Articles Posted in Current Investigations


Shepherd, Smith, Edwards & Kantas Investigating Firms Selling Harvest Volatility Management Strategies’ Collateral Yield Enhancement Strategy

The law firm of Shepherd, Smith, Edwards & Kantas (“SSEK Law Firm”) is investigating several firms that have been selling Harvest Volatility Management Strategies as a safe way for customers to earn extra income from their investment portfolio.  The long period of historically low interest rates that have existed since at least 2008 has resulted in the creation of a number of brokerage firm products that are meant to combat the low return investors receive in traditional income investments, such as money markets or CDs, but provide similar safety.

One such investment product that has become popular, but proven to be far riskier than represented to investors, is the so-called “Yield Enhancement Strategy”, or the “YES” investment.  We have previously written on the UBS Yield Enhancement Strategy and the number of investors who lost significant money with that investment when the real risk of the product was revealed in February 2018.

Patrick Dibre, a former business partner of GPB Capital Holdings, is accusing the asset management firm of operating a Ponzi Scam. Dibre made his claims in his counter-suit filed against GPB after the company sued him.

GPB Capital is at the center of a growing controversy surrounding brokerage firms that sold its private placements, raising $1.8B in the process. The asset management company, which invests primarily in auto dealerships and waste management companies, has been under fire since late last year when it suspended its sale of the private placements, as well as redemptions to investors. It also is under investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), state regulators, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The following GPB funds are under investigation:

The Puerto Rico Government Employees and Judiciary Retirement Systems Administration, a pension plan for retirees of the U.S. territory’s government, has filed a proposed securities class action in federal court against Bank of America (BAC), Goldman Sachs (GS), Citigroup (C), Barclays Capital, Inc. (BARC), BNP Paribas Securities Corp., Bank of America Securities, Credit Suisse Securities, FTN Financial Securities, Deutsche Bank Securities, JP Morgan Securities, Morgan Stanley (MS), Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, and UBS Securities. The retirement fund is accusing the defendants of rigging bond prices to keep the prices up on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bonds.

Freddie and Fannie, both U.S. government-sponsored entities (GSEs), offer bonds to raise money for loans. According to the Puerto Rico pension plan’s bond fraud case, the trading desks of the various banks worked together to artificially raise the prices of the GSE bonds when the market took a hit after the 2008 financial crisis and Fannie and Freddie started reducing the number of bonds issued for sale. This decrease led to a loss in profits for those underwriting and trading in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds. The plaintiff contends that instead of the banks opting to lower the difference between their purchasing and selling prices and competing for clients, they worked together to fix the bond prices so they could “maximize” their profits at the expense of customers.

The Puerto Rico retirement plan’s complaint comes weeks after another proposed class action was brought by two other pension funds also accusing banks of rigging the price of GSE bonds. The pension fund plaintiffs in that fraud case are the Trust and Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 19 Pension Fund and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Employees’ Defined Benefit Retirement Plan. The defendants are Bank of America NA, Barclays Capital, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., BNP Paribas Securities Corp., Deutsche Bank Securities, JPMorgan Securities, HSBS Bank Plc, HSBC Securities, JP Morgan Chase Bank, TD Securities, Nomura Securities International Inc., and Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.

Just days after InvestmentNews reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now investigating alternative investment management firm GPB Capital Holdings, ProPublica is reporting that the FBI and regulators from New York City’s Business Integrity Commission (BIC) have raided the corporate offices of GPB Waste NY, which is the private trash hauling company once known as Five Star Carting that GPB Capital Holdings acquired in 2017. The raid reportedly involved a search warrant from the US Attorney’s Office to gather materials.

Aside from the FBI, GPB Capital Holdings is already under investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the New Jersey Bureau of Securities, and Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, who is investigating more than 60 brokerage firms that sold GPB Capital Holdings-related private placements to investors. However, public filings submitted to the SEC note that there were about 80 brokerage firms in the US at least authorized to sell investments to clients on behalf of GPB.

GPB Capital Holdings primarily invests in auto dealerships. However, it also purchases private trash hauling companies. NYC’s BIC is responsible for looking into possible misconduct or corruption involving the private trash industry in the city. Five Star, according to ProPublica, had previously dealt with a “troubled labor and safety record,” including government inspections that found that the company used unsafe trucks.

If you are an investor in NorthStar Healthcare Income, you very likely received a letter last month notifying you that monthly distributions from this investment have been suspended. According to NorthStar’s board, the publicly registered nontraded real estate investment trust’s (nontraded REIT) portfolio has been undergoing “operational and performance challenges” that as of the end of June 2017 has resulted in a “lower estimated value/share” of the NorthStar Healthcare’s common stock. The nontraded REIT has since determined that in order to protect both capital and its financial state, suspension of these distribution payments is necessary.

The NorthStar Healthcare Inc. nontraded REIT was set up to originate, acquire, and oversee healthcare industry-related investments, including debt, equity, and securities investments involving healthcare real estate. Sources note that between 2013 and 2018, it raised about $2B and set up a portfolio involving more than 650 properties.

However, NorthStar Healthcare Income began reducing distribution rates in December 2017. By October of last year, it had notified investors that it would only buy back shares from an investor if qualifying disability or death were factors. In December 2018, the nontraded REIT reduced its net asset value from $8.50/share to $7.10/share. Now, with the distribution suspension, some investors are standing to lose not just their monthly distributions, but also they could see a substantial decline in value on their principal that they originally invested.

According to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Wedbush Securities has settled allegations accusing the brokerage firm of failing to supervise one of its former registered representatives, Timary Delorme, who is accused of engaging in a pump-and-dump fraud that harmed retail investors. As part of the settlement, Wedbush consented to a censure and will pay a $250K penalty.

The SEC filed this civil securities case against Wedbush a year ago, accusing the broker-dealer of not properly investigating red flags indicating that Delorme might have been defrauding investors. The former Wedbush broker is accused of, from 2008 to 2014, receiving payments, which were issued to her husband,  in exchange for recommending to investors that they make certain trades that were then used in the pump-and-dump fraud.

The regulator said that Wedbush even disregarded an email from a customer reporting the fraud, as well as a number of Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitrations claims and inquiries over Delorme’s trading activities involving penny stocks. Instead, contends the Commission, Wedbush performed two inadequate probes into the allegations against its former broker but didn’t take proper action.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has secured a final judgment against ex-Alexander Capital broker William Gennity, who is accused of excessive churning in clients’ brokerage accounts. Gennity, whom the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) had earlier suspended, will pay nearly $128K in disgorgement, nearly $15K in prejudgment interest, and a $160K civil penalty.

The SEC’s complaint accused Gennity of recommending costly, “in-and-out trading” to four clients between 7/2012 and 8/2014 without having any reasonable grounds for thinking that doing so would cause them to make money. Instead, they lost money as a result, while Gennity made money. The alleged churning purportedly took place while he was an Alexander Capital broker.

Churning typically involves a broker engaging in trades in order to earn more commissions.

In an Investor Alert, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA) sought to inform investors about the risks involved in securities-backed lines of credit (SBLOCs). These loans are usually touted as a hassle-free, low-cost way for investors to gain access to money by borrowing against their investment portfolio’s assets without needing to liquidate the investments. Popular among a growing number of securities firms, SBLOCs, however, are not a good match for every investor.

Securities-Backed Lines of Credit – SBLOCs

Typically, to qualify for an SBLOC, an investor must have assets with a “market value of at least $100K.” He or she can then usually borrow anywhere from 50-95% of the value of assets in the portfolio.

InvestmentNews reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating GPB Capital Holdings. The alternative investment management firm said that the FBI stopped by unannounced to its New York offices last week. The visit took place a few months after both the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra) launched separate probes into the firm, which claims to have raised $1.8B from accredited, high net worth investors via private placement funds invested in waste management and car dealerships. WealthManagement.com reports that GPB Capital Holdings-sold private placements that are risky, illiquid alternative investments. However, there is growing concern that not all of these investors, were, in fact, sophisticated, accredited, high net worth parties.

In September, Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin announced it was investigating 63 brokerage firms for selling GPB Capital Holdings-issued private placements. Among the broker-dealers that sold these investments were Advisor Group firms Sagepoint Financial Inc, Royal Alliance Associates, Inc., Woodbury Financial Services, Inc., and FSC Securities Corp. News of Secretary

Galvin’s probe came just a month after GPB Capital Holdings announced that it was pausing its efforts to raise investor funds to deal with accounting and financial reporting issues involving two of its largest funds, the GPB Holdings II and the GPB Automotive Portfolio, which together reportedly raised almost $1.3B of investor money while paying brokers over $100M in commissions. Both funds missed an earlier deadline to file statements with the SEC.

Although many of the thousands of cases investors in Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end funds have brought over the last five years have focused on UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico (“UBS-PR”), other brokerage firms in the Commonwealth engaged in the same wrongful sales practices. One such firm that has also been the subject of many new FINRA arbitrations and other lawsuits is Santander Securities, LLC (“Santander”), a division of Banco Santander Puerto Rico. The large number of cases against Santander are not a surprise given the public information about Santander. For example, Bloomberg reports that between the ends of 2012 and 2013, Santander marketed and sold over $280 million in Puerto Rico municipal bonds and close-end funds while reportedly selling its own holdings of these same securities.

Santander also has a regulatory history that suggests ongoing problems with the Puerto Rico operations for the bank. For example, in 2011, Santander settled allegations from FINRA of deficiencies in Santander’s structured product business, including those involving the sale of reverse-convertible securities to Puerto Rican retail customers when such investments were often unsuitable for them. FINRA also accused the brokerage firm of inadequate supervision of structured product sales. Santander agreed to pay a $2 million fine for these alleged deficiencies. More recently, in 2015, FINRA fined Santander $2 million and ordered restitution to Santander customers of an additional $4.3 million for Santander’s sales practices related to Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end funds. In particular, FINRA found that Santander’s supervisory system did not accurately reflect the risk of Puerto Rico investments in the period leading up to the collapse of the Puerto Rico market in 2013 and 2014. However, Santander was aware of the increased risk, and according to FINRA, instead of informing its clients of these increased risks, used that knowledge to sell its entire inventory of Puerto Rico investments by the end of October 2013, and thus missing much of the losses Santander’s own clients suffered.

In other Puerto Rico news, the 1st Circuit court of invalidated the PROMESA board which provides oversight for restructuring local debt. After the board placed Puerto Rico in a bankruptcy like process, many hedge funds and institutional corporate investors were unhappy as their investments were now in jeopardy. These entities filed a constitutional challenge to the way the board was appointed and eventually won on appeal. The ruling was not much of a win however, as the 1st Circuit refused to invalidate the board’s prior actions, which included placing Puerto Rico in the bankruptcy like proceedings, even though they invalidated the board itself.

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