Articles Tagged with International Assets Advisory

shutterstock_62862913-259x300The investment fraud lawyers of Gana LLP are examining multiple customer disputes filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against financial advisor Gregory Pease (Pease). According to BrokerCheck, Pease has a multitude of disclosures concerning: churning, excessive trading, unauthorized trading, unsuitability, and breach of fiduciary duty.

The most recent customer complaint filed against Pease was filed in November 2016. The complaint alleged that during the period between 1998 and 2015, Pease made unsuitable recommendations, misrepresentation, and omission of material facts regarding mutual funds. The alleged damages are unspecified and the case is still pending.

Another customer complaint against Pease was filed in March 2015 and alleged that Pease misrepresented the client’s financial objectives. According the customer, the amount of trades and fees that occurred in the accounts did not properly align with the client’s desires. The alleged damages were worth $13,266.81 and the case was later settled for $10,297.88.

shutterstock_175137287-300x200According to BrokerCheck records Michael Spolar (Spolar), now associated with International Assets Advisory, LLC (IAA), has been sanctioned by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) over allegations that Spolar exercised discretion in customers’ accounts that were non-discretionary accounts.  Since according to FINRA Spolar did not obtain written authorization from these customers to exercise discretion in their accounts and his member firms did not approve these accounts for discretionary trading, these trades were unauthorized.  FINRA found that while Spolar stated that he discussed strategy with these clients and he received verbal authority for the trades.  However, when the firm discovered the activity Spolar was terminated. FINRA also found that when Spolar moved to a different brokerage firm he continued to exercise discretion in customer accounts despite his prior termination for the same conduct.

In addition to the FINRA sanctions Spolar has been subject to eight customer complaints, one termination, and one financial disclosures including a bankruptcy filing in December 2015.  Some of the complaints against Brodt allege securities law violations including that the broker engaged in unauthorized trading among other claims.

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The investment lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating the allegations made by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) resulting in a bar of broker Norman Ferra Jr. (Ferra) who was previously registered with International Assets Advisory, LLC working out of the Tampa, Florida office.  Ferra has 20 years of experience in the securities industry and three disclosures on his record.

In March 2017, Ferra was barred after he consented to the sanction and to the entry of findings that he failed to respond to letters requesting that he produce documents and information in connection with an investigation regarding undisclosed outside business activities and private securities transactions.  No other disclosure concerning the extent and nature of the activity is disclosed.

However, Ferra has disclosed several outside business activities including his d/b/a Rockport Global Advisors.  Ferra has also disclosed entities including EG Advisory LLC  It is unclear at this time what entities Ferra’s outside business activities that were the subject of the FINRA bar involve.

The providing of loans, selling of promissory notes, or recommending investments outside of the firm constitutes impermissible private securities transactions – a practice known in the industry as “selling away”.  Often times, brokers sell promissory notes and other investments through side businesses as accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, or insurance agents to clients of those side practices.

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shutterstock_173864537-300x200The investment lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating the allegations made by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) resulting in a bar of broker Norman Ferra Jr. (Ferra) who was previously registered with International Assets Advisory, LLC working out of the Tampa, Florida office.  Ferra has 20 years of experience in the securities industry and three disclosures on his record.

In March 2017, Ferra was barred after he consented to the sanction and to the entry of findings that he failed to respond to letters requesting that he produce documents and information in connection with an investigation regarding undisclosed outside business activities and private securities transactions.  No other disclosure concerning the extent and nature of the activity is disclosed.

However, Ferra has disclosed several outside business activities including his d/b/a Rockport Global Advisors.  Ferra has also disclosed entities including EG Advisory LLC  It is unclear at this time what entities Ferra’s outside business activities that were the subject of the FINRA bar involve.

The providing of loans, selling of promissory notes, or recommending investments outside of the firm constitutes impermissible private securities transactions – a practice known in the industry as “selling away”.  Often times, brokers sell promissory notes and other investments through side businesses as accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, or insurance agents to clients of those side practices.

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shutterstock_102242143The securities fraud lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) against broker Lance Shaw (Shaw).  According to BrokerCheck records Shaw has been the subject of at least eight customer complaints and one criminal matter.  The customer complaints against Shaw allege a number of securities law violations including that the broker made unsuitable investments, unauthorized trading, and churning (excessive trading) among other claims.

The most recent complaint was filed in August 2015 and alleged that the customer’s account was traded without authority.  The complaint is currently pending.  Also in August 2015 another customer complained that unauthorized trading occurred causing $26,874 in damages.  The complaint is pending.  A third complaint also filed in August 2015 makes similar allegations that allegedly caused $56,166.  This complaint has been settled.

When brokers engage in excessive trading, sometimes referred to as churning, the broker will typical trade in and out of securities, sometimes even the same stock, many times over a short period of time.  Often times the account will completely “turnover” every month with different securities.  This type of investment trading activity in the client’s account serves no reasonable purpose for the investor and is engaged in only to profit the broker through the generation of commissions created by the trades.  Churning is considered a species of securities fraud.  The elements of the claim 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.

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shutterstock_43547368The securities fraud lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating the regulatory action filed (Disciplinary Action No. 2014043025701) by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) against broker Carlos Benavidez Jr (Benavidez). According to the allegations, between January 2013 and January 2015, Benavidez exercised discretion in 80 customer accounts without obtaining prior written authorization from the customers while with brokerage firm Waddell & Reed.

FINRA found that beginning in or about December 2009, Benavidez and two other representatives registered with Waddell & Reed, formed RBR Group and shared a customer base for their securities business. Between January 2013 and January 2015, FINRA found that Benavidez exercised discretion in effecting hundreds of securities transactions in approximately 80 customer accounts without obtaining written authorization from his customers or Waddell & Reed’s approval.

Also according to FINRA, Benavidez tried to hide the evidence of unauthorized trading by falsifying documents. FINRA found that on or about September 9, 2014, Benavidez and another individual with the firm backdated approximately 26 customer notes that had been created in the firm’s computer program in order to falsely reflect that Benavidez or another member of the RBR Group had conversed with those customers on before the trades were effected when, in fact, it was not until six days later when Benavidez or another individual talked with the 26 customers about the trades that had been effected in their accounts.

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_146470052This article follows up on a recent article reported in Reuters concerning Atlas Energy LP’s private placement partnerships in oil and gas. Atlas Resources LLC, a subsidiary the energy group, has filed documents with the SEC for Atlas Resources Series 34-2014 LP stating that it seeks to raise as much as $300 million by Dec. 31 of 2014. The deal allows investors to participate in investments where advances in drilling technology have turned previously inaccessible reservoirs of oil into viable prospects. In addition, Atlas promises to invest up to $145 million of its own capital alongside investors.

In the last article we explored how the house seems more likely to win on these deals over investors. But beyond the inherent risks with speculating on oil and gas and unknown oil deposits most investors don’t realize the deals are often unfair to investors. In a normal speculative investment as the investment risk goes up the investor demands greater rewards to compensate for the additional risk. However, with oil and gas private placements the risks are sky high and the rewards simply don’t match up.

In order to counter this criticism, issuers say that the tax benefits of their deals where the investor can write off more than 90 percent of their initial outlay the year they make it helps defray the risk and increase the value proposition. First, the same tax advantage claims are often nominal compared to the principal risk of loss of the investment as seen by Puerto Rican investors in the UBS Bond Funds who have now seen their investments decline by 50% or more in some cases. Second, often times brokers sell oil and gas investments indiscriminately to the young and old who have lower incomes and cannot take advantage of the tax benefits.

In fact, of the 28 people interviewed by Reuters who invested in deals from Atlas, Reef Oil & Gas Partners, Discovery Resources & Development LLC, and Black Diamond Energy Inc. 17 were retirees who had low tax burdens when the product was recommended to them.

By now you may be asking, how do these deals even get issued? First, the private placement market is very opaque. Issuers are only required to file a statement to exempt the security from registration and a few other details about the investment. Second, investors rely upon the brokerage industry’s due diligence on each issue they sell to ensure its suitability for investors. But many brokers use outside due-diligence firms that may be paid by the issuer, a conflict of interest, when evaluating deals. Indeed, some of the largest securities frauds in the private placement space have been the result of reliance on third-party due diligence.

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shutterstock_103610648As recently reported in Reuters, Atlas Energy LP has marketed itself to investors as a way to get into the U.S. energy boom. By contributing at least $25,000 in a private placement partnership that will drill for oil and gas in states such as Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania and share in revenues generated from the wells. Atlas Resources LLC, a subsidiary the energy group, has filed documents with the SEC for Atlas Resources Series 34-2014 LP stating that it seeks to raise as much as $300 million by Dec. 31 of 2014. The deal sounds good when pitched: participate in investments where advances in drilling technology have turned previously inaccessible reservoirs of fossil fuels into potentially viable prospects and to boot Atlas will invest up to $145 million of its own capital alongside investors. Through this method and similar deals, oil and gas projects have issued nearly 4,000 private placements since 2008 seeking to raise as much as $122 billion.

But before you take the plunge a review of the Atlas’s offering memorandum reveals some red flags and given Atlas’ past failure rate investors should think twice. First, up to $45 million of the money raised will be paid to Atlas affiliate Anthem Securities that will then be turned over to as commissions to broker-dealers who pitch the deal to investors. Up to $39 million more will be used to buy drilling leases from another affiliate. Think investors will get a fair price on the leases when Atlas controls both sides of the deal? More conflicts ahead as Atlas affiliated suppliers may also get up to $53 million for buying drilling and transport equipment. Next, an additional $8 million of Atlas’s investment is a 15 percent markup on estimated equipment costs. Finally, Atlas will pay itself nearly $52 million in various other fees and markups.

In sum, at least 40% of Atlas’s $145 million investment alongside mom and pop goes right back to the company. In addition, Atlas’ profits don’t stop there, when the venture starts generating revenue Atlas is entitled to 33% before accounting for those payments and markups. In the end, not much of a risk at all for Atlas.

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