Articles Posted in FINRA

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that because of its mutual fund waiver initiative, it has arrived at a settlement with 56 broker-dealers that will provide almost 110,000 retirement and charitable accounts with $89M in restitution. Two of the firms, Western International Securities and Park Avenue Securities, settled on the same day that the self-regulatory organization (SRO) announced the multi-firm resolution. According to FINRA, the brokerage firms neglected to wave mutual fund sales charges for accounts that were eligible and they did not properly supervise the  sales.

FINRA’s Mutual Fund Waiver Initiative

FINRA launched its mutual fund waiver initiative in 2016 after arriving at a settlements with 10 member firms that self-reported how, going as far back as 2009, their registered representatives did not always apply sales waivers when warranted to the accounts of charitable and retirement plan accounts that bought mutual fund shares. While mutual funds are offered in different share classes and usually charge a sales fee upfront, a lot of the funds will waive the upfront fee on the more expensive Class A shares for certain retirement accounts and charities. The SRO also found that the firms had failed to adequately supervise these transactions, which could have helped to ensure that the mutual fund sales waivers were granted.

For alleged supervisory failures and excessive trading by one of its former brokers, Summit Brokerage Services, Inc. has been ordered to pay over $880K– $558K in restitution with interest to customers that were harmed,  as well as a $325K fine to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The broker-dealer consented to the entry of the findings but did not admit to or deny wrongdoing.

According to the SRO, from 1/2012 to 3/2017, Summit neglected to review certain automated alerts for the trading activities of its registered representatives, of which there are more than 700. Because of this, one of its brokers, was able to excessively trade in accounts belonging to 14 clients, including 533 trades on behalf of one customer. This compelled her to pay over $171K in commissions.

The broker’s excessive trading resulted in 150 alerts for this type of activity, none of which were purportedly reviewed by Summit. FINRA has since barred the former registered rep.

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration panel has awarded 23 investors $3M in their claim against Spire Securities, its CEO David Lloyd Blisk, and CCO Suzanne Marie McKeown. The broker-dealer and its executives were accused of inadequately supervising former broker Patrick Evans Churchville, whom the investors contend fraudulently sold them investments that caused them to lose money in a $21M Ponzi scam.

Churchville sold the investments through ClearPath Wealth Management, a registered investment adviser that he operated outside of Spire Securities. Still, the claimants contended that the broker-dealer should have prevented Churchville from causing them financial harm while he was a Spire Securities broker and could have done so had they properly overseen him.

Churchville pleaded guilty in 2016 to criminal charges accusing him of operating a $21M Ponzi scam. In 2017, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for tax evasion and wire fraud.

After failing to cooperate in a probe into allegations of securities violations, George Merhoff, a former ex-Cetera Financial Group adviser, has been barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). He was fired by the brokerage firm in April for allegedly issuing an undisclosed payment to a firm customer.

With over 21 years working in the brokerage industry, Merhoff was a registered Cetera broker for seven years. Before that, he was registered with Pacific West Securities, where he worked for 13 years, and at AAG Securities for less than a year.

Merhoff’s BrokerCheck record shows 27 customer disputes filed since December 2015 that have either been settled or are pending. Allegations include the following:

Former Cetera Broker Allegedly Engaged in Outside Business Activities

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that it is barring Nina Jessee, a former Cetera Advisors broker. The bar comes after Jessee failed to cooperate with the self-regulatory organization (SRO), which was investigating complaints about her related to alternative investments, including allegations that she had engaged in business activities that were not authorized outside of the brokerage firm.

With more than 30 years in the industry, Jessee has also been a registered broker at five other broker-dealers, including Investors Capital Corp., Financial Securities Network, NAP Financial Corporation, Marketing One Securities, and Mutual of Omaha Fund Management Company.

Jason Nelson, an ex-LPL Financial broker (LPLA), is now barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The bar comes after Nelson refused to participate in the self-regulatory organization’s (SRO) probe into his sales activities.

LPL fired Nelson early last year after finding that he misrepresented customer financial information related to annuity sales. Without denying or admitting to FINRA’s findings, Nelson consented to the entry of findings and the bar. He worked nearly 14 years as a formerly registered broker. Previous to working with LPL Financial, Nelson was an Edward Jones broker.

It was just last month that FINRA permanently barred ex-LPL Financial broker Philip John Nalesnik, whom the broker-dealer also fired last year.

James Anderson, an ex-Ameritas Investment Corp. adviser, is now barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) after he failed to participate in a probe into allegations that he had taken part in selling away. Ameritas fired Anderson earlier this year after the brokerage firm’s own investigation found that he had engaged in selling promissory notes and indexed annuities that it had not approved.

Anderson was at Ameritas for 14 years. In April, a claimant filed a FINRA arbitration case accusing of making unsuitable recommendations by pushing promissory notes. The allegations are related to the selling away charges against him. The claimant is asking for $400K in damages.

Selling Away

David Strnad, a longtime broker, has been suspended by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for 18 months. According to his BrokerCheck record, in 2016, the daughter of a client accused Strnad of churning in her father’s account while he was a registered Morgan Stanley representative. Following the allegations, FINRA opened a probe into the matter.

The self-regulatory authority (FINRA) found that Strnad made over 270 trades involving CDs in the account of one elderly customer between 2013 and 2015. While the client had given the former Morgan Stanley broker permission to purchase the CDs, Strnad allegedly exceeded the authority granted to him when he sold the CDs before they matured and used the money made from those transactions to purchase more CDs for the client.

As a result, said FINRA, the client ended up paying nearly $4300 commissions that were not warranted. Morgan Stanley has since paid that money back to the client.

Former Securities America Broker Is Accused of Unsuitable and Unauthorized Trades

Michael Bastardi, an ex-Securities America broker, is barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) after he failed to give the regulator the information it requested for an investigation into his alleged conduct. Bastardi was a registered representative with Securities America from 2014 to 2016.

In 2018, the brokerage firm submitted a Form U5 that disclosed that Bastardi had been named in a customer complaint accusing him of unauthorized trading, unsuitable margin trading, forgery, and fraud while at Securities America and previous to that when he was a registered Dalton Strategic Investment Services broker. His alleged misconduct is said to have resulted in about $250K in damages. The investor fraud claim is still pending.

On May 17, 2019, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) issued a permanent bar against former Pennsylvania LPL Financial representative Philip John Nalesnik.

According to FINRA’s BrokerCheck records, Nalesnik was in the securities industry for roughly 17 years, from 2002 until he was kicked out in 2019.  Nalesnik previously worked at IDS Life Insurance Company, American Express Financial Advisors, CCO Investment Advisors and, for almost a decade, LPL Financial, LLC.

Prior to receiving his FINRA bar, Nalesnik had a very questionable regulatory history.  Nalesnik’s CRD shows that he has had at least five customer complaints, one criminal complaint, at least two tax liens and a personal bankruptcy, much of which happened while Nalesnik was a registered representative of LPL Financial.

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