Articles Posted in Securities Fraud & Unsuitable Investments

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  • Salesperson seems to openly live a lavish lifestyle: The most famous Ponzi schemers have been infamous for their extravagant lifestyles. Scott Rothstein, the mastermind in a $1.2million Ponzi scheme said, “We were living like rock stars; private jets, massive amounts of money. There were lots of things that kept fueling that,” in his 2011 deposition testimony (reported in Forbes 2014). Be cautious if you are approached by a broker or advisor who fits the bill. As an extra precautionary measure, check your broker out on FINRA’s BrokerCheck.
  • Their marketing/ sales documents look like they could have come out of a printer in their home! Robert Van Zandt, known as the Bernie Madoff of Bronx, who was criminally prosecuted for running a Ponzi scheme, distributed homespun brochures that said “Learn to Earn 9% On Your Investment.” The quality of their marketing materials could be a good indication of the credibility of the investment.
  • “Guarantees” with high returns: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look out for buzzwords like “High Return” or “Risk-Free” Investments. But in reality no investment is risk-free. In fact, higher probability of return is usually associated with higher risks, according to the risk-reward tradeoff principle. So if you are offered a guaranteed high return investment with no risks, the chances are that you are dealing with a financial scam.

1207444_courtroom_1Michael J. Breton of Massachusetts was banned from the securities industry by the SEC according to a recent InvestmentNews report.  According to the report, Mr. Breton cost his clients $1.3 million by “cherry-picking” trades – i.e., placing trades through one central account then allocating the profitable trades to himself and the losing trades to clients.  This practice reportedly continued from 2011 to July of this past year.

 

On Wednesday, the SEC filed charges against Mr. Breton and Strategic Capital Management, Mr. Breton’s firm, in federal court in Massachusetts.  Mr. Breton has agreed to plead guilty to criminal securities fraud and forfeit $1.3 million, per the report.  According to InvestmentNews, the US Attorney’s Office has agreed to recommend a maximum sentence of no more than three years.

Financial industry stakeholders are all locked in a guessing game about the fate of the DOL Fiduciary rule in the new Trump administration. In 2015, the Obama administration and the DOL had introduced the Fiduciary rule that requires financial advisers to always act in the best interest of their clients when handling their retirement savings and removing unnecessary fees. Wall Street had continued to oppose it on the grounds of excessive costs and paperwork. The initial implementation deadline for the rule is set for April 2017.

According to an Investment News report, industry lobbyists are now expecting a quick response from the seemingly “business first” Trump administration to delay this investment advice rule. They expect the Fiduciary rule to be one of the first targets of the new administration. This delay could come in the form of a directive to agency heads to review and delay regulations that are not operational.

There are two courses that are expected: the Trump administration may issue an order to delay the implementation of the fiduciary rule and have another regulation, an “interim rule” in its place. Or they could propose a delay but this would be tricky because for a rule that technically became effective last June, the administration is legally obligated under the Administrative Procedure Act to go through a public notice and comment period.

Retirement SavingsLast year, the Obama administration introduced the Fiduciary rule that requires financial advisers to always act in the best interest of their clients when handling their retirement savings. It was expected to be a big industry shakeup, making financial advice more reliable, compensating advisers with a flat-fee model and reasonable compensations, incentivizing them to really act on their client’s best interest as opposed to their own personal gain. The DOL’s Fiduciary rule was aimed at stopping the $17 billion a year that gets wasted in exorbitant fees.

The banks and Wall Street have continued to oppose this rule on grounds of lengthy paperwork and compliance expenses. Financial firms were anxious that once the rule is in effect, they will not be able to make as much money. Republicans have expressed that repealing this rule is on their agenda. Now with Trump as the President elect, and Republicans holding majority in both Houses, there is a fear that legislative action will be taken to kill the much-needed Fiduciary rule.

Joseph Peiffer of PIABA (Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association) was quoted in the InvestmentNews, “If he (Trump) wins, no one knows what the hell is going to happen.” Now that Trump has won, the fate of the rule hangs in the balance. There are others who think that the rule is here to stay, inspite of the unpredictability.

BondsIn the recent years, we witnessed a sharp decline in Puerto Rican municipal bond prices and related assets, resulting in an upsurge in FINRA claims, arbitrations and awards. This has revealed new insights into the bond market and we anticipate a wave of FINRA Arbitration cases linked to bonds and fixed income asset classes.

After the recession in 2008, there has been a massive movement away from equities towards the seemingly less-risky and volatile asset class of bonds, creating a spike in demand for U.S. treasuries, corporate and municipal bonds. More than $1 trillion has flowed into the U.S. bond market since 2008.

Bonds are sensitive to interest rates and it’s pricing inversely proportional to interest rates. Fed has explicitly stated their intent to hike interest rates going forward, therefore, a fall in bond prices can be reasonably anticipated. Rising interest rates will result in losses for bond investors, most immediate effect being paper losses, and the inability to sell those bonds without incurring actual losses for a long time. Majority of the impact will be felt by longer term bond investors with 10 years or more to maturity and by non-treasury bond holders that tend to fall faster as rates rise.

12234_corporate_blurThe investment and securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints regarding Wells Fargo financial advisor Robert Ross.  According to his BrokerCheck report maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), Mr. Ross recently moved to Wells Fargo after spending 30 years at Merrill Lynch.

Mr. Ross was recently the subject of a customer complaint alleging unsuitable investment recommendations and excessive trading, per FINRA records.  BrokerCheck indicates that an arbitration related to this customer complaint is presently pending.

Excessive trading, also known as churning, in the industry can be disastrous for a portfolio.  When a broker trades an account excessively, large amounts of commissions and fees may be generated, if the account is commission based (as opposed to fee based).  Churning is a classic example of a broker putting his or her own monetary gain above the best interests of his or her customer.

end-is-nearThe securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints against stockbroker Richard William Martin.  Mr. Martin was most recently employed and registered from July 2009 to July 2015 with G.F. Investment Services, LLC from an office in Penang, Malaysia, according to his publicly available BrokerCheck, as maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  According to BrokerCheck records, Mr. Martin was permitted to resign amid allegations concerning FINRA’s Case No. 20150445876 which “appears to be centered around ETF trades.”

According to the FINRA Complaint, Mr. Martin violated FINRA Rules 2310 and 2111 related to suitability of recommendations by “not having a reasonable basis to recommend, for long-term holding, non-traditional exchange traded funds (‘Non-traditional ETFs’).”  The FINRA Complaint details that Mr. Martin believed the world economy was “on the precipice of catastrophe and his customers should invest and hold Non-traditional ETFs to hedge against the impending catastrophe.”

The FINRA Complaint detailed that ETF shares generally represent an interest in a portfolio of securities that tracks an underlying benchmark or index, such as the S&P 500.  Non-traditional ETFs differ in that they are more complex investment products that rely on strategies, such as interest rate swap agreements, futures contract, and other derivative instruments, to attempt to return a multiple and/or inverse of an underlying benchmark.  This would generally make non-traditional ETFs subject to more risk, and therefore may not be suitable for certain investors.

businessman-with-the-notebook-1-1362246-mMalecki Law’s team of investment attorneys are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints regarding long-time Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor Paul F. Kane.

According to his BrokerCheck report maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), Mr. Kane is currently the subject of a pending customer dispute.  The allegations include unsuitable investment recommendations, excessive trading and misrepresentation and omission of material facts, per FINRA.   According to the disclosures on Mr. Kane’s BrokerCheck, the customer is requesting $1.1 million in damages.

Excessive trading, also known as churning in the industry, can be disastrous for a portfolio.  When a broker trades an account excessively, large amounts of commissions and fees may be generated, if the account is commission based (as opposed to fee based).  Churning is a classic example of a broker putting his or her own monetary gain above the best interests of his or her customer.

businessman-silhouette-1237565-228x300Morgan Stanley broker Armando Fernandez has been suspended by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for 20 business days, according to publicly available FINRA records.  Per a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent filed with FINRA, Mr. Fernandez was accused of exercising discretion in a customer account without prior written acceptance of the account as discretionary from his member firm.  FINRA records indicate that Mr. Fernandez was also fined $7,500.

Generally, brokers are prohibited from placing trades in a customer account without speaking to the customer first, unless an account is a discretionary account.  When discretion is given by the customer to the broker, it is typically documented in a signed agreement.  When there is not such a signed agreement, and a broker executes transactions on a discretionary basis anyway, violations of FINRA Rules likely have taken place.

Customers who have been the victim of brokers improperly exercising discretion in their accounts (or violating other FINRA Rules) may be entitled to recover their losses in an action against the firm and/or broker responsible.

The securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints against stockbroker Kenneth Daley.  Mr. Daley was employed and registered from October 2007 to June 2016 with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., a Garden City, New York broker-dealer, according to his publicly available BrokerCheck, as maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  According to BrokerCheck records, Mr. Daley voluntarily resigned from Merrill Lynch amid allegations that he was involved in “[c]onduct involving improperly receiving money from a client via checks written from an outside account.”

Per his BrokerCheck report, prior to his employment and subsequent resignation from Merrill Lynch, Mr. Daley was employed by Wachovia Securities from 2003 to October 2007.

Subsequent to his resignation, Mr. Daley was barred from association with any FINRA member broker-dealer on June 27, 2016 by FINRA, after submitting a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2016050129701 (AWC).  According to the AWC, Mr. Daley violated: