Articles Posted in Private Placements

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As we previously reported, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (known as “FINRA”), the FBI, and the State of Massachusetts are investigating GPB Capital Holdings LLC (“GPB”) in probes reportedly concerning the accuracy of GPB’s disclosures of financial information to their investors.  GPB, a New York asset management firm, focused on private placement investments, has reportedly been under investigation by Massachusetts since September 2018.

Building Demolished
According to public documents filed with the SEC, there are approximately 80 broker-dealers that may have sold, or were authorized to sell investments for GPB.  As registered broker-dealers, any firms who actually sold GPB securities were required to conduct adequate due diligence in investigating potential investments and also to ensure their clients understood the risks associated with any GPB potential investment.

The broker-dealers who appear in the SEC filings for GPB offerings are listed below.  It is important to note that none of these broker-dealers has been found to have engaged in any wrongdoing.

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As previously reported, both the SEC and FINRA have reportedly commenced investigations into GPB Capital Holdings, LLC (“GPB”).  According to news reports GPB is now under investigation by the FBI as well.   Investment News reports that the FBI made an unannounced visit last week to the investment firm’s office in New York, along with officials from a New York regulator.  According to press reports, the focus of the SEC’s inquiry was the accuracy of financial disclosures made by GPB to investor in its funds.   The target of the reported FBI investigation has not been publicly reported.  These investigations by federal regulators come on the heels of Massachusetts securities regulators announcing in September 2018 their own investigation into GPB, as well as the sales practices of more than 60 independent broker-dealers who reportedly offered private placement investments in various GPB funds to their clientele.

Money Bags
GPB is a New York-based alternative asset management firm whose business model is predicated on “acquiring income-producing private companies” across a number of industries including automotive, waste management, and middle market lending.   An issuer of private placements, GPB has raised $1.8 billion from accredited investors in funds that in turn invest in auto dealerships and the waste management industry.  Stockbrokers and advisors from dozens of  brokerage and financial advisory firms sold the high risk, high-commission private placements, including GPB Automotive Portfolio, LP, and GPB Waste Management, LP.

Private placement investments are complex and fraught with risk.  To begin, private placements are often sold under a high fee and commission structure.  Reportedly, one brokerage executive has indicated that the sales loads for GPB private placements were 12%, including a 10% commission to the broker and his or her broker-dealer, as well as a 2% fee for offering and organization costs.  Such high fees and expenses act as an immediate drag on investment performance.

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Money WhirlpoolAs recently reported, both the SEC and FINRA have commenced their own investigations into GPB Capital Holdings, LLC (“GPB”).  GPB is a New York-based alternative asset management firm whose business model is predicated on “acquiring income-producing private companies” across a number of industries including automotive, waste management, and middle market lending.  These investigations by federal regulators come on the heels of Massachusetts securities regulators announcing in September 2018 their own investigation into GPB, as well as the sales practices of more than 60 independent broker-dealers who reportedly offered private placement investments in various GPB funds to their clientele.

GPB has raised approximately $1.8 billion in investor funds across its various private placement offerings, including GPB Automotive Portfolio, LP, and GPB Waste Management, LP.  Private placement investments are complex and fraught with risk.  To begin, private placements are often sold under a high fee and commission structure.  Reportedly, one brokerage executive has indicated that the sales loads for GPB private placements were 12%, including a 10% commission to the broker and his or her broker-dealer, as well as a 2% fee for offering and organization costs.  Such high fees and expenses act as an immediate drag on investment performance.

Further, private placement investments carry a high degree of risk due to their nature as unregistered securities offerings.  Unlike stocks that are publicly registered, and therefore, must meet stringent registration and reporting requirement as set forth by the SEC, private placements do not have the same regulatory oversight.  Accordingly, private placements are typically sold through what is known as a “Reg D” offering.  Unfortunately, investing through a Reg D offering is risky because investors are usually provided with very little in the way of information.  For example, private placement investors may be presented with unaudited financials or overly optimistic growth forecasts, or in some instances, with a due diligence report that was prepared by a third-party firm hired by the sponsor of the investment itself.

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Piggybank in a CageOn November 9, 2018, GPB Capital Holdings, LLC (“GPB”) notified certain broker-dealers who had been selling investments in its various funds that GPB’s auditor, Crowe LLP, elected to resign.  As reported, GPB’s CEO, David Gentile, stated that the resignation purportedly came about “[d]ue to perceived risks that Crowe determined fell outside of their internal risk tolerance parameters.”  GPB has since engaged EisnerAmper LLP to provide it with audit services moving forward.

As we recently discussed, GPB has come under considerable scrutiny of late.  In August 2018, the sponsor of various private placement investment offerings including GPB Automotive Portfolio and GPB Holdings II, announced that it was not accepting any new investor capital, and furthermore, was suspending any redemptions of investor funds.  This announcement followed GPB’s April 2018 failure to produce audited financial statements for its two largest aforementioned funds.  By September 2018, securities regulators in Massachusetts disclosed that they had commenced an investigation into the sales practices of some 63 independent broker-dealers who have reportedly offered private placement investments in various GPB funds.  To name a few, these broker-dealers include: HighTower Securities, Advisor Group’s four independent broker-dealers – FSC Securities, SagePoint Financial Services, Woodbury Financial Services, and Royal Alliance Associates, in addition to Ladenburg Thalmann’s Triad Advisors.

The various GPB private placement offerings include:

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Money in WastebasketAs recently reported, the Massachusetts Securities Division (the “Division”) has commenced an investigation into the sales practices of some 63 independent broker-dealers who offered private placements sponsored by alternative asset manager GPB Capital Holdings, LLC (“GPB”).  Specifically, the Division has intimated that it began an investigation into GPB following a recent tip concerning the firm’s sales practices which allegedly occurred not long after GPB announced that it was temporarily halting any new capital raising efforts, as well as suspending any redemptions.

According to the Division’s head, Mr. William Galvin, the investigation is in its “very nascent stages.”  At this time, Massachusetts securities regulators have requested information about GPB from more than 60 broker-dealers, including HighTower Securities, Advisor Group’s four independent broker-dealers, as well as Ladenburg Thalmann’s Triad Advisors.

In August 2018, GPB – the sponsor of certain limited partnership offerings including GPB Automotive Portfolio and GPB Holdings II – announced that it was not accepting any new capital.  According to filings with the SEC, sales of the two aforementioned GPB private placements allegedly netted the broker-dealers marketing these investment products some $100 million in commissions, at a rate of about 8%, since 2013.

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1st-Global-Capital-1As we have discussed in several recent blog posts, on July 27, 2018, 1 Global Capital (a/k/a 1st Global Capital) (hereinafter, “1GC”) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida.  Formed about 5 years ago, 1GC was purportedly in the business of making short term merchant cash advances to a range of small businesses.  In exchange for investor money, 1GC issued so-called “memorandums of indebtedness,” sometimes referred to as First Global Capital Notes (“Notes”), to numerous retail investors through a nationwide network of advisors and sales agents.  Investors were promised a high-return, low-risk investment in supposedly safe, short-term deals.

Prior to 1GC’s bankruptcy filing, the SEC had “opened an investigation into the company’s activities related to alleged possible securities laws violations, including the alleged offer and sale of unregistered securities, the alleged sale of securities by unregistered brokers, and by the alleged commission of fraud in connection with the offer, purchase and sale of securities.”  In the weeks following 1GC’s $283 million Chapter 11 filing, it has become apparent that numerous investors nationwide have been negatively impacted.  As alleged by the SEC, 1GC “used a network of barred brokers, registered and unregistered advisers, and other sales agents – to whom they paid millions in commissions – to offer and sell unregistered securities to investors in no fewer than 25 states.”

Publicly available information indicates that numerous investors in the greater Kansas City, KS area have sustained losses in connection with investing in 1GC Notes.  In particular, publicly available information suggests that Overland Park-based investment group Pinnacle Plus Wealth Management (a/k/a Pinnacle Financial) (“Pinnacle”), through its principal and Pinnacle employees / agents, may have recommended investments in 1GC Notes to retail investors.  In fact, court records indicate that approximately 160 1GC accounts involved Kansas City area addresses, and moreover, it appears many investors committed their retirement funds to 1GC investments through their retirement accounts.

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Piggy Bank in a Cage
On September 14, 2018, the SEC initiated a civil action (the “Complaint”) in federal court in the Southern District of Indiana against Ms. Tamara Rae Steele (CRD# 3227494) (“Steele”), as well as her eponymous investment advisory firm, Steele Financial, Inc. (“Steele Financial”), alleging that Ms. Steele had defrauded a number of her advisory clients through recommendations to invest in certain high-risk securities issued by Behavioral Recognition Systems, Inc. (“BRS”), in a scheme that purportedly generated $2.5 million in commissions for Ms. Steele’s benefit.  According to publicly available information through FINRA, Ms. Steele, a former middle school math teacher, first began working as a financial in or around 1999.  Most recently, she was affiliated with broker-dealer Comprehensive Asset Management and Servicing, Inc. (CRD# 43814) (“CAMAS”) from January 2009 – July 2017.  Ms. Steele’s CRD record showing her employment history and customer claims filed with FINRA is accessible below.

tamara rae steele

As alleged by the SEC in its Complaint, Ms. Steele was terminated by her former employer, CAMAS, when the “broker-dealer learned that [she] was selling BRS securities outside the scope of her employment with the firm and without the firm’s knowledge and approval, a practice called ‘selling away’ from the firm.”  Specifically, the SEC has alleged that Ms. Steele fraudulently recommended “over $13 million in extremely risky securities issued by a private company, Behavioral Recognition Systems, Inc. (‘BRS’).”  Further, the SEC has alleged that Ms. Steele violated her fiduciary duty to her clients — many of whom were unaccredited retail investors who were either current or former teachers and public-school employees — by purportedly failing to disclose that she was earning “[c]omissions ranging from 8% to 18% of the funds raised for BRS.”  The SEC Complaint is accessible below:

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As we discussed in a recent blog post, a $283 million Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on July 27, 2018, by the Hallandale Beach, FL firm 1 Global Capital (a/k/a 1st Global Capital, or 1GC) has negatively impacted investors nationwide.  Unfortunately, many retail investors committed their hard-earned money, in many instances their retirement funds, into so-called 1GC “memorandums of indebtedness” which were also sometimes referred to as First Global Capital Notes (“Notes”).  Publicly available records indicate there are more than 4,000 1GC accounts across the country, sold by many advisors in various states.

1st-Global-Capital
Formed approximately 5 years ago, 1GC was purportedly in the business of financing small business by providing capital to a range of businesses including restaurants, construction companies, manufacturing operations, and healthcare companies.  1GC issued its Notes to retail investors, often referred to in the contract as “lenders” or in other instances as “creditors.”  In exchange, these lenders or creditors invested in supposedly safe, short-term deals that would pay out around 7% in interest at the end of the term (e.g., 9-month term).

Upon information and belief, a number of 1GC investors were steered into these Notes by advisors.   Advisors who have recommended Notes reportedly may include Matthew Walker or others working for his Overland Park, Kansas-based group of Pinnacle Plus companies.

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An issuer of purported secured notes backed by real estate has been sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that amid losses, it “devolved into a Ponzi scheme.”  The group of companies, known as EquityBuild, solicited investors via Internet advertising, social media, and other methods, the SEC alleges.  According to the SEC suit, EquityBuild and its leaders  defrauded investors that invested in notes backed by South Side of Chicago real estate and other assets.   EquityBuild affiliates “sustained heavy losses and the properties they pitched to investors failed to earn anywhere near enough to pay the promised double-digit returns,” the SEC complaint says. “As a result, (the EquityBuild) investment program devolved into a Ponzi scheme: Defendants could only pay earlier investors by raising funds from unwitting new investors.”

Jerome and Shaun Cohen, father and son, run EquityBuild and a subsidiary, EquityBuild Finance.  EquityBuild allegedly  has raised at least $135 million from more than 900 investors since 2010, according to the SEC suit, filed in federal court in Chicago.  EquityBuild allegedly solicited investors to invest in debt used to finance properties.  EquityBuild allegedly touted outsize returns of 12 to 20 percent with minimal risk of loss of principal. and downplayed the risks, according to the SEC complaint.  The SEC alleges that EquityBuild, based in Marco Island, Florida,  skimmed 15 to 30 percent off each investment through fees that the company and the Cohens didn’t disclose.  EquityBuild also allegedly paid returns to older investors with the proceeds of newer investments, paying investors about $14.5 million in interest payments  between January 2015 through February 2017 although income and fees from EquityBuild properties totaled only $3.8 million, according to the SEC suit.

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It is unclear from publicly available information whether EquityBuild investments were sold by FINRA or SEC-registered financial advisors.  Investors in EquityBuild may wish to consider claims against professionals such as stockbrokers, financial advisors, or insurance agents who sold them the investments, or any professional services firms (law firms, accounting firms, etc.) that may have materially participated in EquityBuild’s unregistered securities offering.  As the SEC has alleged that the EquityBuild investments were securities that were not registered or exempt from registration, investors may be able to pursue claims against various third-parties that materially participated in these transactions.

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Piggybank In A CageThe Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has filed a fraud lawsuit in federal court in Colorado against a group of companies known as “Financial Visions” and their principal, Daniel B. Rudden (“Rudden”), who allegedly bilked at least 150 investors in a $55 million alleged Ponzi scheme.

The SEC’s complaint charges that Rudden, operating under the name Financial Visions and through a group of companies, issued promissory notes to fund a line of business involving providing financing for funeral services and related expenses to consumers.  The SEC alleges that Rudden/Financial Vision defrauded as many as 150 investors after promising them annual returns of 12% or more.  Since 2010 or 2011, Rudden allegedly used new investor funds to pay interest and redemptions to existing investors and concealed the Financial Visions companies’ true financial performance and condition.

The SEC Complaint is accessible here.