shutterstock_141873055Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against financial advisor William Ornstein (Ornstein) currently registered with The GMS Group, LLC. (GMS), alleging unsuitable investments, fraud, unauthorized trading, over-conentration, and material misrepresentations among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Ornstein has been subject to nine customer complaints, one regulatory action, and two criminal matters.

In November 2015 a customer filed a complaint alleging that Ornstein made fraudulent sales and over-concentrated the account from 2011 through 2015.  The complaint involves oil and gas related master limited partnership (MLP) investments and municipal debt securities.  The customer is seeking $200,000 in damages.  The claim is current pending.

Brokers in the financial industry have the fundamental responsibility to treat investors fairly.  This obligation includes making only suitable investments for their client.  The suitable analysis has certain requirements that must be met before the recommendation is made.  First, there must be reasonable basis for the recommendation for the investment based upon the broker’s and the firm’s investigation and due diligence.  Common due diligence looks into the investment’s properties including its benefits, risks, tax consequences, the issuer, the likelihood of success or failure of the investment, and other relevant factors.  Second, if there is a reasonable basis to recommend the product to investors the broker then must match the investment as being appropriate for the customer’s specific investment needs and objectives.  These factors include the client’s age, investment experience, retirement status, long or short term goals, tax status, or any other relevant factor.

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shutterstock_178801067Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Paul Neves (Neves) currently associated with Securities America, Inc. (Securities America) alleging unsuitable investments, breach of fiduciary duty, common law fraud, and elder abuse among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Neves has been subject to five customer complaints.  Many of the complaints involve direct participation products (DPPs) such as non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), equipment leasing funds – such as LEAF or ICON, and other alternative investments.

In November 2015 a customer filed a complaint alleging unsuitable investments and elder abuse.  The customer claimed damages of $800,000.  The claim is currently pending.

Our firm has represented many clients in illiquid alternative investments products.  All of these investments come with high costs and have historically underperformed even safe benchmarks, like U.S. treasury bonds.  For example, products like oil and gas partnerships, REITs, and other alternative investments are only appropriate for a narrow band of investors under certain conditions due to the high costs, illiquidity, and huge redemption charges of the products, if they can be redeemed at all.  However, due to the high commissions brokers earn on these products they sell them to investors who cannot profit from them and have created a large market for a failed product.  Further, investor often fail to understand that they have lost money in these illiquid investments until many years after investing.  In sum, for all of their costs and risks, investors in these programs are in no way additionally compensated for the loss of liquidity, risks, or cost.

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shutterstock_185864867Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against financial advisor John Crook (Crook) currently registered with Prospera Financial Services, Inc. (Prospera), alleging unsuitable investments, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, churning, and unauthorized trading among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Crook has been subject to two customer complaints and one employment separation for cause.

In July 2015 Crook was discharged by Raymond James & Associates, Inc. (Raymond James) after the firm stated that it lost confidence in Crook after an internal review into a client compliant lead the firm to believe that Crook did not provide plausible explanations to the investigation.

In August 2016 a customer filed $4.8 million complaint involving Crook’s conduct and alleging violations of the securities law.  The claim is still pending.

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shutterstock_70999552Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against financial advisor Troy Tremblay (Tremblay) currently registered with Centaurus Financial, Inc. (Centaurus), alleging unsuitable investments, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and unfair business practices among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Lambert has been subject to three customer complaints, two judgement/liens, and one financial disclosure.

In May 2014 Tremblay disclosed a tax lien of $43,280.84.  In February 2014 Tremblay disclosed another tax lien of $59,670.74.  A broker’s inability to handle their personal finances has also been found to be relevant in helping investors determine if they should allow the broker to handle their finances.

In May 2014 a customer filed a complaint alleging that Tremblay caused the customer $932,810 in damages stemming from a tenant in common (TIC) investment.  The claim was resolved for $315,000.

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shutterstock_103476707Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against financial advisor Victor Lambert (Lambert) currently not registered with any firm, alleging unsuitable investments among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Lambert has been subject to seven customer complaints and two judgement/liens.

In January 2016 Lambert disclosed a tax lien of $46,706.  A broker’s inability to handle their personal finances has also been found to be relevant in helping investors determine if they should allow the broker to handle their finances.

In October 2015 a customer filed a complaint alleging that Lambert purchased two equities that were inappropriate for the client causing damages.  The claim was resolved for $85,000.

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shutterstock_62862913Our firm is investigating claims made by VisionPoint Advisory Group, LLC and LPL Financial LLC (LPL) against broker Vincent Sturm (Sturm).  According to the two firms Sturm was discharged in August 2016 after allegation were made that Sturm violated firm policies by soliciting loans.  VisionPoint stated that no funds were received by Sturm and the loan was not made.  No other details concerning this activity were reported.

According to Sturm’s brokercheck records Sturm disclosed an outside business activity – Generations Wealth Advisors.  The providing of loans or selling of notes and other investments outside of a brokerage firm constitutes impermissible private securities transactions – a practice known in the industry as “selling away”.  Often times brokers who engage in this practice use outside businesses in order to market their securities.

Sturm entered the securities industry in 1998.  From January 2009 through March 2011 Sturm was associated with Securities America, Inc.  From February 2011 until December 2013, Sturm was registered with Broker Dealer Financial Services Corp.  Thereafter, from November 2013 until February 2016 Sturm was associated with InvestaCorp, Inc.  From January 2016 until August 2016, Sturm was associated with LPL.  Finally, since September 2016, Sturm has been registered with Berthel, Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. out of the firm’s Perry, Iowa office location.

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shutterstock_159036452Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Raymond Harrison (Harrison) currently associated with Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. (Cambridge) alleging unsuitable investments , lack of due diligence, lack of supervision, and omissions of material information among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Harrison has been subject to six customer complaints and two financial disclosures.  Many of the complaints involve direct participation products (DPPs) such as non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), equipment leasing funds – such as LEAF or ICON, and other alternative investments.

In October 2016 a customer filed a complaint alleging unsuitable investments for investment experience and risk tolerance, lack of adequate due diligence in regard to investments, a lack of supervision and the omission of material information.  The customer claimed damages of $603,000.  The claim is currently pending.

Our firm has represented many clients in illiquid alternative investments products.  All of these investments come with high costs and have historically underperformed even safe benchmarks, like U.S. treasury bonds.  For example, products like oil and gas partnerships, REITs, and other alternative investments are only appropriate for a narrow band of investors under certain conditions due to the high costs, illiquidity, and huge redemption charges of the products, if they can be redeemed at all.  However, due to the high commissions brokers earn on these products they sell them to investors who cannot profit from them and have created a large market for a failed product.  Further, investor often fail to understand that they have lost money in these illiquid investments until many years after investing.  In sum, for all of their costs and risks, investors in these programs are in no way additionally compensated for the loss of liquidity, risks, or cost.

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shutterstock_70999552Our firm’s investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Joseph Zastrow (Zastrow) currently associated with Thrivent Investment Management Inc. (Thrivent) alleging unsuitable recommendations to invest in variable products such as variable annuities, equity indexed annuities, and variable life insurance.  According to brokercheck records Zastrow has been subject to six customer complaints and one criminal matter.

In August 2016 a customer alleged that Zastrow failed to provide the customer with disclosures about the variable annuity contract or provide suitability information in July 2015.  The customer also alleged that his signature was forged on documents dated May 2015. The customer claimed $2,956.67 in damages and was granted $2,861.98.

Variable annuities and equity indexed annuities are complex financial and insurance products.  In fact, recently the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a publication entitled: Variable Annuities: What You Should Know encouraging investors to ask questions about the variable annuity before investing.  Essentially, a variable annuity is a contract with an insurance company under which the insurer agrees to make periodic payments to you.  The investor chooses the investments made in the annuity and value of your variable annuity will vary depending on the performance of the investment options chosen.  The primary benefits of variable annuities are the death benefit and tax deferment of investment gains.

However, the benefits of variable annuities are often outweighed by the terms of the contract that include exorbitant expenses such as surrender charges, mortality and expense charges, management fees, market-related risks, and rider costs.

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shutterstock_133100114Our firm is investigating potential securities claims against brokerage firms for sales practice violations related to the recommendations of oil & gas and commodities products such as exchange traded notes (ETNs), structured notes, private placements, master limited partnerships (MLPs), leveraged ETFs, mutual funds, and individual stocks.

One investment that advisors may be recommending to clients in order to gain exposure to oil is the iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return Index ETN (Symbol: OIL).  OIL is a speculative ETN that attempts to “reflect[] the returns that are potentially available through an unleveraged investment in the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures contract.”  Brokers may be recommending OIL for long-term holding when, in fact, OIL is a risky ETN that is only appropriate for short-term investment speculation on the price direction of oil.

As Morningstar has written, “Due to the extremely specialized exposure of the fund, investors should only consider it for a small position in the satellite portion of a broadly diversified portfolio.”  MorningStar also explained how the futures invested in the fund make the investment inappropriate for long-term holdings and how the price of the fund is not related to the price of oil.  “For example, in 2013 OIL increased 5.6%, close to WTI’s spot price gain of 6.9% for the year. However, over the trailing five-year period OIL lost 1% annualized, compared with an annualized gain of more than 20% for spot WTI over the same period.”

In other words even if the price of oil increases on an annualized basis by 20% an investor in OIL can still lose money.  Investors often times do not realize that index ETNs designed to track certain assets may not be successful in doing so and may be subject to different types of risks other than those of the underlining value of the asset.

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shutterstock_168478292Our firm has previously reported on the growing trend of brokerage firms recommending non-purpose loans secured by their brokerage accounts to clients.  See Investors Risk Big Losses with Loans Secured by Securities Collateral Accounts.  Recently, the state of Massachusetts charged Morgan Stanley with conducting unethical – high-pressure – sales contests among its financial advisers to encourage clients to take out loans.  According to newsources, from January 2014 until April 2015, the firm ran two different contests involving 30 advisers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island with the express goal of persuading customers to take out securities-based loans (SBLOCs) with their securities accounts serving as collateral.  Advisers were promised bonuses of $1,000 for 10 loans, $3,000 for 20 loans and $5,000 for 30 loans. The contest was alleged to have generated $24 million in new loans and was run despite an internal Morgan Stanley prohibition on such initiatives.

As a background, these lines of credit allow investors to borrow money using securities held in the investment accounts as collateral and allow the investor to continue to trade securities in the pledged accounts. An SBLOC typically requires monthly interest-only payments until repaid. Thus, when an investor losses a significant amount of their portfolio the investor has made very little progress in repaying the loan and may have few to no options to pay the loan back.  Recently FINRA issued an “Investor Alert” entitled “Securities-Backed Lines of Credit – It May Pay to See Beyond the Pitch” recognizing the conflicts between brokerage firms incentivized by “SBLOCs [that] can be a key revenue source for securities firms” and those same firms “placing your financial future at greater risk.”

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