Articles Tagged with Ameriprise Financial

shutterstock_20354398The securities lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against broker William Utanski (Utanski). According to BrokerCheck records Utanski is subject to three customer complaints. The customer complaints against Utanski allege securities law violations that including unsuitable investments and churning (excessive trading) among other claims.   The claims appear to largely relate to allegations regarding the inappropriate sale of Dendreon Corporation stock.

One claim that was filed in October 2015 claimed that Utanski made unsuitable investment recommendations in 2011, that included closed-end funds and Dendreon stock. The customer also allege Utanski churned their account suffered compensatory damages of $200,000. The claim is currently pending.

Brokers have a responsibility treat investors fairly which includes obligations such as making only suitable investments for the client. In order to make a suitable recommendation the broker must meet certain requirements. First, there must be reasonable basis for the recommendation the product or security based upon the broker’s investigation and due diligence into the investment’s properties including its benefits, risks, tax consequences, and other relevant factors. Second, the broker then must match the investment as being appropriate for the customer’s specific investment needs and objectives such as the client’s retirement status, long or short term goals, age, disability, income needs, or any other relevant factor.

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shutterstock_102242143According to the BrokerCheck records kept by Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) broker Homer Vining (Vining) has been the subject of at least one customer complaint and three regulatory actions. The customer complaint against Vining alleges a number of securities law violations including that the broker made misrepresentations concerning penny stocks and a claim of investment sold away from the firm among other claims.

Vining entered the securities industry in 1991. From 2005 through August 2009, Vining was associated with Ameriprise Advisor Services, Inc. Thereafter, from August 2009, until March 2015, Vining was associated with J.P. Turner & Company, L.L.C. (JP Turner).

Vining has three regulatory actions against him. The first is a suspension by FINRA for failing to comply with an arbitration award. The second is also a suspension by FINRA for failing to comply with an arbitration award. The third regulatory action is by the state of Georgia which suspended Vining until the broker comes into good standing with FINRA.

Penny stocks are extremely risky investments. The term “penny stock” generally refers to securities that trades below $5 per share, issued by a small company. Penny stocks often trade infrequently making it difficult to sell and price. Due to the size of the issuer, the market cap, the liquidity issues, and other reasons penny stocks are generally considered speculative investments. Consequently, the SEC requires broker-dealers effecting penny stock transactions to make a documented determination that the transactions are suitable for customers and obtain the customers’ written agreement to those transactions.

A broker-dealer must: (a) document the customer’s suitability by sending a written statement to the customer describing the basis of the suitability determination two days prior to purchase and obtain a written agreement from the customer to purchase the penny stock in a specific quantity prior to the transaction; (b) furnish the customer a standardized risk disclosure document two days prior to effecting a penny stock transaction and receive and maintain a signed and dated acknowledgement of its receipt; (c) disclose the current inside bid and ask market quotations; (d) disclose the amount of compensation the broker or dealer will receive for the transaction orally or in writing prior to effecting the transaction; and (e) send monthly account statements showing market and price information for each penny stock

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shutterstock_186468539According to the BrokerCheck records kept by Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) broker Jack McBride (McBride) has been the subject of at least 4 customer complaints over the course of his career. Customers have filed to recent complaints against McBride alleging that the broker made unsuitable investments in leveraged ETFs and the use of margin. McBride has been registered with FINRA since 1994. From that time until August 2014, McBride was registered with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (Ameriprise). In August 2014, Ameriprise discharged McBride claiming that the broker violated the company’s policies relating to making a settlement and for soliciting prohibited securities.

All advisers have a fundamental responsibility to deal fairly with investors including making suitable investment recommendations. Part of the suitability requirement is that the broker must have a reasonable basis to believe, based on appropriate research and diligence, that all recommendations are suitable for at least some investors. Thus, the product or investment strategy being recommended must be appropriate for at least some investors and the advisers must convey the potential risks and rewards before bringing it to an investor’s attention.

In the case of Non-Traditional ETFs, these products contain drastically different risk qualities from traditional ETFs that most investors and many brokers are not aware of. While traditional ETFs simply seek to mirror an index or benchmark, Non-Traditional ETFs use a combination of derivatives instruments and debt to multiply returns on underlining assets, often attempting to generate 2 to 3 times the return of the underlining asset class. Non-Traditional ETFs can also be used to return the inverse or the opposite result of the return of the benchmark.

In addition, regular ETFs can be held for long term trading, but Non-Traditional ETFs are generally designed to be used only for short term trading because the use of leverage effects funds’ returns dramatically over longer periods of time. Thus, if an investor has long-term investment goals Non-Traditional ETFs are not appropriate investment vehicles. The risks of holding Non-Traditional ETFs over the long term can be seen by examining the Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Index from December 1, 2008 and April 30, 2009, which gained two percent while the ProShares Ultra Oil and Gas, a fund seeking to deliver twice the index’s daily return fell six percent. The inverse ETF Fund, the ProShares UltraShort Oil and Gas, seeks to deliver twice the inverse of the index’s daily return fell by 26 percent over the same period.

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shutterstock_1832895The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned and barred broker Ted Cadwallader (Cadwallader) concerning allegations that Cadwallader engage in outside business activities including the sales of private securities. When outside business activities also include the recommendation of investments the activity is referred to in the industry as “selling away.”

FINRA Rule 8210 authorizes FINRA to require persons associated with a FINRA member to provide information with respect to any matter involved in the investigation. In August 2014, FINRA alleged that it pursued an investigation into allegations that Cadwallader engaged in undisclosed outside business activities. On November 21, 2014, FINRA requested that Cadwallader appear and provide testimony. FINRA stated that Cadwallader told the regulator that he would not provide information or cooperate in the investigation. Consequently, he was barred from the industry

According to Cadwallader’s brokercheck he has disclosed outside business activities including ownership of The Faith Based Coach.   Cadwallader is also on the board of directors of Pacer BioScience and a board member of EarthEnergy Technologies LLC. It is unclear at this time what organization or product Cadwallader was involved with or selling that FINRA was investigating.

Cadwallader first became registered with FINRA through his association with a member firm in 1999. From August 1999 through October 2014, Cadwallader was associated with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (Ameriprise).

The allegations against Cadwallader 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 claims to be unaware of these 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 such products. 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.

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shutterstock_153463763The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently sanctioned former Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (Ameriprise) broker Radcliffe Daly (Daly) concerning allegations that between May 2013 and November 2013, while Daly was registered with Ameriprise, Daly mismarked more than 250 order tickets for solicited transactions as unsolicited. In addition, FINRA alleged that during the same period Daly engaged in private securities transactions (also known as “selling away”) without providing written notice to Ameriprise. FINRA also alleged that Daly exercised unauthorized discretion in customer accounts.

Daly entered the securities industry in 2003 and left the industry in June 2014. During the majority of this time Daly was associated with Ameriprise until January 2014.

FINRA alleged that Daly recommended a penny stock, Sloud, Inc. (SLOU), to numerous customers during 2013. According to FINRA Daly placed 292 buy transactions for 43 different customers in the Sloud stock between May 3 and November 7, 2013. However, instead of properly marking the transactions as solicited, Daly allegedly falsely marked 253 of these purchases as unsolicited. FINRA also found that Daly continued to solicit purchases of Sloud and to inappropriately mark the trades as unsolicited even after being told by his firm in June 2013 that he could not solicit purchases of the stock because it was a penny stock and not supported by firm research. From the allegations made by FINRA it appears that Daly attempted to circumvent Ameriprise’s instructions by mismarking the tickets as unsolicited.

FINRA found that by mismarking these order tickets, Daly created false books and records. In addition, FINRA also found that three of Daly’s customers invested in a private placement of Sloud stock during 2013 after Daly’s had recommended the stock to these customers. FINRA found that Daly failed to execute or report these private placement transactions to Ameriprise. FINRA also found that Daly helped effectuate one of the private transaction through a transfer of funds from the customer’s brokerage account to the Sloud issuer.

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shutterstock_175320083In the prior post we discussed the extremely difficult journey an investor may have to go through in order to obtain relevant discovery documents from the brokerage industry in FINRA arbitration. We also discussed how the system is stacked against the investor’s rights and provides incentives to firms to withhold documents. However, a recent FINRA enforcement order provides some hope that the regulatory watchdog will start taking these issues seriously.

In October 2014, FINRA sanctioned Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (Ameriprise) and its broker for altering documents and refusing to produce documents until the eve of hearing. FINRA’s action resulted from the discovery tactics employed by Ameriprise and its broker David Tysk (Tysk) in a FINRA arbitration.

In the Ameriprise case, the FINRA arbitrators found the firm’s conduct so egregious that it referred the matter to FINRA’s Member Regulation Department. The arbitration panel found that Ameriprise and Tysk produced documents in an arbitration proceeding without disclosing that Tysk had altered the documents after receiving a complaint letter from a customer. The altered documents were printouts of notes of Tysk’s contacts with the customer having the initials “GR.” Tysk was responsible for detailing his contact with customers in a computer system maintained by Ameriprise.

However, after the customer had submitted a complaint to Ameriprise, FINRA stated that Tysk went into the system and made changes to appear as if they were notes made contemporaneously with the events described. The client’s attorney became suspicious of the notes because they seemed too perfect, essentially a defense attorney’s dream description of the events leading up to the complaint. However, no one knew that the broker had engaged in revisionist history to bolster his defenses to the claims made against him.

The attorney requested further discovery to determine whether the notes had been altered after he lodged his complaint with Ameriprise. Naturally, and as we discussed in part I, Ameriprise opposed the requests for months and never said anything about the alterations. As the arbitration hearing date approached, the attorney continued trying to obtain information about whether the notes were what they appeared to be.

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shutterstock_38114566Many securities arbitration attorneys would agree that discovery abuse in FINRA arbitration is a problem under certain circumstances. A client has a seemingly great and compelling case.  Then the brokerage firm produces its “discovery” but something doesn’t seem right. Documents recording decisions on key dates are missing, there are unexpected gaps in the email record, and in the worst cases your client has produced documents that the firm should have a copy of but for some reason does not. How often discovery abuse happens in FINRA arbitration is unknowable.

However, what is known is that system likely fosters discovery abuse. A recent Reuters article highlighted that arbitrators do indeed go easy on brokerage firm discovery abuse. Why does this happen? The first line of defense against discovery abuse is the arbitrators themselves. But most arbitrators simply expect the parties to comply with their discovery obligations without their input. Moreover, arbitrators loath ordering parties to produce documents against their will and prefer the parties to resolve their own disputes. While these goals are noble they also invite abuse.

So how does an investor ultimately get awarded discovery abuse sanctions if a brokerage firm fails to produce documents? First, the client must move to compel the documents and win the motion over the brokerage firm’s objections. Second, the firm must refuse to comply with the order. Usually the firm will interpret the scope of the order as not encompassing the discovery that was actually ordered or will otherwise declaw the order through claims of “privilege” or “confidentiality.” This leads to a second motion to compel and request for sanctions. Again the investor will have to argue the relevance of the initial request as if the panel never ruled that these documents had been ordered to be produced and the brokerage firm gets a second bite of the apple to throw out the discovery.

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shutterstock_156562427Since the financial crisis the non-traded real estate investment trust (REIT) market has been a financial boon for the brokerage industry. A REIT is a security that invests typically in real estate related assets. Generally, REITs can be publicly or privately held. While publicly held REITs can be sold on an exchange, are liquid, and have lower commissions and fees, non-traded REITs are sold are private, are speculative, illiquid, and often charge fees of over 10%. Nonetheless, non-traded REITs have become a darling product of the financial industry, mostly because of the fat fees brokers earn for recommending these speculative products.

Brokers selling these products sometimes claim that non-traded REITs offer stable returns compared to the volatile stock market. As the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) have recently noted, these products may not be as safe and stabile as advertised.

InvestmentNews recently ranked non listed REITs by second quarter 2014 invested assets. As shown below, investment in these funds are substantial and continues to grow each quarter

Company 2Q invested assets ($M) Original share price Current share value Original distribution rate Current distribution rate 2Q14 FFO 2 payout ratio
Inland American Real Estate Trust $10,128.5 $10 $6.94 6.20% 5.00% 75%
Corporate Property Associates 17 Global $4,564.7 $10 $9.50 6.50% 6.50% 81%
Apple Hospitality $3,960.0 $11 $10.10 8.00% 7.25% 83%
Industrial Income Trust $3,747.6 $10 $10.40 6.00% 6.00% 100%
Tier REIT $3,455.8 $10 $4.20 7.00% 0.00% N/A
CNL Lifestyle Properties $3,343.4 $10 $6.85 6.25% 4.25% 108%
Griffin-American Healthcare REIT II $3,056.2 $10 $10.22 6.50% 6.65% 143%
Monogram Residential Trust $2,879.1 $10 $10.03 7.00% 3.50% 189%
Cole Credit Property Trust IV $2,833.0 $10 $10.00 6.25% 6.25% 145%
KBS Real Estate Investment Trust II $2,714.1 $10 $10.29 6.50% 6.50% 98%
Cole Corporate Income Trust $2,606.3 $10 $10.00 6.50% 6.50% 94%
Hines Real Estate Investment Trust $2,422.1 $10 $6.40 6.00% 2.90% 88%
American Realty Capital Trust V $2,233.5 $25 $25.00 6.60% 6.60% 86%
KBS Real Estate Investment Trust $2,058.0 $10 $4.45 7.00% 0.00% N/A
Landmark Apartment Trust $1,889.4 $10 $8.15 6.00% 3.00% 38%
Phillips Edison – ARC Shopping Center $1,846.9 $10 $10.00 6.50% 6.70% 129%
Steadfast Income REIT $1,592.7 $10 $10.24 7.00% 7.00% 165%
Strategic Storage Trust $731.5 $10 $10.79 7.00% 6.50% 120%
Signature Office $676.4 $25 $25.00 6.00% 6.00% 83%
Lightstone Value Plus REIT $643.2 $10 $11.80 7.00% 7.00% 69%

Many brokerage firms have come under fire for their non-traded REIT sales practices. For instance LPL Financial in particular has been accused by several regulators of failing to reign in their broker’s sales practices concerning alternative investments. On March 24, 2014, LPL Financial was fined $950,000 by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for failing to supervise its brokers’ marketing of nontraditional investments.  LPL Financial was alleged to have deficient supervision in the sale of certain alternative investment products, including REITs, oil and gas partnerships, business development companies (BDC’s), hedge funds, and managed futures.

LPL Financial also paid a $500,000 fine to the Massachusetts Securities Division and was ordered to pay $4.8 million in restitution for supervisory and suitability related violations concerning non-traded REITs.  In total six firms paid $11 million in restitution and fines related to REIT sales. The other firms including Ameriprise Financial Inc., Lincoln National, Commonwealth Financial Network, Royal Alliance Associates, and Securities America.

The attorneys at Gana LLP are experienced in representing investors to recover their financial losses through the misrepresentation of non-traded REITs. Our consultations are free of charge and the firm is only compensated if you recover.