Articles Posted in Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer Broker Involved In Customer Dispute Cases  

Cesar Hurtado, who has been with Oppenheimer since 2003, is currently under scrutiny in the wake of recent customer disputes and is being investigated by Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas.

One of the claims alleging fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent misrepresentation was settled for $285K.  Another customer dispute case, which is still pending, makes similar claims and is seeking $100K in damages. 

Recently, Oppenheimer was found liable for the conduct of one of its former brokers named Mark Hotton. Hotton joined Oppenheimer in November 2005, and proceeded to fleece a number of his clients, according to financial regulators. FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, has filed a disciplinary action against Hotton which is still pending.

According to the complaint, Hotton outright stole almost $6 million from his brokerage customers, and directed another $2.5 million to outside businesses that Hotton was affiliated with in some way. These numbers don’t even include the millions of dollars that FINRA believes that Hotton caused by excessively trading, or churning, customer accounts to generate commissions for himself.

The level of fraud that Hotton was engaging in should be shocking if it wasn’t becoming increasingly commonplace. In 2006, a customer filed a lawsuit against Hutton after it was convinced by Hotton to invest $4 million in real estate transactions. The customer claimed that Hotton simply stole the entire investment, which was accomplished by forging contracts, forging mortgages, forging account statements, and directing the investment being made into a shell corporation that he had created with a similar name to the company that was supposed to be invested in. Ultimately, that lawsuit was settled for millions of dollars which Hotton was individually liable for. Yet this lawsuit, its allegations, and its results were never disclosed to other customers as regulations require, permitting Hotton to continue to seek new customers to bilk.

Date: August 7, 2013

The attorneys at Shepherd, Smith, Edwards & Kantas LLP are investigating claims by investors with Oppenheimer & Co.  Although the firm’s investigations are usually target more specifically at particular conduct of a firm or broker, Oppenheimer & Co.’s supervisory system has been found so woefully inadequate by numerous regulators and arbitration Panels over the last several years that almost any trading strategy permitted in Oppenheimer customer accounts becomes suspect.

For example, in 2008 the Massachusetts Securities Division filed suit against Oppenheimer for its sales of Auction Rate Securities (ARSs).  Specifically, the regulator alleged that Oppenheimer marketed ARSs as safe alternatives to money markets and certificate of deposits (CDs).  In actuality, ARSs are complex debt securities that can suffer complete failures and ultimately leave the investor holdings a completely illiquid asset with no way to get their money back out.  The regulator further claimed that Oppenheimer was aware of many disruptions and failures that occurred in the ARS market in 2007, but blithely ignored these warnings.  Oppenheimer did not investigate the potential ramifications for the ARS securities that had been, and were currently being, sold to their clients.  Oppenheimer did not warn its clients of these warning signs.

Lawyers representing a retired couple in a claim against Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. recently obtained an award from a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration panel awarding them $800,000 in damages.  The claim was based upon an investment of the couple’s money, including retirement assets, into various energy stocks, including Breitburn Energy Partners, Sandridge Permian Trust, Atlas Resource Partners, and Vanguard National Resources.  The arbitration panel found that Oppenheimer was negligent in the treatment of the clients, and awarded $800,000 in damages, $61,5217 in costs, and post-judgement interest.

The broker, Evan Fischer, appears to have moved to Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., despite the fact he currently has four customer claims against him, including the one recently concluded with this award, which allege various types of mismanagement of client assets.  It is unclear whether these other customer complaints involve investments in energy stocks like Breitburn or Sandridge.

Unfortunately, when brokers act improperly with some clients, as Mr. Fischer has been accused of doing by at least four different clients, they often do so with many clients.  If you are or were a client of Mr. Fischer and believe you may have been inappropriately invested or otherwise lost money with him, contact the law firm of Shepherd, Smith, Edwards & Kantas LLP for a free, no obligation evaluation of your account to determine if you might have a claim to attempt to recover some or all of your losses.  All communications will be kept strictly confidential, and you will not be billed in any way for a consultation.

The financial fallout caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria is being felt not just on the island of Puerto Rico, but in the U.S. mainland as well. Puerto Rico bonds, which were already in trouble prior to the storms because of the island’s faltering economy and bankruptcy, are expected to take even more of a hit. Moody’s Investors Service assesses the future of the bonds, which were already at a Caa3 rating, as negative. The ratings agency said that the “disruption of commerce” caused by hurricanes will drain Puerto Rico’s “already weak economy” further. All of this is expected to impact not just the Puerto Rico bonds but also the mutual funds based on the U.S. mainland that hold them, which means that investors will be impacted.

According to InvestmentNews, Morningstar stated that 15 municipal bond funds, “14 of them from Oppenheimer Funds (OPY),” have at least 10 % of their portfolios in the island’s bonds. The 15th fund is from Mainstay. Morningstar reported that through September 28, the funds lost a 1.57% average for the month. The Oppenheimer Rochester Maryland Municipal Bond (ORMDX), which has 26% of its portfolio in Puerto Rico bonds, was considered the worst performer. In addition to Oppenheimer and Mainstay, other U.S.-based funds that are losing money from Puerto Rico bonds, include, as reported by The New York Times:

· Paulson & Co., which has invested billions of dollars in Puerto Rico securities. The Wall Street firm is run by hedge fund manager John A. Paulson.

Ex-Oppenheimer Stockbroker Pleads Guilty in Insider Trading Case
David Hobson, an ex-Oppenheimer Holdings (OPY) investment adviser, was sentenced to six months behind bars for insider trading using information provided to him by a friend who was employed with Pfizer Inc. at the time.

Hobson pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against him. He was ordered to forfeit over $385K. His friend, Michael Maciocio, reached a plea deal with prosecutors for his part last year.

Hobson started insider trading in 2008 while employed at RBC Capital Markets and he continued with his illicit activities at Oppenheimer. He was Maciocio’s stockbroker.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority says that Oppenheimer & Co. (OPY) must pay $3.4M in sanctions. According to the regulator, for eight years the firm was about four years late when submitting 365 filings about disciplinary actions that it brought against its brokers and in arbitration and litigation settlements. FINRA is also accusing Oppenheimer of not giving seven claimants the documentation they needed in their arbitration against Mark Hotton, an ex-registered representative, and of overcharging 825 customers more than $1M collectively for mutual fund shares over a six-year period.

The self-regulatory organization claims that the late filings to FINRA took place between 2008 and 2016 and that Oppenheimer failed to provide claimants the documentation related to the Mark Hotton allegations between 2010 and 2013. The failure to apply the appropriate fee waiver discount for mutual fund shares purportedly occurred between 2009 and 2015.

Already, Oppenheimer has paid over $6M to settle customer disputes alleging inadequate supervision of Hotton and another $1.25M to 22 customers who did not file arbitration cases but suffered losses, too. Oppenheimer also was ordered to pay a $2.5M fine to FINRA last year over the Hotton claims. The former broker, whom FINRA permanently barred from the securities industry three years ago, was sentenced sentenced to 11 years in prison for stealing client monies and excessively trading their brokerage accounts.

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David Hobson, an ex-Oppenheimer & Co (OPY) investment adviser, has pleaded guilty to the criminal charges of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. The 47-year-old Rhode Island broker admitted that he engaged in insider trading using information given to him by investment client Michael Maciocio in order to make illegal profits. Maciocio has already pleaded guilty to the charges in the insider trading case against him.
 
According to Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, between 5/2008 to 4/2014 Hobson and Maciocio sought to trade on insider information regarding acquisitions that a particular pharmaceutical company was considering.  Although Bharara’s release doesn’t name the company, Law360 identified the company as Pfizer Inc. Bharara said that Maciocio, who was master planner in Pfizer’s active pharmaceutical ingredient supply chain group, would find out about the upcoming acquisitions and tip Hobson.
Bharara’s statement said that even though Maciocio was not given access to the acquisitions that the pharmaceutical company was targeting, he would use the code name of the acquisition, the drug indication, the dose, the clinical trial phase, and/or the drug’s chemical structure to find out the name of the company that Pfizer was considering acquiring. Maciocio would trade based on this information and share the information with Hobson. The two men have been friends since childhood.

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The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Puerto Rico law that would have let its public utilities restructure $20 billion of debt. The territory’s officials enacted the Recovery Act in 2014 in an attempt to help it deal with its $70 billion of debt. Puerto Rico’s large public utilities owe about $26 billion to bondholders and banks. It was their creditors that challenged the law in federal court.

Puerto Rico is not allowed to file for bankruptcy protection. The Commonwealth is excluded from Chapter 9, which is the section of the bankruptcy code that usually applies to local governments, including cities, public utilities, counties, and other branches that have become insolvent and need help. (Puerto Rico has tried to convince the U.S. congress to get rid of the 1984 rule that excluded it from Chapter 9. No reason has been provided for why it was deliberately left out.)

Writing for the majority in the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas reminded us that the federal bankruptcy code does not let lower government units and states enact their own bankruptcy laws. However, U.S. legislators are looking for ways to potentially help Puerto Rico.

A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives to help the territory deal with its debt crisis has gone to the Senate for consideration. If passed into law, the bill would establish a board to manage the restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt and oversee the territory’s finances. The Commonwealth sure could use the help.

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FINRA is fining Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. (OPY) $2.2M for the sale of non-traditional exchange-traded funds, including inverse, leveraged, and inverse-leveraged ETFs, to retail customers without proper supervision and for suggesting them to clients even though they were not appropriate investments for them. The self-regulatory organization is also making the firm pay over $716,000 to the customers who were impacted.

FINRA said that even though Oppenheimer put into place policies barring representatives from both selling non-traditional ETFs to retail customers and executing non-traditional ETF purchases that were unsolicited for said customers unless they met certain requirements—including liquid assets greater than $50OK—the firm did not do a reasonable job of making sure that these policies were properly enforced. (The firm had put them into effect after FINRA issued a notice advising brokerage firms of the risks involved in non-traditional ETFs.) Because of this, Oppenheimer continued to market non-traditional ETFs to retail customers and effect transactions that were unsolicited for those who failed to meet the requirements.

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