Articles Tagged with FINRA

Arbitration is a formal alternative to courtroom litigation for resolving issues with neutral third party “arbitrators” issuing a binding decision after the litigants present their facts and argument. Compared to the usual courtroom procedures, arbitration is a faster, affordable and less formal legal proceeding.  FINRA, a self-regulatory-agency for the securities industry, controls the largest, most prominent arbitration forum for securities disputes. A full FINRA arbitration proceeding from initiation through hearing can take on average 16 months, but cases often are settled before the end. Sick or elderly claimants may request an expedited arbitration process within nine months.

There is a wide range of reasons that investors might want to make a legal claim against their broker-dealer and broker firm. When opening an account with brokerage firms, investors sign a contract that often contains a clause that makes handling disputes through FINRA arbitration mandatory. Notably, investors are bound to arbitrate their securities claim after the Supreme Court upheld binding arbitration provisions in Shearson/American Express Inc. v. McMahon. FINRA registered broker-dealers, and registered representatives are similarly obligated to handle disputes arising through their employment in FINRA arbitration.

The FINRA arbitration process commences when the plaintiff, known as the claimant, submits a statement of claim, outlining the case’s relevant facts, dates, names of involved parties, type of relief requested and name of accused parties. The statement of claim must be filed within the allotted time, which is within six years after the dispute. Compared with a courtroom complaint, a statement of claim is less formal and usually a more detailed account of the background story. In addition to the statement of claim, the claimant needs to pay fees and submit a Submission Agreement. The fees owed for filing a FINRA arbitration claim are based off the sought remedies, hearing sessions, discovery motions and postponement fees. Fortunately, some individuals with financial difficulties can request a fee waiver.

Financial professionals handling compliance keep abreast with changes in the regulatory landscape to effectively allocate resources. At the start of each year, regulatory agencies Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission publish their priorities. FINRA’s recently released Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter states emerging issues as well as ongoing concerns for the upcoming year. In an introductory note, Robert Cook explains that this year’s letter more broadly relays FINRA’s priorities for risk monitoring with a more pronounced focus on new issues. Firms can use the information contained within this letter to ensure that their compliance, supervisory and risk management programs reach FINRA’s standards. Distinct from earlier times, the FINRA letter focuses on explaining new issues and risk analysis.

The main new issues on the regulatory agency’s radar are the firm’s involvement with online distribution platforms, fixed income mark-up disclosure, and regulatory technology. Specifically, FINRA is concerned with how firms meet AML requirements, supervise communications with the public and conduct suitability analysis when involved with the distribution of securities on online distribution platforms. FINRA plans to evaluate the risks of excessive or undisclosed compensation arrangements between firms and issuers for offerings exempt from registration under Regulation A. Furthermore, FINRA intends to assess how firms handle risks with sales of offerings under Regulation D to non-accredited investors. FINRA expects firms to follow FINRA rule 2232 and MSRB Rule G-15 to comply with mark-up or mark-down disclosure obligations on fixed income transactions. As more firms use regulatory technology for compliance, FINRA plans to examine the efficiency and risks involved.

While this year’s letter pays more mind to new issues, FINRA briefly restates ongoing problems that have already been named as top priorities. Notably, FINRA mentions suitability determinations, outside businesses activities, and private securities transactions; private placements; data quality and governance; communications with the public; trade and order reporting; anti-money laundering (AML); net capital and consumer protection; best execution; fraud; insider trading and market manipulation; record keeping, risk management and supervision related to these and other areas. As per usual, FINRA will be mindful of how firms supervise and respond to associated persons with flawed disciplinary records. In the rest of the letter, FINRA categorizes the other concerns into sales practice risks, operational risks, market risks, and financial risks.

Barred FINRA-registered broker Steve Pagartanis, of Suffolk County, N.Y, is facing charges by the SEC and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office for allegedly running a multi-million-dollar Ponzi Scheme that bilked long-term investors, many of them seniors, for 18 years. In May 2018, the SEC filed a civil complaint against Steven Pagartanis alleging that he solicited and sold securities using falsified statements; defrauding at minimum nine investors out of $8 million. Mr. Pagartanis allegedly told investors that he would invest their funds in a publicly-traded or private land development company. Steven Pagartanis was arrested on July 25, 2018, with charges related to securities fraud as well as mail and wire conspiracies in connection with this alleged Ponzi scheme. Before being barred from acting as a broker by FINRA, Steve Pagartanis (CRD#1958879) was most recently a registered broker with Lombard Securities Incorporated. Our securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating into Steve Pagartanis’s alleged Ponzi Scheme on behalf of investors who lost their irreplaceable life savings.

Victims claimed to have trusted Mr. Pagartanis after having done business with him for years and entrusted hundreds of thousands of dollars, including retirement and elder care earmarked money.  Mr. Pagartanis reportedly claimed that the money would purchase investments in Genesis Land Development. His victims claim that Mr. Pagartanis promised that their investments in the real estate development company would produce 4.5% in guaranteed interest with annual dividends. On the contrary, Mr. Pagartanis allegedly never invested the money and deposited it into his personal bank accounts, as also alleged in the SEC complaint. Now, victims of Mr. Pagartanis’s alleged Ponzi Scheme are left distraught, with no other choice but to hold the appropriate parties responsible – in particularly his brokerage firm Cadaret Grant & Co.

Our investor fraud attorneys see many parallels between Steve Pagartanis’s alleged fraudulent actions and typical Ponzi Scheme activity. A Ponzi Scheme is a kind of investment fraud in which a perpetrator pays “false returns” to existing investors using new deposits. Ponzi Scheme perpetrators will use some of the money to fund their lavish lifestyles. As is often the case in Ponzi Schemes, Steve Pagartanis relied on built up trust gained over the years from his mostly elderly clients. Eventually, Steve Pagartanis allegedly failed to make an expected payment to a client, which most probably unveiled the fraud. Ponzi schemes are almost always finally revealed when the fraudulent perpetrator could no longer make a payment, according to securities fraud attorneys.

The SEC charged New York-based FINRA regulated brokerage firm Alexander Capital L.P. (CRD # 40077)as well as two of its managers for failing to supervise three registered brokers, William C.  Gennity, Rocco Roveccio, and Laurence M. Torres last Friday. The alleged supervisory failures are concerning charges against the brokers for unsuitable recommendations, churning accounts, and executing unauthorized trades in September 2017. While the brokers profited from commissions, investors lost their hard-earned savings over violations of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. According to the SEC, Alexander Capital L.P lacked reasonable supervisory policies and procedures that could have helped detect fraudulent practices by three brokers. In a separate order, the SEC also charged Alexander Capital managers, Philip A. Noto II and Barry T. Eisenberg for missing red flags and failing to adequately supervise to detect the alleged broker committed fraud. Consequently, investors lost substantial money over fraud that could have been prevented with reasonable policies and procedures to detect broker wrongdoings.

The parties agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings. Alexander Capital has agreed to pay $193,775 of allegedly ill-gotten gains, $23,437 in interest, and a $193,775 penalty, which will be placed in a fund to be returned to harmed retail customers.  Philip A. Noto II agreed to a permanent supervisory bar and a $20,000 penalty.  Barry T. Eisenberg agreed to a five-year supervisory bar and a $15,000 penalty. Alexander Capital has agreed to hire an independent consultant to review its policies and procedures, according to the press release. Will Alexander Capital enforce the many reminders that the SEC released for brokerage firms to supervise account activities and protect consumers adequately? It remains to be seen, as old habits die hard.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent charges against a New York-broker dealer Alexander Capital illustrates the agency’s crackdown on broker supervisory failures within the financial services industry. Our FINRA arbitration attorneys applaud the SEC’s commitment to holding securities firms accountable, but still think more needs to be done. After all, SEC has no tolerance for unscrupulous brokers, according to Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office and Co-Chair of the Enforcement Division’s Broker-Dealer Taskforce. Nevertheless, FINRA arbitration attorneys continue to file numerous claims involving churning, unauthorized trading, and other types of securities fraud, which the SEC has never detected.

If you want to find trouble on Wall Street, follow the money.  A “troubled broker” is a broker more concerned for his or her commissions than the quality of the investments he or she recommends.  Finding investors for private placements can be very lucrative for a broker, but very risky for a client.  As complaints about a broker mount on his CRD, so does the lifespan of a broker and as their career prospects dwindle, they become more desperate. While not all private placements are bad investments, they must be approached with extreme caution and are not appropriate for all investors.  If you get presented with a private placement, the very prospectus states: you should consult an attorney before signing.  It’s a mandatory disclosure that regulators believe you should get and you should not ignore it.  You should always consult a good New York securities lawyer before you give large amounts of your money to a non-public company in its infancy.  Understanding the investment, the company and doing due diligence is the only way to protect your interests.   If you don’t want to spend time or money to do that, don’t invest.  The “next big thing” your broker might be selling you on may be your “next big problem.”  There’s no free lunch.

These concerns about the multi-billion-dollar private capital markets are sound, based on a Wall Street Journal report finding that firms selling private placements have a much higher proportion of “troubled brokers”. The study compared the percentages of brokers with customer complaints, regulatory investigations and other disclosures at firms selling private placements with industry norms.  Among the worried securities industry members include former FINRA enforcement chief, Robert Bennet who allegedly proclaimed private placements as a “perennial concern for regulators.”. Private placement is the offer and sale of unregistered securities to a limited number of investors for a company’s capital generation. Our securities fraud attorneys always knew that a higher prominence of “troubled brokers” is at firms selling private placements, now our belief has been confirmed.

According to the WSJ study, of the firms selling private placements, half had at least one troubled broker out of every ten brokers.  Conversely, of the included firms that didn’t sell private placements, over 75% had less than that amount. Additionally, the analysis shows that half of the firms expelled by FINRA since 1993 sold private placements, despite comprising a lesser amount of the total industry. The private capital market has continued to rise with a reported $750 billion in sales. Given this, any insights about private placements should be known by investors, securities fraud attorneys, brokers and other affected financial industry members.

Broker 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.

There is an interesting point in this week’s Wall Street Journal titled “Brokerage Files Don’t Give The Full Pictures,” which talks about the how brokerage firms and individual brokers are held to different standards, when it comes to their BrokerCheck records. BrokerCheck, the online search tool from FINRA for brokers and brokerages, reports arbitration decisions that are not in a securities firm’s favor but not the negotiated legal settlements, whereas every settlement in a broker’s record is clearly delineated. So why does this gap exist in reporting and how does it continue to happen?

FINRA is not a government body, but it is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Within 30 days of reaching a settlement, brokerage firms are obligated to report agreements to FINRA, if the amount meets a certain threshold. However, BrokerCheck records pull information from an SEC document named “Form BD” that doesn’t ask brokerage firms about negotiated settlements. The agreement that gets reported to FINRA in the event of a settlement is not currently a part of SEC approved list of documents. This loophole in communication and reporting allows brokerage firms to maintain clean BrokerCheck records, without disclosing settlements to investors. As far as brokers are concerned, the BrokerCheck information comes from a different FINRA form that does require brokerages to disclose if they paid settlements on behalf of any employees over $15,000. It should be noted that many or most settlement payouts for brokers are actually paid for by brokerage firms and these firms are listed as co-defendants or only defendants in the FINRA arbitration proceedings.

Many individuals in the securities industry feel that data about brokerage firms should be more transparent so that they can be ranked based on this information. There are others who are “shocked” by this gaping hole in the BrokerCheck that does not paint the “full picture”, as per the WSJ story. Those in favor of the current scenario, argue that brokerage firms settle for many reasons without admitting to wrongdoing, so reporting settlements would create an unfair perception about the brokerage firm in an investors’ mind.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 17 percent of Americans 65 and older, have already been the victims of financial exploitation.

A new study by the AARP Fraud Watch Network reveals that Americans who lose money to fraud typically exhibit a higher degree of confidence investing in unregulated investments and tend to trade more aggressively than other investors. The fraud watch network interviewed 200 victims of investment fraud and conducted 800 interviews with regular investors for this study that was commissioned a year earlier.

There has been a change in the way investors save for retirement. People are now more used to taking charge of their retirement since traditional pension plans have declined and technology has made it easier for average investors to enroll in trading and retirement accounts. The AARP study quotes Shadel, their lead researcher as saying “decline in traditional pensions has prompted millions of relatively inexperienced Americans to take on the job of investing their own money.” Technology has also made it easier for scammers to reach investors.

The 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.

You just received a Subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  What will you have to produce?  We regularly represent securities industry professionals and investors who have gotten these Subpoenas, and the reaction is usually the same: people are nervous and concerned.  How will this affect your business, and how what will it take the comply?

Getting an SEC Subpoena is a serious matter, and it is imperative that you carefully comply in a timely manner.  Subpoenas will typically require you to produce documents or testify, or both.  Your goal should always to limit your involvement with the federal authorities, and this begins with your production of documents in response to the Subpoena.

The first step is to remember that just because you received a Subpoena does not mean you automatically did something wrong.  You may not be the SEC’s target, but may be someone the Commission believes has information related to another person or business.  The SEC is not obligated to tell you whether they view you as a target or a witness, and you should not assume you are a target.