Articles Posted in Securities Fraud & Unsuitable Investments

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.

handshake.jpgHow do you know your investment adviser is solely acting in your best interest? Sadly, even when it comes to picking mutual funds, your investment adviser may still only be thinking of himself or herself.

Take for example the allegations in a recent proceeding instituted by the SEC on September 2, 2014 against the Robare Group, Ltd. and two individual principals of the firm for failing to disclose a fee arrangement in which Robare was paid between 2 and 12 basis points on the client’s assets investments in no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds on a broker’s platform, as reported by InvestmentNews. One basis point is equal to 1/100th of one 1%, so 10 basis points would equal .1%.

The SEC alleged that Robare earned close to $500,000 in fees over eight years, and failed to disclose the arrangement on the firm’s Form ADV. The SEC further alleged that in 2013, Robare managed approximately 350 separately managed discretionary accounts and had assets under management of approximately $150 million.

The SEC alleged that the fee arrangement created an incentive for Robare to favor mutual funds available on the broker’s platform when giving investment advice to its clients. Robare’s alleged incentive to favor these mutual funds created a conflict of interest with its clients, a fact that was not disclosed, or only partially and incompletely disclosed, by the firm, according to the SEC’s allegations.

The SEC alleged that Robare violated Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (Advisers Act), which make it unlawful for an investment adviser to defraud or engage in a practice that would operate as a fraud upon any client. Regarding the false or incomplete filings on the firm’s ADV, the SEC alleged that all respondents violated Section 207 of the Advisers Act) by making untrue statements in an application or report filed with the SEC.

According to the InvestmentNews article, the SEC’s Asset Management Unit charged a different adviser in 2012 with also failing to disclose a revenue-sharing arrangement.

Investment Advisers are considered fiduciaries of their customers, and therefore hold various fiduciary duties, including to act in the client’s best interest. If an investment adviser places his or her own interest ahead of their client, they risk breaching those duties, and as illustrated in the allegations made by the SEC in proceedings against Robare, fraud charges by regulators. Investment Advisers who are also registered representatives with a broker-dealer may face private actions brought by their clients for recommending unsuitable investments (i.e. investments that are not proper for the client given their risk tolerance, age and other circumstances).

It is not uncommon for clients to learn that unsatisfactory performance in their brokerage accounts often mask further and more damaging securities law violations. If you believe you were not properly recommended investments, please contact the attorneys at Malecki Law to determine if you have a claim for damages.

oil-pumps.jpgMuch has been made in the recent months about supposed growth in the oil and gas markets, including speculation, such as the recent article on www.forbes.com that increasing demand will be preceded by increased investment in infrastructure that would bring the product to market.

Regardless of the potential growth as an investment, limited partnerships and business development corporations have historically been, and will likely continue to be, extremely risky investments that demand a careful suitability analysis and due diligence by financial professionals before they are recommended for public investors. In addition to the risks listed in the Forbes article, such as “acts of God and man” (environmental, terrorist, war, etc.), there are the risks that the investment never yields the promised gains, or that the investment itself is completely false, fictional and fraudulent.

Further, these investments also tend to be highly illiquid and require long holding periods. This fact alone can render an investment unsuitable for a particular investor, if they are at an age or place in their lives where access to cash is important, or if the investor actually told their financial professional that liquidity was important to them.

Oil and gas limited partnerships, like other alternative investments, also tend to be high-commission products, giving brokers an incentive to recommend and sell to unsuspecting investors without making the necessary suitability analysis required of them by FINRA Rules and applicable securities laws.

The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) cites potential tax consequences and fraudulent sales techniques of investments in oil and gas as additional concerns for investors. For example, while cold-callers may claim that springtime weather will bring more motorists that will demand more oil, the increased use of oil and gas in good weather is a known fact and usually already built into the market price, so such claims can be half-truths with serious omissions. Sometimes, as NASAA points out, these investments are marketed in high-pressure sales calls from “boiler rooms” to market the investments. Investors should be extremely weary if they receive such unsolicited phone calls.

As reported by MarketWatch, while yields may look or sound promising, the fine print of the limited partnership investment structure may include substantial layers of fees and expenses that could “erode” returns to the investors. Further, MarketWatch noted that certain such investments may merely return principal back to the investor, rather than any actual income on the investment. Other “investments” that return principal are typically known as Ponzi schemes.

We at Malecki Law have unfortunately seen poor marketing and solicitation tactics involved when recommending alternative investments like oil and gas limited partnerships. It is also not uncommon for financial professionals to fail to disclose all of the attendant risks of these investments, including any lock-up periods, relative illiquidity of the investments generally, as well as tax drawbacks. Securities rules require that a broker fully advise the investor of all risks when recommending investments in oil and gas limited partnerships and other similar alternative investments. If you believe you were not properly informed of these risks, or feel you were subjected to high-pressure sales tactics that forced you into unsuitable investments, please contact the attorneys at Malecki Law to determine if you have a claim for damages.

Apparently the opportunity for bad brokers to engage in wrongful conduct is enabled by big brokerage firms, as recent Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) fines indicate that these businesses fail to properly supervise their foot soldiers. The FINRA Rules, including Rule 3010, make clear that broker-dealers are the securities gatekeepers, because they are ultimately responsible for supervision of their brokers. Not all brokers take advantage of their customers, but those who do will certainly feel emboldened to continue their schemes if they know they can print account statements listing fictitious investments, or make misrepresentations to clients over emails they know will never be supervised.

InvestmentNews recent reported regarding the largest recent fines handed out by FINRA. The fines, some mentioned in prior blog posts, point to continued poor supervision at large broker-dealers.

For instance, we recently commented regarding FINRA’s announcement on February 24, 2014 of a $775,000 fine for Berthel Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. and its subsidiary for failure to supervise brokers on recommendations and sales of alternative investments such as non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) and leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Then, one month later on March 24, 2014, FINRA announced that it had fined LPL Financial LLC $950,000 for supervisory deficiencies related to brokers’ recommendations and sales to public investors of alternative investments, including non-traded REITs, oil and gas partnerships, business development companies (BDCs), hedge funds, managed futures and other illiquid pass-through investments.

Other broker-dealers on InvestmentNews’ notorious list include FINRA’s report of a fine and ordered restitution in the amount of $1.2 million against Triad Advisors and Securities America for those companies’ failure to supervise the use of consolidated reporting systems and inaccurate valuations being sent to customers, and for failure to retain the consolidated reports, in violation of applicable securities recordkeeping laws. These types of failures are particularly problematic, because they allowed brokers to sell potentially fraudulent investments with the appearance of legitimacy, since they were printed on firm account statements. Such investments, according to FINRA, included those held “away” from the broker-dealers, which sometimes included fictitious promissory note schemes or other fraudulent or Ponzi-like investments. FINRA reported that the supervisory failures extended to “hundreds of brokers.”

The FINRA fine that topped the list was that handed to, again, LPL Financial LLC in the amount of $9 million (including a fund set up to compensate customers) for “systemic email failures” and “misstatements to FINRA,” reported on May 21, 2013. FINRA found that from 2007 to 2013, LPL Financial, which had completed numerous mergers to become one of the country’s largest independent broker-dealers, experienced repeated failures in their policies and procedures for supervising the email system. FINRA reported that LPL was unable, on many occasions, to capture email, supervise its brokers or even to respond to regulatory requests. Included in the supervisory oversights were 28 million emails sent or received from brokers acting as independent contractors through a DBA entity.

The attorneys at Malecki Law have prosecuted several failure to supervise cases over the years. Cases involving independent contracts acting through DBAs, or brokers peddling unsuitable alternative investments or issuing false reports, are some of the issues we have seen repeatedly. If you believe you have lost money as a result of inappropriately marketed or unsuitable investments, please contact an attorney at Malecki Law to determine if you may be able to recover some or all of your losses.

When are money management fees too much? It is hard to imagine that any investor who has sought the guidance of professional financial advisors has not asked himself or herself this question at least once – most likely more. In the case of managed futures, the CFTC is asking that question for investors right now. Following an article in Bloomberg Magazine in the Fall of last year, 2013, the CFTC has launched a probe in to the fees charged by those who manage the more than $300 billion in the managed futures market.

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According to the Bloomberg report, investors in 63 managed futures funds paid out 89% of the $11.51 billion in gains from managed futures investors in the form of fees, commissions and expenses from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2012 – more than $10.2 billion.

Bloomberg quoted Mr. Bart Chilton, a member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission as saying:

“”The big news here is, the fees are so outlandish, they can actually wipe out all the profits . . . We absolutely need to do a better job of letting consumers know in plain English what’s going on. . . Those numbers tell a story. It’s astounding.”

For example, Spectrum Technical LP, run by Morgan Stanley, reportedly managed more than $1 billion, making gross profits of $490.3 million. Apparently, what seemed like a great gain for investors shockingly became a loss. It seems that all $490.3 million was eaten up in fees, which totaled $498.7 million – meaning an $8+ million loss for investors. However those charging the fees pocketed nearly half-a-billion dollars over the same time frame. Over ten years, Bloomberg reported that twenty nine Citigroup and Morgan Stanley funds charged over $1.5 billion in fees to investors.

One might ask, “Why would anyone invest in a fund where they could potentially lose money, and where an overwhelming majority of any gains would be eaten up by fees?” Many are introduced to managed futures by their broker or financial advisor. These funds are typically sold as an alternative to traditional investments such as stocks and bonds and as a way to further diversify a portfolio. However, many investors might not realize that managed futures funds reportedly pay commissions to the selling broker that can be as high as 4% of total assets invested annually. Total costs and fees to the investor can run as high as 9% of total assets invested per year.

Even more shocking misleading marketing information that is allegedly used to sell managed futures to investors. According to the Bloomberg report, charts produced by BarclayHedge (not related to Barclays PLC) show astonishing gains in the managed futures market to the tune of 29 fold growth in some cases. However, BarclayHedge reportedly only uses information volunteered by managed-futures traders, and the firm does not include the fees charged to investors in its calculations. Therefore, given the exorbitant fees associated with these funds, when shown to investors, these charts can be grossly misleading.

Ultimately, the sale of any security, including managed futures fund, to any investor through misrepresentations or omissions is not ok. Nor is it ok for a broker or financial advisor to solicit unsuitable investments to their customer solely to reap a high commission payout for himself or herself.

Any investor who believes that they have lost money as a result of a misrepresentation, omission or unsuitable solicitation may be able to recover some or all of their losses. The attorneys at Malecki Law are experienced in representing investors. For a free consultation, contact us.

LPL Financial LLC has been hit again for supervisory failures stemming from the recommendation of non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), as well as other illiquid investments, begging the question whether the fines are large enough to deter future bad conduct. According to a news release dated March 24, 2014, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that LPL Financial has been fined $950,000 for the firm’s failures in supervision over alternative investments, including non-traded REITs, oil and gas partnerships, business development companies, hedge funds, managed futures and other illiquid pass-through investments.

LPL Financial submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2011027170901 (AWC), in which it admitted to “fail[ing] to have a reasonable supervisory system and procedures to identify and determine whether purchases of [alternative investments] caused a customer’s account to be unsuitably concentrated in Alternative Investments in contravention of LPL, prospectus or certain state suitability standards.” LPL also admitted in the AWC that though it had a computer system to assist and supervision, this computer system did not consistently identify alternative investments that fell outside of the firm’s suitability guidelines. Additionally, LPL stated that its written compliance and written supervisory procedures failed to achieve compliance with NASD Rule 2310 and state suitability standards.

NASD Rule 2310 has since been superseded by FINRA Rule 2111. The current rule establishes the industry standard that FINRA members and their employees must have a reasonable basis to believe their recommendations are suitable for their customers. The Rule further dictates that the firm must establish suitability for each customer by considering the customer’s age, other investments, financial situation and needs, tax status, investment objectives, investment experience, investment time horizon, liquidity needs, risk tolerance, and any other information, though this list is not exclusive.

LPL Financial’s AWC was not the first time it was fined for selling non-traded REITs. In the AWC, LPL Financial disclosed that it entered into a prior settlement with the Massachusetts Securities Division wherein it consented to a $500,000 fine and approximately $2 million in restitution for the firm’s role in selling such products in contravention of state rules concerning prospectus net worth, annual income requirements and state concentration limits.

Many State securities divisions limit the percentage of investors’ investible assets that may be invested in such alternative investments such as REITs. Ohio, for instance, sets its concentration limit to 10%. The Ohio Division of Securities has in the past noted in a Securities Bulletin that Direct Participation Programs such as non-traded REITs involve substantial risks, including “severe restrictions on liquidity, … upfront fees and expenses ranging between 12%-18% of the initial offering price and substantial ongoing fees thereafter,… and distributions to shareholders paid from borrowings or a return of the shareholder’s investment after deducting fees paid to insiders. Broker-dealers are highly incentivized to sell these products by the 7%-10% commissions commonly charged to investors, some of the highest selling commissions of any investment product available.”

Due to the very risky nature of alternative investments such as non-traded REITs, it is imperative that firms conduct appropriate suitability inquiries to determine whether a recommendation for the purchase of such a product is actually appropriate for each customer. According to FINRA Rules, it is also imperative that an investor be informed of all risks and costs associated with such an investment, though this is rarely done. If you believe you were not properly informed of the risks associated with alternative investments, or were recommended such an investment that may not be suitable for you, please contact the attorneys at Malecki Law to determine if you have a claim for damages.

Jenice Malecki of Malecki Law will be in Washington, D.C. tomorrow to meet with Congressmen and Senators along with others from the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA) to advocate for the Investor Choice Act and federal legislation to increase transparency and accountability from our financial regulators.

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Ms. Malecki will be meeting with Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO).

The primary significance of the Investor Choice Act will be the elimination of pre-dispute arbitration agreements that are commonly used in broker-dealer and investment advisor contracts. These agreements force customers who sue their broker, advisor or firm to pursue their claims only in arbitration. By eliminating these agreements, customers who have a dispute with their advisor, broker, or firm will have the option of electing to sue in arbitration or go to court and have their case heard by a jury.

Talking points will include: 1) the problems with mandatory arbitration, 2) who are the people bringing claims against their brokers, financial advisors, etc., and 3) why choosing arbitration over court should be the choice of the investor, not the broker-dealer.

Ms. Malecki will also be discussing the need for more transparency among our financial regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as well as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

This discussion will center around the benefits and need for the public at large to have access to information about how the securities industry is regulated and to be able to verify the fairness of FINRA’s arbitration forum, with a focus on how the lack of transparency harms the investing public.

As the old adage goes, one good deed deserves another. And so it is for bitcoin, which the Wall Street Journal reported may receive regulatory oversight in the not-too-distant future. It seems that enough people complained about what appears to have been a hacker-theft that led to the bankruptcy filing by Mt. Gox, until recently one of the major bitcoin exchanges. While the Federal Reserve appear unwilling, the WSJ noted that the Federal Trade Commission recently stated their goal “is to protect consumers, whether they pay by credit card, check, by some sort of virtual currency.” Despite Mt. Gox’s bankruptcy filing, the market for bitcoin continues to be routed through exchanges that up until now have operated with minimal to no oversight and bitcoins continue to be used to purchase services and goods, and likely, as a basis for investment.

The nature of Mt. Gox’s collapse is noteworthy. As reported on Tech Crunch, over the course of approximately one month, a supposed software bug caused Mt. Gox to lose approximately $500 million worth of bitcoin, including 750,000 bitcoin owned by investors and 100,000 bitcoin owned by Mt. Gox itself. Realizing the theft, Mt. Gox ceased investor transfers and shut down at the end of February 2014 and applied for bankruptcy protection from creditors. The WSJ reported on March 5, 2014 that the shutdown may have been caused by Mt. Gox’s bank refusing to process wire transfers after its repeated requests that Mt. Gox close its account.

Mt. Gox’s predicament may be the most publicized, but it certainly is not alone. According to the WSJ article on March 3, 2014, a recent study found that of 40 bitcoin exchanges, 18 have closed in the past three years, generally causing customer accounts to be completely wiped out. The WSJ reported that fraud is sometimes the cause of such closures. In other related bitcoin news, it was reported by the New York Post on March 5, 2014 that Autumn Radke, the CEO of bitcoin exchange firm First Meta, as a result of what may have been suicide.

As of the end of February 2014, Bitcoin has slid in value to approximately $550, half of its value from a high of over $1,100 in mid-December 2013, according to CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index. Given this significant volatility, it is amazing that only now are regulators looking in to whether they have the ability to provide regulation over the currency. Currently, it is estimated that there is approximately $6.9 billion in bitcoin in the world.

In addition to the risk of total loss of one’s investment, bitcoin holds other hallmarks that make it a particularly risky investment, including that it is often effected in anonymous transactions and that transactions are irreversible, meaning defrauded parties often have no or limited recourse, as noted by the WSJ.

Investments based on bitcoin must still be marketed and sold in accordance with securities laws and related regulations, and so must be suitable for investors appropriate under each specific investor’s circumstances. If you believe you were not properly informed of the risks associated with an investment involving bitcoin, please contact the attorneys at Malecki Law to determine if you have a claim for damages.

Money makes the world go ’round and apparently also makes Credit Suisse employees work faster or slower, as the case may be. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday February 21, 2014 that Credit Suisse Group AG (Credit Suisse) agreed to pay $196 million to settle charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it provided brokerage and investment services to U.S. clients without registering with the SEC. According to the SEC’s Order, Credit Suisse willfully violated the Exchange Act and Investment Advisors Act by failing to register, in violation of Section 15 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Section 203 of the Investment Advisors Act of 1940. The SEC announced in a news release on Friday that Credit Suisse admitted to the violations.

In the Order, the SEC noted that Credit Suisse apparently knew the services its relationship managers were providing across borders to U.S. clients was improper, and set up a properly registered entity to transfer the U.S. business. However, the Order went on to detail that the transfers took far more time than was initially planned, partly because Credit Suisse did not properly incentivize its employees to timely transfer the accounts. This, in addition to other wrongful conduct led the Commission to conclude that Credit Suisse failed to implement its own policies and procedures to efficiently move the accounts. The Order and the WSJ article both noted that Credit Suisse has subsidiaries that are properly registered to provide both brokerage business and investment advisory business to U.S. clients. Until the bank completed its exit from its cross-border business, it continued to charge brokerage and advisory fees to the U.S. clients it served.

Registration by brokers, dealers and investment advisors with the SEC or state regulators is a bedrock principle of the securities laws and is designed to protect investors. Section 203 of the Investment Advisors Act regulates and requires registration of brokers, dealers and investment advisors, with limited exception. The SEC regularly fines individuals and entities such as Credit Suisse for failing to follow these laws.

U.S. clients who held these accounts may not have known that they were transacting paying fees to an unregistered entity to provide advisory services. These clients may possess causes of action for those transactions and fees paid. While there may not be a private right of action under the Investment Advisors Act of 1940, it may still serve to establish duties and obligations of investment advisors. Investors should always look to their specific investment advisory agreements to determine whether breaches have occurred.

The attorneys of Malecki Law have experience representing investors in actions against firms in FINRA arbitration and in court. Investors of Credit Suisse Group or other unregistered firms should contact Malecki Law to determine whether they were inappropriately charged fees, and to determine if any other causes of action may exist.