Articles Tagged with variable annuities

shutterstock_85873471-300x200Gana LLP is investigating a customer complaint filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) again broker Joeann Mitchell Walker (Walker). According to FINRA’s BrokerCheck records for Walker, there are several settled disclosures on her record. Walker entered the securities industry in 1992 and currently employed at Next Financial Group, Inc. She was previously employed at LPL Financial LLC (8/2006 – 4/2015), Commonwealth Financial Network (7/1998 – 8/2006), American Express Financial Advisors (6/1992 – 7/1998), and IDS Life Insurance Company (06/1992 – 7/1998).

In March 2016, a customer complaint was filed alleging Walker made unauthorized sales of different stocks, unauthorized and unsuitable purchases of variable annuities, and unauthorized mutual fund switches during the period of June 2014 to June 2015 while Walker was employed at LPL Financial LLC. The stated alleged damages were $208,764.00. The claim was settled in November 2016 for the amount of $175,000.00.

Walker has two additional previous disclosures from 2005 and 1999. In April 2005, a claim was filed alleging that Walker practiced in excessive turnovers in the client’s mutual fund account. The claim alleged damages of $30,000.00. This claim was settled in July 2005 for the final settlement amount of $9,900.00.

shutterstock_133831631-198x300Our firm’s investment attorneys are investigating a complaint filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Securities Division (Massachusetts) against LPL Financial LLC (LPL) and the firm’s broker Roger Zullo (Zullo) Zullo alleging that Zullo fabricated the financial suitability profiles of numerous LPL clients, selling them scores of large, illiquid, unsuitable, high-commission variable annuities, at substantial upfront profits to himself and LPL.

The State of Massachusetts alleged that over the course of three years Zullo and LPL received more than $1,825,000 in variable annuity commissions alone and 98% of that amount represented commissions from the sale of the same annuity product – the Polaris Platinum III (B Shares) variable annuity.  The State found that Zullo bypassed LPL’s paper-thin compliance review process for these sales by fabricating client financial suitability information, such as age and liquid net worth.  Further, LPL apparently rewarded Zullo’s fraudulent practices with the honor of being included in LPL’s “Chairman’s Club” for top annuity production.

According to the State LPL was aware that Zullo repeatedly and openly sold only one product, with the same features and the same justifications, to almost every annuity client, and did nothing to stop it.  LPL was also alleged to have been aware that Zullo’s clients repeatedly incurring surrender charges and being charged high commission. According to one email from Zullo’s supervisor “It did very much seem to me that he had a pattern of switching everybody out of their annuities every 6 or 7 years and that he was getting commissions over and over again from the same clients.”  Massachusetts found that any concerns concerning Zullo’s practices were ignored.

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shutterstock_145368937-300x225The securities and investment fraud attorneys at Gana LLP are investigating the regulatory complaint filed by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against broker Stanley Clayton Niekras (Niekras). The FINRA regulatory action alleges that Niekras recommended unsuitable variable annuity exchanges in three customers’ accounts. FINRA found that Niekras effected the annuity exchanges to benefit himself at the customers’ expense. Niekras allegedly misrepresented himself to a couple in their 90s claiming $70,000 of fees due for financial planning services. According to BrokerCheck records, Niekras has been subject to eight customer complaints and one regulatory action among other claims.

The FINRA complaint alleges that Niekras made fraudulent misrepresentations to an elderly couple in their 90s to collect more than $70,000 in estate and financial planning fees while associated with the brokerage firm MML Investors Services, LLC. FINRA alleges that Niekras didn’t have an investment advisory or financial planning agreement with the elderly couple, but he billed them for hundreds of hours of time that he supposedly spent working on their “financial future”, work that he claimed to have done over four years knowing he wasn’t entitled to the “estate planning” or “financial planning” fees he charged. In February 2013, he recommended that the children buy a particular variable annuity with the gifted assets, anticipating collecting about $75,000 in commissions from the sales. The claim is currently pending.

The most recent complaint was filed in December 2010 alleging unsuitable variable annuity recommendations in clients account from January 1995 through March 2005 causing over $5,000 in damages. The claim settled for $247,500.00.

shutterstock_185901806-300x200Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Bryon Martinsen (Martinsen) currently associated with Centaurus Financial, Inc. (Centaurus) alleging unsuitable investments, breach of fiduciary duty, misrepresentations, and fraud among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Martinsen has been subject to five customer complaints, one judgment or lien, and one employment termination for cause.  Many of the complaints involve direct participation products (DPPs) such as non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other alternative investments.

Our firm has experience representing investment fraud victims with these investments against Centaurus.  See Gana LLP Wins Arbitration Award On Behalf of Client Against Centaurus Financial.  In that case, the Claimant alleged that the broker involved invested over $2,000,000 in exclusively high cost products and 50% of those investments were in alternative investments such as private placements, oil and gas partnerships, and REITs.  The other 50% was invested in variable and equity-indexed annuities.  Award Can Be Found Here.

All of these investments come with high costs and have historically underperformed even safe benchmarks, like U.S. treasury bonds.  For example, products like oil and gas partnerships, REITs, and other alternative investments are only appropriate for a narrow band of investors under certain conditions due to the high costs, illiquidity, and huge redemption charges of the products, if they can be redeemed at all.  However, due to the high commissions brokers earn on these products they sell them to investors who cannot profit from them and have created a large market for a failed product.  Further, investor often fail to understand that they have lost money in these illiquid investments until many years after investing.  In sum, for all of their costs and risks, investors in these programs are in no way additionally compensated for the loss of liquidity, risks, or cost.

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shutterstock_70999552Our firm’s investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Joseph Zastrow (Zastrow) currently associated with Thrivent Investment Management Inc. (Thrivent) alleging unsuitable recommendations to invest in variable products such as variable annuities, equity indexed annuities, and variable life insurance.  According to brokercheck records Zastrow has been subject to six customer complaints and one criminal matter.

In August 2016 a customer alleged that Zastrow failed to provide the customer with disclosures about the variable annuity contract or provide suitability information in July 2015.  The customer also alleged that his signature was forged on documents dated May 2015. The customer claimed $2,956.67 in damages and was granted $2,861.98.

Variable annuities and equity indexed annuities are complex financial and insurance products.  In fact, recently the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a publication entitled: Variable Annuities: What You Should Know encouraging investors to ask questions about the variable annuity before investing.  Essentially, a variable annuity is a contract with an insurance company under which the insurer agrees to make periodic payments to you.  The investor chooses the investments made in the annuity and value of your variable annuity will vary depending on the performance of the investment options chosen.  The primary benefits of variable annuities are the death benefit and tax deferment of investment gains.

However, the benefits of variable annuities are often outweighed by the terms of the contract that include exorbitant expenses such as surrender charges, mortality and expense charges, management fees, market-related risks, and rider costs.

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shutterstock_54385804Our investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against David White (White) currently associated with Centaurus Financial, Inc. (Centaurus) alleging unsuitable investments and breach of fiduciary duty among other claims.  According to brokercheck records White has been subject to eleven customer complaints.  Many of the complaints involve direct participation products (DPPs) such as non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other alternative investments.

Our firm has experience representing investment fraud victims with these investments against Centaurus.  See Gana LLP Wins Arbitration Award On Behalf of Client Against Centaurus Financial.  In that case, the Claimant alleged that the broker involved invested over $2,000,000 in exclusively high cost products and 50% of those investments were in alternative investments such as private placements, oil and gas partnerships, and REITs.  The other 50% was invested in variable and equity-indexed annuities.  The panel found that “the investments Hashemian recommended while at Centaurus were not suitable and in [Claimant’s] best interests. [Claimant] also provided sufficient evidence to meet her burden of proof to support her allegations in her Statement of Claim that the actions by Hashemian, for which Centaurus is responsible, constitute fraudulent and negligently made material misrepresentations and omitted material information in the sale of the investments to [Claimant].”  Award Can Be Found Here.

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shutterstock_102757574Our firm’s investment attorneys are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Alan Thomilson (Thomilson) currently associated with Lincoln Financial Securities Corporation (Lincoln Financial) alleging unsuitable recommendations to invest in variable products such as variable annuities, equity indexed annuities, and variable life insurance.  According to brokercheck records Thomilson has been subject to six customer complaints and one criminal matter.

In March 2015 a customer alleged that Thomilson misrepresented a recommendation to replace an existing variable annuity with an equity indexed annuity and that the recommendation was not suitable causing $125,000 in damages.  The claim is currently pending.

Variable annuities and equity indexed annuities are complex financial and insurance products.  In fact, recently the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a publication entitled: Variable Annuities: What You Should Know encouraging investors to ask questions about the variable annuity before investing.  Essentially, a variable annuity is a contract with an insurance company under which the insurer agrees to make periodic payments to you.  The investor chooses the investments made in the annuity and value of your variable annuity will vary depending on the performance of the investment options chosen.  The primary benefits of variable annuities are the death benefit and tax deferment of investment gains.

However, the benefits of variable annuities are often outweighed by the terms of the contract that include exorbitant expenses such as surrender charges, mortality and expense charges, management fees, market-related risks, and rider costs.

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shutterstock_174858983Our investment attorneys are interested in speaking with investors who may have been sold inappropriate alternative investments by Cheryl Kitashima (Kitashima).  Customers have filed complaints with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Kitashima alleging unsuitable investments, breach of fiduciary duty, common law fraud, and misrepresentations among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Kitashima has been subject to five customer complaints.  Some of the complaints involve direct participation products (DPPs), variable annuities, oil and gas investments, non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), and other alternative investments.

Our firm has represented many clients in these types of products.  All of these investments come with high costs and have historically underperformed even safe benchmarks, like U.S. treasury bonds.  For example, products like oil and gas partnerships, REITs, and other alternative investments are only appropriate for a narrow band of investors under certain conditions due to the high costs, illiquidity, and huge redemption charges of the products, if they can be redeemed at all.  However, due to the high commissions brokers earn on these products they sell them to investors who cannot profit from them and have created a large market for a failed product.  Further, investor often fail to understand that they have lost money in these illiquid investments until many years after investing.  In sum, for all of their costs and risks, investors in these programs are in no way additionally compensated for the loss of liquidity, risks, or cost.

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shutterstock_94127350The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that it has fined eight brokerage a total of $6.2 million for failing to supervise sales of variable annuities (VAs).  Five of the firms were required to pay more than $6 million to customers who purchased L-share variable annuities that came with potentially incompatible, complex and expensive long-term minimum-income and withdrawal riders.

FINRA’s enforcement actions were against the following firms.

  • VOYA Financial Advisors Inc. – fined $2.75 million.
  • Cetera Advisor Networks LLC – fined $750,000.
  • Cetera Financial Specialists LLC – fined $350,000.
  • First Allied Securities, Inc. – fined $950,000.
  • Summit Brokerage Services, Inc. – fined $500,000.
  • VSR Financial Services, Inc. – fined $400,000.
  • Kestra Investment Services, LLC – fined $475,000.
  • FTB Advisors, Inc. – fined $250,000.

FINRA ordered the firms to pay the following to investors.

The L-share VAs are complex investment products that combine insurance and investment features designed for short-term investors willing to pay higher fees in exchange for shorter surrender periods.  L-shares also have the potential to pay greater commissions to brokers than traditional share classes.

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shutterstock_132317306The securities lawyers of Gana LLP are investigating customer complaints filed with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against Mark Wesley (Wesley) alleging unsuitable investments, negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty among other claims.  According to brokercheck records Wesley has been subject to six customer complaints.  Some of the complaints involve direct participation products (DPPs), oil and gas private placements, variable annuities, non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), and other alternative investments.

In June 2016, Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (Ameriprise) permitted Wesley to resign alleging that he was under suspension for compliance policy violations related to unauthorized trading, use of discretion in a non-discretionary account, supervision of staff and responding to supervision.

In addition, Wesley has been subject to five tax liens totaling millions of dollars.  A broker’s inability to handle their personal finances has also been found to be relevant in helping investors determine if they should allow the broker to handle their finances.

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