Articles Tagged with FINRA

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 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%.

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.

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