Articles Tagged with FINRA

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors in cases against securities brokers and has been investigating claims against LPL and filing arbitration complaints for investors. Can securities brokers who’ve been fleecing investors somehow keep working in the industry? If a firm’s records systems are poorly managed, sadly, the answer is yes. Sometimes they slip through the cracks and continue to steal customers’ funds and place them in bad or fraudulent investments that turn out to be Ponzi schemes.

That was the case with former LPL broker James T. Booth, who worked for the firm from 2018 through 2019. Booth pled guilty to one count of securities fraud in October, 2019, and was barred from the industry by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). LPL was also cited for “supervisory deficiencies” by FINRA, the industry regulator, in connection with Booth stealing “at least $1 million of LPL customers’ money as part of a multi-year Ponzi scheme,” according to thediwire.com. The regulator fined LPL $6.5 million.

There was a bigger problem at LPL, though: FINRA claims that LPL’s recordkeeping system failed to report millions of customer communications. The firm’s failure “affected at least 87 million records and led to the permanent deletion of more than 1.5 million customer communications maintained by a third-party data vendor. These included mutual fund switch letters, 36-month letters, and wire transfer confirmations that were required to be preserved for at least three years.”

Chicago-Based Stoltmann Law Offices has been representing California investors before FINRA arbitration panels for many years. We are looking into allegations made by an investor that allege that Ryan Raskin, who was registered with Merrill Lynch until he was discharged for cause in March 2020, executed unauthorized trades for a client. Merrill Lynch denied that complaint outright, which is a common practice used by brokerage firms when clients come to them with a complaint without being armed with an experienced FINRA investor-rights lawyer.

According to a story published by AdvisorHub.com, Raskin was employed with Merrill Lynch since 2016. On January 13, 2021, Mr. Raskin was barred by FINRA for failing to respond to requests for information. FINRA has the authority, under FINRA Rule 8210, to seek information and documents from any licensed, registered representative, even after the are terminated or are not working in the securities industry. As part of their enforcement mandate to enforce securities law and regulations, FINRA is given pretty broad discretion to seek out information related to its investigations, and in the event a broker like Raskin refuses to cooperate or ignores a valid request for information from FINRA, the penalty is a lifetime ban from the securities industry.  Sometimes brokers do this because they are out of the business and don’t really care if they lose their license to provide investment advice. Sometimes brokers ignore FINRA because they have something serious to hide.

Mr. Raskin was discharged from Merrill Lynch in March 2020 for “conduct involving business practices inconsistent with Firm standards, including inappropriate investment recommendation.” The impetus for FINRAs Rule 8210 request was this discharge by Merrill Lynch, which was reported to FINRA on Form U-5. Although the FINRA Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC), which was signed by Mr. Raskin, does not state any specific allegations with respect to misconduct. Still, Merrill Lynch discharged Mr. Raskin for “inappropriate investment recommendations” and one customer did make a complaint against him for unauthorized trading.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors affiliated with the Cetera financial group.  The securities regulator FINRA recently fined three Cetera Financial Group broker-dealers $1 million, claiming that Cetera’s “supervisory systems and procedures were deficient when handling securities transactions.”

Like many advisory firms, Cetera employs representatives who are “dually registered,” meaning they are broker-dealers and registered investment advisers. In the Cetera case, their representatives managed more than $80 billion in assets across 47,000 accounts. According to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) exams conducted in 2013, 2015 and 2017, Cetera was “aware of the supervisory deficiencies.”

Without admitting or denying the allegations, Cetera recently signed a FINRA letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent and agreed to FINRA’s sanctions, which included a censure and an agreement that they would review and revise, as necessary, systems, policies and procedures related to the supervision of dually-registered reps’ securities transactions, according to ThinkAdvisor.com.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented athletes who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who have fleeced them. Just because a person is a professional athlete and makes tens of millions of dollars for playing a sport doesn’t mean they are financially sophisticated. Far too many great athletes fall prey to con men and advisors who rip them off.

Sadly, there’s a long list of athletes who’ve been defrauded by advisors. Some have achieved great fame in their sports such as boxer Mike Tyson, pitcher CC Sabathia, NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabbar and quarterbacks John Elway and Bernie Kosar. Sometimes all it takes is one crooked advisor to do a lot of financial damage. For example, major league pitchers Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt and Quarterback Mark Sanchez had three things in common: They were well-paid athletes and shared the same financial advisor. Ash Narayan, an Irvine, California-based advisor with RGT Capital Management, pleaded guilty to defrauding the stars of some $30 million. Narayan was forced to pay nearly $19 million in restitution and serve 37 months in prison.

How were these pros swindled? Prosecutors stated that “from December 2009 to early 2016, he advised his clients to invest in a money-losing online sports and entertainment ticket company in Illinois (The Ticket Reserve, Inc.) without telling them that he was on the board, or that it was a risky and unprofitable business,” according to The Los Angeles Times.

Stoltmann Law Offices is pursuing investment losses for customers who were sold investments in Staffing 360. Staffing 360 Solutions, Inc. (“Staffing 360”) started as a scam, and still is nothing more. Originally, the company was “Golden Fork Corporation”, a South African catering company that was organized in the State of Nevada in December 22, 2009. In 2011, Golden Fork reported to the SEC that it did not have any revenue, yet for whatever reason, in February 2012, TRIG Special Purpose 1, LLC purchased Golden Fork, and the following month the company changed its name to “Staffing 360 Solutions”. According to its website, Staffing 360 acquires domestic and international staffing organizations in the United States and United Kingdom targeting the finance and accounting, administrative, engineering and IT industries. It became publicly traded on the NASDAQ on February 22, 2013, but continued to make private offerings. Staffing 360 made a nominal Form D private offering of $1.75 million in November 2013, with $1.35 million sold at the time. Accelerated Capital Group, which is now out of business, was the placement agent for Staffing 360’s private offerings. Even when it went public, Staffing 360 was already drowning in debt and continued to report a net loss each quarter.

As of November 30, 2013, Staffing 360 reported that it had accumulated $5.5 million in debt, had a working capital of negative $2.5 million, and reported a net loss of $1.8 million for the previous six-months. Its 10-Q report for the end of 2013 was essentially a cry for help, explaining the desperate need to raise money to keep the company viable. Staffing 360 continued to sell PIPE offerings and convertible bonds as a last-ditch effort to raise equity. It financials only got worse. By April 2014, Staffing 360 reported $7 million in debt, and negative $5.1 million in working capital. This means that within just months, Staffing 360’s negative working capital doubled and its debt increased by 50%. Brokers continued to sell Staffing 360 to their clients despite these horrific financials.

Staffing 360 is currently being publicly traded on the NASDAQ (STAF) for pennies. Clients who invested in Staffing 360 when it was a private investment have lost between 90% and 99% of their initial investment.

On August 5, 2019, FINRA fined Morgan Stanley registered representative Ken Kavanagh $25,000 and suspended him from practicing in the securities industry for eighteen after discovering that he concealed his outside business activity. According to FINRA’s order, beginning in 2003, Kavanagh provided personal management services to professional athletes. In October 2007, he registered his business as CEO-Sports in New Jersey, then formed another LLC in Pennsylvania, MGMT LLC. His services included coordinating travel and dinner arrangements, housing, bill payment, opening and managing bank accounts, and referrals to other professionals for tax return preparations and wills. Kavanagh had approximately 42 clients and generated at least $5 million in fees from 2012 through 2018 for providing these services.

FINRA Rule 3270 (formerly NASD Rule 3030) prohibits FINRA financial advisors from engaging in outside businesses unless they are properly disclosed to and approved by the advisor’s  brokerage firm. Mr. Kavanagh did not disclose his interest in MGMT or CEO-Sports to Morgan Stanley. He also attested in annual questionnaires required by Morgan Stanley that he was not involved with any outside business activities. He named a close relative as the sole owner or member of MGMT and CEO-Sports and also as the authorized representative on the each company’s bank accounts.  As a result of these FINRA Rule violations, FINRA fined Kavanagh $25,000 and suspended him for eighteen months.

As Stoltmann Law Offices previously alerted investors, Kavanagh has not been registered in the securities industry since resigning from Morgan Stanley in April 2018 after a client complained of his undisclosed outside business activities. On August 15, 2018, a customer also complained that Kavanagh placed unauthorized trades and forged documents.

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:

Investors who are exposed to unscrupulous financial advisors are starting to feel some serious pain. If you have lost a substantial amount of money over the course of the last few months, and your account is on margin, it might get a lot worse.  The good news is, your losses may be recoverable by filing a claim through FINRA Arbitration.

Over the last few weeks the stock market has seen some pretty steep losses.  All major US equity indices, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, the NASDAQ, and the Russell 2Kare all, as of the date of this post, down at least 10% from their late summer/early fall all-time highs – officially “correction” territory.  Even more disconcerting, all of these indices are now down between 4.4% and 11.5% year-to-date.

What our experience in representing investors in arbitration and litigation for almost twenty years  has taught us is in circumstances like this market, with increased short-term losses spilling into a longer-term trend, like a year-to-date loss, is investors who have been overexposed to excessive trading or churning and margin abuses get hammered hard and fast. The previous seven or eight years has marked a perfect storm for brokers to engage in churning and margin trading without consequences because the markets have largely gone straight up since the spring of 2009, with only minor blips along the road. When investors don’t notice losses in their accounts, they simply are not alerted to what their broker may be doing. If your broker trades too much in your account, this generates commissions which eats away at your return. If the trading is done on margin, that only increases the drag on the account because of margin interest. The higher this Cost-Equity Ratio gets, the more your account has to earn just to may for the broker’s fees and commissions. Margin also can exponentially increase the risk profile of an account. Investors may not notice this wear and tear until the market performance no longer keeps up with the cost of the trading, at which point the losses can accumulate rapidly.

The State of Indiana recently imposed a $450,000 civil penaltyagainst LPL Financial for failing to supervise the company’s financial advisors on a state-wide basis.  The fine was based on two material deficiencies in LPL’s supervisory system. First, due to an alleged software glitch, LPL supervisors were not monitoring or supervising an undisclosed number of emails. There is an obligation for LPL to supervise all incoming and outgoing correspondence with firm clients. This obligation is rooted in FINRA Rule 3110(b)(4), which provides:

The supervisory procedures required by this paragraph (b) shall include procedures for the review of incoming and outgoing written (including electronic) correspondence and internal communications relating to the member’s investment banking or securities business. The supervisory procedures must be appropriate for the member’s business, size, structure, and customers. The supervisory procedures must require the member’s review of:

(A) incoming and outgoing written (including electronic) correspondence to properly identify and handle in accordance with firm procedures, customer complaints, instructions, funds and securities, and communications that are of a subject matter that require review under FINRA rules and federal securities laws.

AdobeStock_82110313-1-300x125Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating Jon Pariser, of Pacific Grove, California, who consented to a lifetime bar from the securities industry. Jon Pariser refused to provide information in connection with a FINRA investigation into allegations that he had referred clients to an unregistered advisor who then recommended those clients invest money in unsuitable investments.  More specifically, and according to published reports, Jon Pariser represented to his clients that he was retiring and began referring them to Christopher Parris, an unregistered advisor who was previously suspended by FINRA. Parris then recommended an investment in First Nationale Solutions, which the SEC has alleged to be a Ponzi scheme.

If you or someone you know lost money as a result of misconduct engaged in by former Independent Financial Group financial advisor Jon Pariser of Pacific Grove, California, please contact our securities investor-protectionlaw firm in Chicago for a free no obligation consultation with an attorney.  We are a contingency fee firm meaning unless we recover money for you we do not get paid.

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