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Articles Tagged with Merrill Lynch

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Money in WastebasketBank of America Merrill Lynch’s (“Merrill Lynch”) brokerage unit offered Strategic Return Notes (“SRNs”) to customers, resulting in losses of as much as 95% of the principal invested.  First issued in November 2010 and maturing November 27, 2015, the SRNs were designed to be linked to Merrill Lynch’s own proprietary volatility index (the “VOL”) which was designed to calculate the volatility of the S&P 500 Index.  The SRNs, which were issued at $10 per share, ultimately matured at just $0.50 per share.  Thus, investors in Merrill Lynch’s proprietary SRN’s were subjected to an enormous 95% loss on their principal investment.

In recent years, many investors have been solicited by their financial advisor to purchase so-called structured notes, which are often presented to customers as a higher-yielding, but still relatively safe alternative to fixed-income investments such as bonds.  Structured notes are issued and backed by financial institutions.  As hybrid products containing both a bond component and an embedded derivative, structured notes are designed to provide an investor with a return based on an equity index (or some other benchmark), as opposed to an interest rate typically associated with a traditional bond investment.

In theory, a structured note is supposed to provide an investor with an opportunity to earn enhanced income (in excess of the very low interest rates offered in the current environment on most bond investments), while also providing some downside cushion.  In practice, however, many structured notes engineered by various investment banks and sold by their brokers have proved to be horrendous investments.

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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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On May 3, 2017, Puerto Rico filed for a form of bankruptcy protection pursuant to a federal law passed in 2016 known as Promesa, thereby allowing Puerto Rico to facilitate a debt restructuring process in court akin to U.S. bankruptcy protection.

As recently reported in Barron’s, Puerto Rico’s bonds backed by sales tax revenue, known as COFINAS, witnessed significant price depreciation since initiation of the bankruptcy-like proceeding in early May 2017. And on May 30, 2017, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain ordered that interest payments on COFINAS be suspended, pending anticipated litigation concerning whether holders of Puerto Rico’s General Obligation Bonds (“GOs”) or COFINAS should receive first claim to any payments ordered through a debt restructuring. Amey Stone, Puerto Rico’s Cofina Bond Payments Suspended by Judge, May 31, 2017.

San Juan, Puerto Rico Coast

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Recently, Wade James Lawrence was barred from the financial industry by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Investors’ rights lawyers are exploring accusations made against Lawrence regarding misappropriation of funds during his time as a broker.  According to the FINRA report, Lawrence failed to respond to these allegations, and in doing so forfeited his opportunity to remain a practicing broker.

FINRA Bars Wade James Lawrence from Financial Industry

Lawrence’s most recent history as a broker was with Southwest Securities, where he was registered from August 2011 through December 2013.  Prior to that, he worked for Oppenheimer & Co. from June 2008 through July 2011, and Merrill Lynch from April 2003 through June 2008.   During his time at both Southwest Securities and Oppenheimer & Co., there were several complaints issued against Lawrence by customers who claimed to have received unsuitable recommendations.  One client even alleged that Lawrence borrowed $850,000 and failed to return the funds. This alleged borrowing occurred while Lawrence was with Oppenheimer & Co. and the FINRA report states that he intended to “…pay for the losses.  I [Lawrence] then voluntary resigned and left the appropriate funds in my personal account to be used to cover the losses.”  Despite this response, Lawrence failed to appear for testimony with FINRA regarding this, or any of the other complaints, which included additional allegations of misappropriated funds and failure to provide appropriate investment recommendations.

If you suffered significant losses as a result of doing business with Wade James Lawrence or believe that another stockbroker or financial advisor led you to inappropriately use investment funds, you may be able to recover your losses through securities arbitration.  To find out more about your legal rights and options, contact a securities fraud attorney at the Law Office of Christopher J. Gray, P.C. at (866) 966-9598 or newcases@investorlawyers.net 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 newcases@investorlawyers.net for a no-cost, confidential consultation.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses as a result of doing business with Wade James Lawrence. Lawrence, a former broker for Lubbock Investments, recently surrendered his securities license because the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) requested he give testimony regarding his conduct and Lawrence failed to appear for the on-the-record interview.

Customers of Wade James Lawrence, Merrill Lynch, Oppenheimer Could Recover Losses

Lawrence is also the defendant in two lawsuits filed in November. According to the allegations in these lawsuits, Lawrence failed to repay $1 million in loans made by private individuals. Reportedly, Lawrence stated in November 2013 that he would turn himself over to regulators “regarding allegations of illegal securities trading practices.”

According to FINRA reports, Lawrence has been accused of causing $140,000 in customer losses because of inappropriate trades during the time he worked with Southwest Securities and $71,000 in customer losses because of unauthorized trading when he was with Oppenheimer.

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Investment fraud lawyers are currently investigating claims on behalf of Wells Fargo customers who suffered significant losses in municipal auction-rate securities. On December 24th, a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration panel ordered Wells Fargo Advisors to buy back $94 million in securities at face value because the adviser allegedly misrepresented the investments, which would have violated the firm’s obligation to fully disclose all the risks of a given investment when making recommendations.

Wells Fargo Ordered to Buy Back $94 Million in Auction-rate Securities

According to Investment News, the award is related to securities purchased since March 2008 by the now-deceased Robert B. Cohen, his family and Hudson News, Cohen’s affiliated business. Reportedly, Cohen’s family has accused Wells Fargo and one of its advisors of misleading and fraudulent statements regarding municipal auction-rate securities.

Reportedly, when the financial crisis struck and investors found these securities difficult to sell, a Wells Fargo advisor allegedly told the Cohens they could earn back their investment within months with relatively high rates of return. According to investment fraud lawyers, a case is still pending against Timothy P. Shannon, a Wells Fargo adviser based in New Jersey. The FINRA panel also denied Wells Fargo’s request to have the dispute expunged from Shannon’s regulatory records.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of Merrill Lynch customers who suffered significant losses as a result of their hedge fund investments and/or Fannie Mae Preferred Shares investments with the firm.

Merrill Lynch Customers Could Recover Losses Over Hedge Funds or Fannie Mae Preferred Stock

In particular, these stock fraud lawyers are looking into the sales practices of Merrill Lynch and its brokers in regards to the Coast Access II LLC hedge fund. Coast Access II LLC is a “feeder fund,” investing substantially all of its assets in Coast Diversified Fund LLC, a multi-manager, multi-strategy “fund of funds” which invests through the market neutral or relative value trading of several securities and commodities trading advisors, according to Coast Access’ SEC Form D filing. Coast Access II LLC’s place of principal business operations and executive offices are listed as Merrill Lynch Alternative Investments and the investment was offered through Merrill Lynch. However, securities fraud attorneys now believe that the hedge fund was recommended to certain Merrill Lynch clients, despite its unsuitability for those clients.

A recent FINRA arbitration proceeding concluded with an order for Merrill Lynch to pay two of its investors $1.34 million in connection with their Fannie Mae preferred shares investments. Allegedly, Merrill Lynch misrepresented the risks involved in this investment, marketing them as “safe.” As a result, the investors, clients of broker Miles Pure, suffered significant losses. Their claim included allegations that the firm was negligent in its supervision of Pure and had committed civil fraud. Pure now works for Morgan Keegan.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of victims of James Ryan Lanier, a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch. Reportedly, Lanier was arrested on fraud, identity theft and money laundering related to embezzlement. Allegedly, Lanier, 33, embezzled over $800,000 from Merrill Lynch clients and was arrested in San Diego, California.

Defrauded Investors of James Ryan Lanier, Recently Arrested Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor, Could Recover Losses

According to the allegations listed in the 65-count indictment against Lanier, while he was working for Merrill Lynch as a financial advisor between 2008 and 2010, Lanier forged client signatures on fraudulent letters of authorization to Merrill Lynch client associates. These client associates were responsible for processing client funds through wire transfers. Purportedly, these letters also contained misleading and false statements that were intended to persuade the client associates to transfer funds from the investment accounts of clients to bank accounts under Lanier’s control.

According to the indictment, stock fraud lawyers say that Lanier deliberately sought out assistance from client associates who were not familiar with his clients to direct funds transfers. Lanier allegedly claimed Merrill Lynch clients had given voice approval on a recorded telephone conversation, though no such approval was given. Choosing client associates who were unfamiliar with his clients aided Lanier in his scheme.

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Principal Protected Notes, or PPNs, are structured investments, meaning they connect the performance of commodities, equities, currencies and other assets to fixed income notes and CDs. PPNs are legitimate investments, though they have received a lot of negative attention lately. PPNs may have a full principal protection, but only partial principal protection is possible as well. In addition, PPNs can pay at their maturity in different ways, some paying a variable sum and others in coupons connected to a security or index. While PPNs are appropriate for many investors, there are risks associated with them.

Principal Protected Notes and the Lehman Brothers Debacle

The now infamous class action suit against Lehman Brothers has its roots in the claim that the risks associated with PPNs were not disclosed to investors. When Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the principal on the PPNs — for which Lehman was the borrower — became unprotected and investors were left with unexpected losses. According to claimants in the case, they were led to believe that as long as they held them to maturity, their PPNs were 100 percent principal protected. Claimants also say they were told that as long as their underlying indices maintained their worth, the PPNs were principal protected. Furthermore, the risks associated with PPNs were not disclosed and customers were not notified of the decline of Lehman Brothers which could affect the value of the investments.

The case against Lehman Brothers deals primarily with broker misconduct in misleading investors about the safety of their investments. However, if other allegations are true and firms truly pushed PPNs at the same time that they were reducing their own PPN holdings, it is a question outright broker fraud as opposed to failure to disclose.

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