Articles Tagged with Independent Financial Group

shutterstock_80511298-300x218Current Independent Financial Group, LLC (Independent Financial) broker Gerhard Heuer (Heuer) has been subject to six customer complaints – many of which concern suitability concerns over recommendations for Variable Universal Life (VUL) policies.  The securities lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating the customer complaints against Heuer.

In April 2017 a customer complained that he was told that his VUL would remain active with the currently scheduled monthly premiums and requested $43,000 in damages.  The claim was settled.

VUL are complex insurance and investment products that investors must fully understand the risks and benefits of prior to investing.  One feature of a VUL policy is that the owner can allocate a portion of his premium payments to a separate sub-account that can be used to grow in value through investments.  Monthly charges for the life insurance policy, including a cost of insurance charge and administrative fees, are deducted from the policy’s cash value.  The cash value of the policy may increase or decrease based on the performance of the sub-account investments.  In addition, the VUL policy terminates, or lapses, if at any time the net cash surrender value is insufficient to pay the monthly cost deductions.  Upon termination of the policy, the remaining cash value becomes worthless.

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shutterstock_182004416-300x200Broker John Oldham (Oldham) was recently sanctioned by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in an enforcement action.  According to the FINRA AWC (Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent 2015046203101) FINRA found that Oldham consented to sanctions that he shared commissions from the sales of alternative investments with an unregistered entity. According to FINRA, Oldham facilitated the sales of the alternative investments totaling more than $4.8 million to customers referred to him and shared commissions with the unregistered entity in the amount of $240,000 for these transactions.  FINRA found that while Oldham executed subscription agreements on behalf of the third-party, in some instances this representation on those forms were inaccurate because Oldham had not communicated with the customer who had executed the subscription agreement.

The securities lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating the regulatory complaint against Oldham.  In addition to the regulatory action, there is one employment termination for cause listed for Oldham alleging possible violation of FINRA Rule 2040.

Our firm often handles cases involving direct participation products (DPPs) and private placements including oil and gas partnerships, non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), and other alternative investments.

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shutterstock_185219444-300x278Our securities fraud attorneys are investigating a complaint filed by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Brian Egan (Egan) formerly associated with Independent Financial Group LLC (Independent Financial) alleging that the broker failed to disclose his trading activity in client accounts away from the firm.  According to brokercheck records Egan has been subject to one employment termination for cause by Independent Financial in July 2015 for failing disclose personal trading in accounts away from the firm.

In August 2016 FINRA sanctioned Egan alleging that he consented to the entry of findings that Egan maintained and/or held trading authority in a total of 87 brokerage accounts for himself and over 60 customers at another brokerage firm. The customer accounts over which he held trading authority included both Egan’s family members and customers of his CPA business.  FINRA found that Egan did not notify Independent Financial of his involvement in these accounts when he became associated with the firm, or at any other time.  FINRA found that Egan exercised his trading authority in the accounts at the other firm to execute trades and to transfer funds and securities from certain of the customer accounts to his own accounts.

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shutterstock_180341738Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Michael DiGaetano (DiGaetano) currently associated with Independent Financial Group, LLC (Independent Financial) alleging unsuitable investments, misrepresentations, fraud, negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty among other claims.  According to brokercheck records DiGaetano has been subject to three customer complaints and one regulatory sanction.

In May 2012 FINRA sanctioned DiGaetano alleging that as a supervisor he failed in responsibilities by not taking reasonable action to prevent another broker from committing securities fraud.  (FINRA No. 2009019209202) As part of the claim, FINRA alleged that DiGaetano failed to even contact customers who were subject to fraudulent mutual fund switches and never questioned the broker involved even though the trades were marked as unsolicited.

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shutterstock_188606033The securities lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) against broker Brian Zimmerman (Zimmerman). According to BrokerCheck records there are at least 5 customer complaints that have been filed against Zimmerman. The customer complaints against Zimmerman allege a number of securities law violations including that the broker made unsuitable investments, misrepresentations, failure to supervise, and churning (excessive trading) among other claims. The most recent customer complaint against Zimmerman filed in July 2014 alleges that Zimmerman breached his fiduciary duty, negligence, and misrepresentations in the handling of the customer’s account leading to $128,405 in damages. 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.

The number of customer complaints against Zimmerman is high relative to his peers. According to InvestmentNews, only about 12% of financial advisors have any type of disclosure event on their records. Brokers must publicly disclose certain types of reportable events on their CRD including but not limited to customer complaints. In addition to disclosing client disputes brokers must divulge IRS tax liens, judgments, and criminal matters. However, FINRA’s records are not always complete according to a Wall Street Journal story that checked with 26 state regulators and found that at least 38,400 brokers had regulatory or financial red flags such as a personal bankruptcy that showed up in state records but not on BrokerCheck. More disturbing is the fact that 19,000 out of those 38,400 brokers had spotless BrokerCheck records.

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shutterstock_94632238The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought an enforcement action against broker Gary Arford (Arford) resulting in a monetary sanctions of $4,226,684. In addition, according to the BrokerCheck records kept by FINRA, Arford has been the subject of at least 10 customer complaints. The customer complaints against Arford allege unsuitable investments, misrepresentations, and fraud among other claims. Many of the complaints involve products such as oil and gas and penny stocks. Arford was also permitted to resign from Comprehensive Wealth Management, LLC (Comprehensive Wealth Management) after allegations were made that Arford attempted to directly settle a customer complaint. In March 2014, Arford was also terminated from Independent Financial Group, LLC (IFG) after allegations were made that Arford was the subject of customer complaints.

The most recent complaint against Arford alleged $560,000 in damages concerning allegations that Arford as an owner of Comprehensive Wealth Management breach his fiduciary duty by recommending unsuitable oil and gas products from 2011 through 2014 and misrepresented the investments. Another customer complaint filed in September 2014 alleges similar issues with oil and gas and penny stock investment made between 2012 and 2013 which resulted in $500,000 in alleged damages.

In the SEC action, the regulator alleged that between approximately December 2010 and October 2013, Arford acted as an investment adviser to a private fund (Fund) and provided advice for real estate-related investments. The SEC alleged that Arford defrauded the Fund and its investors in at least four ways by: 1) inducing the Fund to commit a total of $4 million to an investment in a company, referred to as Suburban Hotel, that was purportedly planning to build and operate a hotel on undeveloped land in Seattle by misrepresenting and concealing material facts about the company’s debt and the encumbrances; 2) after obtaining the Fund’s investment commitment Respondent took personal ownership of the company’s undeveloped property, and then pledged it as collateral for personal debts; 3) inducing the Fund to continue fulfilling its investment commitment by concealing his personal ownership and use of the company’s undeveloped property and by misrepresenting and hiding material facts about the use of Fund assets; and 4) by misappropriating Fund assets for unrelated purposes.

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shutterstock_94332400Despite the broad market’s recent volatility, 2013 brought the twenty-five largest independent broker dealers double-digit revenue growth on average, according to an Investment News report. After a weak 2012, these independent broker dealers roared to a 13.2% year over year increase in revenue, recording $18.46 billion in 2013 according to this year’s Investment News survey.

The overall strength of the S&P 500, gaining 29.6% in 2013 was one contributing factor to the 2013 success of independent broker dealers. The other factor however, was a flood of commissions generated from record sales of alternative investment products, namely non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs). As Eric Schwartz, chief executive of Cambridge Investment Research explained, “There were two reasons for last year’s results. The stock market was up 30%, and there was an unusually high percentage of dollars in alternatives and REITs being sold. Remember, a number of REITs had public listings, and clients reinvested back into other REITs.”

According to the Investment News survey, the top ten independent broker-dealers with the most growth from alternative investments include: (1) Independent Financial Group; (2) Triad Advisors; (3) Royal Alliance Associates; (4) National Planning Corp.; (5) First Allied Securities; (6) Lincoln Financial Network; (7) Cambridge Investment Research; (8) Commonwealth Financial Network; (9) Ameriprise Financial Services; 10) LPL Financial.

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This post continues our investigation into the recent bar of broker William (Bill) Tatro by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and his relationship with Mary Helen Caprice Mallett (Mallett), Tatro’s wife, colleague, and business partner.

Mallett has also had a large number of customer complaints initiated against her.  Mallett’s BrokerCheck reveals that she was associated with First Allied at roughly the same time as Tatro.  Thereafter, from September 2010 until May 2011, Mallett was associated with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (Morgan Stanley).  From 2011 until June 2013, Mallett was associated with Independent Financial Group, LLC.  Mallett is also associated or is involved in Biltmore Wealth Advisors, LLC, Capital Financial Management, Ltd, South Race Street, LLC, Red Rock, LLC, Mango Lizard LLC, and EZ Plan LLC.

In April 2011, Morgan Stanley filed a Form U5 taking the position that Mallett “engaged in outside business activities without prior written approval of [Morgan Stanley] and facilitated clients’ relationships with an outside investment manager”, believed to be Tatro, “who was not approved by or affiliated with [Morgan Stanley].”  According to a lawsuit Morgan Stanley filed against Mallett she told Morgan Stanley that she and Tatro had used the same investment strategy over the previous nine years, presumably while associated with First Allied, and that she had bought Tatro’s book of business.  However, Morgan Stanley charged that Mallett had falsely told them Tatro was no longer servicing his former clients.

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