The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s National Adjudicatory Council has dismissed the charges against former Knight Securities, L.P. CEO Ken Pasternak and John Leighton, the investment firm’s ex- Institutional Sales Desk head. The two men were accused of supervisory failures over allegedly fraudulent sales. Specifically, they allegedly inadequately supervised Leighton’s brother Joseph Leighton, who, at the time, was the firm’s top institutional sales trader. Regulators had accused Joseph of inflating the price of securities when selling them to institutional clients and keeping the extra profit.
The National Association of Securities Dealers found that the two former executives failed to take reasonable steps to make sure that Joseph was in compliance with industry standards. He settled with NASD and the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2005.
A lower FINRA panel had also ruled against two men. Pasternak was suspended from supervisory positions for two years and John was barred from supervisory roles. Both men were each ordered to pay $100,000.
Now, however, NAC is disagreeing with the lower panel, claiming that FINRA failed to establish that Joseph Leighton violated regulatory and market standards. The council also found that John Leighton did enforce Knight’s compliance procedures and that there was evidence that does not support allegations accusing Pasternak of not responding properly to “red flags” that surfaced over the way that Joseph handled his institutional client orders. However, institutional clients have come forward to testify that the pricing they received was fair. Also, in 2008, a federal judge threw out similar charges that the SEC filed against Pasternak and Joseph Leighton.
“This is another case at FINRA of the soldiers getting punished while the officers in charge ultimately get a walk,” said Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas founder and securities fraud lawyer William Shepherd. “The primary regulator of brokerage firms may have recently changed its name to the ‘Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’ but it remains a ‘National Association of Securities Dealers’ – a non-profit private corporation (similar to a country club) with a vested interest in seeing to it that favored members do not have to answer for misdeeds. After all, a precedent of fines or sanctions for the bosses might affect the treatment of other bosses in the future.”