Articles Posted in Investment Fraud

White eggs in a brown nest labelled with IRA, Pension, 401k and House representing a typical nest egg.
First, it was M.I.T., Yale and N.Y.U. Then, Duke University, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt were sued for excessive fees in their employees’ retirement accounts, according to a New York Times report. With these class-action suits filed, let’s examine what are the common problems and allegations made against 403(b) plans.

403(b) plans, are similar to 401(k) retirement plans available to employees of public schools and nonprofit institutions like universities and hospitals. The most common allegation that has been reported against 403(b) plans is excessive fees that result in lost retirement savings for the investors. These universities reportedly used multiple ‘record keeper’ providers and paid excessive revenue sharing payments to these providers, amounting to millions of dollars in lost savings.

While the employee investors would have benefited more from fewer simplified options that leveraged economies of scale, there were 400+ investment options which were confusing for them and made them opt for duplicative strategies according the same news report. Allegedly, millions of dollars in retirement assets were unsuitably invested in underperforming funds in a retail share class as opposed to a less-expensive institutional share class. The investment advisors for these plans allegedly breached their fiduciary duty which mandates the reduction of excessive fees and conflicts of interest that erode retirement savings for all investors.

FINRA newThe Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today a complaint filed against Hank Marker Werner for allegations including securities fraud for churning the account of a senior-aged blind widow customer and for making excessive and unsuitable trading recommendations in a News Release.

According to his publicly available BrokerCheck report records maintained by FINRA, Mr. Werner was employed and licensed by Legend Securities, Inc. from December 2012 to March 2016.  Prior to working at Legend Securities, Inc., he was employed by Liberty Partners Financial Services, LLC from July to December 2012, Brookstone Securities, Inc. from March 2011 to June 2012, and Alexander Capital, LP from November 2009 to March 2011, per Mr. Werner’s BrokerCheck report.

FINRA’s News Release detailed that Mr. Werner allegedly engaged in a deceptive and fraudulent scheme by churning the elderly client’s over the course of three years “to maximize his compensation by charging more than $243,000 in commissions, while causing the customer approximately $184,000 in net losses.”  The News Release also stated:

The investment fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints regarding Oppenheimer & Co. broker Joseph Iovino. According to his BrokerCheck report maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), Mr. Iovino has been the subject of seven reportable disclosure events, including customer complaints.

Per FINRA records, Mr. Iovino has been involved in two regulatory events, four customer complaints and an employment separation after allegations.

According to his BrokerCheck, in 1992, Mr. Iovino was terminated by Prudential Securities for violating firm policy.

Malecki Law’s team of investment attorneys are interested in speaking with those who invested in AR Global REITs. Industry analysts and consultants believe that investors in a number of AR Global-sponsored real estate investment trusts (REITs) are in danger of having their distributions cut, per InvestmentNews.

Specifically, investors in American Realty Capital Global Trust II, American Realty Capital New York City REIT, American Finance Trust, American Realty Capital Hospitality Trust, American Realty Capital Retail Centers of America, Healthcare Trust, and Realty Finance Trust may be at risk, according to the report.

The problem is said to stem from the MFFO (modified funds from operations a/k/a cash flow) at seven of AR Global’s REITs. The MFFO of these seven funds reportedly failed to match or exceed their distributions. In simple terms, this would mean that the funds failed to take in as much as they were distributing. Such a situation has the potential to mean big trouble for investors including distribution cuts and rapid decline in asset value – i.e., less income and large losses to the principal.

We are pleased to announce that after a six-day long arbitration, our client was awarded his full net out-of-pocket damages of $142,168.00 by a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Arbitration Panel.  The story was recently reported by InvestmentNews.  The arbitration panel also assessed all forum fees in the amount of $14,400 against the Respondent Garden State Securities, Inc.

The case was brought against Garden State alleging unsuitable investment recommendations, including over-concentration in Chinese stocks, penny stocks and low-priced securities, as well as leveraged exchange traded funds (ETFs). The claims also centered around allegations of churning and excessive trading. In the end, the Panel found Garden State liable.  Ultimately, broker-dealers must be held responsible for the recommendations their brokers make.

Our client’s case exemplifies many of the issues facing senior-aged investors today. Many seniors find themselves in situations where they have saved their entire lives for retirement and are seeking a financial professional to help guide them and preserve their nest egg. There is usually a lot of trust in the financial advisor-client relationship. But that trust can be easily and quickly abused. As they grow older, people generally became more conservative, downsizing and limiting expenses. Yet, all-too-frequently brokers recommend more speculative investments to their aging customers – for the broker’s own purposes (commonly higher commissions and fees). Such a situation is not appropriate nor permissible.

The securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints against stockbroker Catherine A. Sheridan.  Since April 2015, Ms. Sheridan has been employed and registered with Race Rock Capital, LLC, a broker-dealer, working out of the Boston, Massachusetts office, according to her publicly available BrokerCheck, as maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

Per her BrokerCheck report, Ms. Sheridan was previously employed by North South Capital, LLC from 2010 to 2015, Sound Securities, LLC from 2007 to 2010 and Tradition Asiel Securities, Inc. from 2004 to 2007.

Ms. Sheridan was fined and suspended for two months from association with any FINRA member broker-dealer by FINRA according to a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2015044475901 (AWC).  According to the AWC, Ms. Sheridan violated Article V, Section 2(c) of FINRA’s By-Laws and FINRA Rules 1122 and 2010 for failing to timely file amendments to her U-4 to report tax liens.  According to the AWC, Ms. Sheridan resigned from North South Capital, LLC two days after she amended her U-4 to report a tax lien.  According to FINRA BrokerCheck records, Ms. Sheridan’s suspension started on May 16, 2016 and ends on July 15, 2016.

The investment and securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints regarding Wells Fargo financial advisor Robert Ross.  According to his BrokerCheck report maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), Mr. Ross recently moved to Wells Fargo after spending 30 years at Merrill Lynch.

Mr. Ross was recently the subject of a customer complaint alleging unsuitable investment recommendations and excessive trading, per FINRA records.  BrokerCheck indicates that an arbitration related to this customer complaint is presently pending.

Excessive trading, also known as churning, in the industry can be disastrous for a portfolio.  When a broker trades an account excessively, large amounts of commissions and fees may be generated, if the account is commission based (as opposed to fee based).  Churning is a classic example of a broker putting his or her own monetary gain above the best interests of his or her customer.

Morgan Stanley broker Armando Fernandez has been suspended by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for 20 business days, according to publicly available FINRA records.  Per a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent filed with FINRA, Mr. Fernandez was accused of exercising discretion in a customer account without prior written acceptance of the account as discretionary from his member firm.  FINRA records indicate that Mr. Fernandez was also fined $7,500.

Generally, brokers are prohibited from placing trades in a customer account without speaking to the customer first, unless an account is a discretionary account.  When discretion is given by the customer to the broker, it is typically documented in a signed agreement.  When there is not such a signed agreement, and a broker executes transactions on a discretionary basis anyway, violations of FINRA Rules likely have taken place.

Customers who have been the victim of brokers improperly exercising discretion in their accounts (or violating other FINRA Rules) may be entitled to recover their losses in an action against the firm and/or broker responsible.

The Dow Jones dropped more than 600 points today in response to the Brexit vote.  This was reportedly the its eighth-largest point loss ever.  Meanwhile, the S&P 500 dropped more than 70 points today.  Certain financial company stocks dropped significantly as well.  Among them were Barclays, which dropped more than 20% and RBS who saw a 27% decline.  The financial sector as a whole reportedly had its worst day since 2011 dropping 5.4%.

While all of this may make the evening news more interesting to watch, the concerns on many people’s minds are undoubtedly, “How will this affect me and my portfolio?”  Especially with baby-boomers retiring each and every day, retirement portfolio losses so close to one’s retirement could be unrecoverable.

One of the first things to look at to see if your portfolio was significantly affected would be to examine at your exposure to the UK and your exposure to the financial sector.

United Development Funding (“UDF”) has come under fire in recent months – being accused of operating like a “Ponzi scheme.”  It has allegedly disclosed that since April 2014, it has been under SEC investigation.

UDF operates several publicly-traded and non-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) along with other real estate related companies, according to reports.  UDF reportedly operates in a manner that is different from traditional REITs – in that its assets are not real estate holdings, but rather development loans that it originates.

The UDF fund family is reportedly comprised of four public companies – United Mortgage Trust (non-traded), UDF III (non-traded), UDF IV (publicly traded symbol: UDF), and UDF V (non-traded).