Investors are encouraged to watch out for “false prophets” that commit affinity fraud by targeting members of religious communities. CNBC posted an article about rampant religious-based fraud with securities attorney Jenice Malecki’s commentary for tonight’s new episode of true crime series American Greed. The episode, entitled “An Ungodly Scammer” will feature the story of convicted multimillion-dollar Ponzi Scheme fraudster Ephren Taylor, who targeted churchgoers. Ephren Taylor pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and sentenced to 235 months. In an interview for tonight’s premiering American Greed episode, Jenice Malecki comments on Ephren Taylor’s religious fraud with a warning for investors to be on the lookout for affinity fraud.

Ephren Taylor collected millions of dollars by traveling to megachurches in 43 states to solicit investors in his low-risk investments as part of his “Building Wealth” tour. In his visits, Ephren Taylor spoke of his status as a self-made multimillionaire from a young age to represent his credibility. Investors listened and believed as Ephren Taylor used religion to garner their funds through his “prosperity gospel” sales pitches. Ephren Taylor claimed to sell investors high yield promissory notes that would finance socially responsible ventures that included low-income housing projects. Instead, provided funds were being allocated to Ephren Taylor’s personal expenditures and occasional false “returns” to existing investors, as part of a Ponzi Scheme.

Now, victims of Ephren Taylors’ Ponzi Scheme are left distraught and defrauded out of millions of dollars in life savings after falling prey to his affinity fraud. Affinity fraud refers to an investment scam that targets members of identifiable groups based on shared commonalities. The affinity fraud perpetrator will leverage represented membership within the group to exploit trust and sell a fraudulent investment. Jenice Malecki told CNBC that in affinity situations, people would tend to be comfortable enough to blindly trust those that share membership within their church or ethnic communities. A famous example of this is Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme which raised billions through targeting Jewish communities.

While marijuana-related investments grow in popularity, the SEC has reportedly received more associated complaints from investors. As a result, the Securities and Exchange Commission warns individuals to be mindful of certain risks before investing in marijuana-related companies. The SEC released an investor alert with this warning after medical marijuana company owner, Richard Greenlaw settled charges for allegedly offering and selling unregistered securities to 59 investors.  Signs of fraud reportedly include unlicensed, unregistered sellers; guaranteed returns; and unsolicited offers. Chiefly, Richard Greenlaw was not registered nor licensed to sell his marijuana-related investments with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC complaint, filed with the United States District Court of Maine charged the owner of NECS, Richard Greenlaw and his 20 cannabis-related entities for violating the registration provisions of federal securities laws. The 20 cannabis-related entities charged in the SEC complaint are NECS LLC, MaineCS LLC, VTCS LLC, MassCS LLC, NHCS LLC, RICS LLC, CTCS LLC, FLCS LLC, ILCS LLC, IACS LLC, LOUCS LLC, MICS LLC, MNCS LLC, NDCS LLC, NJCS LLC, NYCS LLC, OHCS LLC, PennCS LLC, UPCS LLC, and WICS LLC. It is alleged that Richard Greenlaw posted advertisements on Craigslist to offer and sell subscription agreements for securities in his companies. In response to these charges, Mr. Greenlaw agreed to pay $400,000 and accept permanent injunctions from further violations of  Section 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act of 1933.

Federal securities laws mandate that any offer and sale of a security must be registered with the SEC. A company registers a security by filing financial statements, business descriptions and other legally required information with the SEC. Otherwise, the securities offering must be found to be subject to exemption under Securities Act 1933. Offerings of securities that can be exempt include those of limited size, intrastate, private and more. Exemption requirements may also require that securities be only sold to accredited investors. Thus, investment salespersons would be prohibited from selling exempted securities to any investors who do not meet the requirements. In this case, Mr. Greenlaw’s marijuana-related investments were not registered nor qualified for exemption.

Barred FINRA-registered broker Steve Pagartanis, of Suffolk County, N.Y, is facing charges by the SEC and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office for allegedly running a multi-million-dollar Ponzi Scheme that bilked long-term investors, many of them seniors, for 18 years. In May 2018, the SEC filed a civil complaint against Steven Pagartanis alleging that he solicited and sold securities using falsified statements; defrauding at minimum nine investors out of $8 million. Mr. Pagartanis allegedly told investors that he would invest their funds in a publicly-traded or private land development company. Steven Pagartanis was arrested on July 25, 2018, with charges related to securities fraud as well as mail and wire conspiracies in connection with this alleged Ponzi scheme. Before being barred from acting as a broker by FINRA, Steve Pagartanis (CRD#1958879) was most recently a registered broker with Lombard Securities Incorporated. Our securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating into Steve Pagartanis’s alleged Ponzi Scheme on behalf of investors who lost their irreplaceable life savings.

Victims claimed to have trusted Mr. Pagartanis after having done business with him for years and entrusted hundreds of thousands of dollars, including retirement and elder care earmarked money.  Mr. Pagartanis reportedly claimed that the money would purchase investments in Genesis Land Development. His victims claim that Mr. Pagartanis promised that their investments in the real estate development company would produce 4.5% in guaranteed interest with annual dividends. On the contrary, Mr. Pagartanis allegedly never invested the money and deposited it into his personal bank accounts, as also alleged in the SEC complaint. Now, victims of Mr. Pagartanis’s alleged Ponzi Scheme are left distraught, with no other choice but to hold the appropriate parties responsible – in particularly his brokerage firm Cadaret Grant & Co.

Our investor fraud attorneys see many parallels between Steve Pagartanis’s alleged fraudulent actions and typical Ponzi Scheme activity. A Ponzi Scheme is a kind of investment fraud in which a perpetrator pays “false returns” to existing investors using new deposits. Ponzi Scheme perpetrators will use some of the money to fund their lavish lifestyles. As is often the case in Ponzi Schemes, Steve Pagartanis relied on built up trust gained over the years from his mostly elderly clients. Eventually, Steve Pagartanis allegedly failed to make an expected payment to a client, which most probably unveiled the fraud. Ponzi schemes are almost always finally revealed when the fraudulent perpetrator could no longer make a payment, according to securities fraud attorneys.

Malecki Law is pleased to announce that a FINRA arbitration panel granted 28 expungements for three broker clients with customer complaints from their sale of Puerto Rican closed-end funds. The 28 expungements were granted as part of a FINRA arbitration award, the claim filed on behalf of nine Puerto Rico brokers against UBS; only three sought expungements. This winning result for our UBS Puerto Rico broker expungement case was detailed in an unusually long 40-page Award posted to the FINRA Dispute Resolution Portal yesterday.

Malecki Law filed this case in July 2015 and worked through the completion of discovery with a local PR lawyer, Benjamin Quinones Lebron Esq. before also teaming up with Harris, St. Laurent & Chaudhry LLP to try the numerous witness case in Puerto Rico. The FINRA arbitration claim filed on behalf of nine brokers, sought $30 million plus fees in addition to expungement. The monetary portion of the arbitration claim was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Only three of the nine brokers chose to move forward with expungement claims after the monetary portion was resolved.

The majority-public panel issued the award after considerable deliberation regarding the merits of the brokers’ request. In fact, the FINRA arbitration panel had a week of hearings, a time frame longer than usual. FINRA considers expungement to be an “extraordinary remedy” that should only be recommended in certain situations that do not compromise investor protection.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s program to reward whistleblowers for coming forward has undoubtedly been an asset in recovering fraud for the regulatory agency. Useful tips from whistleblowers have helped the Securities and Exchange Commission recover over $1 billion in enforcement actions. The SEC whistleblower program offers financial incentives and anti-retaliatory protection for individuals who report qualifying information relating to federal securities law violations. Irrespective of the potential monetary awards, courageous whistleblowers often put a lot in jeopardy when choosing to come forward. Yet, the process for SEC whistleblowers to be rewarded with payouts is slow, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

The WSJ article notes that the time in which whistleblowers receive a response regarding a reward increased from a year in 2012 to over two years presently. Whistleblower attorneys informed the Wall Street Journal that occasionally clients wait years to receive an award even after being deemed eligible by the SEC. The Wall Street Journal attributes the SEC’s slower process to an oversaturation of reward seekers. The Securities and Exchange Commission receives an influx of tips, with many not being useful, according to the WSJ article. Officials reportedly referred to the process for vetting and allocating whistleblower rewards as “demanding”.

Our whistleblower attorneys believe that a quick and efficient claims review process should be a priority given associated risks for the whistleblowers. Additionally, the value whistleblowers have in fostering a less corrupt society are unquestionable. Whistleblowers are immensely beneficial for minimizing fraudulent activity and protecting investors in the securities industry. The Securities and Exchange Commission has even deemed the whistleblower rewards program as their “most powerful weapon” in enforcement. Informative whistleblower tips have helped the SEC with detecting as well as prosecuting securities law violations and enforcement action.

Malecki Law attorney Jenice Malecki was on the set of business news network CNBC’s documentary true crime series American Greed yesterday to speak about affinity fraud for an upcoming episode. American Greed provides in depth-reporting exposing Ponzi Schemes, mortgage fraud, art heists, identity theft, and other shocking things people have done for money. For twelve seasons, American Greed has examined the most extensive corporate and white-collar crimes in American history. The documentary series currently airs new episodes on the CNBC network on Monday nights at 10 PM EST.

In the interview, Jenice Malecki leveraged her knowledge as an experienced securities attorney to answer questions about affinity fraud. Affinity fraud is a type of investment scam that targets members of the same identifiable groups based on religion, ethnicity, age and other commonalities.  Typically, an affinity fraud perpetrator will be or at least pose as a member of the group to exploit trust and relationships. Otherwise, the fraudster might elicit the help of a group member to orchestrate the scam, which is frequently a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.

In this segment, Jenice Malecki describes affinity fraud along with the telltale signs that should induce concern. Notably, Jenice Malecki emphasizes the importance for investors to do their due diligence in gathering information before investing. With this in mind, the seller should be able to provide information regarding the investment’s purpose, objective data, and history. Furthermore, Jenice Malecki offers helpful tips for anyone suspecting affinity fraud to respond appropriately to the situation.

Last week, Malecki Law filed an amended FINRA arbitration complaint against Securities America on behalf of victims claiming that the broker-dealer’s inadequate supervision over its registered representative, Hector May, permitted his alleged Ponzi Scheme to happen. Securities America failed to act as Hector May sold fictitious “tax-free” corporate bonds from his New City Securities America office with his Securities America approved Registered Investment Advisory business, Executive Compensation Planners. The amended complaint adds two pension plans as additional plaintiffs joining the original nine victims specified in the June 18th filing. Our announcement of the filing to the press piqued the interest of the media including a reporter who interviewed attorney Jenice Malecki for an article in Lohud, as well as an article in Financial Planning magazine.

Hector May was formerly a Securities America registered representative, who reportedly managed more than $18 million in assets according to his Form ADV. Before the alleged Ponzi scheme surfaced, Hector May was an influential community member who donated to charities and political candidates. Claimants alleged that Hector May simply used his community status to issue, solicit and sell these non-existent securities products. Now, Hector May is being investigated by multiple government agencies for alleged fraud resulting in millions of dollars bilked from unsuspecting investors. Of course, Hector May refuses to provide answers regarding the whereabouts of the invested funds or any further details about the transaction activities in dispute.

The amended complaint now alleges that Hector May also stole money from two New York company’s pension plans while running his Securities America branch office.  The newly added pension plans’ beneficiaries were allegedly sold fictitious “tax-free” corporate bonds. Hector May allegedly told company beneficiaries not to worry since their invested money would be in “safe places” under his RIA with Securities America. Hector May’s reassuring comment could not be further from the truth, hidden by his falsely produced employee benefit plan and annual reports. Consequently, company employees have been defrauded out of millions of dollars that had been intended to be their income upon retirement.

The SEC charged New York-based FINRA regulated brokerage firm Alexander Capital L.P. (CRD # 40077)as well as two of its managers for failing to supervise three registered brokers, William C.  Gennity, Rocco Roveccio, and Laurence M. Torres last Friday. The alleged supervisory failures are concerning charges against the brokers for unsuitable recommendations, churning accounts, and executing unauthorized trades in September 2017. While the brokers profited from commissions, investors lost their hard-earned savings over violations of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. According to the SEC, Alexander Capital L.P lacked reasonable supervisory policies and procedures that could have helped detect fraudulent practices by three brokers. In a separate order, the SEC also charged Alexander Capital managers, Philip A. Noto II and Barry T. Eisenberg for missing red flags and failing to adequately supervise to detect the alleged broker committed fraud. Consequently, investors lost substantial money over fraud that could have been prevented with reasonable policies and procedures to detect broker wrongdoings.

The parties agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings. Alexander Capital has agreed to pay $193,775 of allegedly ill-gotten gains, $23,437 in interest, and a $193,775 penalty, which will be placed in a fund to be returned to harmed retail customers.  Philip A. Noto II agreed to a permanent supervisory bar and a $20,000 penalty.  Barry T. Eisenberg agreed to a five-year supervisory bar and a $15,000 penalty. Alexander Capital has agreed to hire an independent consultant to review its policies and procedures, according to the press release. Will Alexander Capital enforce the many reminders that the SEC released for brokerage firms to supervise account activities and protect consumers adequately? It remains to be seen, as old habits die hard.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent charges against a New York-broker dealer Alexander Capital illustrates the agency’s crackdown on broker supervisory failures within the financial services industry. Our FINRA arbitration attorneys applaud the SEC’s commitment to holding securities firms accountable, but still think more needs to be done. After all, SEC has no tolerance for unscrupulous brokers, according to Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office and Co-Chair of the Enforcement Division’s Broker-Dealer Taskforce. Nevertheless, FINRA arbitration attorneys continue to file numerous claims involving churning, unauthorized trading, and other types of securities fraud, which the SEC has never detected.

Malecki Law was featured in the news for filing a FINRA arbitration claim on behalf of investors alleging that Securities America failed to perform proper supervisory duties as their formerly registered broker, Hector May allegedly operated a Ponzi Scheme. In the Financial Planning article, investor fraud attorney Jenice Malecki provides additional information and commentary on her representation of nine clients against Securities America. Financial Planning provides breaking and daily news coverage as well as analysis to help independent financial advisors better their business, practice and client services. Readership often includes independent broker-dealers, financial planners and other industry professionals seeking insights into the highly regulated securities industry. Malecki Law spoke with Financial Planning to spread the message so that other innocent victims who lost their hard-earned savings may seek justice.

Investor fraud attorney, Jenice Malecki released more details regarding the specific allegations relating to Hector May’s allegedly fraudulent practices against investing clients to Financial Planning in hopes of raising awareness. Allegedly, victims of the New City broker’s Ponzi scheme were under the impression that Hector May invested their money into “tax-free” bond products from firms like General Electric. The clients later learned alleged Ponzi Schemer’s “tax-free” bond products were non-existent and apparently just words on false account statements.  When asked for a comment, Hector May’s attorney declined to provide a comment regarding a case started by a law firm placing ads in the newspaper for clients.

The clients are filing the claim only against Securities America since Hector May already had assets frozen and could not pay the award, Jenice Malecki commented.  FINRA rules place broker-dealers at fault for investment losses resulting from their failure to properly supervise and detect a Ponzi Scheme committed by their registered representative. Securities America had an obligation to monitor Hector May’s activities, including the fraud that transpired. Clients are claiming that Securities America missed many “red flags” that would have clued off a Ponzi Scheme.

If you want to find trouble on Wall Street, follow the money.  A “troubled broker” is a broker more concerned for his or her commissions than the quality of the investments he or she recommends.  Finding investors for private placements can be very lucrative for a broker, but very risky for a client.  As complaints about a broker mount on his CRD, so does the lifespan of a broker and as their career prospects dwindle, they become more desperate. While not all private placements are bad investments, they must be approached with extreme caution and are not appropriate for all investors.  If you get presented with a private placement, the very prospectus states: you should consult an attorney before signing.  It’s a mandatory disclosure that regulators believe you should get and you should not ignore it.  You should always consult a good New York securities lawyer before you give large amounts of your money to a non-public company in its infancy.  Understanding the investment, the company and doing due diligence is the only way to protect your interests.   If you don’t want to spend time or money to do that, don’t invest.  The “next big thing” your broker might be selling you on may be your “next big problem.”  There’s no free lunch.

These concerns about the multi-billion-dollar private capital markets are sound, based on a Wall Street Journal report finding that firms selling private placements have a much higher proportion of “troubled brokers”. The study compared the percentages of brokers with customer complaints, regulatory investigations and other disclosures at firms selling private placements with industry norms.  Among the worried securities industry members include former FINRA enforcement chief, Robert Bennet who allegedly proclaimed private placements as a “perennial concern for regulators.”. Private placement is the offer and sale of unregistered securities to a limited number of investors for a company’s capital generation. Our securities fraud attorneys always knew that a higher prominence of “troubled brokers” is at firms selling private placements, now our belief has been confirmed.

According to the WSJ study, of the firms selling private placements, half had at least one troubled broker out of every ten brokers.  Conversely, of the included firms that didn’t sell private placements, over 75% had less than that amount. Additionally, the analysis shows that half of the firms expelled by FINRA since 1993 sold private placements, despite comprising a lesser amount of the total industry. The private capital market has continued to rise with a reported $750 billion in sales. Given this, any insights about private placements should be known by investors, securities fraud attorneys, brokers and other affected financial industry members.