Articles Posted in Industry Topics

Jenice L. Malecki, Esq., founder of the New York City securities law firm Malecki Law, is scheduled to speak this Friday November 19th at the American Bar Association’s Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference. The conference is scheduled November 17-19, 2021 at the Boston Park Plaza in Boston, Massachusetts.  The conference highlights leading women litigators in a number of legal areas, with Ms. Malecki invited to speak on FINRA expungement matters, defamation lawsuits, and wrongful terminations relating to employment arbitrations litigated in FINRA’s dispute resolution forum.

For the last thirty years, Ms. Malecki has been an industry trailblazer as a leading female litigator in securities matters, having represented throughout her career a cross section of retail investors, brokerage firms, and employees within the securities industry. The breadth of Ms. Malecki’s experience and success is atypical in the legal profession, and particularly in securities litigation, because the field has been traditionally male dominated. She is an adjunct securities law professor at the New York Law School and has published scholarly works on women’s issues in the law, amongst numerous other securities-related topics.  Earlier this year, Ms. Malecki authored a paper published in the Public Investors Advocate Bar Association (PIABA) Bar Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1, entitled Minorities and Women in the Securities Industry:  The Disproportionate Impact of Securities Fraud Exploitation.  Ms. Malecki was also a panelist at last year’s PIABA Annual Meeting and Securities Law Seminar where she spoke on the issue of Women Lawyers, Arbitrators, and Expert Witnesses.

Ms. Malecki is an ex-vice president of PIABA and sat on the advisory board for FINRA’s National Arbitration and Mediation Committee.  She was recently appointed in September of this year as co-chair of the New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) Commercial & Federal Litigation Section’s Securities Arbitration Committee.  The committee recognizes Ms. Malecki’s experience in the securities arena with the goal of promoting healthy industry relationships between litigators, administrative bodies, and the courts.

Yesterday, a writer for The Inter-Mountain, a West Virginia daily newspaper, published a warning from its state attorney general, Patrick Morrissey, that residents should be careful “not to fall prey to faith-based scams.”  The article does not discuss any specific scam but quotes a general press release from Mr. Morrissey’s office regarding “affinity frauds,” where victims of financial scams are targeted through their common bond, often a religious community.  The article is notable in part because it quotes Jenice L. Malecki, a New York securities lawyer from Malecki Law, who has been featured frequently in the media and on CNBC’s American Greed, where she explained how people in these communities fall victim by letting their guard down “[e]specially in affinity situations, where people feel more comfortable for one reason or another, be it a church or an ethnic community, they tend not to look as hard as they should at what’s in front of them.”

While Mr. Morrissey’s warning is important and discusses the threat of scammers from outside the community, investors should additionally be aware that victims of affinity frauds are often victimized directly by someone prominent within the community itself, often the leader or pastor of the community.  For instance, the warning focuses on scams where such a leader is impersonated by someone from outside the community, where scammers “have hacked a minister’s or faith -based charity’s online account, then emailed” its victims to ask for money.  Further illustrating this, the warning states that “Scammers may claim the pastor is stuck or overseas and needs gift cards sent to get home, or they could solicit funds for a project.”  The SEC, however, emphasized the threat more broadly in a 2013 publication where it warned on affinity frauds how the “fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are – or pretend to be – members of the group.” The SEC also noted that “many affinity scams involve ‘Ponzi’ or pyramid schemes, where new investor money used to make payments to earlier investors to give the false illusion that the investment is successful.”

So investors should be aware that fraudulent schemes can come from both within the group (i.e., community leaders themselves) as well as outside the group.  Ponzi schemes are still highly prevalent, and investors should be on alert and watch their investments carefully.  Malecki Law has recovered millions of dollars for investors across numerous types of frauds and Ponzi schemes, including her famous representation of over 120 victims from the Bronx, New York, in the Robert Van Zandt Ponzi scheme, as well as successful, multi-million dollar recoveries in other schemes involving the imprisoned Hector May, and the Biscayne Capital fraud that victimized Latin American investors of over $155 million.  Most recently, the firm filed an action against the brokerage firm Henley & Company on behalf of an investor who was victimized by the late Ponzi schemer Phil Incorvia.  The lawsuit against Henley alleges that the firm effectively allowed the scheme to flourish for the last 15 years because Henley allegedly failed to properly supervise Mr. Incorvia and the office he worked out of since 2006.

Malecki Law is currently representing clients and investigating allegations against the brokerage and investment advisory firm Henley & Company, LLC and its recently deceased financial adviser, Philip Incorvia.  Public records show Mr. Incorvia openly and notoriously operated Jefferson Resources Inc. since 1992 (nearly 30 years, while being registered as a FINRA Series 7 licensed broker with Henley & Company – using Henley & Company as the website address for the company).  Mr. Incorvia was employed approximately 15 years with Henley and Company, operating both out of its offices in Shoreham and Uniondale, New York.  Malecki Law is looking for whistleblowers, witnesses, and other victims.

Malecki Law’s investigation relates to a possible Ponzi scheme and/or misappropriation of funds involving many investors and potentially many millions of dollars in losses.  The losses occurred across a number of purported “investments,” including but not limited to Jefferson Resources Inc., Vanderbilt Realty Investors, Inc., and JRI Hedge Fund. The investments were purporting to be mutual funds, hedge funds, and index funds, but it is believed that they were fictitious.  Some were “income producing” while others rolled over.

A Ponzi scheme is a fictitious investment or scam, in which the Ponzi operator typically uses investor money for personal use and non-investment related purposes.  Earlier investors are typically given “returns” which consist of principal coming from newer investors.  Ponzi schemes tend to collapse when there are no more new investors to tap into, which often happens during adverse market conditions.  In this case, it is believed that there was no one left to continue the Ponzi scheme when Mr. Incorvia passed away in August 2012, so it collapsed.

Jenice L. Malecki, Esq., founder of Malecki Law in 1999, was appointed today as co-chair of the New York State Bar Association Commercial & Federal Litigation Section’s Securities Arbitration Committee.  Ms. Malecki has over 30 years of experience in securities arbitration and regulation, as well as whistleblowing claims and commercial arbitration and litigation. Having also been appointed to the FINRA board advisory group called the National Arbitration and Mediation Committee, as well as having been on the board of the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association board, Ms. Malecki is uniquely qualified to lead this committee.  Ms. Malecki has represented clients around the country and the world, including clients from Europe, Asia, Israel, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America.  This broad representation has given Ms. Malecki in-depth expertise in arbitrations, mediations, settlements, and hearings – both live and over Zoom – as directed in court, at FINRA and before regulatory bodies.  Ms. Malecki has also worked on high profile class action cases and appeared on various media shows including but not limited to Wall Street Journal Live, ABC’s Eyewitness News and NBC’s Today Show.  All of this demonstrates Ms. Malecki’s knowledge and passion for securities work.

The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) was founded in 1876 in an effort to cultivate and develop the law. Educating the public, as well as evolving with the changes of the legal profession, are part of the mission. The NYSBA promotes and champions equal justice through state and federal legislation. With over 70,000 members, the NYSBA attempts to nurture the science of jurisprudence while also encouraging changes in the law to effectively arbitrate justice.

Within the NYSBA, a committee was created in 1988 to continue to develop effective representation as well as encourage improvements to the law in areas of commercial and federal litigation. The committee works to foster healthy relationships between various administrative bodies, litigators, and judges to stimulate and encourage research, and collaborative thought on issues that affect commercial and federal litigation. Regulating and promoting legislation that would affect commercial and federal litigation. The extensive network will assist in providing resources for legal educational programs as well as other resources that inform on topics relevant to commercial and federal litigation.

Investors are still watching which way the market is ready to turn after yesterday’s 600-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial average, the biggest one-day drop in over two months. While world markets appeared to be reacting to the prospect of loan defaults by the Evergrande Group – China’s second largest real estate company and the world’s largest property developer –retail investors, and retirees in particular, should keep in mind that this might be the beginning of something bigger. Given that U.S. equities remain at historic highs, portfolios still have a long way to fall.  It is still unclear what ripple effect Evergrande will have even within China, as the Chinese government has yet to formally decide on whether it will bail out Evergrande or let it fail.  But both scenarios are fueling fears of contagion within the U.S. and world markets. Some are calling this China’s “Lehman’s moment,” despite Evergrande’s debt only being about roughly half of the $600 billion in liabilities that Lehman had when it defaulted.  There are rumblings, however, that Evergrande is the canary in the coal mine for China’s numerous other property companies, representing an outsized portion in driving China’s economy and GDP.  The net effect on retail investors in the U.S., thus, depends to some degree on the level of Chinese investment and debt holdings by U.S. companies and financial institutions.

HSBC, BlackRock, and J.P. Morgan have been said to have significant exposure to the Chinese market generally, as do many individual U.S. companies, ranging from Wynn Resorts to Apple.  As always, retail investors who are overconcentrated in any single company or market sector face the biggest risk.  While the stock of many of these companies might seem relatively “safe” over the long term, not every investor can wait for the stock market to rebound.  Seniors and retirees are a prime example, as this is a group regularly identified by U.S. regulators (e.g., FINRA and the SEC) as being vulnerable because they are typically saddled with higher expenses (e.g., medical and age-related expenses) at a time when they need liquidity and are no longer working or earning an income. For this reason, stockbrokers and financial advisors have a legal duty to retirees to recommend investments and an investment strategy that is suitable for this stage of life and the possibility that the stock market will not just continue to rise in perpetuity.

For retirees, overconcentration of an investment portfolio is often the culprit of an investment strategy or recommendation gone wrong.  As we have written in this space before, brokers and financial advisors have long been required to have a reasonable basis for recommending an investment or strategy.  And as of June 30, 2020, brokerage firms have had to comply with a new SEC rule, Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), which further requires every recommendation to be in a customer’s best interests.  Overconcentrating a retiree’s investment portfolio in largely equities (or worse, a single equity) is typically not in a retiree’s best interests and is what makes a portfolio most vulnerable to significant market events like Evergrande. Even though regulators do their best to raise the public’s awareness of this fact, retail enthusiasm during a bull market often drowns out the well-worn refrain to not put all your eggs in one basket.  FINRA’s “Concentrate on Concentration Risk” publication is just one such warning.

A Cum Laude graduate alumni of New York Law School, Jenice L. Malecki, Esq.,  has taken on a mentor and adjunct professorial role as a professor in the Securities Arbitration Seminar and Field Placement. While at New York Law School, Professor Malecki was a member of the International Law Journal and a teaching assistant.  She was part of a novel program at the time, when at Manhattanville College in Westchester, she was part of a BA/JD program, earning law school credits in undergraduate school.  Now coming full circle and giving back, Professor Malecki has expended her previous role as a frequent guest lecturer and moot court judge for the Securities Arbitration Clinic at New York Law School, as well as other law schools including Fordham, Brooklyn Law School, Pace Law School, Yale Law School and Columbia Law School. Since founding New York Law School in 1999, Professor Malecki has regularly hired students from New York Law School as summer and school-year interns.  Now, student receive an opportunity to work and receive academic credit while being mentored, supervised, and encouraged to develop a deep understanding of securities litigation and arbitration strategy.

The Securities and Arbitration Field Seminar teaches students how to interact with prospective clients, conduct client interviews, tackle legal analysis, draft pleadings as well as represent clients in arbitration proceedings before FINRA. The course involves both seminars and fieldwork experience. They engage in vigorous research, investigation and fact finding, as well as sit in on strategy discussions, write memoranda, briefs and pleadings, as well as assist in the review of discovery and case organization.  Practical experience is invaluable to students, who can “hit the ground running” when they graduate with experience.

New York Law School was founded in 1891, and has a long history of educating young lawyers that work in the heart of New York City’s legal, government, and financial networks. An independent law school in Tribeca, New York City, New York Law School embraces the motto “We are New York’s Law School” through providing various methods for achieving a vibrant legal education. New York Law School was one of the first schools to offer a Juris Doctorate  evening program, as well as built a 235,000 square foot campus in the heart of lower Manhattan near the state and Federal courts to offer opportunities to students in all walks and stages of life. Students are able to interact and work with mentor attorneys, securities arbitration attorneys experienced in the field. Experiential learning is a critical aspect of New York Law School and its teaching method, encouraging students to foster and perfect their legal analysis and skills early on.

Being a financial professional – i.e., a registered representative (RR) – regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is not easy.  When misconduct is alleged against the RR in a complaint to FINRA, whether brought by a customer or the employing brokerage firm, the system that is set up to resolve such allegations and disputes generally treats the RR, at least initially, as “guilty until proven innocent.”  Good luck finding a “neutral” fact-finder willing to listen; instead, you will often find an ambitious FINRA staffer, looking for another notch in his or her belt to help their stats and upward mobility.  If and when FINRA decides to bring charges against the RR, it helps to have an attorney who can negotiate a reduced punishment against the RR.

To protect investors and market participants, RRs must abide by the securities laws and FINRA’s rules of conduct.  But even when a financial professional follows those rules, every RR knows that they remain at the mercy of both customers and their firms, who, with little effort, whether fairly or unfairly, can very easily file a public complaint to put other customers or firms on notice about the RR.

If a customer files a complaint or arbitration against the RR, the complaint is reported to and logged on the RR’s public record of disclosure within the Central Registration Depository (CRD).  Any person with Internet access can then view the pending allegations against the RR by visiting BrokerCheck.FINRA.org, where those allegations can additionally surface with a Google search.

Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) granted a whistleblower represented by Malecki Law the maximum-allowable award of 30% of whatever the agency recovers in connection with its 2018 action and investment fraud charges against Sandy J. Masselli Jr., Carlyle Gaming & Entertainment Ltd., and other associated entities.  The alleged perpetrators from New Jersey were charged with securities fraud and the misappropriation of over $3 million in retail investor funds, alleged to have pocketed the money from selling unregistered securities and falsely telling investors that the investment was destined for an imminent and lucrative IPO.

The SEC provides significant financial incentive for whistleblowers to come forward regarding securities law violations.  The SEC introduced its whistleblower program in 2012, and recently surpassed over $1 billion in awards granted to over 200 different whistleblowers; the largest SEC award on record is $83 million.  Depending on the timeliness and credibility of the tip, the SEC’s whistleblower program is authorized by Congress, through the passing of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, to grant awards that range between 10% to 30% of any recovery that the agency’s enforcement division makes of $1 million or more.  The recovered funds come from the assets recovered and sanctions money paid by persons or entities who are found to be in violation of the federal securities laws.

Although it can be lucrative, most whistleblowers come forward to report securities violations for moral reasons or because they are victims themselves.  And the reality is that filing a successful claim, where the whistleblower is granted an award, is extremely rare.  In 2020 alone, the SEC received almost 7,000 claims, yet it has only awarded barely 200 awards in nearly a decade since the program began.  So while the whistleblower application form is fairly simple, it is often necessary to additionally provide the SEC with supplementary briefs with complete and properly redacted evidentiary exhibits, containing concrete and original information that is presented in a manner that gets the SEC’s attention.

Malecki Law is currently investigating allegations regarding a Ponzi scheme targeted by several regulators, including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which filed a civil enforcement action against Avinash Singh and nine others, including Daniel Cologero and Randy Rosseau, who reside in Florida, and Hemraj Singh, from New Jersey, concerning allegations of an almost $5 million-dollar multi-level Ponzi scheme.  We are specifically interested in speaking to any affected investors in Highrise Advantage, LLC or other related investments discussed below. Upon information and belief, Mr. Singh may have been working closely with Equity Trust Company and one or more of its representatives, including Anthony (“Tony”) Sopko, who may have been helping to bring new investors into the scheme.

Mr. Singh is accused of misappropriating funds fraudulently solicited by him and his co-defendants.  They allegedly used their network of contacts to prey on those within their communities.  One individual charged, Surujpaul Sahdeo, was a priest who may have used his company, SR&B Enterprises, to prey on the Guyanese community and community church-goers, allegedly using their donations to fund the Ponzi scheme through Mr. Singh, who is alleged to have been a main point of contact for recruiting many investors. It is alleged that all of the funds were funneled through commodity pools set up to funnel the fraudulently solicited funds– Highrise Advantage, LLC., Green Knight Investments, LLC, Bull Run Advantage, LLC, and King Royalty, LLC.

Firms like Equity Trust Company have supervisory duties that require them to monitor both the internal and external business activities of their employees like Mr. Sopko.   This is significant because Ponzi victims often do not know who to turn to, as Ponzi funds are often spent and heavily depleted by the time a Ponzi scheme falls apart and is discovered.  Nevertheless, Malecki Law has decades of experience in successfully recovering millions of dollars from financial firms, such as those Malecki Law sued and successfully recovered from in Ponzi schemes perpetrated by Hector May and Robert Van Zandt.

Many clients are asking whether FINRA arbitration claims can be brought against a bank and/or its employees for losses sustained in their investment accounts.  The answer is yes.  There are more than 5,000 commercial banks in the United States.  Along with traditional banking services, many of these banks also provide in house “financial advisors.”  In order to charge their customers more, these bank branch financial advisors encourage bank customers to invest their savings with them.  Now more than ever, bank customers are being pressured into using these services, and their life savings are being invested rather than saved.  This can lead to losses in customer accounts, where customers would have been better off keeping their funds in a savings account.  Malecki Law’s FINRA arbitration attorneys have handled many cases involving claims where customers lost money investing with a commercial bank financial advisor.

Up until Congress repealed the Glass Steagall act in 1999, commercial banks, banks that take in cash deposits and make loans, could not offer investment services.  The Glass Steagall Act separated commercial banks and investments banks and prohibited commercial banks from providing any investment service to its customers.  Once the act was repealed, in order to make greater profit, banks took advantage and began offering these services.  Although banks often incentivize their customers to use these services, such as offering lower fees or free checking, the bank’s investment services, however, are not free.

Investing funds with a bank is no safer than investing funds through an online or traditional brokerage firm.  Customers ordinarily use banks for savings, checking, CDs, and, sometimes, securing a mortgage or other type of loan.  These types of accounts are a bank’s specialty and are FDIC insured, meaning that these are vehicles designed to prevent the loss of money in customer accounts.  Contrarily, investments are not a bank’s specialty and investing with a bank’s financial advisor, similar to making an investment in an online or traditional brokerage account, comes with risk, often incurring higher fees than an online or traditional brokerage account.  Moreover, not only do the investment products offered at banks charge higher fees, but the quality and diversity of investment products is limited, which increases risk to the customer’s investments.

Contact Information