The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering David Lerner Associates, Inc. to pay $14M for allegedly engaging in unfair sales practices involving its Apple REIT Ten and charging clients excessive markups. $12 million of this will be restitution to the investors that bought shares in the $2 billion non-traded real estate investment trust, as well as to clients that were overcharged. $2.3 million is FINRA’s fine against the brokerage firm for charging unfair prices on collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs) and municipal bonds.
According to the SRO, David Lerner Associates solicited thousands of clients to get them to buy shares in the Apple REIT TEN, of which it is the sole distributor. Elderly and unsophisticated investors were among its sales targets, even as it failed to do enough due diligence to make sure these investments were appropriate for these clients. Instead, the financial allegedly used marketing collateral that was misleading and showed customers performance results for closed Apple REITs without revealing that their incomes were not enough to support distributions to unit owners.
As part of the settlement, the financial firm has agreed to modify its advertising procedures. For example, for three years it will video record sales seminars involving 50 or more participants. It will also prefile its sales literature and ads with FINRA at least 10 days before they are made available for use. Additionally, per FINRA mandate, the brokerage firm will bring in independent consultants to look at proposed modifications to its supervisory system, as well as the training involving the pricing of municipal bonds and CMOs and the sale of non-traded REITs.