Articles Posted in Unregistered Securities

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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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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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If you invested in what are commonly referred to as future income payments (FIPs, or structured cash flows), through Future Income Payments, LLC (“FIP LLC”), you may be able to recover your losses through securities arbitration before FINRA, or in litigation, based on your particular circumstances.  FIPs, or structured cash flows, are a type of investment product that are primarily sold as a growth and income product by insurance agents, as well as through independent marketing organizations.

Formed in April 2011, FIP LLC is structured as a Delaware limited liability company, with its principal place of business in Irvine, CA.  Formerly, FIP LLC conducted business as Pensions, Annuities & Settlements, LLC.  Additionally, FIP LLC has business relationships with the following marketing affiliates: Cash Flow Investment Partners, LLC, BuySellAnnuity, Inc. and Pension Advance, LLC.

FIP LLC’s business model is predicated on soliciting pensioners through the websites of its marketing affiliates to enter into certain contracts, pursuant to which the pensioner receives a lump sum of money in exchange for some or all of the respective pensioner’s monthly pension payments, for a fixed period of time (typically, 5-10 years).  In addition, FIP LLC enters into contracts with investors (primarily retail investors), through which the investors provide money for the lump sum cash payments and subsequently receive some or all of the pensioner’s monthly payments.

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woodbridge mortgage fundsInvestors in unregistered Woodbridge First Position Commercial Mortgages (“FPCMs”) notes and/or units upon the recommendation of former financial advisor Jerry Davis Raines (CRD# 4578689, hereinafter “Raines”) may be able to recover losses in arbitration before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”).  According to FINRA BrokerCheck, a number of investors have already filed claims against Mr. Raines in connection with allegations surrounding Mr. Raines’  alleged recommendation of unsuitable Woodbridge investments to customers.  Mr. Raines was most recently affiliated with HD Vest Investment Services (CRD# 13686, hereinafter “HD Vest”) from 2014 – May 2017.  Previous to that, Mr. Raines was affiliated with Signal Securities, Inc. (CRD#15916) and Woodmen Financial Services, Inc. (CRD# 117365).

As recently reported, the Woodbridge Group of Companies, LLC (“Woodbridge”) of Sherman Oaks, CA, and certain of its affiliated entities, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on December 4, 2017 (U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware – Case No. 17-12560-KJC).  The SEC has alleged that Woodbridge, through its owner and former CEO, Mr. Robert Shapiro, purportedly utilized “more than 275 Limited Liability Companies to conduct a massive Ponzi scheme raising more than $1.22 billion from over 8,400 unsuspecting investors nationwide through fraudulent unregistered securities offerings.”

Beginning as early as 2012, Woodbridge and its affiliates offered securities nationwide to numerous retail investors through a network of in-house promoters, as well as various licensed and unlicensed financial advisors.  Woodbridge investments came in two primary forms: (1) “Units” that consisted of subscriptions agreements for the purchase of an equity interest in one of Woodbridge’s seven Delaware limited liability companies, and (2) “Notes” or what have commonly been referred to as “First Position Commercial Mortgages” or “FPCMs” consisting of lending agreements underlying purported hard money loans on real estate deals.

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Money in WastebasketOn July 18, 2018, the SEC filed a lawsuit in the District of Connecticut naming Temenos Advisory, Inc. (“Temenos”) and George L. Taylor (“Taylor”) as Defendants and essentially alleging that Defendants made improper recommendations of certain private placement investments to their investment advisory clients.  A copy of the SEC Complaint is accessible here: SEC v Temenos & Taylor 

Temenos, founded by Taylor, is a Connecticut corporation headquartered in Litchfield, CT, with additional offices located in St. Simons Island, GA and Scottsdale, AZ.  Temenos has been registered with the SEC as a registered investment advisor (RIA) since 1999, and is owned by Mr. Taylor and a trust that was purportedly established for purposes of benefiting Taylor’s former business partner.

As alleged by the SEC, prior to 2014, Temenos’ business was largely focused on the sale of traditional financial products to its clientele, including “[m]utual funds, exchange traded funds, variable annuities, and publicly traded stocks.”  Like many RIAs, Temenos charged an advisory fee to its customers based upon a percentage of assets under management.  However, as alleged in the Complaint, beginning in 2014 Temenos began recommending private placement investments to its clients: “Between 2014 and 2017, Defendants placed more than $19 million in investments by their clients and others in [the securities of] four private issuers … And they did so without ever sufficiently examining the marketing claims, financial statements, or business activities of those companies.”

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woodbridge mortgage fundsInvestors in Woodbridge upon the recommendation of former financial advisor Joel Vincent Flaningan (“Flaningan”) (CRD# 5664958) may be able to recover their losses in FINRA arbitration.  According to FINRA BrokerCheck, Mr. Flaningan was discharged from employment with NYLife Securities LLC (“NYLife”) (CRD# 5167) on or about May 10, 2018, in connection with “allegations he was involved in the solicitation of New York Life (“NYL”) clients to invest in an unregistered entity named Woodbridge Mortgage Investment Fund… Mr. Flaningan failed to disclose any involvement with Woodbridge to NYL.”  Furthermore, publicly available information via BrokerCheck indicates that Mr. Flaningan is currently the subject of one customer dispute concerning allegations that he purportedly failed to disclose the material risks “associated with an unregistered investment in Woodbridge… .”

According to BrokerCheck, NYLife has disavowed any prior knowledge of Mr. Flaningan’s business activity conducted away from the firm in selling purportedly non-approved Woodbridge investments.  However, sales of unregistered securities by a financial advisor who engages in such “selling away” activity while still affiliated with his or her brokerage firm may result in the broker-dealer (such as NYLife) being held vicariously liable for the negligence and/or misconduct of its registered representative.

As recently reported, the Woodbridge Group of Companies, LLC (“Woodbridge”) of Sherman Oaks, CA, and certain of its affiliated entities, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on December 4, 2017 (U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware – Case No. 17-12560-KJC).  The SEC has alleged that Woodbridge, through its owner and former CEO, Mr. Robert Shapiro, purportedly utilized “more than 275 Limited Liability Companies to conduct a massive Ponzi scheme raising more than $1.22 billion from over 8,400 unsuspecting investors nationwide through fraudulent unregistered securities offerings.”

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woodbridge mortgage fundsInvestors in Woodbridge Units or Notes, as further defined below, who purchased a Woodbridge investment based upon a recommendation by former financial advisor Alan Harold New (CRD# 2892508) may be able to recover losses through securities arbitration.  Publicly available information through FINRA BrokerCheck indicates that Alan New was formerly affiliated with broker-dealer NYLife Securities LLC (“NYLife”) (CRD# 5167) in their Fort Wayne, IN office, from June 2004 – August 2016.

As recently reported, the Woodbridge Group of Companies, LLC (“Woodbridge”) and certain of its affiliated entities filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware (Case No. 17-12560-KJC) on December 4, 2017.  Beginning as early as 2012, Woodbridge and its affiliates offered securities nationwide to numerous retail investors through a network of in-house promoters, unlicensed advisors, as well as various licensed financial advisors, including Mr. New.  Woodbridge investments essentially came in two forms: (1) so-called “Units” that consisted of subscriptions agreements for the purchase of an equity interest in one of Woodbridge’s Delaware limited liability companies, and (2) “Notes” or what have commonly been referred to as “First Position Commercial Mortgages” or “FPCMs” that consisted of lending agreements underlying purported hard money loans on real estate deals.

As alleged by the SEC, Woodbridge and its owner and former CEO, Mr. Robert Shapiro, purportedly “used his web of more than 275 Limited Liability Companies to conduct a massive Ponzi scheme raising more than $1.22 billion from over 8,400 unsuspecting investors nationwide through fraudulent unregistered securities offerings.”  According to Steven Peiken, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, the Woodbridge “[b]usiness model was a sham.  The only way that Woodbridge was able to pay investors their dividends and interest payments was through the constant infusion of new investor money.”

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woodbridge mortgage fundsIf you invested in a Woodbridge promissory note(s) upon the recommendation of broker Peter David Holler (CRD# 838897), you may be able to recover your losses through securities arbitration before FINRA.  As disclosed by FINRA on May 21, 2018, registered representative Peter Holler has been suspended from the securities industry for a period of two years.  From 2001 through August 2017, Mr. Holler was affiliated with Securities Service Network, LLC (BD No. 13318) (“SSN”) in their Bristol, TN office.  FINRA BrokerCheck indicates that Mr. Holler was discharged from his employment with SSN on or about August 10, 2017 due to his alleged participation in “unapproved and undisclosed outside business activity…”

Pursuant to a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (“AWC”), through which Mr. Holler neither admitted or denied FINRA Enforcement’s findings, he accepted both the two-year suspension, as well as monetary penalties including a $10,000 fine and disgorgement of $49,790 in commissions received through the sale of unregistered Woodbridge securities to various investors.  As encapsulated in the May 2018 AWC, Mr. Holler purportedly violated FINRA Rule 3280(b), an industry rule that prohibits brokers from participating in private securities transactions, without first providing written notice to their employer firm.  Such written notice must set forth in detail the proposed transaction, as well as the financial advisor’s proposed role with regard to the contemplated transaction and whether he or she will receive any compensation in connection with the transaction.

According to FINRA Enforcement’s findings, from September 2016 – August 2017, Mr. Holler solicited various investors to purchase unregistered securities in certain Woodbridge Mortgage Investment Funds as offered through the Woodbridge Group of Companies (“Woodbridge”) of Sherman Oaks, CA.  Further, FINRA Enforcement determined that Mr. Holler sold approximately $1.4 million in Woodbridge promissory notes to some 19 individuals, 9 of whom were SSN customers.  In derogation of FINRA Rule 3280, Mr. Holler purportedly did not provide SSN with prior written notification of these private securities transactions.