The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) fined (Case No. 2013036001201) broker Garrett Ahrens (Ahrens) concerning allegations that the broker used false and misleading consolidated reports with clients.
According to FINRA’s BrokerCheck records Ahrens has been in securities industry since 1989. From June 1998 until August 2015, Ahrens was associated with LPL Financial LLC (LPL Financial). In August 2015, LPL Financial allowed Ahrens to voluntarily resign alleging that the broker potentially violated certain FINRA rules relating to the use of consolidated statements. In addition to the termination and FINRA complaint Ahrens has been subject to nine customer complaints over the course of his career. Many of the more recent complaints involve allegations of investments in limited partnerships, private placements, and non-traded real estate investment trusts (Non-Traded REITs) among other investments.
As a background, a Non-Traded REIT is a security that invests in different types of real estate assets such as commercial, residential, or other specialty niche real estate markets such as strip malls, hotels, storage, and other industries. There are also publicly traded REITs that are bought and sold on an exchange with similar liquidity to traditional assets like stocks and bonds. However, Non-traded REITs are sold only through broker-dealers, are illiquid, have no or limited secondary market and redemption options, and can only be liquidated on terms dictated by the issuer, which may be changed at any time and without prior warning.
A consolidated report is a single document that combines financial information regarding a customer’s financial holdings on one statement. Consolidated reports are supplements but do not replace customer account statements. Due to the increasing complexity of investments offered by brokers from multiple different issuers and platform FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 10-19 reminding brokers and brokerage firms that consolidated report are communications with the public that must be must be clear, accurate, and not misleading. The valuations and values provided on the statements must be consistent with the customer’s official account statement. When creating consolidated account statements broker must take reasonable steps to accurately report information.
In this case FINRA found that between January 6, 2011 and June 7, 2013, Ahrens prepared a total of approximately 65 consolidated reports for at least four customers that inaccurately reflected the current value of investments and the performance of investments including private placements and Non-Traded REITs.
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