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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.

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.

Many clients are asking, “can my arbitration hearing be done online by video?” The answer is yes.  FINRA allows for remote hearing services, via Zoom and teleconference, to parties in all cases.  In arbitration, all parties can agree as to almost anything and FINRA will allow it – such as who the arbitrators are, methods of picking arbitrators and/or how the hearing will happen.  The trick is to get your adversary to agree to alternative hearing methods or to get a sitting arbitration panel to order (force) your adversary to do it. A hearing can happen a number of ways with FINRA’s blessing, so long as it can be recorded.  Next week, we expect that FINRA will set out more formal guidelines and we will update this blog in a new post.

Zoom is a user-friendly video platform that provides high-quality and secure options for conducting remote hearings.  The platform allows parties, arbitrators, counsel, and witnesses to share documents and their screens with other participants.  Zoom is a viable option for parties unable to attend an in-person hearing. Malecki Law’s FINRA arbitration attorneys have experience and systems in place, ready to use this method for hearings in investor arbitrations, as well as industry employment and regulatory matters.  For many years, remote witnesses have participated and testified via video and telephonic methods.  It is really not a completely new concept.

Whether the hearing is remote or in-person, the prehearing process will not be hindered.  In customer dispute cases, where customers bring claims against their broker and/or broker-dealer, all aspects, except for an in-person hearing, are done remotely (such as filing the claims, resolving discovery disputes, and interviewing witnesses).  As a matter of fact, most claims against a broker and/or broker-dealer will settle before the hearing is scheduled to begin.

U.S. oil prices have been on a roller coaster ride over the last few weeks, at one point dropping below $0 for the first time in history to -$37.63 a barrel.  Oil has since rebounded from its subzero levels, but it remains questionable as to whether it can stay there.  It begs the question, what does this mean for investors and the U.S. oil market generally?

When prices cratered below zero, there were those that weighed in that it was nothing to worry about.  After all, the subzero price drop really had more to do with the expiration of contracts for oil futures.  It was explained that the current demand for oil is so low that producers would rather put their oil in storage and then sell it at some point in the future.  Placing additional strain on the market, the U.S. is running out of places to store it, with backlogs of oil tankers from Saudi Arabia out at sea and being turned away from U.S. shipping ports.

The U.S. has traditionally been a net importer of oil, but with the emergence of oil fracking, the U.S. at one point in 2019 surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil exporter.  This trend towards parity gave many observers of the U.S. oil market a feeling of confidence that the U.S. was a rising oil power, with President Trump going so far as describing the U.S. level of participation as “energy dominance.”  But as pointed out by professionals, increased participation in the market has little to do with control over the market.  For instance, the price of U.S. oil recently began to spiral down when Russia and Saudi Arabia started to increase their production levels.  U.S. oil prices teetered even further, and then below zero, when the global and U.S. economic response to the spread of Covid-19 began to take shape – every state being under some level of a stay-at-home order, with fewer cars on the road, fewer people travelling by air, and U.S. oil workers in Texas and elsewhere being laid off in the tens of thousands.  The pumps have stopped and oil companies are already declaring bankruptcy, with likely more to follow.

As we have been saying in this space for many years, getting a Rule 8210 Notice from FINRA can be a jarring event.  If you have received an 8210 notice, you should take it seriously, as well as immediate steps to develop your best course of action to comply with the request. An 8210 Notice is a subpoena from FINRA that is typically sent to registered representatives in connection with an informal inquiry that does not have to be reported on your form U4. When you first receive an 8210 notice, FINRA is likely trying to determine if there have been any violations of securities and/or industry rules and/or regulations.  You should notify your compliance officer, as they will likely have already received a copy from FINRA, but being transparent is important.

It is important to meet with an attorney as soon as possible to determine the best ways in which to protect your interests during the process.  All involved parties will not necessarily share the same interests, i.e., your firm and/or supervisor may have their own self-preservation interests.   As part of the 8210 notice, you will be required to answer a list of questions (interrogatories) and produce sometimes a wide range of documents, both business and personal.  The attorneys at Malecki Law are experienced in defending FINRA registered representatives and firms in FINRA disciplinary matters and can work with you in responding to interrogatories and assist you with your document production using state of the art electronic discovery tools.

In working with your attorney to respond to interrogatories and produce documents you should also start to prepare for a potential “on the record” interview (or “OTR” for short).  OTRs before FINRA involve sitting in a conference room with investigators and answering their questions under oath.  You should have your attorney prepare and accompany you to an OTR. While not all cases involve an OTR, many do.  Experienced counsel will know the best way to couch what happened with the right language and explanation.  Furthermore, it is important to identify and explain mitigating circumstances as soon as possible before enforcement decisions are made.

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