Articles Tagged with FINRA Arbitration

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 has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from brokers and advisers in FINRA, AAA, and JAMS arbitrations for over fifteen years. One of the biggest problems with resolving investor or consumer complaints is that people are forced to go through a mandatory arbitration process. While this system avoids having to go to court – and can be less expensive – it’s often patently unfair because of lack of diversity among arbitrators.

Another overwhelming issue is that mandatory arbitration, which is in nearly every brokerage and consumer dispute resolution agreement, takes away your right to sue a firm that’s wronged you. That often limits your ability to be made whole and collect damages. And who sits on arbitration panels may restrict your legal options even more.

A recent study by the American Association for Justice found three major, disturbing flaws in the private arbitration system:

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who have suffered losses as a result of their brokerage or investment accounts being infiltrated by hackers.  How safe are your retirement funds from hackers? With massive hacking activity and cybersecurity in the news every day, that’s an essential question to ask your financial advisor. Cybercriminals are trying to steal money and personal financial information 24-7.

Here’s a series of questions to ask: When financial advisors suspect that your retirement accounts are being hacked, have they reported this information to you? Even more importantly, have they reported it to federal authorities such as the FBI or Treasury Department? That’s not only the right thing to do, they are legally obligated to do so.

Of course, if an advisor or third party fails to report suspicious online activity to regulators, they may be breaking the law. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for example, recently imposed a $1.5 million fine and settled charges against GWFS Equities, an affiliate of Great West Life and Annuity Insurance Company, “for violating the federal securities laws governing the filing of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs).”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses in the LJM Preservation and Growth Fund. When broker-dealers sell you investments, they are responsible for fully informing you of the risks at the point of sale. When they fail to give you an honest, transparent disclosure on what they are selling – and the investments tank — you may have an arbitration case that you can pursue to get your money back.

Cambridge Investment Research, Merrill Lynch, and other brokerage firms sold a mutual fund called the LJM Preservation and Growth fund to their customers. The fund’s “value plummeted 80% over two days in early February 2018, after brokers in the previous two years sold $18 million of its shares to more than 550 customers, prompted by sales calls in May 2016 from an LJM wholesaler,” the securities regulator FINRA stated. “The fund was liquidated and dissolved in March 2018.”

What made the fund so volatile that led to its demise? It employed a risky strategy called “uncovered options,” but failed to tell investors that it was a highly complex vehicle prone to catastrophic losses.

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 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, 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%.

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
CNBC
FOX Business
The Wall Street Journal
Bloomberg
CBS
FOX News Channel
USA Today
abc NEWS
DATELINE
npr
Contact Information