Articles Posted in Churning

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Piggy Bank in a CageOn January 5, 2018, FINRA Enforcement signed off on a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (“AWC”) between FINRA and former financial advisor Larry Martin Boggs (“Boggs” or “Respondent”) (CRD# 1582741).  Without admitting or denying FINRA’s findings, Mr. Boggs voluntarily consented to an industry bar from associating with any FINRA member firm in any capacity.

Mr. Boggs first became associated with a FINRA member firm in 1986 as a general securities representative.  During the course of his career, he worked at a number of brokerage firms, including Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (“Ameriprise”) (CRD# 6363) from July 2009 to May 2015.  Thereafter, he was associated with Wedbush Securities Inc. (“Wedbush”) (CRD# 877) for less than a year (2015-2016).

In May 2015, Mr. Boggs was discharged from his position by Ameriprise, based on allegations of “violations of company policy related to discretionary trading and suitability.”  At around the same time frame, FINRA Enforcement conducted an investigation into Mr. Boggs and his sales practices and handling of customer accounts.  FINRA’s findings include the following alleged activities and purported misconduct:

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Piggy Bank in a CageThe Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has filed a civil complaint (“Complaint”) in federal court against Mr. Zachary S. Berkey of Centerreach, NY and Mr. Daniel T. Fischer of Greenwich, CT, alleging that these financial advisors made unsuitable trades at the expense of customers.  The Complaint addresses alleged conduct that occurred when Messrs. Berkey and Fischer were both employed by Four Points Capital Partners LLC (“Four Points”) (CRD# 43149).

According to the Complaint, Messrs. Berkey and Fischer allegedly conducted “in-and-out trading” that was almost certain to incur losses for investors, while at the same time yielding commissions to the financial advisors.  Further, the Complaint indicates that ten (10) Four Points customers lost a total of $573,867, while Messrs. Berkey and Fischer earned commissions of $106,000 and $175,000 on these losing trades, respectively.

The SEC Complaint alleges that because the customers incurred significant costs with every transaction and the securities traded were held for short periods of time, the price of the securities had to rise significantly in order to realize even a minimal profit.

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Financial Fraud On October 31, 2017, Carmel, Indiana financial advisor Thomas J. Buck, 63, was charged under federal securities laws with one count of securities fraud.  The unsealed criminal charges brought in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana allege that Mr. Buck defrauded his clients by charging excessive commissions.  Mr. Buck has agreed to plead guilty to the charge.

From 1981-2015, Mr. Buck was a registered financial advisor with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith (“Merrill Lynch”), which since January 2009 has operated as a division of Bank of America.  The unsealed criminal charges allege, that in recent years, Mr. Buck defrauded some clients by charging excessive commissions, while intentionally failing to advise them of cheaper options for services rendered.  Specifically, it is alleged that Mr. Buck took discretion over certain accounts, and in these accounts placed trades without client authorization, resulting in clients paying commissions on these trades.  It is further alleged that Mr. Buck informed clients that they were paying less in commissions than were actually charged, and that he also allegedly failed to inform certain clients that a fee-based payment structure was available which could result in financial savings to the client(s).

As a result of the alleged fraudulent enterprise, it is estimated that Mr. Buck’s activities caused clients to incur aggregate losses of approximately $2 million.  According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cynthia J. Ridgeway and Nick Linder, who are handling prosecution of the case, Mr. Buck has agreed to plead guilty and could face up to 25 years in prison.  Contemporaneous with the unsealing of the criminal charges, Mr. Buck has also agreed to a monetary settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in the amount of approximately $5 million.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses as a result of the unsuitable recommendation of investments sold by BBVA Securities of Puerto Rico representatives. Reportedly, a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel recently awarded $1.2 million to claimants Felix Bernard-Diaz, Julian Rodriguez and Luz Rodriguez. The defendants in the hearing were BBVA Securities of Puerto Rico Inc., Rafael Colon Ascar, Jorge Bravo, Sonia Marbarak and Julio Cayere.

BBVA Securities of Puerto Rico Ordered to Pay $1.2 Million to Investors

The claimants asserted gross negligence regarding a naked option trading strategy that was allegedly unsuitable. In addition, they alleged breach of fiduciary duty, churning, margin use and excessive trading.

According to stock fraud lawyers, firms have an obligation to fully disclose all the risks of a given investment when making recommendations, and those recommendations must be suitable for the individual investor receiving the recommendation given their age, investment objectives and risk tolerance. Churning, on the other hand, is a form of broker misconduct in which the broker performs excessive trading to generate personal profit.

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Stock fraud lawyers are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses as a result of doing business with Bambi Holzer. According to a Forbes article, Holzer’s investment advice has resulted in securities settlements amounting to more than $12 million. Despite this article, which appeared three years ago, her trades are still being cleared by brokerage firms.

Bambi Holzer Still Trading Despite Numerous Customer Complaints

Currently a broker at Newport Coast Securities, Holzer has also worked with a number of other firms, including UBS, Brookstreet Securities Corporation, AG Edwards, Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc. and Sequoia Equities Securities. Holzer and UBS have already been compelled to pay to settle securities claims amounting to $11.4 million. These claims alleged that Holzer misrepresented variable annuities through misrepresentation of guaranteed returns. Holzer was fired from AG Edwards in 2003 for allegedly engaging in business practices that did not coincide with the firm’s policies. Further allegations against Holzer include misrepresentations while at Brookstreet. These misrepresentations allegedly occurred in 2005 at a Beverly Hills presentation at which Holzer allegedly stated that a fictional couple was able to make $9 million by deferring $732,000 in taxes through the use of trusts. In another claim, a customer of Wedbush Morgan Securities alleged breach of fiduciary duty, account mishandling, and breach of contract that allegedly resulted in damages of $824,000.

According to securities fraud attorneys, allegations against Holzer include fraud, churning, unsuitable investments, misrepresentations of fees, Securities Act violations, private placement-related fraud, negligent representations related to variable annuities, inadequate supervision, variable annuity-related fraud, negligent recommendation and sale of Provident Royalties LLC, negligent sale and recommendation of Behringer Harvard Security trust and other unsafe products as well as elder abuse.

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Investment fraud lawyers are currently investigating claims on behalf of the customers of First Midwest Securities Inc. and Scott & Stringfellow LLC in light of recent fines and censures by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Both firms were censured; in addition, First Midwest Securities was fined $75,000 and Scott & Stringfellow was fined $350,000. Both firms submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent but did not admit or deny FINRA’s findings.

First Midwest Securities and Scott & Stringfellow Customers Could Recover Losses

In the case of First Midwest Securities, securities arbitration lawyers say FINRA’s findings indicated that the firm failed to provide an adequate supervisory system and enforce adequate supervisory procedures to prevent excessive trading and ensure the suitability of equity transactions. Furthermore, the firm allegedly failed to utilize exception reports that would help in detecting excessive and unsuitable trading. Instead, according to the allegations, the firm relied on turnover ratio reports and daily trade blotter reviews that were prepared manually. However, these reports failed to address accounts’ cost-to-equity ratios.

Investment fraud lawyers are also investigating claims against Scott & Stringfellow based on FINRA’s findings that indicated the firm failed to maintain an adequate supervisory system related to the sale of Non-Traditional ETFs, or Non-Traditional Exchange Traded Funds. In addition, the firm allegedly allowed the recommendation of a Non-Traditional ETF by its registered representatives to customers without performing adequate due diligence. FINRA stated that some of the firm’s customers received unsuitable recommendations of the investment. The firm’s supervisory system, according to FINRA, was not reasonably designed for compliance with applicable FINRA and NASD rules and did not provide adequate guidance, tools, or adequate formal training to educate the firm’s supervisors and registered representatives about these investments.

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Stock fraud lawyers are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses as a result of their investment with JP Turner, Ralph Calabro, Jason Konner or Dimitrios Koutsoubos. Earlier in September, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged three brokers, formerly employed at JP Turner & Company in Atlanta, with “churning” accounts, incurring significant fees for themselves and causing significant losses to investors.

JP Turner Victims of Churning Could Recover Losses

In this case, the investors whose accounts were churned had conservative investment objectives. However, securities fraud attorneys say that when “churning” an account, the broker will disregard investment objectives and, instead, excessively trade in the account in order to generate commissions, margin interest, and fees for themselves or the firm at which they are employed. According to the SEC allegations, Calabro, Konner and Koutsoubos engaged in churning between January 2008 and December 2009, while they were employed with JP Turner.

Together, these three brokers generated approximately $845,000 through churning, while their customers suffered significant aggregate losses totaling around $2.7 million. If it can be proven that the firm failed to adequately supervise their brokers, in many cases that firm may be held liable for customer losses regardless of the employees’ ability to reimburse their clients for fraud.

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Stock fraud lawyers are investigating potential claims on behalf of investors of Securities America who may have suffered significant losses as a result of life insurance investment twisting and churning.

Arbitration Claim Filed Against Securities America for Churning

Investment fraud lawyers say churning is a common problem in the securities industry. According to the S.E.C., “Churning refers to the excessive buying and selling of securities in your account by your broker, for the purpose of generating commissions and without regard to your investment objectives.” In short, churning is a form of broker misconduct in which the broker performs excessive trading to generate personal profit. For more information on churning, see the previous blog post, “Investment Churning: A Slippery Slope of Broker Misconduct.

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration claim was recently filed on behalf of an 81-year-old Peoria, Illinois resident. The claimant, a retired widow, was sold various life insurance policies and annuities. These investments were allegedly held for only a short period of time before being liquidated. According to the claim, the investments’ proceeds were then rolled into other annuity contracts and policies. Allegedly, most of these transactions incurred surrender charges and fees that were charged to the claimant. As an example detailed by the Statement of Claim, the funds of a Lincoln Annuity, purchased on August 20, 2003 and surrendered two years later, were rolled into a 15-month Fidelity Annuity. The proceeds of this transaction were rolled, on the same day of the sale, into a Hancock Annuity. The Hancock Annuity was held for just over two years. When it was sold, its proceeds were rolled into a Jackson Annuity.

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Sometimes losing money in the stock market and yelling “Fraud!” is a little like smelling smoke and yelling “Fire!” Just as smelling smoke might only mean dinner’s burning, losing money doesn’t always mean stock broker fraud has occurred. It is important for investors to be able to tell the difference between losses resulting from fraud and plain old bad luck. To that end, here are some common types of broker misconduct and tips on how to tell if you’ve been a victim:

Stock Broker Misconduct: When Losses are the Result of Fraud

  1. Unauthorized Trading: Unauthorized trading occurs when a broker makes trades without permission. This is surprisingly common and brokers will often defend their actions by saying that the investor either agreed to the trade or ratified it by raising no objection when they received a confirmation.
  2. Unsuitable Investments: Surprisingly, it is common for brokers to be unable to accurately measure risk. As a result, investors may have a portfolio that is far more risky than is appropriate. Brokers must, by law, take into account the risk tolerance and investment objectives of each client and make suitable recommendations based on those criteria. Unsuitable investments include investments that carry a risk that is not in keeping with the investor’s risk tolerance, as well as inadequate diversification and improper asset allocation. Churning, which generates excessive commissions through excessive trading, is also a form of unsuitable investments. Investors who suspect the trading on their account is excessive will most likely have to consult an investment attorney for an analysis of their portfolio.
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Mutual funds are popular with investors because they consist of multiple stocks, meaning if one stock does poorly in the market, it doesn’t necessarily lower the entire mutual fund portfolio. Even so, mutual fund portfolios can be designed to be either very conservative or very risky. Mutual funds can include a variety of stock types or can be organized into specific industries like technology, healthcare, etc.

Mutual Fund Fraud

Two ways investors can be victims of fraud through mutual funds are churning and break point fraud:

  1. Churning: As market condition change, a stockbroker may suggest switching to a different mutual fund. If the new fund is within the same company as the old one, the investor usually doesn’t have to pay a commission. However, if the new fund comes from a different company, the investor must pay commissions and fees on the transaction. If the stockbroker encourages switching to a different company despite suitable options within the same company or attempts to generate commissions by encouraging the investor to switch multiple times to different companies, they may be “churning.”
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