Articles Posted in Investment Fraud

This is Part 2 of an article we posted last week on former NBA-great, Tim Duncan, where we introduced the investing lessons that could be gleaned from Duncan’s relationship with his former financial adviser, Charles A. Banks, who was permanently barred from the securities industry and is now serving a four-year prison term after pleading guilty to wire fraud.

For background on this story, it is a good idea to read Part 1 of this series, where we revealed our first lesson, which was to be wary of the financial adviser who constantly brings you deals.  While this might create the impression that your adviser is knowledgeable and has the inside scoop, it is frequently a sign of an adviser who is exposing you to unnecessary risk and trying to earn commissions or undisclosed fees that will eat away at your principal.

A second lesson from this sad story is to recognize a common fraud tactic, which may seem innocent, but should set off alarm bells and have you looking for a new financial adviser.  This is when an adviser asks a customer to sign a blank form or just a signature page, as Banks did with Duncan.  The adviser will often justify the practice as a time-saver and present it to the customer as a convenience, such as dropping blank forms in the mail with affixed post-it-notes that simply point the investor where to sign.  This request often sounds benign or reasonable to an investor, but it is in fact illegal and happens more often than many people realize.  Though this practice may seem harmless, signing forms in the absence of one’s adviser deprives the investor of an in-person interaction to ask useful questions and to have the adviser explain all the investment risks and hidden fees that may be associated with the investment.

Last month we learned that Tim Duncan’s financial adviser was sentenced by a federal court to four years in prison for defrauding the NBA legend of $7.5 million.  Duncan earned over $220 million during his playing career, so he is by no means financially ruined, but there are some good lessons to learn about investing and placing too much trust in the person who manages your money.

Tim Duncan is an accomplished, 15-time NBA All-Star and future Hall of Famer.  He retired in July 2016 after playing nineteen seasons of professional basketball with the San Antonio Spurs.  In today’s age of free agency and mega-million-dollar commercial endorsements, it is a rarity for a player to play his entire career with a single franchise.  As one of the greatest to ever play the game, Duncan could have sought greener pastures and taken his talents to the highest bidder in any city of his choosing.  Instead, he was noted for having taken yearly pay cuts to stay in San Antonio to allow the Spurs to remain under the league salary cap while paying for talent at other positions.  Duncan was generally known for his loyalty and being the consummate teammate and role model for fans and younger players.  His loyalty on the court perhaps says a lot about how he conducted himself off the court, where he showed similar trust and loyalty to the people in his daily life, including his financial adviser.

Last month, Duncan’s financial adviser, Charles A. Banks, IV, made headlines when a federal court in Texas issued a judgment against Banks, convicting him of wire fraud, and sentencing him to 48 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.  The court also ordered Banks to pay $7.5 million in restitution.

Financial exploitation of the elderly by a financial advisor can take many shapes and forms, and it is indeed possible to recover one’s financial losses from the broker or financial institution who carried out and supervised the misconduct.  Wrongdoing by a financial professional can be difficult to expose because it often arises out of relationships built on trust, and can go undetected for many years by the affected senior and family members.

Some types of broker misconduct are easier to identify than others.  Cases of outright fraud, for instance, could include the broker forging an elderly customer’s signature, falsely representing the worth or activity in an account, omitting the risks of a particular investment, recommending and selling unnecessary investment products (e.g., certain annuities), or trading excessively in a customer account solely to generate commissions (otherwise known as “churning”).  Regardless of motive or intent, an investor’s financial losses from the misconduct can be no less catastrophic.  If anything, this should point to the incidence rate of financial abuse amongst the elderly to be more prevalent than many people realize.  Indeed, research has shown that American senior citizens lose over $36 billion per year from financial exploitation.  That number is only expected to rise with increasing life expectancy and the expanding demographic of senior citizens within the United States.

Financial elder abuse is also greatly underreported.  According to the National Adult Protective Services Association, only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is reported.  The National Center for Elder Abuse points to studies that have identified feelings of shame as being one reason for the underreporting, in part related to the embarrassment of having fallen victim to financial fraud, but also to the embarrassment of having to disclose that one is suffering from age-related memory loss or cognitive decline.  On this latter point, memory impairment of an elderly investor only adds to the underreporting of broker misconduct.

Patrick Churchville of Rhode Island has been accused of orchestrating a $21 million Ponzi scheme and was recently sentenced to 7 years in prison by a federal judge, according to an Investment News report. Mr. Churchville is thefinancial-fraud-300x200 owner and president of ClearPath Wealth Management and according to SEC’s complaint, he allegedly diverted funds from investors to pay older investors, used their funds as collateral for loans or converted investments to benefit ClearPath Wealth Management. According to the news report, he allegedly used $2.5 million of borrowed money to buy a lavish waterfront home in Rhode Island.

Mr. Churchville started running his Ponzi scheme 2010 onwards and like in any Ponzi scheme, he added to his net worth at the cost of his victims, who lost their homes and all their savings. One of his victims was left on food stamps and needed heating assistance by the end of it, and others were forced back into the workforce in their retirement years. U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith called the whole scheme a “tragedy”. Churchville allegedly pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud and one of tax fraud for failing to pay more than $820,000 in taxes. He has also reportedly been ordered to pay restitution to his 114 victims although the number is unspecified.

Being victimized by financial fraud not only means lost savings but can completely wreak someone’s life and strain personal relationships. At Malecki Law, we regularly help victims of Ponzi scheme get justice and restitution. If you suspect a financial advisor or brokerage firm has been taking advantage of you or your loved ones, reach out for legal advice.

Recently, CNBC interviewed Jenice Malecki for their white collar crime series, “American Greed”. The episode tonight (Feb 13, 2017), by CNBC correspondent Scott Cohn, is focused on John Bravata, who ran a real estate Ponzi Scheme from 2006 to 2009, through his company BBC Equities LLC. He collected more than $50 million from investors, promising their money would be used to purchase real estate. However, most of it went into financing his lavish lifestyle. Being an experienced securities fraud lawyer and having handled high-profile real estate scams, Ms. Malecki was asked to share her expertise on-camera about real estate investment scams and what to watch out for.

In the video, Ms. Malecki cautions investors about typical real estate scams, who they target, the telltale signs of fraud and resources available for investor protection. This interview has already aired on CNBC and in over 27 NBC affiliated channels. It can also be viewed on http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/10/the-greed-report-tempted-by-the-real-estate-market-investor-beware.html

hand-cuffs-1255790-300x179Wells Fargo financial advisors, David Jeremy Welty and Ane Plate have been barred from the securities industry by FINRA and the SEC, respectively, per AdvisorHUB. Both advisors were accused of stealing customer funds.

Welty was alleged to have converted $8,700 for personal expenses from an account that was originally set up as a “memorial fund,” according to reports. Prior to his termination in December 2016, Welty worked in the Wells Fargo branch in Norristown, PA, beginning in March 2012, according to records. He reportedly consented to the bar without admitting nor denying the allegations.

Plate was accused to stealing $176,000 that was raised through the sale of securities from elderly clients’ account without authorization. According to the AdvisorHUB report, the pilfered money was allegedly used to pay Plate’s mortgage and upgrade her home. Records indicate that Plate worked at the Wells Fargo office in Deltona, FL from 2005 through 2014. Earlier this month, she was reportedly sentenced to 27 months in federal prison.

visions-from-im-5-1466265-225x300According to news reports, the SEC has fined UBS more than $15 million for its failures to properly supervise employees who sold complex investment products to unsophisticated and inexperienced clients of the firm. Complex products are traditionally reserved for only sophisticated investors who have a full understanding of the product and are appreciative and willing to take the risks involved. These are not typically appropriate or suitable for unsophisticated “mom and pop” investors.

Nonetheless, reports indicated that UBS’s financial advisors sold more than half a billion dollars’ worth of these complex products to more than 8,000 inexperienced investors. Making matters worse, reports reveal that many of these investors had moderate or conservative risk profiles. The products sold to investors are said to have included reverse convertible notes, some of which had derivatives that were tied to implied volatility.

This is not new for UBS, which just paid $19.5 million last year in connection with the firm’s sale of complex structured notes.

White eggs in a brown nest labelled with IRA, Pension, 401k and House representing a typical nest egg.
First, it was M.I.T., Yale and N.Y.U. Then, Duke University, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt were sued for excessive fees in their employees’ retirement accounts, according to a New York Times report. With these class-action suits filed, let’s examine what are the common problems and allegations made against 403(b) plans.

403(b) plans, are similar to 401(k) retirement plans available to employees of public schools and nonprofit institutions like universities and hospitals. The most common allegation that has been reported against 403(b) plans is excessive fees that result in lost retirement savings for the investors. These universities reportedly used multiple ‘record keeper’ providers and paid excessive revenue sharing payments to these providers, amounting to millions of dollars in lost savings.

While the employee investors would have benefited more from fewer simplified options that leveraged economies of scale, there were 400+ investment options which were confusing for them and made them opt for duplicative strategies according the same news report. Allegedly, millions of dollars in retirement assets were unsuitably invested in underperforming funds in a retail share class as opposed to a less-expensive institutional share class. The investment advisors for these plans allegedly breached their fiduciary duty which mandates the reduction of excessive fees and conflicts of interest that erode retirement savings for all investors.

FINRA newThe Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today a complaint filed against Hank Marker Werner for allegations including securities fraud for churning the account of a senior-aged blind widow customer and for making excessive and unsuitable trading recommendations in a News Release.

According to his publicly available BrokerCheck report records maintained by FINRA, Mr. Werner was employed and licensed by Legend Securities, Inc. from December 2012 to March 2016.  Prior to working at Legend Securities, Inc., he was employed by Liberty Partners Financial Services, LLC from July to December 2012, Brookstone Securities, Inc. from March 2011 to June 2012, and Alexander Capital, LP from November 2009 to March 2011, per Mr. Werner’s BrokerCheck report.

FINRA’s News Release detailed that Mr. Werner allegedly engaged in a deceptive and fraudulent scheme by churning the elderly client’s over the course of three years “to maximize his compensation by charging more than $243,000 in commissions, while causing the customer approximately $184,000 in net losses.”  The News Release also stated:

businessman-silhouette-1237574-256x300The investment fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints regarding Oppenheimer & Co. broker Joseph Iovino. According to his BrokerCheck report maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), Mr. Iovino has been the subject of seven reportable disclosure events, including customer complaints.

Per FINRA records, Mr. Iovino has been involved in two regulatory events, four customer complaints and an employment separation after allegations.

According to his BrokerCheck, in 1992, Mr. Iovino was terminated by Prudential Securities for violating firm policy.