Articles Posted in Investment Advisers

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.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has taken action against two former Wells Fargo (WFC) representatives. Ex-broker Michael Garris has been suspended for a year after the self-regulatory organization found that he made 26 unauthorized trades in the account of a client who he knew had died.

Garris was fired by Wells Fargo over a year ago. According to FINRA, he made more than $9K in commissions from the unauthorized transactions in late 2017, several months after the client’s nephew had notified him of the death. Garris failed to tell the brokerage firm of the client’s passing.

Wells Fargo has since refunded the commissions that Garris made from the transactions, reversed the transactions that were not authorized, and placed the account back to its former positions from before the customer died.

Kristofor R. Behn and his Fieldstone Financial Management are now facing US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charges accusing them of defrauding retail investors. Behn and the firm, which was a registered investment adviser until March, recommended that their clients invest in Aequitas Management LLC-issued securities. In 2016, Aequitas and four of its affiliates were accused of defrauding over 1500 investors of around $350M–although that figure could be as high as around $600M.

The Commission contends that between 2014 and early 2016, Behn and Fieldstone advised about 40 individuals to invest over $7M in Aequitas securities, while failing to disclose that the company had given Fieldstone a $2M credit line and a $1.5M loan. Both were reasons for him and his firm to recommend the investments to clients seeing as, per the terms:

  • If $25M of the assets of Fieldstone’s clients went into Aequitas securities, then Behn could pay back the loan by “converting the debt into an equity interest” in Fieldstone, with the interest belonging to Aequitas.

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.

Unregistered investment advisers (IAs) David Wagner and Mark Lawrence, Downing Investment Partners, Downing Partners, and Downing Digital Healthcare Group are now facing US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charges accusing them of involvement in an $8M scam that allegedly defrauded dozens of healthcare fund investors. Wagner and Downing are also facing parallel criminal charges.

The regulator contends that between 5/2014 and 1/2017, Wagner, Lawrence, and the companies they headed sold healthcare services and technology-related investment opportunities while defrauding 30 investors, many of them “purported” employees at two of the defendant companies, as well as at Downing Health Technologies, Inc., and Cliniflow Technologies. According to the SEC’s complaint, the two unregistered investment advisers and their companies claimed to acquire, oversee, and resell companies that offered technologies and services for the investment portfolios of the healthcare funds at issue.

To bring in new investors, the two unregistered IA’s allegedly would inflate how much was available in cash reserves at the funds, including at Downing Digital Healthcare Group and Downing Investment Partners, as well as the revenue from the portfolio companies of the funds. Wagner is also accused of secretly negotiating a deal that obligated Downing Digital Healthcare Group to pay him and an entity that he operated certain management fees. This allegedly resulted in the defendants misusing at least $540K of the $1.5M that was invested in Downing Digital Healthcare Group to go toward these fees.

A federal jury has found Leon Vaccarelli guilty of 21 counts of fraud and money laundering. Vaccarelli, a former registered The Investment Center broker, an ex-IC Advisory Services-associated investment adviser, and the owner of LWLVACC who conducted business through Lux Financial Services, is accused of defrauding investors, including elderly clients, of $1.5M.

Vaccarelli gave investment advice and sold securities and investments to families in Connecticut. According to Justice.gov, from about 2011 and 2017, the ex-former investment adviser and broker defrauded about 15 victims. He falsely represented that their money would be invested in IRA rollover accounts, certificates of deposit, money market accounts, and other investments that would earn interest.

Instead, Vaccarelli put investors’ money into his own business and personal accounts, commingling their funds with his, and used the money to help cover his own mortgage and other personal expenses, as well as certain business costs. Some customers’ monies were used to pay “interest” to other investors whom he was also defrauding.

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