Foreign investors continue to be targets of investment fraud.  Bloomberg Business has reported that broker-dealer Arjent LLC Chief Executive Officer Robert DePalo has been indicted by a New York Grand Jury on charges related to misappropriation of $6.5 million from U.K. investors for personal expenses, including his mortgage and luxury cars.  In addition to the action brought by the New York Manhattan District Attorney, the Securities and Exchange Commission has announced that it also brought its own parallel action in Manhattan federal court.

According to the article, Mr. DePalo is alleged to have misappropriated millions from foreign investors in a holding company called Pangaea Trading Partners LLC.  Mr. DePalo is alleged to have engaged in high-pressure sales tactics and stating falsehoods about the company’s assets and how it would invest the money received.  The Bloomberg article reported that according to the SEC, the Mr. DePalo transferred the money directly into bank accounts controlled by himself and his partner Joshua Gladtke.  The SEC is reported to also have alleged that Mr. DePalo sought to cover up the fraud from regulators.

Lately, the attorneys at Malecki Law have noticed an uptick in schemes, including high-pressure sales tactics, targeting foreign investors.  These tactics may include little-known securities investments, repeated calls and emails to the targeted investors and misrepresentations made concerning the viability of the company that issued the underlying securities.

According to Bloomberg, Mr. Depalo attempted to retaliate against the SEC by suing them in New York federal court in 2013 claiming injustice against small broker-dealers.  The court dismissed that case, stating the SEC was immune from such lawsuits.  Bloomberg reported that at the time of the scheme is accused of perpetrating, Mr. DePalo was near insolvency in his business.

Bankruptcies, both person or business-related, can serve as a major catalyst for unscrupulous activities by brokers and financial advisors.  When these financial professionals are pushed to the brink financially in their personal lives, they may be enticed to offer unsuitable investments, or even enter into wholly fraudulent schemes that serve only to line their own pockets at the expense of their customers.  Unfortunately, lax supervision and self-reporting at firms often does not uncover or report to regulators these bankruptcies.

Malecki Law has previously investigated and successfully handled securities arbitrations concerning investment advisors and brokers who were under financial hardships as a result of bankruptcies, then choosing to unsuitable or fraudulent investments.  If you believe you have suffered losses as a result of questionable actions taken in your securities account, please contact us immediately for a confidential consultation.

Broker Dealer Financial Services Corp. (BDFS) based out of West Des Moines, Iowa just learned the hard way that nontraditional Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are risky, speculative investments and are not appropriate for all investors.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently fined BDFS $75,000 for 1. failing to properly supervise the sale of leveraged ETFs to its customers, 2. not properly training its sales force about the appropriate use of leveraged ETFs in customer accounts, and 3. not adequately supervising nontraditional ETF activity in customer accounts.

According the Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent, from March of 2009 to April of 2012, BDFS “recommended nontraditional ETFs to more than 200 customers” without “a reasonable basis for believing that the nontraditional ETF transactions it recommended were suitable for any investor.”  BDFS’s ETF related misconduct was said to have violated NASD Rules 2310 and 3010 along with FINRA Rules 2010 and 2111.

Traditional ETFs are similar to mutual funds in that they are typically designed to offer returns by tracking an index like the S&P 500 or Dow Jones.  Unlike mutual funds, ETFs trade on an exchange like stocks and typically have lower fees and higher liquidity.

Nontraditional or Leveraged ETFs are complex products and differ from traditional ETFs in that they endeavor to return multiples of a given index’s return – typically double or triple the return – or the inverse of a given index’s return, or both.  For example, a double leveraged “bear” S&P 500 ETF would be designed to return twice the opposite of the S&P 500’s performance.  So if the S&P 500 went down 1, the ETF would (in theory) go up 2, and vice versa.

Because nontraditional ETFs use derivatives such as swaps and futures contracts to achieve their desired performance, they can be especially risky.  The features of nontraditional ETFs more often than not make them useful only to speculative day-traders and completely unsuitable as “buy and hold” investments for average “mom and pop” investors.

Given that nontraditional ETFs can be so dangerous for the average investor, proper supervision by the selling broker-dealer, like BDFS, is critical to ensure that “mom and pop” are not the ones buying them as long term investments in their accounts.  When firms fail at conducting the proper due diligence and supervision, their customers can suffer crushing losses in their accounts as a result.

Examples of nontraditional ETFs that are usually not appropriate for average investors yet improperly sold to them anyway are:

Direxion Daily Nat Gas Rltd Bull 3X                            GASL

Direxion Daily Jr Gld Mnrs Bull 3X                             JNUG

Direxion Daily Brazil Bull 3X                                         BRZU

Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bull 3X                             NUGT

Direxion Daily Russia Bull 3X                                        RUSL

Direxion Daily Latin America Bull 3X                          LBJ

ProShares Ultra MSCI Brazil Capped                          UBR

Direxion Daily Energy Bull 3X                                      ERX

ProShares Ultra Oil & Gas                                              DIG

ProShares Ultra MSCI Mexico Capped IMI               UMX

Direxion Daily FTSE Europe Bull 3X                          EURL

Direxion Daily South Korea Bull 3X                            KORU

ProShares Ultra FTSE Europe                                      UPV

Direxion Daily Dev Mkts Bull 3X                                  DZK

Direxion Daily Emrg Mkts Bull 3X                               EDC

ProShares Ultra MSCI EAFE                                         EFO

ProShares Ultra MSCI Emerging Markets                 EET

If you or a family member invested in nontraditional ETFs such as those listed above or others, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

It is the right of any and all investors who believe they may have suffered losses as a result of recommendations of their financial advisor to contact our offices to explore their legal rights and options.  The attorneys at Malecki Law have extensive experience representing investors.

 

 

A former University of Washington faculty member pled guilty in connection with a Ponzi scheme that lasted at least six years.  It has been reported by the Washington State Sky Valley Chronicle on May 20, 2015 that Satyen Chatterjee, who owned and operated a financial advisory business called Strategic Capital Management, Inc. for more than twenty years.  The news article reported that the Washington State Department of Financial Operations ordered the business to cease operating illegally in 2013.  The guilty plea was also announced by the Federal Bureau of Investigations in a press release dated May 18, 2015.

According to the article, Mr. Chatterjee used his faculty post at the University of Washington to promote his advisory business.  The article went on the detail that Mr. Chatterjee convinced investors to transfer funds on the belief they were purchasing fixed rate securities, when in reality he transferred the money to personal bank accounts to fund his lifestyle or lost the money day trading.  Also detailed in the article was another scheme whereby Mr. Chatterjee solicited investments in a nutrient supplement company, but used that money to pay off investors who thought they invested in the fixed rate securities.

According to the FBI press release, Mr. Chatterjee admitted to the scheme to defraud investors during a period of 2007 to 2013.  The FBI press release estimates that at least six investors were defrauded out of more than $600,000.

The FBI press release also detailed that Mr. Chatterjee fabricated account statements for at least one investor, and blamed some of the investor losses on investment associates who defaulted on agreements they had with Mr. Chatterjee, as well as blaming them for certain of the losses.

Malecki Law has previously investigated and successfully handled securities arbitrations concerning Ponzi schemes and fraudulent investments perpetrated by financial advisors.  If you believe you have suffered losses as a result of questionable actions taken in your securities account, please contact us immediately for a confidential consultation.

Victims of securities fraud and negligence are entitled to receive damages to compensate them for their losses, as well as other remedies that may be available depending on the specific case.  Frequently investors who have lost money in their investment accounts do not realize that they may be the victims of securities fraud and/or negligence on the part of their financial advisor (i.e., investment advisor and/or stockbroker).

Therefore, today we are going to answer the question:

“Can I sue my financial advisor, investment advisor or stockbroker?“

The short answer to that question is:

“Yes, you may be able to sue your investment advisor, financial advisor or stockbroker, if you have suffered losses in your account as a result of their fraud or negligence.”

When do investors sue their financial advisor?  In simple terms, people sue their financial advisor when they feel that they have been cheated or misled.

Financial advisors are under a number of duties and obligations by virtue of having a license to sell securities.  The firms that they work for are also under specific duties and obligations with respect to what they permit the financial advisors that work for them to do and how they are supervised.  These duties stem from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), as well as both state and federal laws.

So, if you to suffer losses in your investment account because your financial advisor, their firm, or both breached one or more of those duties to you, then you could have the right sue them to recover money.  It is important to file a lawsuit as quickly as you can, but always consult a lawyer, even if it seems like it happened a long time ago.

Did my financial advisor break the law?

A financial advisor and their firm have the obligation to provide their customers (you) with full and accurate information about investments they recommend.  If a firm or financial advisor provides you with misleading or false information that induced you to buy or sell and investment or did not tell you something important – then you may have a claim for fraud.

Churning is another example.  Churning occurs when a financial advisors buys and sells investments over and over in a very short period of time (oftentimes day-trading) in a customer’s account.  When this happens, the customer usually loses a lot of money in the account, while the financial advisor “earns” a lot of commissions from the account.  A customer who has had their account churned can sue their financial advisor and their firm to recover their losses and refund the commissions the customer paid.

Frequently when churning an account, the financial advisor is also engaged in what is known as “unauthorized trading.”  Unauthorized trading is just what it sounds like – trading in a customer account without the customer’s permission.  Unless a customer gives their financial advisor what is known as “discretion” (i.e., permission) to trade their account at will, a financial advisor is supposed to get the customer’s permission for every trade they make.  If not, then the financial advisor and their firm can be liable to the customer for losses sustained in the unauthorized trades.

Another duty that all financial advisors have to their customers is to make only suitable (i.e., appropriate) recommendations to their customers.  Therefore, financial advisors cannot legally make unsuitable or inappropriate recommendations to their customers.  For example, if a financial advisor has a customer who is conservative and not willing to risk losing a lot of money in their account and they recommend to that customer an investment that is very speculative (i.e., risky with high upside but high downside, too), that financial advisor and their firm can be on the hook to that customer if and when the investment loses money.

Finally, financial advisors (just like everybody else) are not permitted to forge documents or steal their customer’s money.  Unfortunately, financial advisors across the country regularly do both.  These financial advisors and their firms can be held liable to reimburse their customers for all money stolen and losses in the accounts effected.

Financial advisors who do “go bad” seem to do so during periods of personal crisis in their own lives – usually when they are going through a rough divorce, facing personal bankruptcy, or battling addiction to drugs/alcohol.  While those going through life’s major struggles deserve sympathy and a helping hand, that is no excuse to abuse the trust of their customers as so frequently happens.

Investors who believe they may be the victim of fraud or negligence on the part of their financial advisor should contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212)943-1233.  The attorneys at Malecki Law have extensive experience representing investors, and are here to help.

Not far from the home of the original “Ponzi scheme” in Boston, the SEC filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island on May 7, 2015 alleging that financial advisor and former broker Patrick Churchville operated a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of $11 million.  The SEC complaint alleged that the fraud was run out of a company called Clearpath Wealth Management, LLC.

According to the SEC complaint, Mr. Churchville operated a Ponzi scheme by using investments from new investors to pay the distribution claims of old investors.  The SEC also alleged that Mr. Churchville diverted approximately $2.5 million of investor funds to purchase his home overlooking Narragansett Bay.  Local News Station WPRI reported on its website that the home is now up for sale for $3.5 million.

The SEC alleged that the fraud began in around December of 2010.  According to his publicly available Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) CRD report, Mr. Churchville was registered by Spire Securities, LLC from August 2009 through February 2011, during the time that the SEC alleged fraudulent conduct occurred.  Broker-dealers generally have an obligation to supervise the offices where their registered employees such as Mr. Churchville work.  It is unclear from the SEC’s complaint or FINRA CRD what, if any, disclosure was made to Mr. Churchville’s investors by the firm.

Malecki Law has previously investigated and successfully handled securities arbitrations concerning private securities transactions and other fraudulent conduct by brokers who are employed by FINRA member broker-dealers.  If you believe you have suffered losses as a result of questionable actions taken in your securities account, please contact us immediately for a confidential consultation.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has permanently barred Nicholas Hansen Harper.  Harper worked in Wells Fargo’s Topeka, Kansas branch office from 1997 through 2013 according to his BrokerCheck Report.

Per the Letter of Acceptance Waiver and Consent filed with FINRA, Harper resigned from Wells Fargo on August 7, 2013, shortly after the firm’s compliance department began to review trading in the accounts of certain of his customers.  The timing of Harper’s resignation can only serve to raise suspicions.

Presumably suspicious of Harper, in March of 2015, FINRA requested Harper provide testimony to FINRA investigators pursuant to Rule 8210.   More than one month after the request was issues, FINRA staff spoke to Harper’s attorney, who purportedly indicated that Harper would not be appearing before FINRA to provide testimony at any time.

In response to his violation of FINRA Rule 8210, Harper has agreed to a bar from association with any FINRA member in any capacity.

FINRA investigations are serious matters and for that reason Rule 8210 provides FINRA with a “big stick” to force compliance from registered representatives.

For Harper, this has already become something future employers and clients, alike, in any business can see.  This can affect future employment possibilities, future licensing and the ability to get financing for personal and/or business endeavors.  For a registered person receiving an 8210 request, proper handling of these matters by experienced counsel is essential.

FINRA is one of the few regulators that specifically oversee the securities industry.  Because of that, FINRA’s enforcement division is a crucial part of preventing investment fraud and punishing those who have committed violations.

In addition to the state and federal laws that are on the books, the securities industry is also governed by industry rules promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and FINRA.   These rules, including Rule 8210, are important and must be complied with.

Failure to comply with FINRA and SEC rules can expose a person to civil liability and loss of professional licenses, as in the case of Nicholas Harper.  If a licensed stockbroker or financial advisor has broken the rules with respect to a customer account, that customer could be entitled to recover their losses.

Malecki Law has handled numerous cases stemming from inappropriate trading by brokers in customer accounts.  If you or a family member invested with Nicholas Harper or Wells Fargo and have lost money, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

What should happen to a financial advisor (FA) if they provide unsuitable and inappropriate investment advice to their clients?

First, if the unsuitable advice given to a customer caused losses to that customer’s account, the customer has the option to sue the FA in FINRA arbitration.  Investors can recover some or all of their losses due to the bad advice – usually against the firm that the FA worked for in a failure to supervise case.  Arbitration is common for aggrieved investors, and this law firm has successfully represented numerous investors who have been the victims of unsuitable investment advice from an FA.

But what about punishing the broker, so he or she doesn’t do it again to someone else?  Can they go to jail? If not, what does happens?

In some more extreme cases, the FA may have committed a crime and may be prosecuted. However, these cases are in the significant minority.  More often, the FA is pursued by a financial industry regulator – usually the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), but in some cases it could be a state regulator.

These regulators have the power to suspend an FA’s license to sell securities, fine the FA or both.  The regulators also have the ability to punish the firms that employed the FA for failing to supervise the FA properly.

Just yesterday, InvestmentNews reported that FINRA would be toughening its sanctions against firms and FAs for suitability violations.  According to the article, FINRA will be “tightening the screws on its disciplinary responses” against FAs including increasing its suggested suspensions from one year to two years and the potential for barring FAs and firms that commit fraud.  This announcement comes on the heels of a Department of Labor proposal to impose a fiduciary duty upon FAs when dealing with investment accounts – meaning the FA would have to act in his or her client’s best interest.

Ultimately, steps taken in favor of investor protection whether by the DOL, FINRA or otherwise are steps taken in the right direction.

It is the right of any and all investors who believe they may have suffered losses as a result of unsuitable recommendations of their financial advisor to contact our offices to explore their legal rights and options.  Contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

 

 

This oil and gas investment was a bust, but not because of the current market conditions.  According to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) court filings, brokers Jeffrey Gainer, Jerry Cicolani, Jr. and Kelly Hood were terminated from their employer PrimeSolutions Securities, Inc., a Cleveland, Ohio broker-dealer, as a result of marketing and recommending investments in KGTA Petroleum, Ltd.  In its complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, the SEC described KGTA Petroleum, Ltd. as a scam and Ponzi scheme.  As reported recently by Crain’s Cleveland Business, the FBI announced on April 15, 2015 that Mr. Cicolani had been charged criminally as a result of selling unregistered KGTA Petroleum, Ltd. securities.

Brokers Gainer and Cicolani allegedly engaged in three separate fraudulent acts by recommending the KGTA investments without properly registering the securities, engaging in “selling away” activities by selling the KGTA investments not through their employer, PrimeSolutions Securities, Inc., and failing to disclose to their public investor customers the very large fees they earned as a result of the recommendations and placements.  According to the SEC complaint, Brokers Gainer and Cicolani earned approximately $6 million in fees, or around 29% of all funds raised in the fraudulent KGTA investments.

The SEC detailed in its complaint that the investments KGTA Petroleum, Ltd. held by customers were often in the form of “promissory notes” or “agreements,” but really represented a typical Ponzi scheme, with interest and other payments made to old investors from the funds of new investors.  The SEC complaint alleged that the scheme affected at least 57 customers.

Selling private securities offerings without the required registration, disclosures and approval of a FINRA member broker-dealer are a very serious violation of the securities laws and rules.  Any investors who invested in these investments may have claims against the brokers and perhaps the broker-dealer PrimeSolutions Securities, Inc., who had affirmative supervision obligations over the branch office at which the brokers worked.  PrimeSolutions Securities, Inc. is obligated to investigate any “red flags” and perform regular audits to root out potentially fraudulent conduct.

According to his publicly available Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) CRD report, Mr. Cicolani was the subject of approximately 70 customer complaints at his previous broker-dealer Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc.  This number of complaints alone would require PrimeSolutions Securities, Inc. to subject Mr. Cicolani to “heightened supervision,” requiring closer scrutiny of his activities and accounts.  Ms. Hood was allegedly Mr. Cicolani’s girlfriend and was also terminated from PrimeSolutions Securities, Inc. as a result of the KGTA investments.

Malecki Law has previously investigated and successfully handled securities arbitrations concerning private securities transactions and other fraudulent conduct by brokers who are employed by FINRA member broker-dealers.  If you believe you have suffered losses as a result of questionable actions taken in your securities account, please contact us immediately for a confidential consultation.

Is it okay for a broker-dealer to use bonuses and other incentives to encourage its financial advisors to steer customers into “in house” and proprietary funds that may not be right for them just to generate more fees for the firm?  Or does this practice improperly (and illegally) incentivize the financial advisor to betray his customer’s trust for his and his firm’s benefit – thereby compromising the integrity of the relationship?

The SEC is asking just those types of questions about the practices of JP Morgan, according to recent reports.  Per InvestmentNews, the SEC and other regulators have subpoenaed and otherwise inquired of JP Morgan about the firm’s sales practices.  Specifically, the reports indicate that the focus seems to be on conflicts of interest related to the sales of mutual funds and other proprietary products to customers.  The SEC is reportedly looking into whether JP Morgan breached duties to its customers and/or applicable laws by unfairly and/or illegally marketing its in house investment products.

The sale of in-house proprietary products can be a very lucrative business for large “wire houses” as they are known in the industry.  Wire houses include such familiar names as JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, etc.  By performing all of the structuring, issuing, lending and selling for their proprietary funds internally, a wire house is able to capture all of the associated fees, commissions and charges.  Therefore, it is important that regulators review the sales of such in house products, to make sure they are being sold fairly and legally to customers.

The regulators are allegedly reviewing pensions and other accounts that are covered by a fiduciary standard at JP Morgan.  Fiduciary duty means that the financial advisor must look out for their customer’s best interests ahead of their own. There is some debate over whether or not all financial advisors have a fiduciary duty to their customers.

Even so, financial advisors should give unconflicted advice to customers and should be looking out for their customer’s best interests.  Fiduciary or not, it is illegal for financial advisors to improperly provide conflicted and misleading investment recommendations to their customers, and for their firm to encourage them to do so.

It is the right of any and all investors who believe they may have suffered losses as a result of recommendations of their financial advisor to contact our offices to explore their legal rights and options.  The attorneys at Malecki Law have extensive experience representing investors in cases that result from conflicted advice from a financial advisor.

If you or a family member lost money and believe your financial advisor was looking out for himself or herself  instead of you or your loved one, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

 

 

On the heels of an announcement from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) that LPL Financial LLC has been fined approximately $12 million as a result of lax supervision, FINRA barred former LPL broker Charles Fackrell as a result of him refusing to comply with FINRA’s request for information.  Mr. Fackrell was employed by LPL Financial in North Carolina from 2010 through 2014, according to a review of publicly available records.

According to a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 20140437052 (AWC), the results of a FINRA investigation into Mr. Fackrell’s activities while employed at LPL Financial allegedly uncovered securities rule violations for selling private securities offerings.

In the AWC, Mr. Fackrell consented to the finding that he violated FINRA Rule 2010 (Standards of Commercial Honor and Principles of Trade).  Rule 2010 requires that all FINRA members shall observe high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principles of trade.

Selling private securities offerings without the required disclosures and approval of a FINRA member broker-dealer are a very serious violation of the securities laws and rules.  Any investors who invested in these potentially fraudulent investments may have claims against both the broker, and perhaps the broker-dealer LPL Financial.  LPL, as Mr. Fackrell’s employer, is obligated to supervise Mr. Fackrell’s recommendations to his customers, and must perform regular audits to root out potentially fraudulent conduct.

Any investor who lost money while working with Mr. Fackrell are urged to contact the Attorneys at Malecki Law for a free consultation to determine if they have claims related to their investments.  LPL reported on Mr. Fackrell’s publicly available CRD Report that Mr. Fackrell faces felony charges related to obtaining property by false pretenses.

Malecki Law has previously investigated and successfully handled securities arbitrations concerning private securities transactions and other fraudulent conduct by brokers who are employed by FINRA member broker-dealers.  If you believe you have suffered losses as a result of questionable actions taken in your securities account, please contact us immediately for a confidential consultation.