Articles Posted in Problem Brokers

The short answer is no.

When a customer opens an investment account with a brokerage firm, he or she is typically given the option to choose between a discretionary or non-discretionary account.  A discretionary account gives the assigned broker or financial advisor the latitude, or discretion, to buy or sell securities in the account without the customer’s prior authorization.  In non-discretionary accounts, a broker does not have that discretion and must obtain the customer’s permission prior to each transaction.

For reasons that may seem obvious, discretionary accounts are somewhat of a rarity in the brokerage world, in part because they require much more supervisory oversight than non-discretionary accounts.  Discretionary accounts are naturally prone to a higher risk for abuse or mismanagement of funds, as there is less customer input and oversight of the trading.  Thus it should be no surprise that the securities laws for discretionary accounts are especially geared towards investor protection.

man-and-woman-holding-money-300x300Broker Deborah D. Kelley is allegedly one of the key figures in the $184 billion New York pension fund “pay-for-play” bribery scandal. She was reportedly arrested in December 2016 in San Francisco on charges of securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and conspiracy to obstruct justice in an SEC investigation. This week she was barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

The salacious allegations in this scandal involves the NY retirement pension fund and Navnoor Kang, its former director of fixed income and portfolio strategy, not only made newspaper headlines but was reported in prominent magazines such as Vanity Fair. Allegedly, Mr. Kang received more than $100,000 in bribes, including prostitutes, bottle service, drugs, vacations and weekend trips, expensive watches, VIP tickets to concerts from Ms. Kelly and another broker Gregg Schonhorn, in exchange for promoting the interest of Deborah Kelley’s broker-dealer. It is reported that Navnoor Kang deposited $2 billion with Ms. Kelly’s broker-dealers. Wall Street Journal reportedly quoted U.S. attorney Preet Bharara calling this a “classic case of quid pro quo corruption.”

As per FINRA records, she was registered with Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc.in 2014 and subsequently with Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc. after Stifel bought the former broker-dealer. She was reported fired by Stifel for bribing the pension fund manager with entertainment and gifts to further business opportunities and misrepresentation of these expenses, as noted in the FINRA proceedings that led to her disbarment.

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.

office_suit_corportate_237605_l-300x224The securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints against stockbroker Matthew Maczko.  Mr. Maczko was employed and registered with Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, a national broker-dealer out of the firm’s Oakbrook, Illinois, from February 2008 to September 2016, according to his publicly available BrokerCheck, as maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  He was previously registered with UBS Financial Services, Inc. from November 1998 to March 2008, according to BrokerCheck records.

In 2017, Mr. Maczko was permanently barred from association with any FINRA member broker-dealer by FINRA, after submitting a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2016050430201.  According to the AWC, Mr. Maczko violated NASD Rule 2310 and Rule 2111, both pertaining to suitability of investment recommendations, because from 2009 to 2016, Mr. Maczko “effected excessive transactions in four brokerage accounts of [a] customer … who is now 93 years old,” and “during this period, Maczko effected over 2800 transactions in these accounts that generated approximately $581,650 in commissions, $84,270 in other fees, and approximately $397,000 in trading losses.”  As the AWC went on, “[t]his level of trading was unsuitable.”

FINRA Suitability Rules require that recommendations made by the broker to the customer be suitable.  This means that the broker must consider the investor’s age, investment experience, age, tax status, other investments, as well as other factors when making a recommendation to buy or sell securities.

According to publicly available BrokerCheck records, James Carolan Speno (CRD#431NYSE912), a New York based securities broker, formerly associated with Morgan Stanley, was recently barred by FINRA. Attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints against James Speno.

Mr. Speno has spent over 45 years as a securities advisor. His most recent registration was with Morgan Stanley in New York. Prior to that he was registered with Oppenheimer & Co.; RBC Capital Markets Corporation; Salomon Smith Barney Inc.; Lehman Brothers Corp.; Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc., Sussex Securities Incorporated; Lehman Brothers Incorporated.

Mr. Speno is currently not registered with any firm.

Wall-Street-Sign-300x200AdvisorHub reported on January 23, 2017 that the SEC permanently barred Ane Plate from the securities industry for stealing from her elderly clients.  Ms. Plate was most recently registered as a broker from May 2005 to June 2014 with Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC out of the broker-dealer’s Orlando, Florida office.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Order detailed that from October 2013 to April 2014, she made 15 unauthorized sales of securities from her elderly clients’ accounts totaling over $176,000.  In a regulatory action brought by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Ms. Plate submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2014041705101 (AWC) where she accepted and consented to findings by FINRA that she facilitated the $176,000 to be transferred to her client’s bank account where she then arranged for 15 checks to be issued from the customer’s account, payable to her.  The AWC detailed that in total, Ms. Plate converted $140,058 from her brokerage customer, and that this conduct violated FINRA Rules 2150 (Improper Use of Customers’ Securities or Funds) and 2010 (Standards of Commercial Honor and Principles of Trade).  Ms. Plate was terminated from her employment with Wells Fargo for this same conduct, according to her publicly available BrokerCheck report as maintained by FINRA.

The SEC Order stated that on May 20, 2015, Ms. Plate pled guilty to one count of Theft, Embezzlement, or Misapplication by a Bank Officer or Employee, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 656, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  Ms. Plate’s criminal case is titled United States v. Ane Plate, Case No. 6:15-cr-00084-GKS-GJK (M.D. Fla).

BN-LT369_1712mo_P_20151217084436-300x200It was reported by AdvisorHub on January 24, 2017 that the firm terminated three high producing brokers who were being investigated internally.  The three brokers were members of the PC Wealth Management Group.

The first broker, Michael Paesano, was reported to

have been terminated over “concerns” of his “exercise of discretion and investment strategy,” according to the AdvisorHub article.  According to Mr. Paesano’s publicly available BrokerCheck report, as maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), he has been the subject of 15 customer complaints, spanning his employment and registration at two broker-dealers, including Morgan Stanley from May 2011 to January 2017 and UBS Financial Services, Inc. from August 2005 to May 2011.  According to Mr. Paesano’s BrokerCheck report and the AdvisorHub article, the most recent customer complaint, alleging unsuitable investments and $1,000,000 in damages, resulted in a settlement of $245,000 to the customer.

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.

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Forbes recently published a list of America’s Top Wealth Advisors. This list is published annually and rates thousands of advisors based on asset under their management, revenue, experience, and compliance. The Malecki Law team noticed that some top managers have several disclosure events in their BrokerCheck record. BrokerCheck is a free tool from FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) that helps investors’ research brokers, investment advisors, and their firms.

Here is a list of a few of the top advisors with disclosure events for unauthorized trading, unsuitability, and more. (Not all top advisors on their list had reported events or all of the above reported events on BrokerCheck and the list below does not comprehensively include all top advisors with such disclosure events).

Lyon Polk ranked at #24 has 4 disclosure events between 1992-1994, according to Broker Check, they include allegations by customers of alleged unauthorized trading, misrepresentation, unsuitability, excessive trading, violation of commissions discount agreement. Each of these customer dispute was settled. In 1992, Lyon Polk was the subject of a regulatory disciplinary action, where he was sanctioned with suspension, censure, and a fine amounting to $27,500, per BrokerCheck.

businessman-silhouette-1237565-228x300The securities attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from customers who have complaints against Joseph L. Bess, II.  Mr. Bess was recently registered to sell securities with Waddell & Reed, in Edmond, Oklahoma, From April 2014 to July 2016, according to his publicly available BrokerCheck records maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  Mr. Bess was registered by J.P. Morgan Securities, LLC from October 2012 to April 2014, according to BrokerCheck records.

Mr. Bess has fined and suspended from association with any FINRA member broker-dealer for two months by FINRA, after submitting a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2014041059901 (AWC).  According to the AWC, Mr. Bess violated FINRA Rules 4511 (General Requirements) and 2010 (Standards of Commercial Honor and Principles of Trade) because from “January 2013 through January 2014, Mr. Bess marked a total of 139 order tickets for the purchase of exchange traded funds in the accounts of 21 customers as ‘unsolicited’ when, in fact, Bess had solicited each order by bringing the relevant ETF transaction to the attention of each customer.”

The AWC makes clear that pursuant to FINRA Rule 4511, broker-dealers must make and preserve books and records, and inherent in the Rule is the obligation that the records be accurate.  The AWC confirmed that “by mismarking the order tickets, Bess caused his member firm to keep inaccurate books and records.”