Advisor Jamie Westenbarger Barred by Regulator Over Borrowing Customer Funds

shutterstock_93851422-300x240The attorneys at Gana Weinstein LLP are investigating BrokerCheck records reports that financial advisor Jamie Westenbarger (Westenbarger), formerly employed by Securities America, Inc. (Securities America) has been subject to at least five customer complaints, two employment termination for cause, and one regulatory action during the course of his career.  According to records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Westenbarger’s customer complaint alleges that Westenbarger recommended unsuitable investments in a variety of investment products including alternative investments, non-traded REITs, variable annuities, corporate notes, and UITs among other allegations of misconduct relating to the handling of their accounts.

In August 2019 Westenbarger’s employer, Securities America, discharged Westenbarger alleging that the representative was discharged for violating firm policies and procedures regarding borrowing funds from clients.

Thereafter, FINRA investigated the allegations and in October 2019 barred Westenbarger after alleging that he consented to the sanction and to the entry of findings that he failed to provide documents requested by FINRA during the course of an investigation concerning information disclosed by Securities America. FINRA found that Westenbarger intentionally provided a partial response, but did not substantially comply with all aspects of FINRA’s request.

In October 2019 a customer complained that Westenbarger violated the securities laws by alleging that Westenbarger convinced them to purchase a corporate note and instead used the funds for his own purposes, that in June 2018, Westenbarger convinced them to replace a variable annuity for no apparent reason, and that in July 2019 Westenbarger made an unauthorized purchase of a UIT, which was unsuitable.  The claim alleges $212,000 in damages and is currently pending.

Brokers are required under the securities laws to treat their clients fairly.  This obligation includes the duties to disclose material risks of the investments they recommend and to present products, particularly complex or confusing products, in a fair and balanced manner that allows the client to evaluate the recommendation.  Another important obligation advisors have is to make only suitable recommendations for investments to the client.  There are many investments that are not appropriate for the majority of investors or for certain investors given their risk tolerance, age, and other factors.  Advisors should not present these investment options to clients.  There are two screens that advisors must employ to determine whether an investment is suitable for a client.  First, there must be a reasonable basis for the recommendation – meaning that the product has been investigated and due diligence conducted into the investment’s features, benefits, risks, and other relevant factors.  The advisor must conclude that the investment is suitable for at least some investors and some securities may be suitable for no one.  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.

According to newsources, a study revealed that 7.3% of financial advisors had a customer complaint on their record when records from 2005 to 2015 were examined.  Brokers must publicly disclose reportable events on their BrokerCheck reports that include customer complaints, IRS tax liens, judgments, investigations, terminations, and criminal cases.  In addition, research has show a disturbing pattern with troublesome brokers where brokers with high numbers of customer complaints are not kicked out of the industry but instead these brokers are sifted to lower quality brokerage firms with loose hiring practices and higher rates of customer complaints.  These lower quality firms may average brokers with five times as many complaints as the industry average.

Westenbarger entered the securities industry in 2003.  From April 2011 until March 2014 Westenbarger was associated with American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc.  From March 2014 until May 2016 Westenbarger was associated with First Allied Securities, Inc.  Finally, from May 2016 until September 2019 Westenbarger was registered with Securities America out of the firm’s Grand Rapids, Michigan office location.

Investors who have suffered losses are encouraged to contact us at (800) 810-4262 for consultation.  At Gana Weinstein LLP, our attorneys are experienced representing investors who have suffered securities losses due to the mishandling of their accounts.  Claims may be brought in securities arbitration before FINRA.  Our consultations are free of charge and the firm is only compensated if you recover.

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