Articles Tagged with SEC

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, there has been a recent trend at big brokerages of shifting the power from the headquarters to brokers and branch managers. Apparently big brokerages like Bank Of America, UBS Group, and Merrill Lynch are “unleashing” their brokers and moving power closer to the brokers and their managers, both to keep brokers from leaving their firms and to increase revenues.

These modifications come in the wake of declining revenues and broker exoduses several big brokerages have experienced after the financial crisis. They have also witnessed that brokers who dislike or disagree with their managers and find them unhelpful tend to leave the brokerages more easily. The big brokerages have had to deal with rising regulatory costs and competing with an increasing number of independent advisers. According to research conducted by consulting groups, the registered investment adviser model is more successful as it is a smaller and more tightly integrated groups. Taking a cue from that, the zillion dollar brokerages are making changes aimed at empowering, training and giving their brokers more control over day to day decisions over clients, growth, and resource allocation. Merrill Lynch has plans to restructure the brokerage leadership, emphasize more on productivity and training, and reduce the number of divisions. UBS also made similar changes last year.

There are plans underway to also automate investment advisory and make use of robos to cater to a younger clientele so that the brokers can be freed up to deal with high net worth clients. All in all, this gradual shift is geared towards taking things back to how they were before the financial crisis hit, when the field agents and managers had more autonomy to structure their branches, price and sell services, be less accountable to corporate headquarters, hold more power and sway.

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.

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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.

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.

We frequently represent individuals who have received an SEC Subpoena, and often the first question asked is, “Why did I get this subpoena? I did nothing wrong.”  The SEC investigates many kinds of misconduct, and the people they seek information and documents from (through the use of Subpoenas) very often are not “targets” of the investigation, but the SEC may believe they could be a “witness,” or may have useful information that could aid the investigation.  Understanding the common investigations the SEC may commence is a good first step to understanding what prompted the Subpoena.

According to the SEC, the most common types of investigations of potential securities violations include:

  • Misrepresentation or omission of important information about securities – when promoting the sale of securities, brokers, broker-dealers and other securities professionals should ensure that promotional materials accurately reflect the characteristics and risks of the securities.

dark-question-1-1193474-m-300x224When you receive an SEC subpoena, one of the first things that you want to know is “how long before this is over?” While that is an important question, it unfortunately is not one that has a definite answer.

Frequently, the time to produce materials will range from weeks to about a month. As we said yesterday in our post about what materials are required to be produced, an extension of time to produce documents may be negotiated. Also, if the materials requested are more difficult to obtain or require forensic computing, the time to produce may be longer as well.

Once you have produced documents, the waiting game begins. Before anything else happens, the Commission usually will review the materials you have provided. Typically, once they have reviewed your production, the Commission will either: 1. Make a supplemental request of you for more documents, 2. Call you in for testimony, or 3. Choose not to have you in for testimony.

subpoena-2-300x134You 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.

fraud-look-closelyWindsor Street Capital (formerly known as Meyers Associates) and its anti-money laundering (AML) officer, John D. Telfer, have been charged with securities violations by SEC, according to a recent report.  Windsor allegedly failed to report at least $24.8 million in questionable penny stock sales.  The violations cited by the SEC relate to the unregistered sale of hundreds of millions with insufficient due diligence, per InvestmentNews.

The suspicious transactions allegedly date back to June 2013 and resulted in nearly $500,000 in commissions and fees for Windsor, according to the SEC.  InvestmentNews reports that Mr. Telfer has been charged with aiding and abetting by virtue of his alleged failure to properly monitor the transactions at issue.

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).

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.