Articles Posted in Audits and Investigations

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, there has been a recent trend at big brokerages of shifting the power from the headquarters to brokers and branch managers. Apparently big brokerages like Bank Of America, UBS Group, and Merrill Lynch are “unleashing” their brokers and moving power closer to the brokers and their managers, both to keep brokers from leaving their firms and to increase revenues.

These modifications come in the wake of declining revenues and broker exoduses several big brokerages have experienced after the financial crisis. They have also witnessed that brokers who dislike or disagree with their managers and find them unhelpful tend to leave the brokerages more easily. The big brokerages have had to deal with rising regulatory costs and competing with an increasing number of independent advisers. According to research conducted by consulting groups, the registered investment adviser model is more successful as it is a smaller and more tightly integrated groups. Taking a cue from that, the zillion dollar brokerages are making changes aimed at empowering, training and giving their brokers more control over day to day decisions over clients, growth, and resource allocation. Merrill Lynch has plans to restructure the brokerage leadership, emphasize more on productivity and training, and reduce the number of divisions. UBS also made similar changes last year.

There are plans underway to also automate investment advisory and make use of robos to cater to a younger clientele so that the brokers can be freed up to deal with high net worth clients. All in all, this gradual shift is geared towards taking things back to how they were before the financial crisis hit, when the field agents and managers had more autonomy to structure their branches, price and sell services, be less accountable to corporate headquarters, hold more power and sway.

We frequently represent individuals who have received an SEC Subpoena, and often the first question asked is, “Why did I get this subpoena? I did nothing wrong.”  The SEC investigates many kinds of misconduct, and the people they seek information and documents from (through the use of Subpoenas) very often are not “targets” of the investigation, but the SEC may believe they could be a “witness,” or may have useful information that could aid the investigation.  Understanding the common investigations the SEC may commence is a good first step to understanding what prompted the Subpoena.

According to the SEC, the most common types of investigations of potential securities violations include:

  • Misrepresentation or omission of important information about securities – when promoting the sale of securities, brokers, broker-dealers and other securities professionals should ensure that promotional materials accurately reflect the characteristics and risks of the securities.

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This week, it has been reported that the Department of Labor proposed tougher laws after issuing new regulations requiring financial advisors and brokers managing 401k and retirement accounts to act in the best interest of their clients. These rules were proposed a year ago and after deliberating on it for a year, the White House has finalized these tougher requirements. However, it might be a year before these rules go into effect.

An academic study commissioned by the White House revealed that “conflicts of interest” in financial investing was costing Americans about $17 billion a year in retirement savings. Although brokers are required to only recommend “suitable” investments under the current “suitability standard”, they can push a more expensive product that pays a higher commission than a cheaper fund that would be equally appropriate for that investor.

The new rule fiduciary rule is aimed to at reducing fees and commissions that erode retirement savings and hold brokers to higher standards. It will cast a wider net on who is subject to the fiduciary standard.

The New York securities and investment fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors in Highland Funds’ series Energy Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs).

Highland Funds’ four Energy MLPs have declined by approximately 23% in the year to date, per Morningstar.  These funds include:

  • Highland Energy MLP C (HEFCX)

compliance-regulation-300x198The securities and investment fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors in Tortoise Capital Advisors and explore their potential options for recovering their losses.

The Kansas-based Tortoise Capital Advisors is a “privately owned investment manager . . . that primarily provides its services to high net worth individuals . . . and caters to corporations, pooled investment vehicles, investment companies, and pension and profit sharing plans . . . typically invest[ing] in [the] energy and infrastructure sector,” per Bloomberg Business.

Among Tortoise’s portfolio of funds, a number of them declined between 17% and 36% in 2015 alone, per Morningstar.

Oil-225x300Oil briefly dropped below $30 per barrel today.  For those who drive SUVs, this may feel like a blessing. However, for those who are heavily invested in Oil and Gas, it can be frightening.  People who invested in Oil and Gas at the recommendation of their financial advisor may be feeling anger and confusion, in addition to that fear – these investors rightfully want answers.

Aside from buying Oil and Gas futures directly, there are two frequently used products that investors use to invest in Oil and Gas – Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

As we wrote here last year, investors lost millions as gas prices dropped at the beginning of 2015.  As prices have continued to slide over the past 12 months, losses have compounded.  This is terrible news for those whose financial advisors recommended that they invest in Oil and Gas, and then convinced them to stay in and “ride it out” on promises of a price recovery.

A number of senior management with UBS Puerto Rico were terminated late last week, according to sources.  It is believed that individuals from marketing, investment banking, lending and other areas of the bank’s operations on the island were all let go. Read the recent report by Reuters on this here.

Consistent with industry custom, those who were let go were reportedly offered a severance package which they have roughly two to three weeks to accept or reject.  Since these packages are usually contingent upon a general release of liability (meaning that the individual cannot sue the firm), for those individuals who were offered packages, there are likely a number of factors that should be considered before deciding to accept or reject.  Once a general release is signed, virtually all claims for monetary damages that could have been brought before are then lost forever.

For anyone, being fired is a major life event.  For licensed professionals, being fired comes with the potential for an additional life-changing of having a mark on their license in connection with their termination.  If you are a licensed professional and are asked to sign an agreement, whether or not you have any intention of filing an action or any possibility of a FINRA U5 issue, it is always wise to seek the advice of a lawyer to learn about both your rights and what you might be giving up before you sign anything.  Once you sign, it is too late.  This is not the time to be “penny wise and pound foolish” – this is the time to consult with counsel to make informed decisions.  Many lawyers provide free consultations.

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FINRA reported that it barred 10 former Global Arena Representatives including the former President of Global Arena Capital Corp., Barbara Desiderio, and five former representatives (David Awad a.k.a. David Bennett, James Torres, Peter Snetzko, Alex Wildermuth, and Michael Tannen) in all capacities; barred two former principals, Kevin Hagan and Richard Bohack, for supervisory failures; sanctioned two other former brokers, Niaz Elmazi a.k.a. Nick Morrisey and Andrew Marze, for failing to cooperate with FINRA’s investigation. FINRA had cancelled Global Arena’s membership and barred the owner and three other brokers for fraud in July 2015 in a separate action.

FINRA announced that a 2014 on-site audit and investigation at Global Arena Capital Corp had allegedly revealed several instances of securities fraud including product misrepresentation, use of misleading claims, account churning, unsuitability, and other misconduct like use of high pressure sales tactics to make sales of junk bonds to customers. FINRA reports that their business model involved cold calling vulnerable groups of investors including seniors to make solicited recommendations of securities. These sanctions reiterate FINRA’S focus on tracking down groups of brokers who migrate from one risky and problem-ridden firm to another, with questionable practices. In this instance reported by FINRA, seven of the ten individuals had moved to Global Arena’s new office from HFP Capital Market, a firm that was expelled by FINRA in 2013. Apparently, FINRA’s risk-based approach identified certain brokers who had moved from HFP for heightened regulatory investigation, which confirmed FINRA’s suspicions. In settling the actions, the respondents neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.

According to Susan Axelrod, FINRA’s Executive Vice President, Regulatory Operations, FINRA will continue will continue to monitor brokers who move from expelled or high-risk securities firms. They will use data leveraged from their study of broker migration to expedite investigations and sanction brokers who tend to prey on vulnerable investors.

The securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors with complaints involving Adam F. Coblin. Per his BrokerCheck Report, maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), Mr. Coblin is currently not a registered stock broker or investment advisor. He was previously registered with the Gilford Securities Incorporated in New York.

Mr. Coblin’s BrokerCheck Report indicates that he has been the subject of at least ten customer complaints.  At the center of several of these complaints was unsuitable investments leading to huge financial losses, negligence in handling customer accounts, unauthorized sales. In 2013, Adam Coblin resigned from Gilford Securities while he was being reviewed for customer complaints involving unsuitable investments, activity and negligence.

According to BrokerCheck, there are numerous customer disputes in the past, dating from 2012 to 1995, involving Mr. Coblin which have been settled by awarding damages of $910,000, $3,000, $107,500 and $32,000. He has also been registered with the GMS Group LLC, Spencer Clarke LLC, Broadband Capital Management LLC, Dalton Kent Securities Group, Bluestone Capital Partners, Gruntal & Co., Prudential Securities Inc., Oppenheimer & Co., Merill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Co., Bear Stearns & Co.

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The securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in investigated possible claims on behalf of investors who have complaints regarding former stockbroker Manuel Dopazo.  According to his BrokerCheck report maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), Mr. Dopazo has been the subject of multiple customer disputes in just the past ten years.

Per FINRA, in 2015 a customer complaint involving Mr. Dopazo alleged misrepresentations, omissions, failure to supervise, and the recommendation of unsuitable investments seeking $640,000 in damages.

In 2009, Mr. Dopazo was involved with another customer dispute alleging a $30,000 loss, per BrokerCheck.  Another customer complaint, in 2008, alleged more than $50,000 in losses stemming from suitability violations.