Articles Tagged with Investor Fraud

shutterstock_162013331-300x199There is a need for strong protection of the elderly investing population. About one out of every five Americans 65 years and older has been a victim of financial abuse.  The elderly are estimated to lose up to $2.9 billion per year from scams.   In fact, these figures are likely lower than the actual incidence of fraud since only reported accounts of frauds are considered and seniors are “less likely” to report being scammed.

Elders are abused by a variety of persons including family members, caregivers, and scam artists.  Unfortunately, financial advisers, fiduciaries (such as agents under power of attorney and guardians), and brokers also have known to take advantage of the elderly.  Usually the person is already in a position of trust or is able to acquire a high level of trust due to the diminished capacity of the victim.

Brokerage firms are in the perfect position to recognize the signs elder abuse and elder fraud.  Firms should be able to recognize diminished capacity and dementia, decreased ability to handle finances, questionable purchases or transfers, and the inability of their clients to understand or comprehend their financial assets.   When there are reasonable grounds to believe a firm client is being financially exploited the member firm must report potential exploitation to proper authorities and otherwise hold transactions pending review and determination.

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shutterstock_141873055-300x268The investment lawyers of Gana Weinstein LLP are investigating the regulatory action brought by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Brad Lawing (Lawing).  According to BrokerCheck records, Lawing has been subject to 11 customer complaints. In addition, Lawing has been subject to a regulatory matter in which FINRA sanctioned Lawing for various violations of the securities laws including unsuitable recommendations.

In November 2017, FINRA found that Lawing recommended shares of a business development company (BDC) to three customers that did not satisfy suitability standards for two customers and resulted in over-concentration for the other customer. FINRA found that Lawing did not use reasonable diligence to ascertain customers’ financial situation, risk tolerance, and other factors affecting for suitability consideration. FINRA also alleged that in one case Lawing recommended an investment without speaking with the customer. Additionally, Lawing disclosed non public information for ten of his customers whose previous registered representative was statutorily disqualified from participating in the brokerage industry. In November 2017, Lawing was suspended for 5 months and fined $10,000.

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.

shutterstock_102242143-300x169According to BrokerCheck records kept by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) broker Donald Devito (Devito) has been subject to 10 customer complaints.  Devito was formerly registered with Wells Fargo Advisors (Wells Fargo).  In December 2016 Wells Fargo terminated Devito claiming that the firm had concerns over the level of trading in client accounts.  In 2016 through 2017 Devito has had six complaints filed against him concerning the level of trading and fees generated in his accounts.  Customers have filed complaints alleging a number of securities law violations including that the broker engaged in churning (excessive trading), unauthorized trading, and unsuitable recommendations among other claims.

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.

The number of complaints against Devito are unusual compared to his peers.  According to newsources, only about 7.3% of financial advisors have any type of disclosure event on their records among brokers employed from 2005 to 2015.  Brokers must publicly disclose reportable events on their CRD customer complaints, IRS tax liens, judgments, investigations, and even criminal matters.  However, studies have found that there are fraud hotspots such as certain parts of California, New York or Florida, where the rates of disclosure can reach 18% or higher.  Moreover, according to the New York Times, BrokerCheck may be becoming increasing inaccurate and understate broker misconduct as studies have shown that 96.9% of broker requests to clean their records of complaints are granted.

shutterstock_12144202The securities lawyers of Gana Weinstein LLP are investigating customer complaints against broker Nicholas Tsikitas (Tsikitas).  According to BrokerCheck records Tsikitas has been subject to at least five customer complaints and three regulatory sanctions. The customer complaints against Tsikitas allege securities law violations that including unsuitable investments, churning, overconcentration of investments, negligence, and failure to supervise among other claims.

The most recent complaint was filed in October 2014, and alleged $851,988 in damages due to claims that the broker, from 2008 through 2010 made unsuitable investments and recommendations to the client.

In 2011 the State of Connecticut censured Nicholas Tsikitas following allegations he caused the filing of certain documents “that were materially false or misleading.”

shutterstock_185582James Markoski (Markoski) recently had a complaint filed against him from the State of Illinois, Securities Department. According to the complaint Markoski has a history of churning accounts, or engaging in excessive trading that is designed to generate huge commissions at the expense of the customer.

Markoski’ entered the financial industry in the early 1970’s and until 1991, Markoski worked for Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. (Merrill). Thereafter, from September 1991, through June 2010, Markoski was a registered representative of David A Noyes & Company. From June 2010, through April 2012, Markoski worked for Birkelbach Investment Securities, Inc. Finally, Markoski currently is associated with Forest Securities, Inc. Markoski has been subject to 9 customer arbitrations throughout his career. Virtually all of the customer complaints involve claims of churning and excessive trading activity in the customer’s account. It is rare for a broker to have a complaint filed against them. It is even more rare for a broker to have more than 2 complaints filed against them.

The Illinois Secretary of State alleged that Markoski alleged that Markoski has a penchant for targeting widows and senior women to engage in his fraudulent churning conduct. In one of the alleged churning instances, Markoski inherited a client’s account from one of his colleagues. The complaint alleges that upon inheriting the client’s account, Markoski began selling off the client’s bond holdings that the client was relying upon the income from. The selling of the bonds before maturity allegedly resulted in $175,000 in losses.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) instituted administrative proceedings against broker Ronald Gene Anglin (Anglin), formerly of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. (Merrill Lynch), on allegations that Anglin engaged in securities fraud by forging letters of authorization from a Merrill Lynch customer to be sent by mail to addresses designated by Anglin.

From 2004 through October 2008, Anglin was a registered representative of Citigroup Global Markets, Inc.  Thereafter, Anglin was a registered representative of dually registered broker-dealer and investment adviser Merrill Lynch until May 2011.  Anglin also was an investment adviser representative for Merrill Lynch.  Anglin is 38 years old and is a resident of Canyon Country, California.

On October 4, 2012, Anglin pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud before the United States District Court for the Central District of California in U.S. v. Ronald Gene Anglin, 2:12-CR-00232-SJO.  On March 25, 2013, Anglin was sentenced to three years of probation including 27 months in home detention, and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $73,000.

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