Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from broker-advisors who’ve sold their clients money-losing hedge fund investments. Often a broker’s pitch is almost entirely focused on high potential returns with little attention paid to the risk of losing money. Such was the case when brokers sold a hedge fund managed by Prophecy Asset Management. The investment firm was “supposed to spread out funds to dozens of separate money managers, but instead concentrated the money with a single Florida manager whose performance tanked when the pandemic threw markets into turmoil early last year,” according to Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ).

Two funds managed by Prophecy ran aground last spring when news of the COVID pandemic roiled world markets. The two funds then suspended redemptions, which prevented investors from withdrawing their money. Brokers who sold Prophecy funds, led by a company called Indie Asset Partners, are now suing Prophecy.

The plaintiffs say in the suit that Prophecy CEO Jeffrey Spotts told them that “ostensibly due to the market volatility surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the Trading Advisors Fund’s assets in their entirety—totaling approximately $363 million—have been placed at risk,” adds the IBJ. Spotts, who cofounded Prophecy Asset Management in 2001 after spending 12 years at Merrill Lynch, declined to comment to IBJ. Prophecy, which listed $561 million in assets under management in a February 2020 regulatory filing, shuttered its website recently.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. has represented hundreds of investors in arbitration actions against brokerage firms for losses in connection with non-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). Non-Traded REITs are the darlings of brokers and their firms because of the huge commissions and “hands-free” management approach they foster. Brokers sell non-traded REITs under the guise of “high income” and “non-stock market risk”, when the money investors receive from REIT distributions is mostly made up of their own money, and are actually as speculative to invest in as the stock of any company.

According to FINRA, the regulatory agency responsible for policing brokers and their firms, Mike Patatian sold made 89 unsuitable recommendations to 59 clients who invested more than $7.8 million in non-traded REITS. FINRA alleges that Patatian did not understand the REITs he sold, including basis features and risks, and therefore lacked a reasonable basis to make the recommendations. Patatian is also alleged to have recommended that clients liquidate annuities, incur surrender charges, and then roll the proceeds into non-traded REITs. He is also accused of inflating client net worth on forms in order to circumvent REIT limitations. Patatian denies FINRA’s allegations, which can be found here.

Stoltmann Law has blogged extensively on issues related to non-traded REITs. Between the speculative risk, high commissions, lack of liquidity, and complicated structure, there are numerous better options for an investor who wants exposure to the real estate sector. There are hundreds of fully liquid REITs traded on the New York Stock Exchange every day for investors that want to invest in REITs. There is no reason to invest in a non-traded REIT other than the sales pitch by the broker selling them.

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 who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve stolen their money. Sometimes brokers are not the least bit subtle about what they do with clients’ assets. They may shift cash into separate accounts and spend it themselves.  Such was the case with Apostolos Pitsironis, a former Janney Montgomery Scott advisor. He is accused of stealing more than $400,000 from his clients from 2018-2019.

In the brokerage business, stealing clients’ funds is often known as “converting” their assets. Brokers may spend the money on gambling, cars or other consumption items. Pitsironis was “discharged in June 2019 after an internal investigation uncovered that the FA transferred funds via unauthorized ACHs from a client’s account to a third-party bank account owned and controlled by Pitsironis,” according to ThinkAdvisor.com. “He later used this money to pay his family’s personal expenses, all the while deceiving both his victims and the financial services firm for whom he worked,” prosecutors stated.  Pitsironis also allegedly spent his clients’ money on casino gambling debts, credit card bills and the lease of a luxury car.

“Janney is committed to serving our clients with the utmost integrity and trust,” the brokerage firm said in a statement obtained by ThinkAdvisor. “Upon discovering the improper actions taken by this advisor with one client account, he was promptly terminated, and the client was fully reimbursed. Janney has fully cooperated with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve sold their clients variable annuities. One thing we see constantly in our practice is older investors who’ve been sold variable annuities that are onerously expensive and nearly always fail to live up to expectations. Variable annuities are investment products that offer restrictive access to mutual funds with an insurance wrapper. They are expensive to buy and carry ongoing fees and expenses that eat away at investor return. They also offer a tax incentive that brokers love to use as a sales point that in reality provides no benefit to most investors.

The main reason why variable annuities are usually poor investments is that they charge several layers of fees to investors. Everyone gets a cut from the insurance company to mutual fund managers. It’s very difficult for anyone outside of the middlemen to make money. Brokers and their advisory firms, however, sell them aggressively because the insurance companies that pilfer annuities pay out huge commissions to the salesmen who sell them.

Broker-advisors are perennially being cited for variable annuity marketing abuses. Transamerica Financial Advisors was recently fined $8.8 million by FINRA for “failing to supervise its registered representatives’ (brokers) recommendations for three different products,” which included annuities. The firm was ordered to pay more than $4 million in restitution.  The FINRA settlement cited Transamerica’s failure to monitor transactions that involved clients switching from other investments to annuities, which generated millions in commissions and fees for the firms. This is an egregious practice in the brokerage industry that mostly focuses on older and retired investors.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve obtained loans from their clients. When a broker asks a client for a loan, it almost always leads to trouble for the customer. Under securities laws, they are not permitted to do this, except under special conditions. The reasons are quite clear: They are supposed to propose suitable investments and prudently manage their money. Obtaining a direct loan is a conflict of interest that usually leads to chicanery.

Philip Anthony Simone, a former broker with AXA Advisors who worked with the firm from 2017-2019, borrowed a total of $133,000 from two clients. That violated three rules of FINRA, the main U.S. securities regulator, that prohibits brokers from obtaining loans from customers, who were elderly.

The AXA broker then “created and submitted falsified firm account statements and supporting documents to a third-party bank in support of a mortgage application,” FINRA stated. Simone was fined $12,500 and suspended from the securities industry for 11 months, beginning in November, 2020.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve sold their clients municipal bonds or funds that have defaulted or lost money. One of the many falsehoods that brokers tell their clients is that all municipal bonds “are a sure thing.” While most highly-rated “munis” are generally secure investments, some aren’t and you could get burned.

Investors recently lost money in municipal bonds sold to finance operations at Graceland, the legendary Memphis home of Elvis Presley. While Graceland has remained a steady tourist attraction over the years, like many venues, it was hit hard during the COVID crisis.

To put it mildly, 2020 was a rotten year for most businesses depending upon tourism and hospitality. Bonds sold to finance those kinds of businesses didn’t fare well. Reports Bloomberg:  “More than 50 municipal-bond issues worth $5 billion have defaulted, the most since 2011, according to Municipal Market Analytics, an independent research firm. Nearly two dozen more have drawn on reserve funds since the start of the year to cover debt payments when revenue fell short, a potential sign of more stress to come, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. represents GPB investors in claims against brokerage firms and financial advisors who solicited investments in the GPB Capital Funds.  GPB was named in a criminal indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice on February 4. GPB’s top executives were charged with fraud and running a Ponzi scheme. The government charged three GPB executives — David Gentile, Jeffrey Schneider and Jeffrey Lash — with securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy.

According to Investment News, “GPB raised $1.8 billion from investors starting in 2013 through sales of private partnerships, but it has not paid investors steady returns, called distributions, since 2018. More than 60 broker-dealers partnered with GPB to sell the private placements and charged customers charged clients commissions of up to 8%.” Stoltmann Law Offices pursues those brokerage firms for their investor-clients to recover GPB losses.

Gentile, the owner and CEO of GPB Capital, and Schneider, owner of GPB Capital’s agent Ascendant Capital, are charged with lying to investors about the source of money used to make 8% annualized investor payments, according to the SEC’s complaint. Using the marketing broker-dealer Ascendant Alternative Strategies, GPB told investors that the unusually high payments were paid exclusively with monies generated by GPB Capital’s portfolio companies, the SEC alleged. At first glance, the distributions were highly appealing to investors, since ultra-safe U.S. Treasury Notes are yielding around 1%.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from investments in GPB Capital Holdings. The company, named in civil and criminal complaints, is alleged to be part of a massive Ponzi scam. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently filed a $1.7 billion civil complaint against GPB Capital, its owners, officers, and affiliates, alleging a massive multi-year securities fraud, which will likely be devastating to investor fund holdings.

In recent years, GPB and the brokerage firms sold it to about 17,000 retail investors nationwide. The company told clients to “wait it out” and that “GPB will be fine.” Investors have been told repeatedly that the only issue with GPB was its inability to produce audited financial statements. GPB is now alleged to be a massive securities fraud scheme by the SEC. Criminal charges have also been filed.

According to the SEC complaint, filed on Feb. 4, “David Gentile, the owner and CEO of GPB Capital, and Jeffry Schneider, the owner of GPB Capital’s placement agent Ascendant Capital, lied to investors about the source of money used to make an 8% annualized distribution payment to investors. These defendants, along with Ascendant Alternative Strategies, which marketed GPB Capital’s investments, told investors that the distribution payments were paid exclusively with monies generated by GPB Capital’s portfolio companies. As alleged, GPB Capital actually used investor money to pay portions of the annualized 8% distribution payments.”

Stoltmann Law Offices, a Chicago-based investor rights and securities law firm, has been representing investors in cases against brokerage firms that sold the private placement limited partnership offerings in several GPB Funds, including:

  • GPB Automotive Fund
  • GPB Holdings Fund II
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