FINRA Bars Former Merrill Lynch Broker Michael Highfill Over Outside Business Activities

shutterstock_184433255The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) brought and enforcement action against broker  Michael Highfill (Highfill) (FINRA No. 2015045652501) resulting in a bar from the securities industry alleging that Highfill failed to provide FINRA staff with information and documents requested. The failure to provide those documents and information to FINRA resulted in an automatic bar from the industry. FINRA’s document requests related to the regulators investigation into claims the Highfill solicited and accepted a loan from an elderly customer and that he also failed to disclose an outside business activity to his member firm.

FINRA’s investigation appears to stem from Highfill’s termination from Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (Merrill Lynch) in May 2015. At that time Merrill Lynch filed a Form U5 termination notice with FINRA stating in part that the firm discharged Highfill under circumstances where there was allegations that Highfill solicited a loan from a client and failed to disclose outside business activities. It is unclear the nature of the outside business activities from publicly available information at this time.

Highfill entered the securities industry in 1999. From August 2005 until August 2008, Highfill was associated with Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated. Thereafter, from July, 2008, until May 2015, Highfill was associated as a registered representative with Merrill Lynch out of the firm’s Ridgeland, Mississippi office.

The allegations made against Highfill constitute private securities transaction – also referred to in the industry as “selling away.” In the industry the term selling away refers to when a financial advisor solicits investments in companies, promissory notes, or other securities that are not pre-approved by the broker’s affiliated firm. However, even though when these incidents occur the brokerage firm claims ignorance of their advisor’s activities the firm is obligated under the FINRA rules to properly monitor and supervise its employees in order to detect and prevent brokers from offering investments in this fashion. In order to properly supervise their brokers each firm is required to have procedures in order to monitor the activities of each advisor’s activities and interaction with the public. Selling away misconduct often occurs where brokerage firms either fail to put in place a reasonable supervisory system or fail to actually implement that system. Supervisory failures allow brokers to engage in unsupervised misconduct that can include all manner improper conduct including selling away.

In cases of selling away the investor is unaware that the advisor’s investments are improper. In many of these cases the investor will not learn that the broker’s activities were wrongful until after the investment scheme is publicized, the broker is fired or charged by law enforcement, or stops returning client calls altogether.

Investors who have suffered losses may be able recover their losses through securities arbitration. The attorneys at Gana LLP are experienced in representing investors in cases of selling away and brokerage firms failure to supervise their representatives. Our consultations are free of charge and the firm is only compensated if you recover.