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Articles Posted in Citigroup

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On March 19, 2012, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced its decision to fine Citi Financial Services LLC for charging excessive markups and markdowns and related supervisory violations. In addition to a $600,000 fine, FINRA ordered Citi Financial to pay $648,000 in restitution and interest to wronged customers. Over 3,600 customers were charged excessive markups and markdowns, according to FINRA. Securities fraud attorneys appreciate FINRA decisions such as this one, which hold firms responsible for the fees they charge their customers.

News: Citi International Fined by FINRA for Excessive Markups, Markdowns

According to FINRA’s findings, from July 2007 through September 2010, Citi International charged excessive markups and markdowns on corporate and agency bonds. These markups and markdowns, which were as low as 2.73 percent and as high as more than 10 percent, are considered excessive within the given market conditions, value of the services rendered and cost of transaction execution. Furthermore, from April to June 2009, reasonable diligence was not given to the purchase or sale of corporate bonds in order to present the most favorable price to customers. Citi International, a subsidiary of Citigroup Inc., neither confirmed nor denied the charges.

FINRA’s Executive Vice President of Market Regulation, Thomas Gira, stated, “FINRA is committed to ensuring that customers who purchase and sell securities, including corporate and agency bonds, receive fair prices. The markups and markdowns charged by Citi International were outside of appropriate standards for fair pricing in debt transactions, and FINRA will continue to identify and address transactions that violate fair pricing standards, regardless of whether a markup or markdown is above or below 5 percent.”

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Investors who suffered losses as a result of their broker’s recommendation of C-Tracks ETN Citi Volatility Index Total Return are seeking the help of investment attorneys in recovering those losses. Reportedly, a unique methodology has caused a severe decline in the Volatility ETFdb Category. The C-Tracks ETN Citi Volatility Index Total Return combines short exposure to the S&P 500 Total Return Index to directional exposure of large cap stocks through third and fourth month futures contracts positions on the CBOE Volatility Index. When volatility spiked over the summer, this strategy worked well. However, CVOL has struggled over the long-term. Reportedly, the C-Tracks ETN Citi Volatility Index Total Return is down 48 percent, the most severe decline year-to-date.

Investors of C-Tracks ETN Citi Volatility Index Total Return Could Recover Losses Through Securities Arbitration

Luckily, investors who suffered significant losses may have a valid securities arbitration claim.

Brokers, and brokerage firms, have a fiduciary duty to their clients. They must research an investment prior to making a recommendation to an investor in order to establish that the investment is suitable. It must be appropriate for each individual investor, taking into consideration the investor’s investment objectives, investment experience, net worth and age. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has a dispute resolution form where investors can settle disputes with their brokerage firms relating to unsuitability and other forms of stock broker fraud.

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Investment attorneys turn their eyes to Bank of America once again, only two months into the New Year. Bank of America Corp. has been subpoenaed by William Gavin, the Massachusetts securities regulator, over LCM VII Ltd. and Bryn Mawr CLO II Ltd., two related collateralized loan obligations. These two CLOs led to investor losses totaling $150 million. The subpoena will, hopefully, help authorities in determining if Bank of America knew it was overvaluing the assets of the portfolios. Both Bryn Mawr and LCM were sold in 2007, prior to the 2008 merger between Bank of America Securities and Merrill Lynch.

News: Bank of America Faces More Allegations In 2012

Bank of America held commercial loans from small banks amounting to around $400 million in 2006. In 2007, securities packages were put together from these loans and then sold to investors. The subpoena arrives only one day after Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. settled allegations of engaging in abusive mortgage practices. These abusive practices included engaging in deceptive practices in the offering of loan modifications, a failure to offer other options before closing on borrowers with federally insured mortgages, submitting improper documents to the bankruptcy court and robo-signing foreclosure documents without proper review of the paperwork.

The settlement amounted to $25 billion and involved federal agencies plus authorities in 49 states. This settlement is designed to give $2,000 to around 750 borrowers whose homes were foreclosed upon after the home values dropped 33 percent from their 2006 worth, and to provide mortgage relief. In addition, all five banks will pay $766.5 million in penalties to the Federal Reserve. This is considered to be the biggest federal-state settlement ever. Bank of America will also pay $1 billion to settle allegations that it, together with its Countrywide Financial unit, engaged in fraudulent and wrongful conduct.

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Documents from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) proceedings of Citigroup vs. Gerald D. Hosier, Jerry Murdock Jr. and Brush Creek Capital have been unsealed. The $54.4 million award granted in this case was the largest ever given to individuals in securities arbitration proceedings. A decision was made this month on Citigroup’s request to overturn FINRA’s decision.

Citigroup’s Misconduct Comes to Light After Documents are Unsealed and Judge Refuses Request to Overturn FINRA Decision

The details of the FINRA proceedings, which were confidential, have been unsealed following Citigroup’s request that the award be tossed out by a United States district court. The documents viewed by FINRA arbitrators show, according to the New York Times, that Citigroup rated the investments of the claimants at a 5 rating for risk on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest risk rating. Investors went on to lose 80 percent of their investments, which is no surprise considering the risk rating.

The investments in question were municipal arbitrage portfolios, or ASTA/MAT. They were sold by Citigroup Global Markets through MAT Finance LLC. Internal emails show that the investments began their decline in value in early 2008, following which Sally Krawcheck requested the risk rating of the MAT. Despite the fact that documents showed a risk rating of 5, she was told the risk rating was “3-5.” In addition, Citigroup did not disclose the investments’ 5 rating to investors. Furthermore, according to The Times, the portfolio manager was instructed not to discuss information the internal guidelines — which differed from the investors’ prospectus — in a conference call that involved the brokers of clients that had sustained losses.

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On January 18, 2012, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority — the entity which handles securities arbitration on behalf of investors who have been the victims of stock broker fraud — announced its decision to fine Citigroup Global Markets Inc. for failure to disclose conflicts of interest. The conflicts of interest occurred in research reports and research analysts’ public appearances. From January 2007 through March 2010, Citigroup, in some research reports, failed to disclose certain conflicts of interest related to its business relationships. In addition to the failure to make required disclosures in research reports, Citigroup research analysts did not disclose the same potential conflicts in relevant public appearances that mentioned the covered companies.

“Citigroup failed to make required conflict of interest disclosures which prevented investors from being aware of potential biases in its research recommendations,” says FINRA Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement Brad Bennett. “Firms need to provide investors with full and accurate information so they will be able to take it into consideration before making an investment decision.”

Conflicts of interest not included in research reports and analysts’ public appearances included the fact that Citigroup and/or Citigroup affiliates co-managed or managed public securities offerings, would make a market in the related securities, received revenue and/or investment banking from the related securities and/or had ownership in covered companies that amounted to 1 percent or more.

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On December 14, 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed against Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, also known as BNY Mellon, in the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit was filed for the class period of February 28, 2008, to August 11, 2011. Investment attorneys are encouraging individuals who acquired BNY Mellon stock through personal investment, inheritance or employment to explore possible securities arbitration claims as a means of recovering losses.

BNY Mellon Investors Seeking Investment Attorneys for Securities Arbitration Claims

Underwriters named in the lawsuit include BNY Mellon Capital, Barclays, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, UBS and Morgan Stanley. Under Section 11 and Section 12(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933, underwriters of public offerings may be held liable if they fail to conduct a due diligence investigation of the information provided in prospectuses and registration statements.

The class action lawsuit states that, “The Underwriter Defendants underwrote BNY Mellon’s May 11, 2009 and/or June 3, 2010 common stock offering which were conducted pursuant to materially false and misleading offering materials and are charged with violations of the Securities Act in their capacity as underwriters for such offering.” Furthermore, allegations of the class action state that “throughout the Class Period, defendants concealed and failed to disclose material adverse facts about the Company’s financial well-being, business relationships, and prospects,” and goes on to claim that as a result of the wrongful acts and omissions of the defendants, combined with the “precipitous decline” of the common stocks’ market value that resulted from the disclosure of a FX trading scheme, investors suffered damages.

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The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), acting as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has filed securities lawsuits against a total of 17 financial entities in both federal and state courts. States in which the lawsuits were filed are New York and Connecticut. Financial institutions affected by the lawsuits, which were filed in September 2011, include Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Citigroup, Countrywide, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank. These institutions, along with 8 others, violated federal securities and common laws when selling mortgage-backed securities. This is not the first time many of these financial institutions have been charged with securities fraud, and investment attorneys are doubtful that it will be the last.

The FHFA is seeking civil penalties as well as damages. Allegedly, the financial institutions violated fiduciary duty by providing misleading loan descriptions as a part of their sales and marketing materials. The marketing materials did not reveal the true risk factors associated with the loans. According to the FHFA’s press release, “Based on our review, FHFA alleges that the loans had different and more risky characteristics than the descriptions contained in the marketing and sales materials provided to the Enterprises for those securities.”

Congress and regulators have put forth a continuing effort to deal with the practices of institutions that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and this lawsuit is part of that goal. It is similar to the one filed on July 27, 2011 against UBS Americas Inc. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 gives the FHFA the authority to file complaints such as this one.

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Citigroup settled charges brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and has agreed to pay $285 million to do so. According to the SEC, Citigroup defrauded investors by betting a toxic housing-related debt would fail, but selling the CDO to investors anyway. According to an article by Reuters, “The SEC said the bank’s Citigroup Global Markets unit misled investors about a $1 billion collateralized debt obligation by failing to reveal it had a ‘significant influence’ over the selection of $500 million of underlying assets, and that it took a short position against those assets.”

Citigroup to Pay $285 Million for CDO Fraud

Citigroup is the third major bank to settle with the SEC for failing to disclose betting against a collateralized debt obligation, or CDO, and then marketing it to customers. JPMorgan settled for $153.6 million in June and Goldman Sachs settled for $550 million in July 2010.

In November 2007, the CDO defaulted and, while investors faced losses, Citigroup made $160 million. This contributed to the 2007-2009 financial crisis and is, therefore, a part of the mission to reduce broker fraud and hold Wall Street figures accountable for triggering the recession. According to the SEC, the Citigroup employee who was primarily responsible for structuring the transaction was Brian Stoker. In response to the files charged against him by the SEC, one of his lawyers said the allegations had “no basis.”

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Carlo Chiaese, an investment adviser, has been sentenced to 58 months in prison and must pay restitution totaling $2.5 million for broker misconduct including failure to invest and falsified documentation. Rather than investing his client’s money, Chiaese used the money to pay for his extravagant lifestyle. Purchases included leases on a Land Rover, an Audi Q7 and a Porsche 911 Carrera totaling $40,000; country club fees; $16,000 in rugs; $25,000 in shopping trips to high-end department stores; and $800,000 which was transferred directly to his wife and in-laws.

NJ adviser sentenced to prison

Chiaese’s broker fraud began in 2008 and lasted roughly two years. To earn the trust of new clients, he flaunted the investment experience he earned at Merrill Lynch, Citibank and other firms. After earning his clients’ trust, he raised $2.4 million by promising to invest conservatively and traditionally. Not only did he fail to invest conservatively and traditionally, he did not invest the money at all. The majority of the money, $1.7 million, came from a union pension fund belonging to Local 333, United Marine Division, International Longshoreman’s Association. The bilked fund contained the pensions of 850 individuals. Of the total $2.4 million stolen, Chiaese spent $1.4 million on personal expenses. In addition, he used $280,000 to repay other investors.

Chiaese, 38, pleaded guilty to securities fraud and could have faced 20 years in prison and $5 million in fines. In addition to the final sentence, 58 months in prison and $2.5 million in restitution, Chiaese will submit to three years of supervised release once his prison sentence is served. Chiaese was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William Martini and was released on a $750,000 bond. However, provisions of his bail required that Chiaese must avoid working in finance and participate in a drug treatment program.

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The SEC’s new whistleblower office, which officially opened August 12, hopes to have a significant effect on corporate and stock broker fraud.

The SEC’S “office of the whistleblower” opens” OPENS

Under this new program, cash awards will be issued to corporate employees who report fraud to the SEC in order to expose corporate crime. Individuals who report fraud under this program could receive up to 30 percent of the amount that is collected from the guilty party. To qualify, the tipster must volunteer new information that leads to a successful collection of at least $1 million in fines.

“Through their knowledge of the circumstances and individuals involved, whistleblowers can help the commission identify possible fraud and other violations much earlier than might otherwise have been possible," SEC officials say. "That allows the commission to minimize the harm to investors, better preserve the integrity of the United States’ capital markets, and more swiftly hold accountable those responsible for unlawful conduct.”

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