The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned and barred broker Kenneth Hornyak (Hornyak) (Case No. 2013038511901) alleging that the broker failed to respond the regulator’s requests for documents and information. FINRA’s investigation appeared to focus on claims that Hornyak engaged in potential discretionary trading, unauthorized trading, and unsuitable short-term trading in Unit Investment Trusts (UITs). On May 11, 2015, Hornyak informed FINRA that he would not appear for questioning and the regulator subsequently barred the broker.
According to the BrokerCheck records kept by FINRA Hornyak has been the subject of at least four customer complaints, one regulatory action, and two employment terminations for cause. Customers have filed complaints against Hornyak alleging a litany of securities law violations including that the broker made unsuitable investments, unauthorized trades, churning, and excessive sales charges among other claims.
Hornyak entered the securities industry in 1998 with Morgan Stanley. From March 2006, until January 2014, Hornyak was associated with Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated. In January 2014, Stifel, Nicolaus terminated Hornyak for cause alleging that Hornyak was terminated because of violation of firm policies regarding exercising discretion without written authorization.
Advisors are not allowed to engage in unauthorized trading. Such trading occurs when a broker sells securities without the prior authority from the investor. The broker must first discuss all trades with the investor before executing them under NYSE Rule 408(a) and FINRA Rules 2510(b). These rules explicitly prohibit brokers from making discretionary trades in a customers’ non-discretionary accounts. The SEC has also found that unauthorized trading to be fraudulent nature.
Unauthorized trading often accompanies claims of churning, or investment trading activity in the client’s account serves no reasonable purpose for the investor and is transacted to profit the broker. The elements to establish a churning claim, which is considered a species of securities fraud, are excessive transactions of securities, broker control over the account, and intent to defraud the investor by obtaining unlawful commissions. A similar claim, excessive trading, under FINRA’s suitability rule involves just the first two elements. Certain commonly used measures and ratios used to determine churning help evaluate a churning claim. These ratios look at how frequently the account is turned over plus whether or not the expenses incurred in the account made it unreasonable that the investor could reasonably profit from the activity.
The number of complaints and regulatory actions against Hornyak is relatively large by industry standards. According to InvestmentNews, only about 12% of financial advisors have any type of disclosure event on their records. Brokers must disclose different types of events, not necessarily all of which are customer complaints. These disclosures can include IRS tax liens, judgments, and even criminal matters.
Investors who have suffered losses may be able recover their losses through securities arbitration. The attorneys at Gana Weinstein LLP are experienced in representing investors in cases where their broker has acted inappropriately. Our consultations are free of charge and the firm is only compensated if you recover.