Articles Tagged with securities

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.

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.

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 the 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.

When 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.

The securities fraud attorneys at Malecki Law are interested in hearing from investors who have complaints against stockbroker Solomon David Krispeal.  Since January 2016, Mr. Krispeal has been employed and registered with PHX Financial, Inc., a Hauppauge, New York broker-dealer, according to his publicly available BrokerCheck, as maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  He was previously registered with Legend Securities, Inc. from March 2013 to February 2016, Aegis Capital Corp. from April 2012 to March 2013 and with John Thomas Financial from January 2008 to April 2012, according to BrokerCheck records.

In 2017, Mr. Krispeal was fined and suspended from association with any FINRA member broker-dealer for 30 days by FINRA, after submitting a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent No. 2014042764601.  According to the AWC, Mr. Krispeal violated FINRA Rule 1122 (Filing of Misleading Information as to Membership or Registration) and Rule 2010 (Standards of Commercial Honor and Principles of Trade) because he did not disclose an arbitration he was named as a respondent in, and when he did make the disclosure, he “inaccurately disclosed that the matter was ‘withdrawn,’ rather than ‘settled.’”  FINRA Rule 1122 require that brokers and brokerage firms accurately disclose information regarding membership and registration to FINRA and correct any filings when required.

In addition to this regulatory matter, Mr. Krispeal has been made the subject of seven customer complaints, including two matter that have resulted in a settlement or an award, according to BrokerCheck records.  In one case (FINRA Case No. 13-00830) where which Mr. Krispeal was listed as a respondent and the customer made allegations of unauthorized trading, unsuitability and churning, the customer was awarded $75,000 (nearly all of the stated damages of $95,000), according to FINRA Dispute Resolution records.  Mr. Krispeal’s BrokerCheck Report also disclosed that the second case resulting in settlement concerned a customer’s allegations of unauthorized trading and alleged forgery.

According to publicly available BrokerCheck records, James Carolan Speno (CRD#431912), 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.

BlackRock has been charged by the SEC with removing whistleblower incentives in their separation agreements with employees, per the SEC. According to the Commission, BlackRock’s charges stemmed from allegations that the company forced employees to waive their ability to obtain whistleblower awards.

Provisions such as those in Dodd-Frank provide for monetary compensation to those who provide information to the SEC concerning securities law violations, provided certain criteria are met. Whistleblowers may also file anonymously.

Per the SEC, over 1,000 employees signed such agreements, in which the employee was forced to waive the right to monetary recovery as a condition for receiving separation payments from the company.

Ms. Malecki was a panelist recently at the Practising Law Institute’s (PLI) Securities Arbitration 2016 all-day seminar, where she spoke about ethical and other issues in securities arbitration. Ms. Malecki has spoken at PLI consistently for many years. Her panel Practicum on Experts and Closings focused on expert witnesses and closing arguments. The panel and the seminar had other distinguished securities industry members from the FINRA Dispute Resolution office, professors of law, litigators, mediators and wealth managers. Ms. Malecki is invited every year to participate in PLI’s securities arbitration seminars.

 

According to published materials, two years ago the SEC started investigating, American Realty Capital Properties Inc (ARCP) and its executives, for allegedly overstating financial results and deliberate concealment of financial mistakes, which rattled the REIT brokerage empire built by Nicholas Schorsch. After investigations, the SEC reported that it recently brought charges against Brian S. Block and Lisa P. McAlister, the former chief financial and chief accounting officers of American Realty Capital Properties Inc.

The FBI announced Block’s arrest at his home in Pennsylvania on charges of securities fraud and conspiracy. In June, McAlister reportedly pled guilty to four securities fraud and false filing counts. According to the charges brought by the SEC, they are alleged to have intentionally inflated a key metric to make sure that the REIT met analysts’ estimates for the first two quarters of 2014. As per AdvisorHub, Block’s attorney was quoted saying “[t]here is little precedent for the notion that criminal charges are appropriate when accountants make decisions involving these sorts of accounting principles [non-GAAP principles applicable only to REITs].”

After ARCP, with apparent market capitalization of $11.5 billion, publicly disclosed its intentional errors and result inflation in 2014, Schorsch controlled REITs and holding companies lost billions of dollars and ten broker dealers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.