Articles Posted in Stock Fraud

It seems like every day there is a new “hot stock” being pushed by financial pundits and brokerage houses alike.  Seadrill Limited (ticker symbol, SDRL) was once one of these hot stocks, but it has since fallen from grace, with wide reports that it will be declaring chapter 11 bankruptcy by early next week.  SDRL’s stock was known for its generous quarterly dividend, and, to the detriment of retiree investment portfolios, benefited from excessive promotions it received from those within the brokerage and investment industry.

SDRL is an offshore deep-water drilling contractor in the oil and gas sector.  It was founded in 2005 by John Fredriksen, a Norwegian-born billionaire, who was well-known for his triumphs in the oil and shipping industry during the 1980s.  The company grew quickly by way of aggressive management and acquisitions, and its stock price in September of 2013 surged to its high of over $47 per share.  However, SDRL has since spectacularly nosedived, falling by more than 99% in value to its current trading price of $0.23 per share.

As early as February 2012, Mad Money’s Jim Cramer was bullish on SDRL.  But so were big name brokerage firms like Morgan Stanley, which issued a research report in November 2013 that confidently touted SDRL as an overweight value stock.  In a subsequent research report from March 2014, Wells Fargo Securities named Seadrill’s subsidiary, Seadrill Partners, LLC (ticker symbol, SDLP), its “top Marine MLP Pick” and predicted “solid distribution growth” through 2015.  Notably, SDLP’s investment performance took a similar trajectory to its parent SDRL, at one-point trading over $34 per share in August of 2014, but now sitting barely above $3 per share today.

It takes a lot of courage to report illegal or fraudulent misconduct by one’s own employer.  This is because being a whistleblower carries significant risks.  Whistleblowers not only risk their current employment, but possible ongoing retaliation that can harm their industry reputation and ability to find work with employers in the future.  Reporting wrongdoing can also invite significant emotional hardship and threats to one’s personal safety.  So why would anybody want to be a whistleblower?

For most with a moral compass, often doing the right thing is reward enough.  But there are an increasing number of laws, which now provide additional incentives – both in terms of anonymity and financial remuneration.  Depending on where one lives in the United States, there are various state whistleblower laws that could apply.  Federal laws tend to provide the most financial incentive, and in particular, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), which was signed into law in 2010, as a measure to address the 2008 collapse of the financial services market.

Dodd-Frank was a notable expansion on pre-existing federal whistleblower laws for several reasons.  The earlier Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), which was a measure in its own right to address the failings that led to the 2001 financial crisis, provides civil protections to employees (including officers or subcontractors) of a publicly traded company against any kind of retaliation by the employer.  While SOX has led to multi-million-dollar financial verdicts for the whistleblower, Dodd-Frank expanded eligibility of who could become a whistleblower, from employees under SOX, to anybody.  Section 78u-6(a)(6) of Dodd-Frank defines a whistleblower as follows:

stock-down-300x225Shares of OncoMed (OMED) plunged more than 40% today, January 25th, in the wake of a report concerning a pancreatic cancer drug the company had reportedly been working on.  According to Marketwatch, “an independent data safety monitoring board advised ‘of several findings regarding futility’ of a Phase 2 treatment of pancreatic cancer.’”

Investors who have lost money in OncoMed may be legally entitled to recover some or all of their losses and are encouraged to contact the attorneys at Malecki Law to explore their rights.

Unfortunately, issues like the one presently facing OncoMed can happen in the market.  Even more unfortunate is that often times financial advisors will improperly advise their clients to take large positions in advance of the release of a report concerning a company’s prized drug, like Tarextumab.

crisis-1260919-s.jpgIt was reported by Bloomberg News on Friday January 24, 2014 that there was a “massive selloff” in emerging markets that led to a decline of approximately 2% to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500. It is during such fast and sudden selloffs that underlying problems in public investors’ brokerage accounts are typically uncovered.

At Malecki Law, we have seen an increase in claims arising from margin in investors’ accounts. Overwhelmingly, investors were not informed about the risks of buying securities on margin and were only told that they could make more money by leveraging their accounts to buy more securities. However, without fully understanding the risks of products and services such as margin, public investors cannot make a fully informed decision about whether it is suitable for them.

Margin is essentially a loan from the brokerage firm to the investor. The effect of margin is not similar to that of a typical home mortgage, because the securities or cash in the investor’s brokerage account serves as collateral for the loan and large market drops can cause margin calls, request for more money or collateral or a sell-off of positions. Investors may use margin to increase their purchasing power or “buying power,” as some brokers like to say. However, it is very important that the investor is fully informed of all risks associated with the use of margin, including that they can lose more than they borrow.

Securities attorney Jenice Malecki spoke recently with Wealth Management at wsj.com‘s Caitlin Nish about what makes a strong investor claim against a broker and the steps that lead up to brokers having to defend themselves in arbitration.

To watch the video click here.

Investors who have lost money because of bad advice, unsuitable investment recommendations and misconduct by their financial advisor may seek to recover their losses through arbitration.

Tonight, June 5, 2012, on the 6 O’Clock Evening News on CBS 2 New York, the lawsuit filed by Malecki Law on behalf of forty-three investors in the alleged Ponzi scheme run by Robert Van Zandt will be featured.

This past December, Malecki Law announced the filing of a civil arbitration complaint with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority against MetLife Securities for more than $4 million on behalf of twenty-four investors. In March, Malecki Law announced that the complaint had been amended to include additional nineteen investors totaling roughly $9.2 million in claims.

The attorneys at Malecki Law continue to take calls and anticipate either adding future victims to the existing claim or commencing a second action, if necessary. We urge anyone with knowledge about the Van Zandt Agency or MetLife Securities supervision (or lack thereof) over the office to contact us. Investors or employees with knowledge of the events at the Van Zandt Agency who seek further information or want to explore their rights should contact Malecki Law by e-mail or phone. Malecki Law has a uniquely diverse background with significant experience representing clients in securities and investment fraud issues and is “AV Rated” by Martindale-Hubbell. Malecki Law hosts a website providing information and resources dedicated to the securities industry: www.AboutSecuritiesLaw.com. Please contact Jenice L. Malecki, Esq., MALECKI LAW, 11 Broadway, Suite 715, New York, NY 10004, Telephone: (212) 943-1233, Facsimile: (212) 943-1238, E-Mail: Jenice@MaleckiLaw.com.

Thumbnail image for ponzi.jpgMalecki Law announces the filing of a civil arbitration complaint in excess of $4 million, plus punitive damages, against MetLife Securities, Inc. The case is being filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) today for alleged improper supervision and selling away, relating to an alleged Ponzi scheme that devastated a Bronx community. The complaint alleges that the firm failed to properly supervise and maintain the compliance of one of their registered representatives, Mr. Robert H. Van Zandt, in violation of federal and state securities laws, as well as financial industry rules and regulations. Robert H. Van Zandt is apparently already under investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s Office. “I believe there are a lot of victims out there who don’t know what is going on, nor their rights under the rules and regulations of the securities industry,” securities fraud attorney Jenice Malecki indicates.

In November of this year FINRA and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission jointly released Regulatory Notice 11-54 stressing the importance of supervision over registered representatives. Shortly before the release of Regulatory Notice 11-54, FINRA filed a regulatory action against Merrill Lynch and fined the firm $1 million for failing to properly supervise a registered representative and catch a Ponzi scheme that he was running out of a San Antonio, Texas branch office that victimized clients and non-clients of Merrill Lynch, all to which Merrill Lynch was responsible for its failure to supervise.

The complaint filed by Malecki Law relates to the alleged conduct of Robert H. Van Zandt of the Van Zandt Agency, who is believed to have sold unregistered securities in the form of promissory notes that were represented to prospective investors as part of a secured real estate investment, which appears improperly set up and not secured at all. It is alleged that these notes were part of yet another “Ponzi” scheme in what Ms. Malecki opines to be “an era filled with ponzi schemes for which the industry should closely monitor to avoid harm to unwitting victims,” this alleged ponzi scheme one run through a series of shell companies including Burke and Grace Avenue Corp.

In rough economic times such as these, many investors have seen their accounts suffer large losses. As New York securities lawyers, we’ve seen some investors’ accounts lose 25-50% over the course of a few months or years, while others have seen their accounts lose such large amounts seemingly overnight. A large drop in account value is unsettling for every investor, but for those nearing retirement or senior citizens living off their savings, large losses are extremely alarming and can be devestating. Regardless of their age or situation, investors who have suffered large losses often find themselves asking the same questions, “Is my account down because of the market, or is it something else?”

stock down.jpgInvestors who are approaching retirement or who are already retired are typically risk-averse – i.e. willing to accept lower returns to avoid the possibility of devastating losses. However, many of these investors find themselves being sold on “sure thing,” “big winner,” “can’t lose,” and “have your cake and eat it too” investment strategies that seem, and in fact are, too good to be true. Those who buy into these false promises can find themselves unknowingly invested in products and strategies that are much riskier than what they wanted, and most importantly, what they should have been invested in. Unfortunately, good times in the market can hide these risks from the average investor. It is not until a downswing in the market that these risks come to light, often taking the form of large, unexpected and crippling losses.

Many people who want to invest seek out professional guidance in handling their savings and their investments because they feel safer in the hands of professionals whom they trust and whom they believe are looking out for their best interests. Unfortunately, this trust can be abused and investors often find themselves in accounts that are not suitable for their financial needs and the amount of risk they are willing to take with their investments.

FINRA issued a warning to investors yesterday to about the risks of seeking higher yield with structured products, junk bonds and floating-rate bank-loan funds. It is a reality of New York securities law that with fixed income yields at historic lows, many investors who want to avoid the volatility of the stock market have found themselves with seemingly nowhere to go.

Many of these investors have found themselves lured in by structured products promising of higher yield with “principal protection” or junk bond funds promising higher yield with “professional management”. FINRA reports that there have been significant increases in sales of high-yield bond funds, floating rate funds and structured products. These products have seen more than $100 billion in increased sales since interest rates fell.

However, average investors often don’t look into or have trouble understanding the risks and fees associated with these investments. Investors typically only focus on the higher returns that these investments offer but should also be aware that these products typically have higher risks and fees associated with them.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a bulletin warning of potential securities fraud among companies that went public through a reverse merger, which New York securities lawyers can recognize as a too common cause for alarm.

A New York Investment Fraud Attorney should be consulted whenever a firm becomes aware of a state or federal investigation. If you are an employee who has been a whistleblower or wants to cooperate with an investigation, the earlier professional legal advice is engaged, the better the chances of a positive outcome. Likewise, those who believe they have been victimized by stock fraud need to proactively seek quality legal representation as early as possible. Multiple competing claims, criminal investigations, bankruptcy and other complications may or may not ever permit investors to be made whole. But those at the front of the line generally stand the best chance of making a financial recovery.

551783_street_of_wealth.jpgThe Street reporter Scott Eden reports in “SEC Warns on Reverse Merger Stocks” that the bulletin comes amid a growing stock scandal involving Chinese small-cap stocks that used the controversial process. News reports of fraud and theft of capital have plagued the Chinese small-cap stock sector since early spring. Several companies have reported auditors resigning or refusing to sign off on 2010 financials, which must be filed in annual 10-K reports with the SEC. Trading has been suspended for more than 15 Chinese companies — tens of billions of market capital have evaporated as many stocks in the sector have lost at least half their value.