Articles Tagged with Advanced Equities

shutterstock_103681238The law offices of Gana Weinstein LLP recently filed a securities arbitration case on behalf of a family of four investors against First Allied Securities, Inc. (First Allied) and Centaurus Financial, Inc. (Centaurus) concerning allegations that their financial advisor Seyed Ahmad Hashemian (Hashemian) made unsuitable and inappropriate investment recommendations to claimants’ by recommending a near 100% concentration in illiquid, speculative, and high commission investments including variable annuities, equity-indexed annuities (EIAs), private placements, oil and gas ventures, non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), and Advanced Equities private placements.

Our law offices have represented over a dozen investors who alleged that they were sold the Advanced Equities private placements through the use of false and misleading advertising materials. In addition, to customer complaints both FINRA and the SEC have sanctioned Advanced Equities concerning the misleading nature of their sales practices. Customers have alleged that the products were misrepresented as “late stage equities” that were a mere 12-36 months from going public. The complaint also alleged that the investments were sold as providing “Higher near-term investment returns than the public equity markets” while providing “Greater short-term liquidity and lower risk profiles.” The complaint alleged that these representations were false and that First Allied failed to conduct even basic due diligence to verify the accuracy of these statements.

In the case of the recent complaint filed, claimants’ investments were alleged to have been made using money that was supposed to be used to replace the earnings the untimely passing of a family member. As a result, the complaint alleged that over a nearly nine year period where the broader market indexes have hit all-time highs, claimants have lost significant sums their investments. The claimants alleged that they have been deprived of the ability to generate reasonable returns by being trapped in illiquid and unsuitable investments.

The law offices of Gana Weinstein LLP filed a complaint with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) on behalf of four investors against First Allied Securities, Inc. (First Allied) concerning broker Amram a/k/a Rami Yahalom’s solicitation and sale of Advanced Equities private placements. According to the complaint, First Allied and Yahalom sold the investors AE Luxtera Investments II, LLC (Luxtera), a private placement in a technology start-up company by misrepresenting Luxtera’s prospects and failing to conduct even basic due diligence on the company before recommending the investment to clients.

shutterstock_140321293In the context of a Regulation D offering, FINRA requires broker-dealers to conduct a reasonable investigation of the issuer and the securities they recommend in offerings. The investors alleged that First Allied failed to meet FINRA’s due diligence requirements and made representations that were misleading. The investors alleged that Yahalom and First Allied marketed Luxtera and other private placements as “late stage equities” that were a mere 12-36 months from going public through an IPO. Luxtera was also allegedly sold to customers under the false premise that the company would provide “Higher near-term investment returns than the public equity markets” while providing “Greater short-term liquidity and lower risk profiles.”

However, according to the complaint, these representations were misleading and false. The complaint alleged that First Allied sought to raise $43 million for Luxtera based on a $175 million valuation that was 22 times Luxtera’s projected 2008 revenues. In addition, the investors alleged that while First Allied knew that Luxtera had only achieved $1 million in sales as of November 30, 2008, their broker provided them with a slide-show presentation that projected 2009 sales as high as $89,447,500 and 2010 sales could reach $341,883,000. The complaint alleged that First Allied lacked a good faith basis to believe that Luxtera would experience 8,945% sales growth in one year and 34,188% sales growth over the next two years when the company was then suffering losses in excess of $30 million a year.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently barred broker William (Bill) Tatro, formerly registered with First Allied Securities, Inc. (First Allied), concerning allegations that he failed to respond to two requests for information by FINRA staff in connection with an investigation into whether he violated federal securities laws or FINRA conduct rules.  According to FINRA, Tatro admitted that he received both information requests but did not provide any of the requested information and documents because he claimed that he believed the bankruptcy court had stayed all requests pending the bankruptcy’s resolution.  FINRA rejected Tatro’s bankruptcy defense and that Tatro violated FINRA Rules by failing to provide the information and documents FINRA staff requested and determined that Tatro should be permanently barred from associating with any FINRA member firm in any capacity.

FINRA initiated the investigation against Tatro after it received customer complaints and a series of Uniform Termination Notices (Forms U5) filed by Tatro’s former broker-dealer, First Allied. According to FINRA, the amended termination notices disclosed numerous customer complaints alleging fraud and other sales practice violations of more than 80 individuals who might be victims of Tatro’s alleged misconduct.  Tatro total career related losses have been estimated to be anywhere from $10 million to $100 million and may potentially involve as many as 1,000 clients.  On July 30, 2012, Tatro filed a petition for bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of New York.

Tatro began his securities career in 1975 and worked at six different broker-dealers before becoming associated with First Allied in November 2003. After Tatro left First Allied he operated Biltmore Wealth Advisors, LLC, an investment advisory firm in Phoenix, Arizona.  Tatro also operated Eagle Steward Wealth Management, an investment advisory firm.  Tatro’s wife, colleague, and business partner, Mary Helen Caprice Mallett (Mallett) has also advised Tatro clients and has been accused of recommending the same or similar speculative investments that characterizes Tatro’s practice.

This article continues my in depth look into how unsuspecting investors are sold speculative private placements.

While investors were told that Fisker Auto’s prospects were fantastic, nothing could have been further from the truth.  In February 2012, the DOE loan had been frozen after $192 million had been given to the company because it hadn’t hit certain milestones with its Karma car product.  The last payment Fisker had received from the DOE was in May 2011.  Yet, according to investors, Advanced Equities and First Allied continued to sell Fisker Auto shares without disclosing that the DOE was no longer backing the venture, presumptively because the auto makers chances of success had grown increasingly slim.

From December 2011 into 2012, Advanced Equities increasing began to run into fundraising problems.  As Fisker Auto fell into a increasing number of technical, delivery, and political problems with its cars the car maker’s ability to attract new capital plummeted.  Yet, the company still needed money.  So the brokerage firms turned to threatening investors by telling them that unless they agreed to invest more money into Fisker Auto their current shares will be diluted and their preferred stock will be converted to common stock.

In August, I wrote an article about how the brokerage firm Advanced Equities, Inc. (Advanced Equities) and First Allied Securities, Inc. (First Allied) sold nearly $1 billion in private placement offerings linked to clean technologies (clean-tech) to investors that have since become nearly worthless.   Some of those investors have now come forward alleging that the brokerage firms did not conduct proper due diligence for selling the private placements.  The private placements sold by the two brokerage firms include Advanced Equities GreenTech Investments, LLC, AEI 2007 Venture Investments, LLC, AEI 2010 Cleantech Venture, LLC, and AEI Fisker Investments, LLC.

One of the most prominent underlying investments in Advanced Equities private placement offerings portfolio was Fisker Automotive, Inc. (Fisker Auto).  How Fisker Auto was sold to investors offers an unflattering view into how some in the brokerage industry still peddle worthless and speculative securities to unsuspecting investors to enrich themselves at investor’s expense.

Fisker Auto spent over a billion dollars, much of it from investors and a government loan, to invest and develop its cars.  Ultimately Fisker Auto delivered only 2,000 cars and is on the verge of bankruptcy.  Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) started an auction on its loan made to Fisker Auto back in 2010.  The DOE is still owed $168 million under the loan terms but put the loan on the auction block after “exhausting any realistic possibility” that Fisker Auto could repay the loan.  The question is how did Fisker Auto receive $1 billion in the first place?

The brokerage firm Advanced Equities, Inc. (Advanced Equities) specialized in so called late-stage private equity private placements.  Advanced Equities had been particularly active in the clean-tech space.  Through First Allied Securities, Inc. (First Allied), Advanced Equities private placements including Advanced Equities GreenTech Investments, LLC, AEI 2007 Venture Investments, LLC, AEI 2010 Cleantech Venture, LLC, and AEI Fisker Investments, LLC, were sold to hundreds of investors.  Customers have alleged that First Allied misrepresented the Advanced Equities private placements to investors and failed to conduct adequate due diligence concerning the offerings.

In 2007, First Allied was acquired by Advanced Equities Financial Corp. (AEF) and became a sister corporation to Advanced Equities.  At the time of the merger, Advanced Equities employed about 80 registered representatives while First Allied employed over 1,000 brokers.  Utilizing First Allied’s customer and broker resources, AEI vastly expanded marketing of private placements to First Allied customers.

Sales materials developed for Advanced Equities and presented to investors touted the private placements as “late stage equities” or companies that were 12-36 months from going public through an initial public offering (IPO).  The private placements were also represented as providing “higher near-term investment returns than the public equity markets” while possessing “greater short-term liquidity and lower risk profiles.”