SEC Charges Hawaii-Based Investment Adviser for Misleading Clients and Cherry PickingThe U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Oracle Investment Research, which is based in Hawaii, and its owner Laurence I. Balter. The regulator claims that the investment adviser cherry picked trades that were profitable for his own accounts. He is also accused is misleading clients, including senior citizens, about the risks involved in the investments he recommended, as well as about the fees they would be charged.According to the SEC Enforcement Division, Balter and Oracle Investment Research bought options and equities in an omnibus account but waited to distribute the trades until their execution. Then, he would allegedly move the profitable trades into his accounts and the unprofitable ones to the accounts of clients.
The SEC is charging Dennis Wright, an ex-Axa Advisors broker, with operating a Ponzi scam for 14 years and bilking customers of $1.5 million. According to the regulator, from 1998 and into 2012, Wright allegedly persuaded at least 28 customers to take money out of Axa variable annuity accounts under the guise that he would move the money to mutual fund accounts that had higher returns and also were run by the brokerage firm.
The Commission claims that rather than invest clients’ money, what ended up happening is that Wright put the money into a bank account under his control and used the funds to pay other investors. The SEC says that Wright purposely manipulated Axa Advisor clients so he could steal their savings. Alleged victims included members of Wright’s community, including childhood friends, and unsophisticated investors.
Axa Advisors let Wright go in 2012 after the firm found out about the alleged fraud. Axa has since paid back the customers whose funds were misappropriated.
AXA Advisors LLC will pay a $100,000 fine to settle Financial Industry Regulatory Authority allegations that it delayed too long before firing a broker who was also the mastermind of a Ponzi scam. The financial firm turned in a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent prior to there having to be a regulatory hearing, without denying or admitting to the findings, and without an adjudication of any issue. AXA Advisors is a subsidiary of AXA Financial, Inc., which is an AXA Group member.
Kenneth Neely, a former registered representative, started working with AXA in its Clayton, Missouri office in August 2007. FINRA contends that already by then, Neely had been the subject of four client complaints. Three of these were securities arbitrations over business practices he employed with previous employees. (Prior to working at AXA, he was registered with Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., Inc. and UBS PaineWebber, Inc.) The SRO believes that AXA also knew that Neely was having financial problems at the time.
Neely was permanently barred by FINRA in 2009 for running the Ponzi scam, which bilked its victims of $600,000. Many of the investors he defrauded belonged to his church. According to the SRO, Neely to conceal his financial scheme by having investors pay $2K to $3K to his wife. He also created fake invoices to make them appear as if they were actual ownership certificates. He did pay investors about $300,000. A lot of his investors’ money went toward supporting his extravagant lifestyle. Neely eventually pleaded guilty to the federal crime of mail fraud. He was sentenced to 37 months in months in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $618,270.
Per the AWC, Neely started running a Ponzi scam in 2001 while he was still working at UBS. He continued his fraud operation while at Stifel and when he went to go work with AXA. He persuaded AXA clients, Stifel customers, and others to take part in the St. Louis Investment Club, which was a fake club and put their money in the St. Charles REIT, which was a bogus real estate investment trust. After he admitted to converting and commingling funds. AXA fired him in July 2009.
However, it was as early as 2008, when AXA conducted its yearly audit of Neely, that a review of his computer brought up an Excel spreadsheet noting eight people’s payment schedules. Per the AWC, these people were investors in Neely’s fraud. An AXA examiner asked Neely to explain the spreadsheet and the broker claimed that the figures were for showing a potential client/friend, who wanted to start a business, how to handle his finances. The AWC alleges that this explanation was a false one.
FINRA found that AXA failed to properly supervise or investigate Neely by not responding appropriately to the spreadsheet, his excuses, or the fact that he had a questionable history. AXA has now been both sanctioned and fined.
AXA Fined $100,000 For Not Axing Ponzi Broker Sooner, Forbes, March 15, 2012
Ex-AXA Broker Barred by Finra After Ponzi Scheme, New York Times, July 28, 2009
More Blog Posts:
Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and AXA Advisors Broker Charged in Ponzi Scheme Victimizing Church Members, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 5, 2009
AXA Rosenberg Entities Settle Securities Fraud Charges Over Computer Error Concealment for Over $240M, February 10, 2011 Continue Reading ›
Former Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and AXA Advisors broker Kenneth Neely has pled guilty to one count of mail fraud for setting up a Ponzi scheme that targeted at least 16 investors. Yesterday, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced that she has shut down the scam.
The 56-year-old St. Peters, Missouri broker got his clients to invest in a bogus St. Charles real estate investment trust. He promised high return rates and “no risk,” raising over $640,000 in investor funds. Federal prosecutors say clients paid about $3,000/share or unit.
At the time Neely was committing securities fraud (from 2001 – July 2009) he worked for broker dealers AXA Advisors and Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. He told clients to make checks payable to him and his wife.
Missouri Securities Law makes it illegal for a broker to “sell away,” which involves selling investments off a firm’s books.
Neely has 30 days to respond to Missouri’s cease-and-desist order. Federal brokers have barred him from working as a broker. Investor victims that lost some $400,000 included people that belonged to his church, friends, relatives, and acquaintances. Some people lost their savings because of the Ponzi scheme. Nealy used some of the money to pay for his personal expenses and debt.
Neely’s sentencing is scheduled for January 2010. He faces up to 20 years in prison, restitution, and up to $250,000 in fines.
Related Web Resources:
Carnahan Uncovers Ponzi Scheme in Saint Charles, SOS.Mo.Gov, November 4, 2009
St. Peters broker admits Ponzi scheme, St. Louis Business Journal, November 4, 2009
FINRA Permanently Bars Former Broker for Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc and AXA Advisors For Ponzi Scheme, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 3, 2009 Continue Reading ›
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has permanently barred a former Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc. and AXA Advisors broker from operating. Kenneth George Neely has admitted to running a ponzi scheme involving clients of both broker-dealers, as well as friends, family members, and fellow church members.
According to federal regulators, Neely acted fraudulently when he induced at least 25 clients to take part in the “St. Louis Investment Club” and invest in “St Charles REIT. Both the investment club and the real estate investment trust are bogus.
To cover up the Ponzi scheme, Neely had investors issue payments to his wife in $2,000 and $3,000 increments so that banks wouldn’t get suspicious when funds were turned into cash. He also created bogus invoices that looked like official ownership certificates for REIT purchases. These certificates listed names of a “President” and a “Secretary” who were both fictitious. Neely promised investors that their investments would be taken care of.
For example, he promised one friend a high return rate on a bogus St. Charles REIT investment. The friend had invested $154,000. Neely would end up returning $10,000 to this person and using the rest of the funds to pay for some of his own personal expenses and debt.
He also persuaded a fellow church member to invest $35,000. He promised a 5% return rate. Small interest payments later dried up and Neely used the balance for his personal spending.
Neely improperly utilized over $600,000 of his investors’ assets. He converted over half the amount to his own use and returned about $300,000 to some investors.
It wasn’t until FINRA spoke with the St. Louis broker about his bogus real estate investment trust that he stopped collecting funds. AXA terminated his employment after he admitted what he’d done to FINRA.
FINRA enforcement chief Susan Merrill says that it is disturbing that in addition to taking advantage of clients at the brokerage firms where he’d worked, Neely also exploited relatives, friends, and acquaintances and took their “hard-earned savings.”
FINRA Permanently Bars Broker Operating Ponzi Scheme Involving Customers of Broker-Dealers, FINRA, July 27, 2009
Former AXA broker barred by FINRA for Ponzi scheme, Reuters, July 27, 2009 Continue Reading ›