Articles Posted in Securities Lawyer

shutterstock_77335852-300x225According to BrokerCheck records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) broker Joseph Cotter (Cotter) has been subject to two customer complaints, two employment terminations for cause, and one regulatory action.  Cotter was formerly registered with Next Financial Group, Inc. (Next Financial).  In March 2016 Next Financial terminated Cotter claiming that the firm conducted an internal review of the trading activity in a customer’s accounts and found the level of trading activity to be excessive (excessive trading) in light of the customer’s profile and the character of the account.

Thereafter, FINRA investigated Cotter and found that Cotter engaged in excessive, unsuitable trading in the accounts of one customer. FINRA found that Cotter exercised de facto control over an IRA account and a second account of a customer.  FINRA determined that Cotter used this control to excessively trade the accounts in a manner that was inconsistent with the customer’s investment objectives, financial situation, and needs.  The trading generated commissions of $100,549 while the client lost $391,893.

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shutterstock_187532306-300x200According to BrokerCheck records financial advisor Robert Hoffmann (Hoffmann), formerly associated with Thurston, Springer, Miller, Herd & Titak, Inc. (Thurston, Springer), has been subject to two customer complaints, one regulatory action, and one tax lien.  According to records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), in January 2017 a customer filed a complaint alleging that Hoffmann made unsuitable investments, unauthorized trading, and churning among other claims.  The claim seeks $3,200,000 in damages and is currently pending.

In September 2017, FINRA sanctioned Hoffmann stated that Hoffmann consented to the sanctions and to the entry of findings that he willfully failed to amend his Form U4 to timely disclose an unsatisfied Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax lien filed against him.  In addition, there is one tax lien disclosed on Hoffmann’s report for $106,991 filed in December 2014.  Tax liens and judgements are material information for an investor to consider for several reasons.  A broker with large unpaid debts may be tempted to recommend high commission products and services to satisfy their personal debts.  In addition, a broker’s inability to manage their own finances is material in a customer’s decision to retain the advisor’s services.

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shutterstock_183801500-300x168The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ordered Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC (Wells Fargo) to pay more than $3.4 million in restitution to customers for unsuitable recommendations of volatility-linked exchange-traded products (ETPs) and supervisory failures concerning the sales of these products.  FINRA found that between July 2010, and May 2012 Wells Fargo brokers recommended volatility-linked ETPs without fully understanding their risks and features.

These complex products are extremely difficult to understand and are easy to improperly sell.  In recent years many exotic ETN have been created that either use leverage or futures exposure to replicate an index.  However, many of these investments are appropriate only for institutional investors and short term trading for various reasons.

The most popular volatility-linked ETP is the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX).  The VIX tends to be negatively correlated with broader financial indexes and rises in period of market distress.  However, it is not possible to directly invest in the VIX and instead investments are made in VIX derivatives such as futures or options.   The three main Volatility ETPs offered to retail investors are VXX, VXZ, and VIXY.  Volatility ETPs attempt to provide exposure to the VIX through VIX futures contracts but these Volatility ETPs do not track the VIX Accordingly, VIX investments held for long periods of time will almost certainly lose value.

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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_78659098-300x225According to BrokerCheck records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) advisor Jonathan Freeze (Freeze), in August 2017, was accused by FINRA of failing to cooperate in an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Freeze’s alleged sale of variable annuities.  Freeze is formerly associated with Fortune Financial Services, Inc. (Fortune Financial).  According to the FINRA action, Freeze was barred by the regulator after the broker failed to respond to requests for documents and information during the investigation.

In 2015, Feeze was also sanctioned by FINRA concerning allegations that he borrowed $20,000 from his customer and failed to provide the firm with prior notice of the loan and failed to obtain prior written pre-approval for the loan.  Freeze has also been subject to two terminations for cause and multiple financial disclosures.

Variable annuities are complex financial and insurance products.  In fact, recently the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a publication entitled: Variable Annuities: What You Should Know encouraging investors to ask questions about the variable annuity before investing.  Essentially, a variable annuity is a contract with an insurance company under which the insurer agrees to make periodic payments to you.  The investor chooses the investments made in the annuity and value of your variable annuity will vary depending on the performance of the investment options chosen.  The primary benefits of variable annuities are the death benefit and tax deferment of investment gains.

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shutterstock_20354398-300x200According to BrokerCheck records financial advisor Herbert Smith (Smith), currently associated with Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Ketra Investment), has been subject to one customer complaint and two tax liens.  According to records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Smith has been accused by a customers of unsuitable investment advice concerning energy limited partnership investment among other claims.  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.

In addition, Smith has been subject to two tax liens.  The first in May 2014 for $65,692 and the second in July 2016 for $69,542.  Tax liens can be sign that a broker may have a conflict of interest to recommend or engage in high risk trades and improper recommendations due to the need to obtain funds.  FINRA discloses tax liens information because it is important for investors to know whether or not a broker can manage their own finances.

Our firm is investigating potential 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_1832893-226x300The 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.  According to BrokerCheck records, Customers have filed about seven complaints with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) against broker Jeffrey Grayson (Grayson), a former registered representative with Wells Fargo Advisors (Wells Fargo) out of the firm’s Florham Park, New Jersey office location.

Some of the customer complaints against Grayson allege a number of securities law violations including that the broker made unsuitable investments and overcenoncetrated clients in oil & gas related investments among other claims.  The most recent complaint was filed in June 2017 and alleged unauthorized trading and unsuitable investments.  The complaint is currently pending.

In February 2017 FINRA suspended Grayson alleging that Grayson exercised discretion in four accounts without written authorization from those customers and without having obtained approval from his member firm to treat those customer accounts as discretionary. FINRA also found that Grayson provided inaccurate responses about his use of discretion on the firm’s annual compliance documents.

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shutterstock_138129767-300x199According to BrokerCheck records Brian Murphy (Murphy) has been sanctioned and barred by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) over allegations that the broker failed to respond to the regulator’s requests for information.  In July 2016, Murphy was terminated by his firm Signator Investors, Inc. (Signator) on allegations that Murphy admitted to conducting an unapproved outside business activity.  In the industry all such activities must be disclosed and approved by the firm before the broker can engage in them.

Murphy has been terminated by three employers in total during his career.  In November 2014 Murphy was terminated by MetLife Securities, Inc. (MetLife) for making a representation that he had a professional designation that he did not in fact possess.  In addition, Murphy has been subject to a number of customer complaints concerning the sale of variable annuities.

At this time it is unclear what outside business activity Murphy was engaged in.  However, the risk to investors is that the broker will use such businesses to engage in unauthorized securities activities.  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”.

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shutterstock_95643673-300x300Since the beginning of 2010 broker John Hudson (Hudson), currently employed by Next Financial Group, Inc. (Next Financial), racked up eight total tax liens and other debts.  Some of these tax liens are quite large including on in September 2010 for $1,492,190.  According to BrokerCheck this tax lien is still active and hasn’t been satisfied.  While no customer complaints have been filed against Hudson and the presence of large liens does not necessarily mean that the broker will engage in risky behavior it is an important red flag for investors to consider.  The risk is that the broker will be influenced to recommend high commission products or trading strategies to satisfy the liens at investors’ expense.  In extreme cases brokers have even misappropriated funds or asked clients for loans to satisfy their personal debts.  There is no indication that any wrongdoing has occurred in Hudson’s case.

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