Articles Posted in Securities Arbitration

Gana Weinstein LLP represented 19 Claimants in a FINRA arbitration against Anthony Diaz. A panel of arbitrators awarded the Claimants over $4 million. The case was picked up by major publications including the Washington Post and InvestmentNews. Adam Gana, managing partner of Gana Weinstein LLP said his clients “gave their life savings to [Diaz], and he was just a predator who was looking out for his own best interest and not the best interest at my clients.” Gana said he will go after Diaz’s assets and earnings in an attempt to recover the judgment. “We will fight tooth and nail to get these people their money,” he said. “This is not money that our clients can afford to lose.”

Gana Weinstein LLP is a full service law firm that specialized in Securities Arbitration. The firm tenaciously defends investors and aggressively pursues brokerage firms for misconduct.

shutterstock_101456704-300x197According to BrokerCheck records financial advisor Martin Stevens (Stevens), currently associated with Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated (Stifel Nicolause), has been subject to seven customer complaints.  According to records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), in August 2017 a customer filed a complaint alleging that Stevens conduct breached his fiduciary duty, negligence, unsuitable investments, violations of Arizona’s Securities Fraud Statute, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of contract among other claims.  The customer seeks $249,000 in damages and the claim is currently pending.

Also in August 2017 another customer filed a complaint alleging unsuitable investments causing $34,719 in damages.  The claim is currently pending.

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shutterstock_175483226-300x300Are you hiring the best securities attorney to help you recover investment losses? This article will help you make the right choice when selecting the best FINRA attorney by outlining the most important things to look out for. Consider these five questions to ensure you are hiring the best:

  1. Is the attorney reputable?

It is imperative to hire a reputable attorney for FINRA arbitration who has the necessary educational background, training, and results-oriented experience.  To ensure you are hiring the best securities attorney, look at the attorney’s practice areas, case experience, and client reviews.

shutterstock_163885049-300x200The fiduciary rule passed during the Obama administration is being reviewed by the Department of Labor (DOL), leaving plenty of uncertainty for advisers and investors. As Barry Tempkin reports, “During this period, advisers who do not receive level-fee compensation are held to the DOL impartial conduct standard for retirement accounts, but are not required to enter into best interest contracts for commission-based compensation.” Under the DOL impartial conduct standard, brokers who offer retirement investing advice are required to put clients’ interests ahead of their own. Although portions of the rule went into effect in June, there are additional requirements but the DOL has proposed a delay to fully implementing the rule until July 2019.

We cannot be sure how the current DOL under Secretary Acosta will ultimately handle the adoption of a fiduciary standard. In the meantime, the impartial conduct standard for retirement accounts will likely result in more litigation and arbitration. Since the rule benefits investors, there will likely be a higher success rate for investors’ representatives.

Under the new fiduciary rule, if an adviser engages in a BIC (“Best Interests Contract”) agreement with a client, it allows the adviser to engage in transactions that are prohibited under the rule. If the “Best Interests Contract” (BIC) exception goes into effect, these claims will include breach of contract.

shutterstock_103476707Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against financial advisor Victor Lambert (Lambert) currently not registered with any firm, alleging unsuitable investments among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Lambert has been subject to seven customer complaints and two judgement/liens.

In January 2016 Lambert disclosed a tax lien of $46,706.  A broker’s inability to handle their personal finances has also been found to be relevant in helping investors determine if they should allow the broker to handle their finances.

In October 2015 a customer filed a complaint alleging that Lambert purchased two equities that were inappropriate for the client causing damages.  The claim was resolved for $85,000.

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shutterstock_62862913Our firm is investigating claims made by VisionPoint Advisory Group, LLC and LPL Financial LLC (LPL) against broker Vincent Sturm (Sturm).  According to the two firms Sturm was discharged in August 2016 after allegation were made that Sturm violated firm policies by soliciting loans.  VisionPoint stated that no funds were received by Sturm and the loan was not made.  No other details concerning this activity were reported.

According to Sturm’s brokercheck records Sturm disclosed an outside business activity – Generations Wealth Advisors.  The providing of loans or selling of notes and other investments outside of a brokerage firm constitutes impermissible private securities transactions – a practice known in the industry as “selling away”.  Often times brokers who engage in this practice use outside businesses in order to market their securities.

Sturm entered the securities industry in 1998.  From January 2009 through March 2011 Sturm was associated with Securities America, Inc.  From February 2011 until December 2013, Sturm was registered with Broker Dealer Financial Services Corp.  Thereafter, from November 2013 until February 2016 Sturm was associated with InvestaCorp, Inc.  From January 2016 until August 2016, Sturm was associated with LPL.  Finally, since September 2016, Sturm has been registered with Berthel, Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. out of the firm’s Perry, Iowa office location.

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shutterstock_24531604According to the BrokerCheck records kept by Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) broker Jerry McCutchen (McCutchen) has been the subject of at least 15 customer complaints and one judgment or lien. The customer complaints against McCutchen allege a number of securities law violations including that the broker made unsuitable investments, negligence, and misrepresentations among other claims.

The claims against McCutchen involve various investments including equipment leasing, non-traded real estate investment trusts (Non-Traded REITs), and variable annuities. We have written many times about the investing dangers of these products. One quality all of these investments have in common is the fact that they come with high commissions for the broker and low probability of success for the client. Our firm has written numerous times about investor losses in these programs such as equipment leasing programs like LEAF Equipment Leasing Income Funds I-IV and ICON Leasing Funds Eleven and Twelve. The costs and fees associated with all of these investments cause the security to be so costly that significant returns are virtual impossibility. Yet, investors are in no way compensated for the additional risks of these products.

In a typical equipment leasing program upfront fees are around 20-25% of investor’s capital. As for Non-Traded REITs, it was reported in the Wall Street Journal, that a study on “Nontraded REITs are costing investors, especially elderly, retired, unsophisticated investors, billions. They’re suffering illiquidity and ignorance, and earning much less than what they ought to be earning.” In conclusion, “No brokerage should be allowed to sell these things.”

According the analysis, shareholders have lost about $50 billion for having put money into Non-Traded REITs rather than publicly exchange-traded funds. The study found that the average annual rate of return of Non-Traded REITs was 5.2%, compared with 11.9% for the Vanguard REIT Index Fund, a publicly traded REIT index.

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shutterstock_184429547According to the BrokerCheck records kept by Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) broker Judith Woodhouse (Woodhouse) has been barred for failing to respond to requests for information by the agency. The requests may have related to the reasons Securities America, Inc. (Securities America) gave for terminating Woodhouse’s employment. Upon termination from Securities America the firm filed a Uniform Termination form (Form U5) stating that the reason for the firm’s termination of Woodhouse was due to allegations by the firm that Woodhouse violated the firm’s policies relating to the borrowing of funds and responding to supervisory requests.

In addition, to the most recent FINRA action and bar, Woodhouse has been the subject of at least one customer complaint involving a private placement. In addition, Woodhouse has several financial disclosures and two regulatory actions. Another FINRA action in 2013, concerned Woodhouse’s involvement in private securities transactions totally over $500,000 that were made without Securities America’s consent. This action resulted in a $10,000 fine and three month suspension.

It is important for investors to know that all advisers have an obligation and responsibility to deal fairly with investors including making suitable investment recommendations. In order to make suitable recommendations the broker must have a reasonable basis for recommending the product or security based upon the broker’s investigation of the investments properties including its benefits, risks, tax consequences, and other relevant factors. In addition, the broker must also understand the customer’s specific investment objectives to determine whether or not the specific product or security being recommended is appropriate for the customer based upon their needs.

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shutterstock_82649419The attorneys at Gana Weinstein LLP have been following the collapse of the MainStay Cushing Royalty Energy Income Fund (CURAX), (CURNX), (CURCX), and (CURZX). The fund describes its investment strategy as investing primarily in securities of energy-related U.S. royalty trusts, Canadian royalty trusts, and Canadian exploration and production (E&P), E&P master limited partnerships (MLPs), and securities of other companies in the same businesses as Energy Trusts and MLPs engage.

Investments in MLPs contain significant risks and the Cushing Fund has declined by over 50% in value from its high. These risks stem from the fact that MLPs tend to fluctuate with the price of oil and gas. For example in 2008, when oil plummeted in the wake of the great recession the AMZ MLP Index declined by 36.9% in a single year. MLPs have other risks that investors should know including the fact that these investments often grow their distributions at an accelerated rate in their first two years in order to attract positive research reports from Wall Street analysts. The funds use the increased distributions and positive reports to influence their values higher even though the true long term yield of these MLPs are unknown.

As a background MLPs are publicly traded partnerships. About 86% of MLP securities are related to energy and natural resource companies. There are about 130 MLPs trading on major exchanges that focus on energy related industries and natural resources. While MLPs have the same liquid trading characteristics as common stocks they are internally very different. For instance, MLP’s are pass through investment vehicles that pass through their income to the investor without any company level taxation. In addition, MLP’s must derive 90% of their revenues from their businesses in natural resources activities. Investors should also be aware that in practice, most MLP’s pay out most of their earnings through distributions rather than reinvest profits in the company. This causes the MLPs to issue additional debt and shares in order to grow the business.

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shutterstock_189006551The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned broker Cary Olson (Olson) concerning allegations that Olson made recommendations in non-traditional exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to several customers without having reasonable grounds to believe his recommendations were suitable in relation to the holding periods for the ETFs. FINRA also alleged that Olson permitted the execution of options transactions in the account of a customer who was not approved for options activity.

Olson entered the securities industry in 1993.  In June 2006, Olson became registered at FlNRA firm Great Circle Financial until July 2013. From June 2013 until November 2013, Olson was registered with GBS Financial Corp. Finally, Olson is currently associated with Calton & Associates. This disciplinary matter is not the first time FINRA has sanctioned Olson. In January 2006, Olson consented to the entry of findings by NASD that he exercised discretion in customer accounts without obtaining written authorization. Olson was suspended for one month and fined $5,000.

FINRA alleged that from October 2010 through October 2012, Olson recommended transactions of various leveraged and inverse-leveraged ETFs in the accounts of five customers. As a background, these types of ETFs are designed to achieve their objectives over the course of a single day only and are generally not appropriate for long term holdings. By holding these ETFs over longer periods of time the value of the investment differs dramatically from the index it tracks because the investment is reset daily.

Despite these risks, FINRA found that the ETFs Olson recommended to his customers were held for much longer periods and up to 668 days with an average holding period of 290 days. FINRA found that these extended holding periods showed that Olson failed to appreciate the nature of the ETFs at the time of his recommendations and mostly likely did not understand that they were not designed to achieve their objectives for extended holding periods. Accordingly, FINRA found that Olson did not have reasonable grounds to believe his recommendations were suitable.

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