Articles Posted in Broker-Dealers

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel is ordering Legend Securities, CEO Anthony Fusco, and three of the firm’s former brokers to pay one investor $966,708 in damages. Legend Securities was expelled by the self-regulatory authority two years ago and is no longer in operation.

The claimant, Frederick Blake, alleged the following:

Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Galvin has imposed a $1.1M fine on target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>LPL Financial (LPLA) after finding that the brokerage firm did not properly register 651 of its advisors in the state. Galvin’s office contends that for six years, LPL let these brokers work in Massachusetts despite the lack of registration and that this violates the state’s securities laws.

In Massachusetts, a brokerage firm is required to register its agents before they are allowed to engage in securities-related business in the state. As of May 9, LPL had 4,219 agents who were registered in the state.

However, the lack of registration by 651 of its agents between March 2013 and April 4, 2019 prevented Massachusetts securities regulators from being able to check their qualifications and histories to ensure that investors who worked with them were in safe hands. 441 of these unregistered agents acted as financial advisors to at least one or more state residents during the period at issue. The other 210 agents supervised the agents who were advisors to these customers.

Investment News is reporting that broker-dealers and their brokers that sold GPB Capital Holdings private placements to investors have collectively been paid $167 million in commissions. That large number represents 9.3% of the $1.8 billion that supposedly accredited, wealthy investors paid for these risky private placements. Recent reports had estimated that the commissions paid were lower, at around $100 million (about 7% per transaction), but GPB Capital has apparently confirmed the much larger number.

While brokers and broker-dealers are allowed to make up to a 10% commissions for selling financial products to clients, very few investments pay such a high rate. However, private placements, such as GPB Capital, entice brokers and their firms to sell such risky investments by offering much higher commissions and fees.

For private placements, it is not uncommon for financial representatives to earn around 7% in commissions, with another 2% going to the brokerage firm. In comparison, mutual funds and other similar investments typically pay less than half as much in commissions.

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration panel has awarded 23 investors $3M in their claim against Spire Securities, its CEO David Lloyd Blisk, and CCO Suzanne Marie McKeown. The broker-dealer and its executives were accused of inadequately supervising former broker Patrick Evans Churchville, whom the investors contend fraudulently sold them investments that caused them to lose money in a $21M Ponzi scam.

Churchville sold the investments through ClearPath Wealth Management, a registered investment adviser that he operated outside of Spire Securities. Still, the claimants contended that the broker-dealer should have prevented Churchville from causing them financial harm while he was a Spire Securities broker and could have done so had they properly overseen him.

Churchville pleaded guilty in 2016 to criminal charges accusing him of operating a $21M Ponzi scam. In 2017, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for tax evasion and wire fraud.

After failing to cooperate in a probe into allegations of securities violations, George Merhoff, a former ex-Cetera Financial Group adviser, has been barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). He was fired by the brokerage firm in April for allegedly issuing an undisclosed payment to a firm customer.

With over 21 years working in the brokerage industry, Merhoff was a registered Cetera broker for seven years. Before that, he was registered with Pacific West Securities, where he worked for 13 years, and at AAG Securities for less than a year.

Merhoff’s BrokerCheck record shows 27 customer disputes filed since December 2015 that have either been settled or are pending. Allegations include the following:

In March 2019, Newbridge Securities Corporation (“Newbridge”) filed its Form X-17A-5, commonly called a firm’s Focus Report, with the Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”).  The Focus Report showed that in 2018, Newbridge had almost $33 million in revenues, yet reported only about $108,000 in net profits.

The accounting firm that audited Newbridge disclosed in its “Opinion on the Financial Statements” that “there is substantial doubt about [Newbridge’s] ability to continue as a going concern.”  This means that the finding from the CPA firm of Newbridge in financial trouble means investors that hold accounts with the firm should be concerned.

Newbridge is a Boca Raton, Florida based brokerage and financial services firm.  Although the firm claims to have “over 80 locations in the US”, its website only lists offices in Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale, Scottsdale, Chicago and a few locations in New York.

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration panel has awarded $519,000 to Stephen and Brenda Balock in their investor fraud claim against Morgan Stanley (MS). The couple contends that that one of the firm’s brokers, Tim J. Prouty, placed their funds in investments that were complex and inappropriate for them, causing them to lose money in eight accounts between 2012 and 2015. They filed their claim against Morgan Stanley in 2016.

The Balocks began working with Prouty after Stephen’s employer, the Public Service Co. of New Mexico, compelled him into early retirement due to downsizing. He had never worked with a broker before then.

The couple wanted to invest in certificates of deposit. Instead, Prouty placed them in a Morgan Stanley investment advisory program that involved more complex investments, such as options contracts, derivates, junk bonds, and exchange-traded funds. In their investor claim against Morgan Stanley, the Balocks made a number of allegations, including the following:

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has filed charges against broker-dealer Janney Montgomery Scott accusing the firm of not properly supervising broker Stephen Querzoli during his trading of Class A mutual fund shares from 2012 to 2017. According to the state regulator, these alleged mutual fund sales violations caused investors, mostly older customers, to pay nearly $200K in unwarranted commissions that were shared between Janney and Querzoli.

Class A mutual fund shares usually charge higher fees of up to 5.7% at the front-end. They also lead to higher commissions for the investment advisers and brokers selling them compared to what other mutual fund class shares would render.

Although Class A shares are meant to be held for at least five years, according to the Massachusetts regulator, Querzoli would sell clients’ Class A shares within months of their acquiring them, thereby engaging in short-term trading. This resulted in higher and additional commissions charged to customers.

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel has ordered Pershing, LLC to pay $1.4m to six investors who lost money in R. Allen Stanford’s $7.2B Ponzi scam. Pershing is a Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) division. It acted as Stanford Group Co.’s clearing broker for several years.

Pershing is accused of enabling the Stanford Ponzi Fraud, including through its transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from US investors’ securities accounts, as it continued to make money from the sales of at least $500M in fake, unregistered certificates of deposit (CDs).

Pershing also allegedly disregarded the unusual ways in which Stanford ran his operations, including the use of offshore transfers and the high compensation awarded to brokers. The unregistered CDs were issued out of Stanford International Bank, a Stanford Financial Group unit based in Antigua, and then sold by Stanford’s brokerage firm in the US.

LJM Partners is suing a number of unnamed parties after losing hundreds of millions of dollars during a major incident of stock market volatility early last year now known as “Vol-magedon.” The Chicago-based fund manager and commodity trading advisor (CTA) claims that these losses are what forced it to go out of business.

LJM had backed complex derivatives, which plunged in value after the largest ever one-day jump in the VIX volatility index in February 2018. The fund manager later gave back what was left of clients’ funds and shuttered its operations.

While LJM held $812M in assets at the start of that month, by the end of February, that figure had dwindled to $14M. One of its affiliates, which operated the LJM Preservation and Growth Fund—a mutual fund for retail investors—lost half its value due to the VIX volatility index jump. The fund then went on to lose the rest of its value as it unwound its holdings.

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