Articles Tagged with LPL Financial

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating allegations made by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regarding former LPL Financial Advisor Eric Hollifield and stealing over $1 million from a client.  This is not the first time an LPL financial advisor has been caught red-handed stealing from LPL firm clients. Given the independent contractor model employed by LPL Financial over its financial advisors, these sorts of scams are all too easy to pull off and continue to happen.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Hollifield, who worked out of Dacula, Georgia, executed several fraudulent ruses designed to hide his true intent. First, he solicited investors to put money into a company called Century Warehouse, Inc., which was allegedly involved in the warehousing and shipping industry. From October 2019 through October 2020, Hollifield is alleged to have raised $5.35 million from advisory clients for Century Warehouse. Hollifield’s alleged fraud were his representations to investors that Century intended to use investors funds to buy PPE and other COVID-related supplies for the benefit of veterans.  According to the SEC, at least $1 million of the money raised from investors went back to Hollifield’s bank account where he spent the money on personal expenses.  The SEC also alleges that Hollifield used $1.7 million in misappropriated investor money to purchase a home sitting on 37 acres in Winder, Georgia.  The SEC alleges further that Hollifield lied to a client about setting up a “high yield” account at Goldman Sachs and instead stole the money.

There are two primary compliance and supervisory models that have existed in the brokerage industry for decades.  The first is the one most people think of when they hear the term “brokerage firm”.  They envision a huge office with fifty cubicles and telephones ringing. This office model is still common in the large “wire house” brokerages like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. In that structure, a branch manager is stationed at his post on-sight, reviews all incoming and outgoing correspondence, reviews a daily trade blotter, and reviews a daily transaction ledger that shows all checks sent and received for accounts in his branch. This branch manager wanders the office, peaks over shoulders, and should ensure his brokers are living up to the standards of a licensed securities broker.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices represents investors who’ve suffered losses from alternative investments. Some brokers like to pitch investors on the idea of making a lot of money by investing in alternative investments, mostly because brokers get paid handsome commissions for selling them.  GPB Capital and more recently, GWG Holdings are examples of alternative investments that were pushed hard by brokerage firms, with terrible results. There is a sub-category of these investments called “liquid alternative”, which are complex and costly for clients.

FINRA, the U.S. securities industry regulator, recently issued a warning about liquid “alts,” which invest in assets “other than stocks and bonds — such as real estate, commodities and derivatives — to give retail investors exposure to alternative investments in a vehicle that can be traded daily. They are touted as a way to beat market returns but also can be risky and expensive.”

“While these funds may be appropriate for some investors,” the regulator’s warning stated, “FINRA has consistently emphasized the importance of member firms’ sales practice obligations for these and other products, especially when such products may carry additional risks for customers.” These products are inappropriate for investors unless their objective is speculation – plain and simple.

Stoltmann Law Offices is a Chicago-based investor-protection and securities law firm offering representation to clients nationwide on a contingency fee basis in arbitrations and litigation. We have extensive experience representing investors against LPL Financial for numerous investor-related violations including most ominously, “selling away” by their registered representatives. Historically, LPL has had issues maintaining adequate supervision of their financial advisors/registered representatives, as evidenced by the multitude of regulatory actions against the firm for supervisory failures, over many years.

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Another LPL financial advisor was busted for “selling away” – which is securities industry lingo describing when a financial advisor sells an investment to investors that is “not approved” by the brokerage firm. This scheme involved Upper Saddle River, New Jersey-based LPL financial advisor Michael Mandel who sold interests in a tequila business to approximately 17 investors, many of whom were LPL clients. According to published reports, Mandel only received about $5,000 in compensation for selling the investment, but also received a promise of equity participation in the Tequila company. It should come as no surprise, the tequila business was a scam and the investors lost everything.

According to regulatory filings, Mandel was fired by LPL Financial in January 2022 in connection with his participation in the tequila company. LPL suggests Mandel was terminated for “failing to disclose” the activity to the firm, which is technically correct, but far from where the story ends for LPL. In truth, the entire concept of “selling away” means there is a failure by the advisor to accurately disclose outside activities. Of course, if Mandel went to his boss at LPL and told them he wanted to sell his clients investments in some tequila company, LPL would have told him in no uncertain terms that he was forbidden from the affiliation. What happens instead is, financial advisors move forward with selling these sorts of investments without the firm’s knowledge. It happens all of the time, and companies like LPL know it.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve sold bonds from Puerto Rico.

In the case of Eugenio Garcia Jimenez, Jr., the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Garcia, who is based in Orlando, Florida, with defrauding the Municipality of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and misappropriating $7.1 million of taxpayer funds.

According to Investment News, Garcia opened an account at LPL in 2016 “to further his scheme to defraud his client, the Municipality of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. LPL did not verify certain identification documents before opening the account, although it was required to do so by its own procedures,” according to the SEC. Jimenez, Jr., is not directly affiliated with LPL.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating allegations against Eric Hollifield that came to light as a result of a regulatory filing by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  According to FINRA, the regulator launched an investigation into Eric Hollifield who was a registered representative of LPL Financial and Hamilton Investment Counsel.  The investigation was in connection with a customer complaint filed in arbitration against Dacula, Georgia-based Hollifield that alleges he stole or misappropriated $1,240,000 from the account of an elderly client. This complaint was filed on August 25, 2021 and came on the heels of LPL terminating Hollifield for cause for “failing to disclose an outside business activity.”  On September 1, 2021 Hamilton Investment Counsel followed LPL’s lead and terminated Hollifield for cause or failing to disclose an outside business activity.

Since Hollifield failed to respond to FINRA’s request for information, pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210, Hollifield accepted a lifetime ban from the securities industry.  Brokers agree to these lifetime bans, instead of cooperating with an investigation, for any number of reasons.  Obviously, given the allegations made by the pending customer complaint and the terminations from LPL and Hamilton, a reasonable conclusion to draw is, Hollifield chose to accept a lifetime bad from FINRA as opposed to disclosing or admitting information to FINRA that could be used against him by criminal authorities. It is important to realize, the facts in the customer complaint and the information contained in the FINRA AWC are mere allegations and nothing has been proven.

LPL has a long history of failing to supervise its financial advisors, like Hollifield. We have blogged on these issues numerous times.  Pursuant to FINRA Rule 3110, brokerage firms like LPL have an iron-clad responsibility to supervise the conduct of their brokers, like Hollifield.  Similarly, brokers have an obligation to disclose “outside business activities” to their member-firm pursuant to FINRA Rule 3270.  LPL cannot get off the hook, however, just because Hollifield failed to disclose an outside business. There are a few reasons for this and they are important.  First, brokers do it all the time and LPL knows it. Therefore, as required by both FINRA regulations and LPL’s open internal policies the procedures, LPL’s compliance and supervision apparatus is geared towards detecting undisclosed outside business activities because it is commonly through these outside businesses, that financial advisors execute their worst schemes and frauds on their clients.  Further, to the extent red flags existed that Hollifield was running an undisclosed outside business or doing something else that violated securities regulations, then LPL can be held liable for negligent supervision, at a minimum. Case law supports the imposition of liability on LPL under these circumstances.  See McGraw v. Wachovia Securities, 756 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (N.D. Iowa 2010).

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from financial advisors who’ve swindled investors through unauthorized transactions. Can financial advisers trade your portfolio or buy investments without your permission? Only if you give them “discretionary” authority and definitely not if they’ve failed to obtain your written okay.

Without a doubt, brokers can’t do anything with your assets if they forge your signatures to make a transaction. Joffre Salazar, a former broker with LPL Financial, was terminated by the brokerage firm after he “forged two customers’ signatures and initials on documents connected to the purchase of fixed annuities, which Salazar then also submitted without the customers’ authorization,” according to FinancialAdvisorIQ.com.

Salazar, who first registered with Finra, the federal securities regulator, in 1991, registered with LPL in 2016, according to Finra. In April 2019, LPL filed a termination notice for Salazar, stating that he resigned voluntarily, but two months later amended the form to disclose that it started a review of Salazar’s “involvement in processing [an] annuity application without customer authorization,” Finra stated.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is a Chicago-based investment fraud and investor rights law firm that offers representation to victims of investment fraud nationwide. We have tried and won many cases against LPL Financial over the years and represented hundreds of investors who were victims of various types of investment fraud as a result of the misconduct of LPL financial advisors.

According to multiple reports, including a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, for upwards of ten years, James K. Couture, while a registered representative for LPL Financial based in Boston, Massachusetts, stole upwards of $2.9 million from clients.  Couture pulled this off by convincing his clients to sell legitimate securities in their accounts and transfer the funds to an “investment” in a company owned and controlled by Couture called Legacy Financial.  Once Couture gained control of his clients’ money, he converted it and spent it for his own use. This is a classic scheme in the brokerage and advisory world known as “selling away”.  According to the SEC and the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Couture kept the scam going by fabricating account statements for his clients that showed money being “reinvested” and also provided account reviews which disguised the fact that he was committed rote fraud.  When clients would request withdrawals, Couture would take money from Client A and pay it to Client B, which is the classic sign of a Ponzi scheme.

According to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Couture was registered as a licensed securities broker and advisor through LPL Financial from February 2009 through July 2020 out of offices in Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts.  At that point, LPL fired him for cause based on the same misconduct that led to his indictment and the SEC complaint. A few months later, in October 2020, Couture accepted a permanent bar from the securities industry from FINRA when he knowingly failed to respond to a request for information from the regulator in connection with an investigation into his misconduct.

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 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, P.C. is a securities investor protection law firm offering representation nationwide to investors seeking to recover investment losses.  Our team is monitoring and reviewing information in connection with former LPL  financial advisor Donald Stephen Woods. According to published reports, Mr. Woods, of Louisville, Kentucky and currently registered with Thurston Springer Financial, intentionally manipulated and changed documents at LPL to qualify non-traded REIT sales that would have otherwise not been approved. LPL has certain limitations on how much of an investor’s declared liquid net worth can be concentrated in alternative investments, like non-Traded REITs.  Typically, LPL limits this exposure to 25% of liquid net worth, but can be lower for elderly investors and those with more conservative investment objectives. Brokers like Woods get around this limitation by inflating the client’s net worth numbers adjusting them upwards by a few hundred thousand dollars can be the difference between compliance approving the transaction and the broker getting paid his massive commission, and not approving it, leaving the broker to find something else to sell the client.

Ultimately, the responsibility for this sort of amateur chicanery engaged in by Mr. Woods falls on his firm. Stoltmann Law Offices has represented hundreds of investors in cases just like this. Almost always, there is an obvious disconnect or contradiction between the net worth numbers on the alternative investment forms, and the client’s new account forms. Compliance has a responsibility to ensure that brokers like Mr. Woods are not artificially inflating client net-worth numbers on these forms in order to qualify them for the investment. Most of the time all it would take is a simple phone call from compliance to the client to determine the accuracy of these numbers and reveal that the broker either forged the documents altogether, or advised the client to ignore the net worth numbers included on the form, to trust their adviser, and not worry about it.

Non-Traded REITs have been selling at rates not seen since before the financial crisis in 2008. There is one reason for this – commissions.  Non-Traded REITs like those offered by Northstar, Cottonwood, Highlands REIT, KBS Growth & Income REIT, Resource Innovation Office REIT, and InvenTrust Properties Corp., pay brokers like Mr. Woods and their firms like LPL commission rates that are many times higher than if they just sold clients publicly-traded, liquid REITs.  The SEC, FINRA, and NASAA all warn about issues related to these non-traded REITs.  Scholarly articles decry them as being poor investments long term compared to their publicly-traded cousins. Some of the issues about these non-traded REITs include:

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