramatic. These highly automated platforms will not only recommend securities and mutual funds, but create entire portfolios online or through a do-it-yourself (DIY) phone app.

The convenience and speed of making trades on your smartphone, however, doesn’t always reduce the chance that you’ll lose money. Many of the algorithms used to push securities don’t pay close attention to personal risk tolerance and are often loaded with hidden fees. And many robo accounts may automatically funnel customers funds into cash accounts, which are a money-losing proposition when you account for inflation.

The mega-brokerage Charles Schwab, which operates one of the largest robo platforms (Intelligence Portfolios), recently disclosed that it will take a $200 million charge in the second quarter regarding the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) probe into its robo practices.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered investment losses from “rogue” brokers. Without question, securities firms are legally obligated to protect your money from brokers who run afoul of the law. Yet these “rogue” brokers often get away with theft right under the noses of their employers.

The case of Hector May, a former broker with Securities America, is a case in point. May, who was employed by Securities America from 1994 to 2018, pled guilty to stealing some $8 million from his clients in 2018, according to Investment News. May was sentenced to 13 years in prison and ordered to pay $8.4 million in restitution in 2019. Was May’s firm responsible for protecting his clients? In charging Securities America for “allegedly failing to safeguard clients” from May, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) fined Securities America $1.75 million. Securities America Advisors neither admitted to nor denied the SEC’s findings.

The SEC reported that Securities America had knowledge that May wasn’t doing right by his clients. “The SEC alleged that one Securities America surveillance system generated multiple alerts for potentially suspicious withdrawals from client accounts, but its analysts failed to carry out the prescribed processes for investigating those alerts,” Investment News reported. “The commission also alleged that the firm permitted disbursements without the required signatures, and another group failed to contact clients to verify that they had initiated disbursement requests.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is currently representing investors who’ve suffered losses from financial advisor and brokers who sold them private offerings in GPN Automotive Fund, GPB Holdings Fund II, and GPB Waste Management Fund.

Earlier this year, executives with GPB Capital were indicted for fraud and allegedly running a $1.8 billion Ponzi scam involving more than 17,000 investors. Also involved in the swindle were 60 broker-dealers who sold the GPB “private placements” to investors, reaping 8% commissions on each sale, based on shoddy due diligence.

Financial advisors and brokers who sold GPB limited partnerships could be on the hook as investors attempt to recover their losses. Jeffery Raymond Dixson, a former broker registered with Madison Avenue Securities in Vancouver, Washington, for example, faces multiple investor disputes for selling GPB vehicles.

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