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shutterstock_54642700-300x200The investment fraud attorneys with Gana LLP are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Joseph Sterling (Sterling) currently associated with Geneos Wealth Management, Inc. (Geneos Wealth).  According to brokercheck records Sterling has been subject to three customer complaints.  Two of the most recent complaints involve his conduct concerning direct participation products (DPPs) such as non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) and potentially other alternative investments.

In August 2017 a customer filed a complaint alleging that Sterling made unsuitable recommendations of real estate securities in 2012 and 2013 and other causes of action.  The customer alleges $290,000 in damages and the claim is currently pending.  Another customer filed a complaint in July 2017 alleging that in 2013 and 2014, Sterling made unsuitable recommendations of real estate securities and other direct investments and other causes of action.  The claim alleged $500,000 in damages and 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_185913422-300x200In early September, we reported that the investment lawyers of Gana LLP were investigating allegations by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finding that Sonya Camarco (Camarco) misappropriated over $2.8 million in investor funds from her clients and customers.

In a separate but parallel action, Colorado state authorities have arrested Camarco on charges that she stole $850,000 from clients. According to news sources, a Colorado grand jury indicted Camarco on six counts of securities fraud and seven counts of theft on September 21. Authorities say Camarco operated her scheme between January 2013 and May 2017. An SEC investigator allegedly traced nearly 130 checks from Camarco’s clients’ accounts to a post office box she controlled. Camarco is accused of using the money to pay her own credit card bills and taxes, and to buy real estate.

LPL terminated Camarco in August 2017 “for depositing third party checks from client accounts into a bank account she controlled and accessing client funds for personal use.”

According to BrokerCheck records, beginning in approximately 2004 and continuing through at least August 2017, Camarco allegedly used investor accounts to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card bills, took cash advances on investor accounts, transferred investor funds directly to her personal bank account, and funneled investor funds into her personal bank accounts. Camarco allegedly spent investor funds on the purchase of a house and the payment of her personal mortgage.

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shutterstock_19864066-209x300According to BrokerCheck records financial advisor Joseph Rodriguez (Rodriguez), currently associated with Hennion & Walsh, Inc. (Hennion & Walsh), has been subject to four customer complaints.  According to records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Rodriguez has been accused by customers of unsuitable investments among other claims.  Most of the claims appear to be related to municipal bonds or other bond related investments

In June 2017, a customer filed a complaint alleging that Rodriguez recommended certain investment grade municipal bonds between 2009 and 2012 that were unsuitable.  The claim alleges $125,000 in damages and is currently pending.  In May 2016 another customer filed a complaint alleging that there were unsuitable recommendations from 2013 and 2014.  The claim alleged $250,000 in damages and settled.  In October 2015 another customer filed a complaint alleging an unsuitable recommendation causing $56,390 in damages.  The claim later settled.

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shutterstock_188631644-300x225Thomas Howes (Howes), working out of Bethesda, MD, has been subject to five customer complaints. According to BrokerCheck records, Howes has been accused by customers of unsuitable investment advice and trades.

In one complaint from 2012, customers alleged that from August 2006 until July 2011, there were excessive and unsuitable trades made in their brokerage accounts and a variable annuity that resulted in losses. They alleged damages of $300,500 and the dispute was settled for $130,000.

In another complaint, customers alleged the transactions in their account were not suitable and were awarded a settlement amount of $229,369.99.

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shutterstock_108591-300x199The securities lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating investor losses in Healthcare Trust, Inc. a non-traded real estate investment trust (Non-Traded REIT).  According to the firm’s website, Healthcare Trust is an investment trust which seeks to acquire a diversified portfolio of real estate properties focusing primarily on healthcare-related assets including medical office buildings, seniors housing, and other healthcare-related facilities.

According to a secondary market providers which allow investors to bid and sell illiquid products such as Non-Traded REITs, Healthcare Trust sells for just under $14.99 per share – a significant loss on the original purchase price of $25.00.

Our firm often handles cases involving direct participation products (DPPs), private placements, Non-Traded REITs, and other alternative investments.  These products are almost always unsuitable for middle class investors.  In addition, the brokers who sell them are paid additional commission in order to hype inferior quality investments providing perverse incentives for brokers to sell high risk and low reward investments.

According to studies, non-traded REITs have historically have underperformed even safe benchmarks, like U.S. treasury bonds – meaning that non-traded REITs provide paltry investment returns considering the risk an investor takes.  Alternative investment products like oil and gas partnerships, REITs, and equipment leasing programs 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.

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shutterstock_85873471-300x200According to BrokerCheck records financial advisor Michael Keane (Keane), formerly associated with UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS), has been subject to nine customer complaints.  According to records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Keane has been accused by a customers of unsuitable investment advice concerning various investment products including energy stocks, master limited partnerships (MLPs), and business development companies.  The law offices of Gana LLP continue to report on investor related losses and potential legal remedies due to recommendations to investor in oil and gas and commodities related investments.

The most recent claim was filed in October 2017 and alleges that Keane, from February 2011 to September 2017, disregarded instructions by investing in unsuitable high risk energy stocks and MLPs.  The claim is currently pending.

In November 2016 customers alleged that Keane recommended an unsuitable investment strategy in Energy Stocks, MLP’s and Business Development Companies, and further mispresented the risks associated with this investment strategy.  The claim seeks damages of $4,724,136 and is currently pending.

Our firm handles claims and is also investigating securities claims against brokerage firms over sales practices 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.

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shutterstock_85873471-300x200According to BrokerCheck records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) broker Leon Rehak (Rehak) has been subject to two customer complaints.  Rehak is currently registered with LPL Financial LLC (LPL Financial).  In November 2016 a customer filed a complaint alleging a number of securities law violations including that the broker made engaged in churning (excessive trading), unauthorized trading, and breach of fiduciary duty among other claims.  The claim alleged $600,000 in damages and is currently pending.

In October 2017, another customer filed a complaint alleging Common Law Fraud, Common Law Negligent Misrepresentation, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Negligence, Suitability, and Excessive Trading from May 2011 through September 2017.  The claim alleged $499,000 in damages and is currently pending.

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shutterstock_184430612-300x225According to BrokerCheck records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) broker Frank Giacalone (Giacalone) has been subject to two customer complaints.  Giacalone is currently registered with Aegis Capital Corp. (Aegis).  In June 2016 a customer filed a complaint alleging a number of securities law violations including that the broker made engaged in churning (excessive trading), unauthorized trading, and breach of fiduciary duty among other claims.  The claim alleged $128,319 in damages and was settled.

In June 2015, another customer filed a complaint alleging unsuitable investment recommendations and claiming $107,969 in damages.  The claim was settled.

When brokers engage in excessive trading, sometimes referred to as churning, the broker will typical trade in and out of securities, sometimes even the same stock, many times over a short period of time.  Often times the account will completely “turnover” every month with different securities.  This type of investment trading activity in the client’s account serves no reasonable purpose for the investor and is engaged in only to profit the broker through the generation of commissions created by the trades.  Churning is considered a species of securities fraud.  The elements of the claim are excessive transactions of securities, broker control over the account, and intent to defraud the investor by obtaining unlawful commissions.  A similar claim, excessive trading, under FINRA’s suitability rule involves just the first two elements.  Certain commonly used measures and ratios used to determine churning help evaluate a churning claim.  These ratios look at how frequently the account is turned over plus whether or not the expenses incurred in the account made it unreasonable that the investor could reasonably profit from the activity.

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shutterstock_88744093-297x300According to BrokerCheck records financial advisor Victor Sibilla (Sibilla), currently associated with Westpark Capital, Inc. (Westpark Capital), has been subject to 6 customer complaints, one regulatory action, and two civil judgments.  According to records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Sibilla has been accused by customers of unsuitable investments, misrepresentations, excessive trading, and misuse of margin among other claims.

In May 2017, a customer filed a complaint alleging that Sibilla was not licensed in the state where he transacted business seeking $108,400 in damages.  The claim is currently pending.  In June 2013 another customer filed a complaint alleging that Sibilla misrepresented that his stock would double claiming $175,000 in damages.  The claim was closed.  In September 2012, a customer alleged excessive trading and unsuitable investments causing $300,000 in damages.  The claim was settled.

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shutterstock_120556300-300x300According to BrokerCheck records financial advisor Frederick Houck (Houck), formerly associated with Freedom Investors Corp. (Freedom Investors), has been subject to one customer complaint, six tax liens or judgments, and one FINRA sanction.  According to records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Houck has been accused by a customer of churning, negligence, excessive trading, and breach of fiduciary duty from August 2011 to January 2016 causing $150,000 in damages.  The claim is currently pending.

In August 2017 FINRA sanctioned Houck alleging that Houck exercised discretion in executing 491 transactions in the accounts of two customers as part of a recommended investment strategy without obtaining prior written authorization to exercise discretion and without his member firm having approved these accounts for discretionary trading.

Advisors are not allowed to engage in unauthorized trading.  Such trading occurs when a broker sells securities without the prior authority from the investor. All brokers are under an obligation to first discuss trades with the investor before executing them under NYSE Rule 408(a) and FINRA Rules 2510(b).  These rules explicitly prohibit brokers from making discretionary trades in a customers’ non-discretionary accounts. The SEC has also found that unauthorized trading to be fraudulent nature because no disclosure could be more important to an investor than to be made aware that a trade will take place.  Often times, brokers engage in unauthorized trading as part of an attempt to churn or excessively trade a client’s account.

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