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Articles Posted in Securities Fraud

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Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) initiated an action against 40-year old Leon Vaccarelli by filing a sixteen-page complaint (“SEC Complaint”) in federal court in New Haven, CT.  The SEC is alleging that Mr. Vaccarelli, based in Waterbury, CT, engaged in operating a Ponzi Scheme for more than four years, during which time he allegedly misappropriated client funds.  The SEC Complaint alleges that Vaccarelli diverted client money from investment accounts, as promised, and instead used the funds for such personal expenses as mortgage payments.  Moreover, the SEC Complaint alleges that Mr. Vaccarelli used client funds in order to make payments to earlier investors, a hallmark sign of a Ponzi scheme.


A review of FINRA’s BrokerCheck indicates that Leon (or Lee) William Vaccarelli (CRD# 3227636) entered the securities industry in 1999.  Since that time, Mr. Vaccarelli has been affiliated with the following firms: Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (CRD# 6363) (1999-2007), QA3 Financial Corp. (CRD# 14754) (2007-2011), and most recently — The Investment Center (CRD# 17839) (2011-2017).

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Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) records indicate that Douglas P. Simanski (Simanski), a former stockbroker who was associated with NEXT Financial Group, has been permanently barred from the brokerage industry.  Simanski’s record also shows 4 currently pending customer disputes, 1 prior final customer dispute and a recent employment separation after allegations.

FINRA is the agency that licenses and regulates stockbrokers and brokerage firms.  In response to FINRA charges, Simanski, without admitting or denying the findings, consented to a permanent bar from the securities industry and entry of findings that he failed to provide documents and information related to an investigation into allegations related to the conversion of funds.

Four customers of NEXT Financial have also filed arbitration claims involving Simanski, alleging sales of high risk investments, loans to customers, sale of unregistered securities and sale of fictitious investments as part of a scheme to steal money from a customer.

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According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Cambria Capital, LLC. (Cambria Capital) broker Robert Potter (Potter) was barred from the securities industry over failure to respond to regulatory requests concerning his alleged comingling of funds. FINRA sent Potter a letter requesting him to send documents and information regarding the comingling allegations by August 17, 2015. Potter allegedly requested an extension to provide the documents but his counsel later informed FINRA that Potter would not be providing any documentation.

15.10.21 fraud under microscopePotter has been registered with the Securities Industry for 31 years. He has previously been registered with Wells Fargo Advisors in Salt Lake City from 2005-2011; Eagle Gate Securities in Salt Lake City from 1999-2005; Financial West Group in Westlake Village, California in 1999; Salomon Smith Barney in New York, New York from 1992-1998; Lehman Brothers in New York from 1988-1992; E.F. Hutton & Company from 1987-1988; and Merrill Lynch from 1983-1987. Potter was most recently registered with Cambria Capital in Salt Lake City from 2011-2015.

In August of 2015 the National Future Association (NFA) began an investigation on Potter based on allegations that Potter solicited a customer to trade in futures, and then instructed the customer to wire funds to Potter’s personal bank account. The NFA alleges that Potter violated NFA requirements by having the customer wire funds to Potter’s personal account, converting the customer’s funds, and that Potter lied to the customer about the customer’s investment.

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South Florida financial advisor Ariel Hernandez, was reportedly arrested and accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from customers. Hernandez allegedly transferred funds out of customer accounts and into accounts in his name, in the process allegedly forging a customer’s signature. Authorities in the South Florida community of Pembroke Pines have charged Hernandez with two counts of theft.

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FINRA BrokerCheck, an online resource for researching the background of stockbrokers and financial advisors, indicated that Hernandez has worked in Florida since 2007 and has been associated with various brokerage firms, including MetLife Securities (2007), Wachovia Securities (2007-08), J.B. Hanauer & Co. (2008), Summit Brokerage Services (2009 -10) and Liberty Partners Financial Services (2010-13).

Brokerage firms have an obligation to supervise all associated persons to prevent actions such as misappropriation and forgery. If you suffered significant losses are a result of misappropriation, forgery, or other misconduct by a stockbroker or financial advisor, you may be able to recover your losses in FINRA arbitration. To find out more about your legal rights and options, contact a securities arbitration lawyer at Law Office of Christopher J. Gray, P.C. at (866) 966-9598 or for a no-cost, confidential consultation.

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David Zeng was recently barred from working within the securities industry after he failed to respond to inquiries concerning over a dozen customer complaints about his investment activities.  These complaints alleged misrepresenting an investment, unauthorized stock trading, unsuitable investment advice and fraud.

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Prior to starting with Merrill Lynch in 2009, Zeng worked for UBS Financial Services and before that for Morgan Stanley.

If you suffered significant losses as a result of doing business with David Zeng or received an unsuitable recommendation in any of the mentioned investment categories from another stockbroker or financial advisor, you may be able to recover your losses through securities arbitration. To find out more about your legal rights and options, contact a stock fraud lawyer at Law Office of Christopher J. Gray, P.C. at (866) 966-9598 or for a no-cost, confidential consultation.

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Securities arbitration attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses in AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company Equi-Vest or Accumulator variable annuity contracts — specifically those invested in the managed funds, AXA Tactical Manager Strategy or ATM-managed funds.

Equi-Vest, Accumulator Variable Annuity Investors Could Recover Losses

Reportedly, the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) launched an investigation in 2011 concerning alleged omissions on the part of AXA Equitable regarding its applications for approval to alter the Equi-Vest and Accumulator variable annuities.  The change would substitute ATM-managed funds for previous managers.  According to DFS’ allegations, AXA Equitable misled DFS regarding the change’s impact and failed to disclose the underperformance of the ATM funds under the previous managers.  Allegedly, these actions resulted in a reduced return for investors, especially for those who paid fees to receive guaranteed minimum benefits and those who wanted to be more aggressive in their investment strategy. In order to settle the investigation, AXA Equitable agreed to pay $20 million on March 17, 2014. 

Some AXA Equitable investors may have been misled about the variable annuity contract changes. In addition, certain characteristics of variable annuities, including high penalties for early withdrawal, long surrender periods and low rate of return, make these products unsuitable for many investors. Many brokers are motivated to make unsuitable recommendations because of the large commissions associated with variable annuities.

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While former stock promoter Robert J. Vitale sits in prison for two years for lying to investigators in a previous investigation about another matter, the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) has decided to file fraud charges against him. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, accuses Vitale of defrauding investors in a real estate venture in Florida. While this investigation continues, victims of Vitale’s fraud are encouraged to begin talking with investment fraud lawyers, who may be able to help them recover their losses.

Investors May Recoup Losses as SEC Charges Robert J. Vitale with Fraud

Vitale is being charged with selling unregistered securities and acting as an unregistered broker. According to the charges, Vitale and his firm (Realty Acquisitions & Trust Inc.) were able to raise $8.7 million from their investors, many of whom were seniors who may now be looking to hire securities fraud lawyers to represent them in filing their claims. In a news release, the SEC stated that Vitale allegedly led the investors to believe that their money was “100% protected” even though that was untrue. That charge (if found guilty) could give the defrauded victims and their investment fraud lawyers great leverage during arbitration.

To get investors, Vitale also allegedly claimed to hold a business degree from the University of Notre Dame, and that he was a financial expert. While Vitale did go to Notre Dame high school in West Haven, Connecticut, he did not go to the South Bend, Indiana college. Also named in the complaint was the Coral Springs Investment Group (also known as Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Company), which stands accused of holding onto assets of the investors that should have been returned.

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Investor arbitration lawyers continue to investigate claims on behalf of customers of VSR Financial Services regarding the unsuitable recommendation and sale of alternative investments.

More Claims Filed Against VSR Brokers for Unsuitable Alternative Investments

Another claim was filed recently against one broker registered with VSR Financial Services, Dennis Van Patter. This particular claim is regarding the following alternative investments:

  • Inland American Real Estate Trust
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Securities attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of the customers of Christopher B. Birli and Patrick W. Chapin, who suffered significant losses as a result of misrepresentations and unsuitable recommendations of variable annuities. Reportedly, Birli and Chapin received significant sales commissions for allegedly unsuitable recommendations to their customers.

Customers Could Recover Losses for Unsuitable MetLife Variable Annuity Recommendations

On March 27, a complaint was filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Office of Hearing Officers against Birli and Chapin regarding the State University of New York retirement program. According to the complaint, Birli and Chapin recommended their customers switch MetLife variable Annuities with new ones held outside the retirement plan in MetLife IRA accounts.

Allegedly, Birli and Chapin circumvented their firm’s general prohibition of direct annuities exchange by recommending to their customers that they surrender their annuities to purchase another product available within the retirement program, wait 90 days, and then sell the second product in order to purchase the MetLife IRA annuity.

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Lawyers are investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses in exchange-traded notes (ETNs) and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) issued by Credit Suisse and other full-service brokerage firms.

ETF, ETN Investors Could Recover Losses

According to Bloomberg, the $45,000 loss suffered by Jeff Steckbeck in TVIX, a Credit Suisse Group AG note, has set off a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Reportedly, ETNs became more popular with the TVIX in February 2012. That month, Credit Suisse stopped selling the ETN and rising demand caused the investment to veer up to 89 percent from the index. When Credit Suisse began issuing the notes again in March of that year, a FINRA warning cautioned investors that ETNs could trade at a price that was higher than their underlying index.

Bloomberg data indicates that the estimated initial value of the securities is typically 2 to 4 percent less than the price investors paid. Exchange-traded notes like TVIX mimic assets through the use of derivatives and their value is based on volatility shifts in the market. However, the ETN market is small beans compared to the ETF market, which has around $2.4 trillion in assets.

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