Articles Tagged with suitable

shutterstock_43547368The securities fraud lawyers of Gana Weinstein 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.

shutterstock_168326705The law offices of Gana Weinstein LLP have been investigating the sales of Servergy, Inc. (Servergy) stock through a private placement by WFG Investments, Inc (WFG) to its clients. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently filed an action in the Northern District of Texas against Servergy concerning possible violations of the anti-fraud provisions of federal and state securities laws. Between August 2009 and February 2013, Servergy raised approximately $26 million by selling shares of its common stock to private investors

Servergy is a Nevada company headquartered in Texas formed in August 2009. The company’s main product is the developing and manufacturing the Cleantech 1000 Server (CTS-1000), technology that can be used in network function virtualization, distributed storage, and cloud computing. The SEC’s Servergy lawsuit concerns misstatements made by Servergy’s CEO, William Mapp III, to investment advisors and investors regarding Servergy’s prospects. Specifically, it was alleged that the company made statements indicating that Freescale Semiconductor had previously ordered CTS-1000 servers, that, Inc. had pre-ordered the server, and that the CTS-1000 consumes 80% less power, cooling, and space than its competitors.

However, according to the SEC, there was no evidence to back up that Mapp’s statements that Freescale’s ever placed such orders of the CTS-1000. The SEC also alleged that the claims concerning pre-orders from Amazon for the CTS-1000 did not exist. Finally, the SEC alleged that there were errors in a chart titled “Comparing Servergy to the Blade Server Competition” that was included in one of the Company’s private placement memoranda.

shutterstock_179203754This article continues our prior post concerning The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recent sanctions of brokerage firm WFG Investments, Inc. (WFG) alleging a host of supervisory failures from March 2007, through January 2014.

In one supervisory failure example involving suitability, FINRA found that between 2009, and 2013, a broker by the initials “MC” (1) traded with discretion in several of his customers’ accounts without their written authorization; and (2) also excessively traded in at least one of his customer’s accounts in light the customer’s investment objectives and risk tolerance. FINRA also alleged that many of the securities traded were also qualitatively unsuitable in light of the customers’ age, objectives, risk tolerance, and financial situation. In addition, several of the customer’s accounts were charged both commissions and management fees and this problem was not identified or corrected even after it was detected.

FINRA also alleged that MC used unapproved charts and provided consolidated statements to a customer without the firm’s knowledge or approval. Moreover, allegedly there were exception reports that highlighted the problem trading activity in several of these accounts that were simply not reviewed or not properly processed. In fact, FINRA found that one of the customers who complained about unsuitable activity in her accounts was not contacted by the firm until after she had complained despite the fact that her accounts had appeared on numerous exception reports. Similarly, FINRA found that broker SGD was also permitted by the WFG to engage in unsuitable trading in one of his customer’s accounts which included the recommendation and sale of numerous high risk equity and ETF purchases for a retired client with a conservative risk tolerance.

shutterstock_189276023The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently sanctioned brokerage firm WFG Investments, Inc. (WFG) alleging a host of supervisory failures from March 2007, through January 2014. FINRA alleged that WFG failed to commit the necessary time, attention, and resources to critical regulatory obligations in supervising registered representatives including: (1) failure to conduct appropriate due diligence on a private placement offering that was sold by a broker away from the firm; (2) failure to supervise the private securities transactions of one of its brokers that were executed through the representative’s investment advisory firm; (3) failure to maintain a supervisory system to ensure customer transactions were suitable; (4) failure to enforce its written supervisory procedures regarding the sale of alternative investments; (5) failure to supervise statements made by one broker on his weekly radio broadcast; and (6) failure to timely report customer complaints and update the Forms U4 and U5 of its brokers.

WFG has been a FINRA member since 1988, conducts a general securities business, and is headquartered in Dallas, Texas. WFG currently has about 280 brokers operating out of 102 branch offices.

FINRA alleged that in 2007, a WFG broker by the initials “SGD” provided notice to the firm that he intended to sell a private placement offering FINRA called “ATMA” to his customers. ATMA was designed to offer an income stream to investors based revenues form automated teller machines (ATMs). In evaluating a selling agreement with SGD, FINRA alleged that WFG assigned its compliance officer known by the initials “TS” to conduct due diligence on ATMA. TS owned a 5% interest in ATMA and SGD was the 90% owner and the operator of ATMA, had no prior experience in structuring and offering private placement investments. FINRA found that the entity that was to provide the ATM machines to ATMA was engaged in fraudulent business practices and most of the ATMs were fictional. FINRA found that WFG declined to enter into a selling agreement with SGD, but permitted him SGD to sell interests in ATMA as private securities transactions.

shutterstock_173809013This post continues our prior report on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) recently sanctions against Sigma Financial Corporation (Sigma Financial) alleging from April 25, 2011, through June 24, 2012, supervisory deficiencies existed at Sigma including the firm’s supervision of registered representatives, the firm’s suitability processes and procedures, some of the firm’s implemented procedures relating to customer information, and also branch office registration for trade execution.

FINRA found that Sigma Financial permitted its representatives to create and use consolidated statements with their customers that reflected the customers’ holdings of investments away from the firm. However, FINRA found that Sigma Financial did not adequately supervise its representatives’ creation and use of such statements in that the firm neither centrally tracked the number or identity of representatives who were using consolidated statements nor the customers who received such statements. Instead, FINRA found that Sigma Financial relied upon the representatives themselves to submit only the initial template of the consolidated statements they created and intended to use with their customers and the firm did not actually receive or review the statements shared with the customers.

Another supervisory deficiency noted by FINRA was that Sigma Financial had four preferred vendors through which brokers could establish and maintain websites. But use of these vendors, was not required and FINRA found that 134 representatives maintained non-preferred vendor websites, or approximately 20% of all websites. FINRA found that non- preferred vendors failed to notify Sigma Financial if registered representatives made any changes to their websites. In this way FINRA found that Sigma Financial did not conduct adequate supervision of those non-preferred vendor websites.

shutterstock_20354398The law offices of Gana Weinstein LLP is investigating a series of complaints against broker William Sheehan (Sheehan). According to Sheehan’s BrokerCheck records the broker has been the subject of 7 investor complaints since 2010. That many claims against one broker is rare. According to InvestmentNews, only about 12% of financial advisors have any type of disclosure event on their records. Thus the number of brokers receiving eight complaints is exceedingly small.

The complaints concerning Sheehan’s activities at several brokerage firms. From July 2004, through October 2007, Sheehan was associated with Investors Capital Corp. (ICC) Next, from October 2007 until January 2010, Sheehan was a registered representative of Omni Brokerage, Inc. Thereafter, Sheehan went back to ICC until October 2012. Finally, Sheehan is currently registered with DFPG Investments, Inc.

Many of the complaints against Sheehan involve allegations investment recommendations into real estate securities and limited partnership interests in tenants-in-common (TICs). TIC investments have come under fire by the customers and even within the securities industry. Indeed, due to the failure of the TIC investment strategy as a whole across the securities industry, TIC investments have virtually disappeared as offered investments.   According to InvestmentNews “At the height of the TIC market in 2006, 71 sponsors raised $3.65 billion in equity from TICs and DSTs…TICs now are all but extinct because of the fallout from the credit crisis.” In fact, TIC recommendations have been a major contributor to bankrupting several brokerage firms. For example, InvestmentNews found that 43 of the 92 broker-dealers that sold TICs sponsored by DBSI Inc., a company whose executives were later charged with running a Ponzi scheme, a staggering 47% of firms that sold DBSI are no longer in business.

shutterstock_182054030The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently suspended former Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. (Cambridge) broker Steven Walstad (Walstad) alleging that Walstad recommended and effected numerous unsuitable Class A share mutual fund purchases and sales involving six customer accounts. In addition, FINRA alleged that Walstad exercised discretion in one customer’s account without the customer’s prior written authorization.

Walstad first became registered with a FINRA firm in 1996 and was associated with Cambridge from April 18, 2008, through November 30, 2012. FINRA alleged that Walstad recommended and executed 78 purchases of Class A share mutual funds in six customer accounts without a reasonable basis to believe were suitable for the customers. All financial advisors, as part of their suitability obligations, must have a reasonable basis for the investments that they recommend to customers. The reason that FINRA found that Walstad’s trades were without a reasonable basis is that the customers were charged front-end sales loads in connection with the Class A share purchases but Walstad mistakenly believed that these front-end sales loads had been waived.

Purchase of Class A shares, as opposed to purchasing Class B or C shares, is advantageous to the customers only if they held the mutual funds on a long-term basis. However, FINRA found that these customers held the Class A shares for less than thirteen months and therefore Walstad lacked a reasonable basis to believe that his recommendations to purchase Class A shares were suitable for these six customers.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has found private securities offerings of oil and gas ventures pose a substantial danger and risk for investor fraud.  An SEC Investor Alert listed some common red flag sales pitches often made to investors including: (1) Sales pitches referring to the high price of oil and gas; (2) “Can’t miss” wells or “guaranteed” returns; (3) Promises of high returns with little risk; (4) Sales pressure to purchase quickly; and (5) Sales pitches touting new technology to get higher production out of low-producing wells.

shutterstock_186468539The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has also clamped down on inappropriate sales of oil and gas ventures.  Recently, FINRA fined broker Jeffrey Alexander (Alexander) concerning allegations that he recommended the purchase of interests in Amazon 13-30, an oil and gas program offered by Amazon Exploration that raised funds for the drilling of a well in Nebraska.  FINRA found that the recommendations made by Alexander to three investors without a reasonable basis for believing the investment to be suitable for any investors.

In August 2012, FINRA alleged that the brokerage firm Shoreline Pacific entered into an agreement with Amazon Exploration where the firm would offer and sell up to 30 partnership units in Amazon 13-30.  Shoreline Pacific was to receive a “success fee” of 20% of the funds it raised, as well as five Amazon 13-30 units if the firm was able raise $1 million for the venture.  FINRA alleged that Alexander worked in Shoreline’s Colorado Springs office and was the primary point of contact between the firm and Amazon Exploration and primarily responsible for finding investors for the Amazon 13-30 private placement.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned brokerage firm Silver Oak Securities, Inc. (Silver Oak) concerning allegations from January 2009, to December 2010, Silver Oak failed to establish and maintain a supervisory system reasonably designed to achieve compliance with applicable securities laws regarding the sale of leveraged and inverse Exchange-Traded Funds (Non-Traditional ETFs).  Silver Oak has been a FINRA member since 2007 and is in Jackson, Tennessee, and employs 122 registered individuals at 28 branch offices.

Non-Traditional ETFs have grown significantly in popularity since 2006.  By 2009, over 100 Non-Traditional ETFs had been issued with total assets under management of approximately $22 billion.  A leveraged ETF seeks to deliver two or three times an index or benchmark return the ETF tracks.  Non-Traditional ETFs can also be “inverse” or “short” returning the opposite of the performance the index or benchmark.  Non-Traditional ETFs contain significant risks that are not found in traditional ETFs.   Non-Traditional ETFs have risks associated with a daily reset, use of leverage, and compounding.

In addition, the performance of Non-Traditional ETFs over long periods of time tend to differ significantly from the performance of the underlying index or benchmark the fund tracks.  For example, between December 2008, and April 2009, the Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Index gained two percent while a leveraged ETF that tracked the index’s daily return fell six percent.  Another related leveraged ETF seeking to deliver twice the inverse of the index’s daily return fell by 26 percent.  These risks, among others, prompted FINRA to issue a Notice to Members clarifying brokerage firm obligations when selling Non-Traditional ETFs to customers.

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