Articles Tagged with real estate investment trusts

shutterstock_103681238The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned broker Thomas Sharp (Sharp) concerning allegations that Sharp violated NASD Rule 2210(d) by sending emails to potential investors in a non-exchange traded real estate investment trusts (Non-Traded REITs) that were not fair and balanced and failed to provide a sound basis for evaluating the facts. Sharp was associated with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (Ameriprise) from 1987 through September 2013.

The Non-Traded REIT market has been a financial boon for the brokerage industry in recent years. A Non-Traded REIT is a security that invests mostly in real estate or property assets. While publicly traded REITs can be sold on an exchange, are liquid, and have lower commissions and fees, non-traded REITs are sold in the form of private placement offerings, are speculative, illiquid, and often charge fees of over 10%. Nonetheless, brokers have recommended these products to many investors, in part driven by the fat fees they can earn.

Brokers’ selling practices have come under scrutiny because sometimes brokers claim that Non-Traded REITs offer stable, safe returns compared to the volatile stock market. However, the stability is only a result of the fund setting its own price and illiquidity, not because the product is immune to market fluctuation.

The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities requested that Securities America Inc. (Securities America) provide information concerning customer purchases of non-traded real estate investment trust (REIT) securities by Pennsylvania residents since 2007.  This information was provided by an annual report of Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. Inc. (Ladenburg Thalmann), the company that owns Securities America as well as two other independent broker-dealers.  According to Ladenburg Thalmann the company is unable to determine whether and the extent that the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities may seek to discipline Securities America

A REIT is a corporation or trust that owns income-producing real estate properties.  REITs pool the capital of numerous investors to purchase a portfolio of properties that may include office building, shopping centers, hotels, and apartment buildings that the average investor would not otherwise be able to purchase individually.  Publicly traded REITs can be sold on an exchange and have the same liquidity as most stocks and bonds.  However, non-traded REITs are sold only through broker-dealers and are illiquid.  REITs are typically long term investments and investors should be prepared to hold onto non-traded REITs for up to 7 to 10 years and even longer under some circumstances.

The non-traded REIT industry sales doubled last year to $20 billion, from 2012.  Increased volatility in the stock market during the financial crisis led investment advisors to increasingly recommend REITs as a purported stable investment during unstable times.  However, the stability of non-traded REITs only exists because brokerage firms and issuers have control over the value how the value of the security is listed on an investor’s account statements and not because the security will actually sell at that value.  The risks of non-traded REITs are significant and FINRA has issued an Investor Alert warning investors of some of the potential risks.

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.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned and fined Hantz Financial Services, Inc. (Hantz Financial) $75,000 concerning allegations that between April 2004, until April 2011, Hantz Financial violated FINRA rules by failing to properly enforce its written supervisory procedures for conducting due diligence with respect to a non-exchange traded real estate investment trust (REIT) and by failing to establish and maintain a supervisory system reasonably designed for conducting ongoing due diligence of REITs.

Hantz Financial has been a member of FINRA since 1999 and is headquartered in Southfield, Michigan. The firm employees 276 registered representatives and conducts a general securities business.

A REIT is a corporation or trust that owns income-producing real estate.  REITs pool the capital of numerous investors to purchase a portfolio of properties that may include office building, shopping centers, hotels, and apartment buildings that the average investor would not otherwise be able to purchase individually.  Shares of non-traded REITs do not trade on a national securities exchange and are generally illiquid for periods of eight years or more.  The risks of non-traded REITs are significant and FINRA has issued an Investor Alert warning investors of some of the potential risks.

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.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has brought a complaint against financial advisor Brian H. Brunhaver (Brunhaver) formerly of LPL Financial, LLC (LPL) concerning allegations Brunhaver used an unauthorized e-mail account for communications related to his securities business and committed securities fraud in making oral and written misrepresentations to customers regarding a non-traded REIT.

Brunhaver entered the securities industry in 1994.  From May 1995, until June 2011, he was registered through LPL.  On or about June 2, 2011, LPL filed a Uniform Termination Notice (Form U5) for Brunhaver disclosing that he had been discharged on May 3, 2011.  From August 2011, until December 2011, Brunhaver was registered through Pacific West Securities, Inc.  On or about February 25, 2013, LPL filed an Amended Form U5 disclosing the receipt of a Statement of Claim where certain customers of Brunhaver alleged that he had recommended unsuitable investments in REITs and had made misrepresentations to them while employed by LPL.

In addition, Brunhaver’s BrokerCheck discloses that the broker has at least nine customer complaints filed against him.  The majority of the complaints involve allegations that Brunhaver made unsuitable recommendations and material misrepresentations in the sale of non-traded REITs including Inland American REIT, among others.  LPL has been sanctioned by regulatory authorities for failing to supervise its broker’s sales of non-traded REITs

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned financial advisor John H. Towers (Towers) of VSR Financial Services, Inc. (VSR) concerning allegations of unsuitable sales of over $6,000,000 in alternative investments including oil and gas interests, real estate investment trusts (REITs), and other speculative private placement investments to an investor.  FINRA’s determinations in this matter is significant because some in financial industry take the position that wealthy customers are automatically sophisticated and therefore fair game to recommend positions in speculative private placement securities.  The theory goes that if you have a lot of money then it is ok for you to lose some of it speculating in alternative investments.

Towers entered the securities industry in 1970.  From 2002 until December 2013, Towers was associated with VSR.  According to Towers’ BrokerCheck at least 14 customers have filed complaints against Towers.  The vast majority of those complaints involve claims concerning the improper sale of various private placement securities.

FINRA alleged that in September 2005, Towers recommended that a married couple invest $25,000 in APC 2005-B, a high risk private placement.  Over the next five years, FINRA found that Towers continually recommended that the couple make an additional eighty-eight investments in private placements and REITs totaling approximately $6,259,400 and representing approximately 72% of their investments purchased at VSR.  FINRA alleged that the private placements and REITS were all described in the offering documents as high risk investments.  FINRA also found that the couple had stated a moderate risk tolerance on their new account forms and specified that no more than 10% of their accounts were to be invested in high risk products.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) imposed a permanent bar against Gary J. Chackman (Chackman) concerning allegations that he recommended unsuitable transactions in the accounts of at least eight LPL Financial, Inc. (LPL) customers by over-concentrating the customers’ assets in real estate investment trusts (REITs).  Additionally, FINRA found that Chackman falsified LPL documents to evade the firm’s supervision by submitting dozens of “alternative investment purchase” forms that misrepresented customers’ liquid net worth.  FINRA found that by submitting falsified documents Chackman increased his customers’ accounts’ concentration in REITs and other alternative investments beyond the firm’s maximum allocation limits.

From December 2001, through March 2012, Chackman was registered through LPL.  On March 2012, LPL filed a Uniform Termination Notice for (Form U5) stating that Chackman was terminated for violating firm policies and procedures regarding the sale of alternative investments.  From March 2, 2012 through April 3, 2013, Chackman was registered through Summit Brokerage Services, Inc. (Summit). In April 2013, Summit filed a Form U5 terminating Chackman stating that the broker was operating a business out of an unregistered location.  According to Chackman’s BrokerCheck there have been at least five customer complaints filed against the broker.  Many of the complaints involve allegations of unsuitable REITs

According to FINRA, from July 2009 to February 2012, Chackman recommended REITs and other alternative investments to at least eight of his LPL customers.  FINRA found that Chackman purchased the REITs at periodic intervals in each of their accounts.  For example, in one customer’s account Chackman made seven purchases of a particular REIT, each for $75,000 over six months. After twelve months, FINRA found that 35% of the customer’s assets and more than 25% of her liquid net worth were invested in REITs and other alternative investments.  In order to evade LPL’s limitation on the concentration of alternative investments in customers’ accounts, FINRA found that Chackman misidentified his customers’ purported liquid net worth on LPL forms. FINRA found that over sixteen months and on seventeen alternative investment purchase forms Chackman tripled the customer’s purported liquid net worth.