According 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.