The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently barred broker Josh Abernathy (Abernathy) due to Abernathy’s refusal to respond to requests made by the agency. In addition, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia charged Abernathy with mail fraud and conducting unlawful monetary transactions. The complaint alleges that Abernathy stole $1.3 million from at least 14 victims located throughout Virginia and Texas. In order to carry out the alleged fraud scheme, Abernathy created an entity called Omega Investment Group (Omega).
ln 2000, Abernathy first became registered with a FINRA firm. From March 2007 until September 2012, Abernathy was associated with NEXT Financial Group, Inc (NEXT Financial). Thereafter, from February 2013 through August 2014, Abernathy was associated with The O.N. Equity Sales Company (ONESCO).
According to the complaint Abernathy told investors and clients that there the investments would generate guaranteed returns of between 10 to 20 percent. Abernathy’s victims included widows, single mothers, and church friends. In reality, instead of making legitimate investments, Abernathy used investor funds for his own personal trading account through E*Trade, where he lost the funds, or used for the money to fund personal expenses. Abernathy’s pitch allegedly was that investor money would be placed in certain options, puts, and calls through Omega. Abernathy also allegedly sent fake quarterly statements to the investors which he altered in order to show investment profits that did not actually exist.
The allegations against Abernathy are consistent with “selling away” securities violation. In the industry the term selling away refers to when a financial advisor solicits investments in companies, promissory notes, or other securities that are not pre-approved by the broker’s affiliated firm. However, even though the brokerage firm claim ignorance of their advisor’s activities, under the FINRA rules, a brokerage firm owes a duty to properly monitor and supervise its employees in order to detect and prevent brokers from offering investments in this fashion. In order to properly supervise their brokers each firm is required to have procedures in order to monitor the activities of each advisor’s activities and interaction with the public. Selling away often occurs in brokerage firm that either fail to put in place a reasonable supervisory system or fail to actually implement that system. Supervisory failures allow brokers to engage in unsupervised misconduct that can include all manner improper conduct including selling away.
In cases of selling away the investor is unaware that the advisor’s investments are improper. In many of these cases the investor will not learn that the broker’s activities were wrongful until after the investment scheme is publicized, the broker is fired or charged by law enforcement, or stops returning client calls altogether.
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 of selling away and brokerage firms failure to supervise their representatives. Our consultations are free of charge and the firm is only compensated if you recover.