Articles Posted in Featured Investigations

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.

LPL Financial agreed to pay more than $11 million to settle charges in connection with a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) investigation into the firm, as recently reported in the Wall Street Journal.  According to the Letter of Acceptance Waiver and Consent filed with FINRA, LPL Financial was alleged to have supervisory failures, related to non-traditional products such as exchange traded funds (ETFs), variable annuities, and non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs).

LPL allegedly failed to deliver over 14 million trade confirmations in addition to failing to properly monitor and report trades.  Of the amount collected, $1.7 million is reportedly restitution for customers, while LPL Financial was fined an additional $10 million.

Vigilant supervision over the sale of non-traditional investments is especially important because public customers are typically unfamiliar with the products being sold to them.  In addition, many non-traditional products have higher commissions (meaning a bigger incentive for a broker to sell such products) than their more traditional counterparts.

Non-traditional products may also have a higher degree of risk for the investor than a more traditional product.  In addition to a higher risk of loss of principal, the risks of non-traditional products can also include liquidity risk – such as high surrender charges in the case of an annuity, or the complete inability to sell on a primary market as with non-traded REITs.

LPL is no stranger to regulatory investigations and fines.  In fact, LPL was just the subject of a 2013 Illinois Securities Department investigation, which resulted in LPL being ordered to pay nearly $3 million over violations in connection with the sale of “variable annuities–one of the firm’s top-selling products,” according to a Wall Street Journal article.  Of that amount $2 million was reportedly a fine, with another $820,000 paid as restitution to clients.

Investor losses in non-traditional investments are unfortunately far too common.  Frequently the victims are senior-aged who have lost their retirement savings after being sold a non-traditional investment such as a REIT or variable annuity with promises of “income for life.”

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 stemming from the improper recommendation of non-traditional investments to customers and other broker misconduct.  If you or a family member invested in non-traditional investments such as exchange traded funds, variable annuities or REITs, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

 

As oil prices have continued to plummet and commuters across the country have regaled the resulting savings at the pump, investors in oil and gas related stocks, ETFs and master limited partnerships have been shocked by the crushing losses on their brokerage account statements.

With interest rates near all-time lows, some financial advisors with clients seeking income have strayed from the usual safe, reliable treasury bills, high-grade municipal bonds, and the like, instead recommending riskier investments in search of higher yield and more income.  If such investment advisors recommended securities tied to the oil and gas sector, the last few months may have proven disastrous for their clients.

For example, financial advisors have been known to recommend “Master Limited Partnerships” (MLPs), which offer an investor the opportunity by into an oil/natural gas discovery, production and distribution enterprise.  While MLPs offer typically higher rates of income than more traditional investments, investors are frequently not advised by their financial advisor of the significantly higher risks.  Unfortunately, investors who were sold MLPs as safe, income producing investments, may only be learning of these previously hidden risks now that their investment has dropped significantly in value.

MLPs are not the only way to invest in oil and natural gas.  Another way to invest in oil and gas in through “Exchange Traded Funds” (ETFs).  ETFs are typically sold as an alternative to mutual funds that trades like a stock.

Unfortunately, that is not the whole picture.  ETFs can be riskier than traditional mutual funds, and have some features that make them different from stocks.

One classic example is leverage, meaning that the product is structured in a way to amplify gains (and losses).  (You can read more about leveraged ETFs here.)  While more gains may sound good, there is more risk of more losses, which is bad.  For many investors leveraged ETFs are not appropriate.

Investors who have had their portfolio concentrated in leveraged (or even ordinary, non-leveraged) ETFs in the oil and gas sector have probably seen the value of their portfolio drop catastrophically.

For example, the following oil, gas, and energy related ETFs have lost between 30% and 85% of their total value in the last 3 months alone:

  • Direxion Daily Nat Gas Rltd Bull 3X ETF (GASL)
  • VelocityShares 3x Long Crude Oil ETN (UWTI)
  • ProShares Ultra Bloomberg Crude Oil (UCO)
  • Direxion Daily Energy Bull 3X ETF (ERX)
  • First Trust ISE-Revere Natural Gas ETF (FCG)
  • PowerShares S&P SmallCap Energy ETF (PSCE)
  • ProShares Ultra Oil & Gas (DIG)
  • SPDR® S&P Oil & Gas Equipment&Svcs ETF (XES)
  • PowerShares Dynamic Oil & Gas Svcs ETF (PXJ)
  • United States Brent Oil ETF (BNO)
  • Market Vectors® Oil Services ETF (OIH)
  • Market Vectors® Unconvnt Oil & Gas ETF (FRAK)
  • iPath® S&P GSCI® Crude Oil TR ETN (OIL)

To the average investor, losing that much value in such a short amount of time can be shocking and devastating.  When such losses were the result of fraudulent recommendations by a financial advisor, they may be illegal.

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. If you or a family member lost money in exchange traded funds, MLPs or any other oil, natural gas and energy related security, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

Malecki Law is investigating possible unsuitability claims against stock brokers and financial advisors who sold shares of Amarin to investors for whom the stock was not appropriate.

Amarin is a biopharmaceutical company based out of New Jersey.  The company’s primary business involves the development and marketing of medicines used to treat cardiovascular disease.  Amarin is best known as the company that developed the pharmaceutical drug Vascepa.

Over the past few years, Amarin has been reportedly seeking various FDA approvals for Vascepa.  During the past four to five years, the shares of Amarin have shown great volatility.  The shares have gone from roughly $1 per share in February of 2010 up to $19 per share in May of 2011 and back down to just more than $1 per share today.  In October 2013, share prices went from more than $7 per share to just over $2 per share in less than two weeks.  Again this past October, share prices dropped roughly 50% in only one month’s time.

As a result, investors who were sold Amarin by their financial advisor may have experienced crushing losses.  It is believed that some financial advisors may have been advising clients to buy Amarin in the run up to major announcements by the company.  When negative news came out, the stock price fell dramatically, causing significant losses to investors.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) rules expressly prohibit registered financial advisors from selling unsuitable investments to the public. Therefore, investors who bought Amarin at the recommendation of a financial advisor may be able to recover some or all of their losses.

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. If you or a family member invested in Amarin, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

Malecki Law takes a proactive and informed approach to the financial news of today: actively engaging in fact-finding analysis on prospective cases from around the world. Our thorough knowledge of securities law’s history and fine points makes us ideal consultants for investors who have suffered losses due to misadvice from their broker or other financial counsel.

Malecki Law is investigating possible claims against Craig Scott Capital, based in Long Island, NY.

According to FINRA BrokerCheck, some customers of the firm have recently filed arbitrations related to the conduct of the firm’s brokers alleging “unsuitability, excessive trading and misrepresentation” against the firm. According to his CRD, the firm’s President and CEO, Craig Scott Taddonio, intends to vigorously defend himself in at least two arbitrations. Craig Scott Capital has also recently been the subject of a FINRA regulatory investigation resulting in the firm paying a fine.

Sources have reported that some brokers from Craig Scott Capital are alleged to be “cold-calling” investors with no prior relationship with the firm and soliciting sales of investments that may be unsuitable for the investor. These investments may include non-traded real estate investment trusts (“REITs”).

Non-traded REITs are well-known in the financial industry for paying high commissions to the selling broker, but have run into problems in the past, causing investors to suffer significant losses. These products should only be sold to investors for whom they are suitable. Unfortunately, they are frequently sold to investors for whom they are not appropriate.

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. If you or a family member has suffered losses, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

Malecki Law takes a proactive and informed approach to the financial news of today: actively engaging in fact-finding analysis on prospective cases from around the world. Our thorough knowledge of securities law’s history and fine points makes us ideal consultants for investors who have suffered losses due to misadvice from their broker or other financial counsel. Information on a selection of funds and companies currently under investigation by Malecki Law can be found below.

Just this past week, two brokerages units of Stifel Financial were ordered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) to pay more than $1 million related to the sale of leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”). Of the more than $1 million to be paid, $550,000 comes in the form of a fine to be split by Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., Inc. and Century Securities Associates Inc. The firms were also ordered to pay more than $475,000 in restitution to 65 customers to compensate them for losses incurred on ETF purchases.

According to the Wall Street Journal, FINRA said that some of the brokers who were selling the ETFs did not have a full understanding of the products they were selling, including the risks associated with them.

Brokerage firms can be fined and/or sued when they allow their brokers to sell unsuitable, or inappropriate, investments to customers, especially when the brokers have not been properly trained. Industry regulations require that a broker understand both the product they are selling and the customer to whom they are selling the product. Most importantly a broker must understand the risks of the products being sold and appreciate the customer’s ability (or inability) to tolerate risk. Brokerage firms are also required to train their brokers properly, including what qualifies as a suitable, or appropriate, recommendation to a customer.

Regulators have been looking at the sale of ETFs, especially inverse and leveraged ETFs, in recent years. In the past few years, FINRA has reportedly fined multiple brokerage firms millions of dollars, including Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, UBS and Wells Fargo over the sales of ETFs.

These investments are complex and often not completely understood by the average investor. They use futures and/or derivatives to 1) multiply the return (and loss) of a given index on a given day and/or 2) cause the value of the ETF to rise when the index falls, or vice versa. However, they are largely designed as a product for day-traders and are not typically supposed to be recommended as “buy and hold” investments.

For example, below are twenty five ETFs that lost the most in the past 12 months per Yahoo Finance, many of which are inverse, leveraged, or both. Malecki Law is investigating and/or has recently pursued claims for customers who incurred losses in these ETFs.

1. Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bull 3X Shrs (NUGT)
2. VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX ST ETN (TVIX)
3. C-Tracks Citi Volatility Index TR ETN (CVOL)
4. Barclays Short B Lvgd Inv S&P 500 TR ETN (BXDB)
5. Direxion Daily Semicondct Bear 3X Shares (SOXS)
6. VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX MT ETN (TVIZ)
7. Direxion Daily Small Cap Bear 3X Shares (TZA)
8. ProShares UltraPro Short Russell2000 (SRTY)
9. VelocityShares Long VIX ST ETN (VIIX)
10. ProShares VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (VIXY)
11. ProShares UltraPro Short QQQ (SQQQ)
12. ProShares Ultra Silver (AGQ)
13. Direxion Daily Nat Gas Rltd Bear 3X Shrs (GASX)
14. Direxion Daily Mid Cap Bear 3X Shares (MIDZ)
15. ProShares UltraPro Short MidCap400 (SMDD)
16. Global X Gold Explorers ETF (GLDX)
17. Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ)
18. Direxion Daily S&P500 Bear 3X Shares (SPXS)
19. Direxion Daily China Bear 3X Shares (YANG)
20. ProShares UltraPro Short Dow30 (SDOW)
21. ProShares UltraShort Russell2000 Growth (SKK)
22. Direxion Daily Technology Bear 3X Shares (TECS)
23. Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX)
24. ProShares UltraShort SmallCap600 (SDD)
25. ProShares UltraShort Health Care (RXD)

If you believe you have lost money as a result of an investment in these or any ETFs, or because of some other investment, contact an attorney at Malecki Law for a free consultation to determine if you may be able to recover your losses.

Maxwell B. Smith was sentenced to serve the next seven years in federal prison for operating a $9 million Ponzi scheme. Maxwell sold investments as a fund that made loans to nursing homes. Smith had previously plead guilty to several counts of mail fraud as well as money laundering.

It is believed that Smith was employed as a financial professional at several financial firms in New Jersey, where he provided financial advice to his clients, many of whom may have lost money to his Ponzi scheme, Health Care Financial Partners (“HCFP”), purportedly a fund with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets. Investors even received a prospectus guaranteeing 7.5% to 9% per year, tax free. Investors could buy bonds in amounts ranging from $25,000 to $300,000.

Investors may not know that broker-dealers, like the ones that it is believed registered Mr. Smith, have a duty to supervise their employees. As a result, in situations like these, investors may be entitled to recover against the financial firms that employed the financial advisor for failing to supervise their employee.

Mr. Smith was apparently employed by Rickel & Associates, Inc., Atlantic Group Securities, Inc., JJB Hilliard, WL Lyons, Inc., PNC Investments, and Cantone Research, Inc. during the Ponzi schemes operation. It is believed that had these firms properly supervised Mr. Smith, they should have caught and stopped this Ponzi scheme.

If you or a family member fell victim to Mr. Smith, it is your right to consult with an attorney and explore your options. For a free consultation, contact the investment fraud attorneys at Malecki Law at (212)943-1233. Malecki Law has recovered millions of dollars for victims of Ponzi Schemes.

Those who invested in many of the commonly called “Apple reverse convertibles,” now find themselves facing huge potential losses. But all hope is not lost, as investors may be able to recoup their losses. apple falling.jpg

The plight of these investors has been well documented recently.

What would you do if your broker tells you that you just bought Apple stock at a price of over $700 a share, even though after this past week’s collapse left the price hovering below $440? Now what would you do if you found out that you wound up with this “bum deal” by buying a product that was issued by your broker’s firm?

Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal addressed this situation in his recent report on how individual investors lost potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in structured products linked to Apple stock, while the firms and brokers who sold them made a profit.

These products were typically marketed to investors as being like bond investments, but promised substantially higher interest rates between 6-12%. However, this came with a catch – if the stock fell more than 20% or so by the date of maturity, the bonds morph into shares of the underlying stock on the maturity date. This means an enormous, sudden loss to the investor.

Over $722 million of these investments have been sold. Many investors who bought these investments, such as UBS’s “trigger yield optimization notes” in the past year have seen the value of the underlying Apple stock drop from over $700 to south of $440 per share, which means that these investors are staring down the barrel of an enormous loss – estimated to be around 30%. At the same time, the banks that sold these products reaped a large profit, sometimes nearly 2% of the total investment.

Many products such as these have been sold to conservative investors who were not willing to lose money – based largely on the historically positive performance of Apple stock. Investors often do not understand the complexities of these products, or others like them. In many cases, investors seeking safe income may not have been aware of this risk or had it downplayed to them, which could constitute a sales practice violation committed by their broker.

Unfortunately, as Mr. Zweig notes at the end of his article “Complexity always favors the seller, not the buyer. And the house always wins.”

However, this does not have to be true. Investors have the ability to fight back against “the house.”

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. Malecki Law is currently investing claims resulting from the sale or purchase of Apple reverse convertibles sold by UBS and other banks. If you or a family member invested in Apple reverse convertibles, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

As recently reported by InvestmentNews, the estimated value of common stock in real estate investment trust (or REIT) of Wells Timberland REIT, Inc. fell to $6.56 per share. Given the illiquidity of the trust, finding that price in the market may prove difficult. That figure marks a 35% plunge in value since the REIT premiered in 2006 at $10 per share. Unfortunately, such incidents are all too common in a post-bubble real estate industry continuing to face adversity. Many of these incidents have caused substantial losses to investors who invested some or all of their savings in these ventures at the recommendation of their financial advisor.

The trust in question is controlled by Wells Real Estate Funds, an industry giant which has over $11 billion invested in real estate worldwide. Wells management has committed $37 million in preferred equity to this REIT alone, yet the trust currently appears to accrue annual dividends of a mere 1%. In October of 2011, redemption of trust shares was suspended until a new share value could be determined. Beginning next month, shareholders are apparently supposed to have the option of redemption, which will garner 95% of each share’s estimated value, or $6.23.

REITs in many instances can be considered to be high-risk endeavors: appealing for their potential for high gains due to their interest rates, but with equal if not unwarranted potential for resolute failure, and a possible lack of accountability toward investors. Too often, financials advisors describe high-risk investment products like REITs as safe, secured or guaranteed, typically to get the higher commission that these riskier investments pay. Misrepresenting the risk of an investment to a customer like that is against the law and rules under which these professionals work.

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. If you or a family member invested in real estate investment trusts, contact the securities fraud lawyers at Malecki Law for a free consultation and case evaluation at (212) 943-1233.

Malecki Law takes a proactive and informed approach to the financial news of today: actively engaging in fact-finding analysis on prospective cases from around the world. Our thorough knowledge of securities law’s history and fine points makes us ideal consultants for investors who have suffered losses due to misadvice from their broker or other financial counsel. Information on a selection of funds and companies currently under investigation by Malecki Law can be found below. Our pursuit of excellence is constant, but our opportunities to make lasting positive change to the securities industry begin and end with determined clients who seek justice.

Tonight, June 5, 2012, on the 6 O’Clock Evening News on CBS 2 New York, the lawsuit filed by Malecki Law on behalf of forty-three investors in the alleged Ponzi scheme run by Robert Van Zandt will be featured.

This past December, Malecki Law announced the filing of a civil arbitration complaint with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority against MetLife Securities for more than $4 million on behalf of twenty-four investors. In March, Malecki Law announced that the complaint had been amended to include additional nineteen investors totaling roughly $9.2 million in claims.

The attorneys at Malecki Law continue to take calls and anticipate either adding future victims to the existing claim or commencing a second action, if necessary. We urge anyone with knowledge about the Van Zandt Agency or MetLife Securities supervision (or lack thereof) over the office to contact us. Investors or employees with knowledge of the events at the Van Zandt Agency who seek further information or want to explore their rights should contact Malecki Law by e-mail or phone. Malecki Law has a uniquely diverse background with significant experience representing clients in securities and investment fraud issues and is “AV Rated” by Martindale-Hubbell. Malecki Law hosts a website providing information and resources dedicated to the securities industry: www.AboutSecuritiesLaw.com. Please contact Jenice L. Malecki, Esq., MALECKI LAW, 11 Broadway, Suite 715, New York, NY 10004, Telephone: (212) 943-1233, Facsimile: (212) 943-1238, E-Mail: Jenice@MaleckiLaw.com.