Articles Posted in Private Placements

shutterstock_184149845The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that ICON Capital LLC, an entity that manages equipment leasing funds, agreed to settle charges that it caused four of its funds to report materially inaccurate financial results in their SEC filings and pay a $750,000 penalty.

Our firm has represented many clients in equipment leasing products like LEAF and ICON.  All of these investments come with high costs that do not compensate investors for the extreme risk being taken.  Equipment leasing funds historically underperform even safe benchmarks, like U.S. treasury bonds.  Investors are destined to lose money in equipment leasing programs like LEAF Equipment Leasing Income Funds I-IV and ICON Leasing Funds Eleven and Twelve.  The high costs and fees associated with these investments make significant returns virtual impossibility.  Further, investor often fail to understand that they have lost money under many years after agreeing to the investment.  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.

On top of these high risks, the SEC has now found that the funds’ opaque nature has allowed the funds to hide more investor losses.  According to the SEC’s order instituting a settled administrative proceeding, the four funds’ financial results were misstated due to accounting errors relating to the impairment of assets and that ICON failed to comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) on multiple occasions.

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shutterstock_52426963The securities lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating a customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against broker Mark Trewitt (Trewitt).  According to BrokerCheck records Trewitt has been subject to at least four customer complaints.  The customer complaints against Trewitt allege securities law violations that including unsuitable investments and misrepresentations among other claims.   Many of the complaints involve direct participation products (DPPs) and private placements including non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), and other alternative investments.

Our firm has represented many clients in these types of products.  All of these investments come with high costs and historically have 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.  However, due to the high commissions brokers earn on these products they sell them to investors who cannot profit from them.  Further, investor often fail to understand that they have lost money until many years after agreeing to the investment.  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_183525509The investment attorneys at Gana LLP have recently filed a case on behalf of an investor in the Vertical Fund private placements.  The investor purchased a Vertical Fund private placement through Financial West Group broker Jeffrey Gieseke.  The Vertical Funds include Vertical Recovery Management, LLC, Vertical Mortgage Fund I, LLC, Vertical US Recovery Fund, LLC, and Vertical US Recovery Fund II, LLC.  These funds were marketed to investors as as buying real estate notes at a discount that would pay income and then allow investors to profit through a future sale.  However, in September 2015, these funds entered a bankruptcy alternative through a General Assignment for Benefit of Creditors under California law.  Investors can expect to suffer substantial losses on their investment.

In addition, an action is pending against the accounting company for the Vertical Funds naming Haynie & Company of California Accountancy Corporation and Michael Zurovski as defendants for aiding and abetting the conversion of funds among other claims.  According to the complaint, beginning at least as early as 2011, assets from Vertical Funds I and II were diverted to Vertical Fund Group and other entities.  Assets were falsely titled “Acquisition Deposits” in the amounts of over $1.9 and $4.0 million respectively for the two funds.  These accounts were titled in a way to suggest they were related to the acquisition of mortgages in the ordinary course of business but instead these amounts represented transfers to Vertical Fund Group seemingly for use in paying the costs of operation of the entirety of the Vertical Group.  The complaint alleges that these payments were impermissible advances and were an improper use of funds under the terms of the offering documents and operating agreements and represent a breach of fiduciary duty on behalf of the fund manager.

Private placement offerings are among the most speculative and costly investment products offered to retail investors. While the size of the private placement market is unknown, according to 2008 estimates, companies issued approximately $609 billion of securities through Regulation D offerings. Private placements allow many small companies to efficiently raise capital. However, regulators continue to find significant problems in the due diligence and sales efforts of some brokerage firms when selling private placements to investors. These problems include fraud, misrepresentations and omissions in sales materials and offering documents, conflicts of interest, and suitability abuses.

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shutterstock_101456704The investment attorneys at Gana LLP are investigating the potential unsuitable sales of securities sponsored by Mewbourne Oil Company (Mewbourne). Mewbourne claims on its website to have grown into one of the more prominent independent oil and natural gas producers in the Anadarko and Permian Basins of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The company sponsors several oil and gas private placements and investments including:

  • Mewbourne Energy Partners 11-A
  • Mewbourne Energy Partners 12-A
  • Mewbourne Energy Partners 13-A
  • Mewbourne Energy Partners 14-A
  • Mewbourne Energy Partners 15-A

Investors often do not understand the substantial risks of oil and gas limited partnerships and private placements. As recently reported in Reuters, when offerings by Atlas Energy LP, another issuer of oil and gas private placements were analyzed, investors only get to see 65-70% of their capital actually put to work on oil and gas projects. Further, the returns on these projects had more in common with running profitable casinos than investments. Reuters found that slightly more than half of 43 private placements Atlas issued over the past three decades investors lost money or just broke even. While investors lost in more than half of the deals in 29 or 67% of those deals, Atlas actually out-performed their own investors.

The costs and structures of many oil and gas private placements are very similar which cause these programs to fail at alarming rates even when oil and gas values trade favorable. Before recommending investments in oil and gas and commodities related investments, brokers and advisors must ensure that the investment is appropriate for the investor and conduct due diligence on the company in order to understand the risks and prospects of the company. Oil and gas and commodities related investments have been recommended by brokers under the assumption that commodities prices would continue to go up. However, brokers who sell oil and gas and commodities products are obligated to understand the risks of these investments and convey them to clients.

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shutterstock_173864537The investment attorneys at Gana LLP are investigating the potential unsuitable sales of securities in Vertical Funds private placements. The Vertical Funds include Vertical Recovery Management, LLC, Vertical Mortgage Fund I, LLC, Vertical US Recovery Fund, LLC, and Vertical US Recovery Fund II, LLC.

Some of the Vertical Funds were advertised as buying real estate notes at a discount and collect mortgage funds through borrower refinancing or a future sale. Upon information and belief at least one of these funds has entered the bankruptcy alternative of General Assignment for Benefit of Creditors under California law. This development is expected to wipe away the majority of investor capital.

Private placement offerings are among the most speculative and costly investment products offered to retail investors. While the size of the private placement market is unknown, according to 2008 estimates, companies issued approximately $609 billion of securities through Regulation D offerings. Private placements allow many small companies to efficiently raise capital. However, regulators continue to find significant problems in the due diligence and sales efforts of some brokerage firms when selling private placements to investors. These problems include fraud, misrepresentations and omissions in sales materials and offering documents, conflicts of interest, and suitability abuses.

Brokers have a responsibility treat investors fairly which includes obligations such as making only suitable investments for the client. In order to make a suitable recommendation the broker must meet certain requirements. First, there must be reasonable basis for the recommendation the product or security based upon the broker’s investigation and due diligence into the investment’s properties including its benefits, risks, tax consequences, and other relevant factors. Second, the broker then must match the investment as being appropriate for the customer’s specific investment needs and objectives such as the client’s retirement status, long or short term goals, age, disability, income needs, or any other relevant factor.

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shutterstock_20354401The securities lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating potential unsuitable investments and recommendations in a number of oil and gas related ventures including Adageo Energy. According to the company’s website Adageo Energy specializes in high-growth, high-return opportunities in the energy sector. The company’s focus includes the identification, acquisition, drilling, development, and operation of oil and gas properties. Adageo Energy is a sponsor of several oil and gas private placements.

One such issuance is Adageo Energy Partners, LP which according to SEC filings sought to raise $50 million and raised at least $31 million of that amount through brokerage firms including Direct Capital Securities, Inc., Madison Avenue Securities, Inc., WFP Securities, Inc., Arete Wealth Management, LLC, Newbridge Securities Corporation, Charter Pacific Securities, LLC, ePLANNING Securities, Inc., Sunset Financial Services, Inc., Jesup & Lamont Securities Corp., and Capital Guardian, LLC.

As reported in Reuters for issuers other than Adageo Energy, many of these types of private placement deals fail and investors take outsized risks compared to the scant compensation they are likely to receive. The issue with oil and gas private placements is two fold. First the much of the investor’s funds are eaten up by fees and costs and are never used for investment purposes. For instance and analysis of Atlas Energy LP found that the issuer typically charged between 15 percent and 20 percent in upfront fees from investors and paid brokers an additional 10 percent of the total offering in sales commissions. According to Reuters, investors only get to see 65-70% of their capital actually put to work on oil and gas projects.

Second, many of these deals have more in common with casinos then investments. Reuters found that slightly more than half of 43 private placements Atlas issued over the past three decades investors lost money or just broke even. While investors lost in more than half of the deals in 29 or 67% of those deals, Atlas actually out-performed their own investors.

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shutterstock_168478292The investment lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating customer complaints against broker Harris Kirk (Kirk). There are at least 3 customer complaints against Kirk. In addition, there is one employment separation disclosed and a FINRA investigation. Some of the customer complaints appear to be related to recommendation of oil and gas private placements and investments likely offered by Reef Oil and Gas Companies.   The investment attorneys at Gana LLP continue to report on investor losses and unsuitable investments in oil and gas related investments, like Reef Oil and Gas.

The employment termination from Reef Securities, Inc. (Reef) came in September 2013 after the firm alleged that Kirk engaged in actions inconsistent with the firm’s policies in that Kirk provided inaccurate information concerning his outside business activities. Thereafter, Kirk was employed by Chestnut Exploration Partners, Inc. until February 2015 at which time he was once again associated with Reef.

Investors often do not appreciate the risks when investing in oil and gas private placements. Even before the collapse of oil prices it was rare for investors to make money on oil deals. According to Reuters, of 34 deals Reef Oil and Gas has issued since 1996, only 12 have paid out more cash to investors than they initially contributed. Reuters also found that Reef sold an additional 31 smaller deals between 1996 and 2010 taking $146 million from investors and only paying out just $55 million.

If investments in oil and gas private placements rarely succeed during oil booms, then they will certainly fail under current market conditions. According to Bloomberg, many oil companies are in trouble as U.S. high-yield debt issued to junk-rated energy companies grew four-fold to $208 billion. Most of these companies are now struggling to stay afloat with oil prices at $45. Many of these companies relied upon high energy prices in order to sustain their operations. As reported by the Wall Street Journal the drop in oil and energy prices and the industry downturn has made it difficult for many companies to refinance their debts.

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shutterstock_128856874The investment attorneys at Gana LLP are interested in speaking with investors of broker Toni Sutherland (Sutherland). According to the BrokerCheck records kept by Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Sutherland has been the subject of at least 7 customer complaints and one financial disclosure – a bankruptcy in November 2014. The customer complaints against Sutherland allege securities law violations that including unsuitable investments, misrepresentations, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty among other claims.   Most of the customer claims involve allegations concerning recommendations in connection with the sales of tenants-in-common (TICs) or direct participation products.

The most recent complaint was filed in July 2012 alleges $353,000 in losses due to a recommendation to invest in a TIC. Another investor in February 2015, claimed $14,608,848 in damages due to investments in TICs purchased in 2004.

As a background, TICs largely been sold unfairly as tax advantaged products that allow customers to defer capital gains taxes on appreciated real estate. TICs are private placements that have no secondary trading market and are therefore illiquid investments. In a typical TIC, the investor receives a fractional interest in the property along with other stakeholders and the profits are generated mostly through the efforts of the sponsor and the management company that manages and leases the property. The sponsor typically structures the TIC investment with up-front fees and expenses charged to the TIC and negotiates the sale price and loan for the acquired property. Because these fees are often higher than 15%, there is often no way for the investment to be profitable for the investor.

TICs have come under fire by many investors and due to the failure of the TICs as a whole across the securities industry. Indeed, TICs have virtually disappeared as offered investments.   According to InvestmentNews “At the height of the TIC market in 2006, 71 sponsors raised $3.65 billion in equity from TICs and DSTs…TICs now are all but extinct because of the fallout from the credit crisis.” In fact, TICs recommendations have been a major contributor to bankrupting brokerage firms. For example, 43 of the 92 broker-dealers that sold TICs sponsored by DBSI Inc., a company whose executives were later charged with running a Ponzi scheme, a staggering 47% of firms that sold DBSI are no longer in business.

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shutterstock_120556300The investment attorneys at Gana LLP are interested in speaking with investors of broker Joseph Sturniolo (Sturniolo). According to the BrokerCheck records kept by Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Sturniolo has been the subject of at least 8 customer complaints. The customer complaints against Sturniolo allege securities law violations that including unsuitable investments, misrepresentations, and breach of fiduciary duty among other claims.

The most recent complaint was filed in June 2015, and alleged $400,692 in losses due to a recommendation to invest in a real estate security transaction. Another investor in April 2015, claimed $676,705 in damages due to a real estate security transaction.   Many of the complaints appear to be in connection with in connection with the sales of tenants-in-common (TICs).

As a background, TICs largely been sold unfairly as tax advantaged products that allow customers to defer capital gains taxes on appreciated real estate. TICs are private placements that have no secondary trading market and are therefore illiquid investments. In a typical TIC, the investor receives a fractional interest in the property along with other stakeholders and the profits are generated mostly through the efforts of the sponsor and the management company that manages and leases the property. The sponsor typically structures the TIC investment with up-front fees and expenses charged to the TIC and negotiates the sale price and loan for the acquired property. Because these fees are often higher than 15%, there is often no way for the investment to be profitable for the investor.

TICs have come under fire by many investors and due to the failure of the TICs as a whole across the securities industry. Indeed, TICs have virtually disappeared as offered investments.   According to InvestmentNews “At the height of the TIC market in 2006, 71 sponsors raised $3.65 billion in equity from TICs and DSTs…TICs now are all but extinct because of the fallout from the credit crisis.” In fact, TICs recommendations have been a major contributor to bankrupting brokerage firms. For example, 43 of the 92 broker-dealers that sold TICs sponsored by DBSI Inc., a company whose executives were later charged with running a Ponzi scheme, a staggering 47% of firms that sold DBSI are no longer in business.

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shutterstock_188631644The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) brought an enforcement action (FINRA No. 2011025610501) against brokerage firm Braymen, Lambert and Noel Securities, Ltd. (BLNS) and the firm’s Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) Shannon Braymen (Braymen) resulting in a monetary sanction. FINRA’s allegations were that from April 2007 to November 2011 BLNS, acting through Braymen, failed to supervise its private placement securities business and the activities of brokers located in two offices. The firm was also accused of failing to register those two branch office locations. In addition, FINRA found that BLNS failed to conduct or to adequately document branch office inspections, and had inadequate supervisory systems and written supervisory procedures for non-branch office locations. Finally, FINRA found that BLNS and Braymen failed to capture and retain certain email correspondence.

BLNS is a member of FINRA and registered as a broker-dealer since March 2003, as a full-service broker-dealer. BLNS currently employs approximately 24 brokers and operates out of 4 branch offices. The firm conducts a securities business in corporate debt securities, over-the-counter equity securities, US government securities, mutual funds, options, private placements and variable contracts. BLNS is also authorized to underwrite corporate securities, proprietary trading and investment advisory services. Braymen entered the securities industry in February 1995. During Braymen’s career she has obtained various securities licenses and had supervisory responsibility for each of the supervisory areas complained of by FINRA.

FINRA’s findings highlighted supervisory deficiencies in a number of areas. One of FINRA’s findings was that BLNS and two brokers located in an unregistered branch office in San Antonio, Texas participated in nine private placement offerings. BLNS and Braymen were accused of failing to adequately supervise the firm’s participation in these nine offerings. FINRA found that the firm had no documentation of principal review and approval of any of the private placement documents, no documentation that a principal of the firm had conducted due diligence, and no documentation of principal review and approval of customer subscription documents. Review of subscription documents are required to determine the suitability of the investments for customers.

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