Articles Posted in Investment Advisers

A final judgment has been reached in the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) fraud case against Strong Investment Management. The investment adviser, based in California, and its owner James Bronson are accused of running a cherry picking scam that harmed clients and went on for over four years. Now, they will pay $1.2M.

Strong has more than six dozen clients and Bronson had sole discretion regarding how to allocate trades that the firm made. The SEC brought its complaint against both of them early last year, with Bronson accused of using the investment adviser’s omnibus account to trade securities while delaying their allocations to different client accounts until he’d seen how the trades had performed throughout the day. Bronson would then allegedly “cherry pick” the trades by giving himself a disproportionate amount of the profitable trades while a similar disproportionate number of unprofitable ones were sent to clients. As a result, Bronson “reaped substantial profits” that he would not have otherwise.

Bronson and Strong are also accused of misrepresenting their allocation and trading practices in their Form ADV, which falsely stated that no accounts had been given preference when trades were divvied up. Now, they are liable for nearly $961K of disgorgement and over $100K of prejudgment interest. They must pay a $184,767 civil penalty.

A Former Morgan Stanley (MS) broker who was barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) last year has pleaded guilty to defrauding his clients of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Elias Herbert Hafen was a registered Morgan Stanley rep. from 2009 until 2018 and then briefly went to work for Wells Fargo Clearing Services. According to his BrokerCheck record, Wells Fargo (WFC) fired him after just several months because he had financial agreements with clients that the firm never approved.

A news release of Hafen’s guilty plea on Justice.gov states that between 2013 and 2018, Hafen defrauded at least 11 financial advisory clients by fooling them into thinking he was able to access a high yield investment fund that came with guaranteed investment returns. This fund, however, was not affiliated with the investment bank where Hafen was a registered broker. In fact, it did not exist.

Because of Hafen’s investment advice, a number of his clients moved hundreds of thousands of dollars to his own bank account, from where he was supposed to invest in the fund. Instead, he generated fake bank statements using the name of an investment company that didn’t exist and, rather than use investors’ funds as intended, Hafen spent their money to fund his luxury lifestyle.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed civil charges accusing Cetera Advisors of defrauding its retail clients through $10M in unnecessary commissions and fees. The regulator is accusing the registered investment adviser (RIA) of selling these customers costlier share classes even though they qualified to invest in less expensive share classes of the same funds. The clients paid the additional compensation to the firm during the time that they held the more costly investments.

According to the Commission’s complaint, from at least 9/2016 through 12/2016, these Cetera customers were invested and held in mutual fund share classes that charged them 12b-1 fees that were recurring instead of shares that didn’t charge these fees. The SEC said that aside from the fees, which was compensation paid to Cetera, the share classes were identical.

The regulator also claims that Cetera took part in a program with its clearing firm in which the latter would share service fees and revenues it was paid from certain mutual funds with the RIA. Hence, this was incentive for Cetera to sell these mutual funds  instead of other investments to clients. Cetera purportedly received $1.7M as a result of this deal.

Cambridge Capital Group Advisors, its president Phillip Timothy Howard, and previously barred investment adviser Don Warner Reinhard are now the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) case accusing them of defrauding 20 investors, the majority of whom are retired National Football League players. Howard, who is also an attorney, represented the NFL retirees in a class action lawsuit over brain injuries they sustained while playing the game.

The investors invested about $4.1M in two proprietary hedge funds, the Cambridge Capital Partners and Cambridge Capital Group Equity Options Opportunities. According to the SEC, even though Howard knew that the former NFL players whom he represented lack proper brain function, employment capacity, credit, or capital, he and Reinhard still allegedly persuaded them to invest in the two funds. The regulator said that more than half of players who invested used their retirement money.

Among the false claims and misrepresentations that the defendants allegedly made while soliciting investors were that:

Investment adviser Brenda Smith has been arrested and charged with defrauding about 40 investors of $105M. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also has filed civil fraud charges against Strong, who is based in Philadelphia, and her Broad Reach Capital, LP (also known as the Broad Reach Fund), Broad Reach Partners, and registered investment advisor Bristol Advisors, LLC. The fund and the two entities are controlled by Strong.

According to the SEC, Smith told investors their money would go into publicly traded securities and that she would employ different trading strategies that had consistently rendered high returns in the past. Instead, contends the regulator, Smith made just a few investments using said strategies and spent investors’ funds on her own expenses, to pay back other investors, and on unrelated companies.

Smith is accused of sending out false information bragging about positive returns of more than 30% annually, claiming to hold billions of dollars in assets at a company belonging to her, creating fake documents to inflate the fund’s assets to more than $180M, and fooling investors into thinking their money was safe.

In a settlement reached with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Financial Sherpa and its principal James L. Beyersdorf will pay more than $232K of disgorgement, over $15K of prejudgment interest, and a $188K penalty for allegedly defrauding investment advisory clients by engaging in a cherry picking scam. The regulator contends that Beyersdorf allocated a disproportionate amount of option trades that were profitable to himself and his wife while distributing the unprofitable ones to the firm and his clients. Beyersdorf oversaw some $6.7M in assets for 13 individual investors.

According to the SEC, he purchased options in the firm’s omnibus trading account during the morning, distributing the trades later in the day. The regulator claims that because of the allegedly illegal trading, over six months– from October 2017 and April 2018– Beyersdorf and his wife ended up with a net positive one-day return of more than 45% on the options trades that were sent to their accounts. Meantime, the negative one-day return for the firm’s individual clients that received the unprofitable trades was also 45%. The Commission said that the odds of the “disparate performance” occurring by chance was under one-in-a million.

Also, while the registered investment advisory’s strategy for the majority of its clients involved placing about 90% of each of their assets in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and 10% in short term options trading, the account of Beyersdorf’s wife traded nearly exclusively in options and did not hold any ETF positions.

Marcus Boggs, a former Merrill Lynch investment adviser, is now facing US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charges accusing him of using $1.7M of client monies to pay his own credit card bills. According to the regulator, Boggs, who was a Chicago-based RIA, illegally transferred funds from the accounts of three retail advisory clients on more than 200 occasions.

The firm fired him after finding out about the alleged misconduct, which would have taken place between 2016 and December 2018. Boggs was a registered investment adviser (RIA) with Merrill for 12 years, which was the entire time that he worked in the securities industry.

His job was to offer investment advice to clients, and Boggs didn’t have the authority or permission to liquidate the assets or trade in his alleged victims’ accounts. However, he allegedly went on to sell securities in said accounts and directly take money out of them for his own use.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is accusing Commonwealth Equity Services, also known as Commonwealth Financial Network, of not notifying clients that it had material conflicts of interest involving certain investments. This purportedly allowed the investment adviser and brokerage firm to earn more than $100M in revenue sharing involving certain mutual funds.

The SEC contends that since at least 2007, Commonwealth had a deal with National Financial Services and a Fidelity Investments affiliate that the majority of its Preferred Portfolio Service advisory clients were obligated to utilize when trading in their accounts. As part of the agreement, clients have to choose National Financial Services as its clearing broker for their investment accounts.

Whenever these advisory clients would invest in specific mutual fund shares, Commonwealth received a portion of the money that certain mutual fund companies paid National Financial Services to make trades on the platform. Also as part of the deal between National Finance Services and Commonwealth is that the clearing broker would share recurring mutual fund fees with the investment adviser. This was determined by the latter’s client assets that were invested in specific mutual fund share classes that didn’t charge a transaction fee.

The Texas State Securities Board is ordering William H. Lowell, the president of Lowell & Co., to pay a $40K fine after he allegedly failed to properly supervise one of his firm’s ex- financial representatives. The formerly registered broker and investment advisor, Jody Bryant Bowers, allegedly lost nearly all of the assets in two client accounts after holding onto an exchange traded fund (ETF) for too long.

According to the state’s disciplinary order, Bowers bought and sold Proshares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (UXVY) shares, which she “exclusively” traded in in the accounts of certain clients. This type of fund makes money through S&P 500 Index volatility, benefiting when there is a drop in the index.

Because the UXVY ETF is a leveraged exchange-traded fund that is a high-risk and costly investment, it is intended for short-term trading and must be monitored every day. However, Bower allegedly disregarded the warnings that were in the ETF’s prospectus and proceeded to hold on to positions in UVXY in two client accounts for too long, including 11,000 shares in one client’s account that were held there for 987 days. This caused the loss of 93% of that client’s initial investment. Bower also allegedly held on to 2,000 UXVY shares in another client’s account for 356 days, causing a 93% loss on the initial investment.

Dawn Bennett, an ex-financial advisor and broker, is sentenced to 20 years in prison for operating a $20M Ponzi scam that involved 46 investors. She also must pay $14.5M in restitution and forfeit another $14M.

Many of Bennett’s victims were retirees who heard about her because she hosted a radio show. In 2018, Bennett was convicted by a jury on federal charges of conspiracy, bank fraud, securities fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements on a loan application.

According to evidence given at trial, Bennett solicited investors for her online clothing business DJB Holdings, LLC, also known as DJBennett.com, touting a 15% yearly interest rate through promissory and convertible notes.

Contact Information