Articles Posted in Arbitration Rulings

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.

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration panel has awarded $519,000 to Stephen and Brenda Balock in their investor fraud claim against Morgan Stanley (MS). The couple contends that that one of the firm’s brokers, Tim J. Prouty, placed their funds in investments that were complex and inappropriate for them, causing them to lose money in eight accounts between 2012 and 2015. They filed their claim against Morgan Stanley in 2016.

The Balocks began working with Prouty after Stephen’s employer, the Public Service Co. of New Mexico, compelled him into early retirement due to downsizing. He had never worked with a broker before then.

The couple wanted to invest in certificates of deposit. Instead, Prouty placed them in a Morgan Stanley investment advisory program that involved more complex investments, such as options contracts, derivates, junk bonds, and exchange-traded funds. In their investor claim against Morgan Stanley, the Balocks made a number of allegations, including the following:

A former America Northcoast Securities broker is barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) after he traded in non-traditional exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in the accounts of firm clients, even when the investments were not suitable for them.

According to the self-regulatory authority (SRO), Dominic Anthony Tropiano solicited the buying and selling of leveraged ETFs in at least 47 America Northcoast Securities customers’ accounts between 5/2015 and 4/2016, including 866 securities transactions involving 15 non-traditional exchange-traded funds.

Of these transactions, 33 of them were purportedly conducted in just one customer’s account. Another 19 took place in another client’s account. The customers were not aware these transactions were going to occur and they did not give their consent.

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel has ordered Pershing, LLC to pay $1.4m to six investors who lost money in R. Allen Stanford’s $7.2B Ponzi scam. Pershing is a Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) division. It acted as Stanford Group Co.’s clearing broker for several years.

Pershing is accused of enabling the Stanford Ponzi Fraud, including through its transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from US investors’ securities accounts, as it continued to make money from the sales of at least $500M in fake, unregistered certificates of deposit (CDs).

Pershing also allegedly disregarded the unusual ways in which Stanford ran his operations, including the use of offshore transfers and the high compensation awarded to brokers. The unregistered CDs were issued out of Stanford International Bank, a Stanford Financial Group unit based in Antigua, and then sold by Stanford’s brokerage firm in the US.

An egg-farming family based in New York has been awarded $3.2M in its Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration claim against AXA Financial. The claimants are an older couple, Sandra and James Fitzpatrick, who own Fitzpatrick Poultry Farm. They contend that Franceso Puccio, an ex-AXA Financial broker, placed their money into variable annuities (VA), which were unsuitable for them. Puccio has already been convicted for senior investor fraud involving another elderly client that was also with the firm.

The couple are claiming that they lost millions of dollars because of the way AXA and Puccio handled their funds. They contend that their money had been invested in mutual funds until Puccio moved their funds, as well as four life insurance policies, into VAs.

Puccio worked in the securities industry for 16 years. He was barred by FINRA in 2015 after he failed to turn over information and documents that the regulator had requested related to an investigation into whether he had converted monies from a non-customer. Puccio’s BrokerCheck record notes several customer disputes, with allegations including unsuitable investments sold to claimants, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, misrepresentations, and omissions.

Investor Awarded $276K in Woodbridge Ponzi Fraud

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration panel has awarded more than $276K to an investor that lost money in the $1.2B Woodbridge Ponzi scam. The panel found that Quest Capital Strategies did not properly supervise former broker Frank Dietrich, who sold $400K of Woodbridge-sponsored mortgage notes to the investor.

According to InvestmentNews, Dietrich sold $10.8M of Woodbridge mortgage funds to 58 investors, making nearly $261K in commissions. He retired in March. In November, FINRA barred him after finding that the former broker did not obtain Quest’s approval to sell the notes.

Legend Securities Ordered to Pay Client For Churning His Funds 

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel has awarded Herbert W. Voss $1.075M in his securities fraud case against Legend Securities Inc., its ex-chief compliance officer Frank Philip Fusco, and former Legend broker Danard Warthen Brown. Legend is no longer in operation and was expelled by the self-regulatory authority (SRO) in 2012.

Voss reportedly lost $375,000 while Legend was his brokerage firm. Of the more than $1M award granted to Voss, $700K is for punitive damages. His securities fraud lawyer contends that punitive damages were warranted because of how much turnover took place in Voss’s account.

Raymond James Financial to Pay Fine to FINRA Over Email Communications

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined Raymond James Financial Services (RJF) $2M for not maintaining supervisory systems and procedures that were “reasonably designed” enough to oversee emails. The firm settled the case but without denying or admitting to the charges. It also agreed to a risk-based retrospective review of past emails for potential violations.

FINRA examined Raymond James’ email system “during a nine-year review period.” According to the self-regulatory organization, the system had significant flaws that allowed email communications to not undergo “meaningful review.” As a result, “unreasonable risk” was created that could have allowed for “certain misconduct” to go undetected. Also, the firm did not assign enough resources or staff to the team tasked with evaluating emails that had been flagged by the system, even as the number of flagged correspondence grew in volume.

FINRA said that Raymond James “unreasonably excluded” certain personnel who worked on customer brokerage accounts from “email surveillance.” The SRO claims that the emails of 300 registered representatives who were employed in branches with their own email servers were not subject to the “lexicon” of phrases and words for detecting emails that might merit review for potentially suspect conduct.

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Former LPL Broker is Barred For Not Disclosing Private Securities Sales

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority announced a bar against Leslie Koonce, an ex-LPL(LPLA) broker. According to the self-regulatory organization, Koonce lied when he failed to disclose that he had engaged in private securities sales. Koonce allegedly pitched a private company’s convertible promissory notes to at least 30 potential investors.

The FINRA case contends that not only did Koonce help facilitate the transfer of $175K to at least three LPL customers so they could invest in the private securities, but also, he invested $50K of his own funds. All the while, said the SRO, Koonce failed to notify LPL in writing of his involvement in these transactions. When he filed out compliance questionnaires twice in 2012, Koonce denied any involvement in these types of transactions.

LPL fired Koonce in 2015. He later went to work with Cetera and then EK Riley Investments. The ex-broker no longer works in the securities industry.

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Craig Scott Capital, LLC Loses FINRA Membership After Its Representatives Are Accused of Excessive Trading

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has expelled Craig Scott Capital, LLC over finding that three of the firm’s registered representatives allegedly engaged in excessive trading in the accounts of customers. The self-regulatory organization said that the charges imposed on customers, including markdowns, markups, and commissions, were not in line with the latter’s financial states and goals.

Now, FINRA is holding Craig Scott Capital accountable for the excessive trading, which it described as churning. This type of excessive trading involves making trades in a customer’s account in order to earn a commission.

FINRA is also accusing the firm of not putting into place and enforcing a “reasonable supervisory system” to prevent excessive trading and failing to properly supervise the registered representatives involved in the alleged wrongdoing so these behaviours could have been prevented. The regulator accused Craig Scott’s owners of not taking reasonable action even though they detected the red flags indicating that excessive trading might be taking place.

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