Articles Posted in Investor Fraud

SSEK Investigating Ex-Raymond James Advisor, Stuart Nichols 

Another former Raymond James advisor has gotten into trouble over fraud allegations. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently barred Stuart Nichols, a former broker with the firm, after he failed to participate in the self-regulatory authority’s probe into churning allegations made against him. 

Churning involves engaging in excessive trading in a brokerage account for the purposes of making commissions. 

GPB Capital News: Michael Cohn Facing Obstruction Charges 

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed criminal charges against Michael Cohn, the Chief Compliance Officer and Managing Director of GPB Capital Holdings. Cohn is a former US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) examiner. 

The obstruction of justice charge is related to the regulator’s probe into the alternative asset firm, which is accused of operating a $1.5B Ponzi scam. Now, Cohn is accused of stealing information from the Commission before leaving the regulator last October to start his employment at GPB Holdings

SSEK Investigating David Fagenson, A Former UBS Brokerage Investment Advisor 

If you are an investor who worked with former UBS broker, David Fagenson, and suffered substantial losses or suspect you may have been charged excessive fees and commissions, please contact our broker fraud lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LLP (SSEK Law Firm) today. 

David Fagenson was suspended by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) last year after he allegedly engaged in unsuitable trading in the accounts of three senior investors ranging in age from their 70s to mid-90s. However, this is not the first fraud allegation in which Fagenson has been involved. 

Nicholas Schorsch’s former real estate investment trust (REIT) American Realty Capital Properties Inc. (ARCP) has arrived at a $1B settlement with investors who sued over the company’s accounting scandal that led to inflated financial results five years ago. Now called Vereit, the REIT will pay $738.5M of the class action securities fraud settlement, while Schorsch’s American Realty Capital (AR Capital) will pay $225M. American Realty Capital Property’s ex-CFO Brian Block will pay $12.5M of the settlement. Meantime, Grant Thornton, the firm’s auditor during the period of the scandal, will pay $49M.

American Realty Capital Properties admitted to a $23M accounting error in late 2014. After ARCP restated its financials, investors sold their shares, causing a $3B drop in the REIT’s value. At one point, ARCP held $20B in assets.

Investors sued, accusing the REIT of incorrectly stating financials so as to spur acquisitions and inflate financial results. Two years ago, Block pleaded guilty to securities fraud related to the accounting misstatements.

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.

Scott P. Strochak, an ex-broker, has pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to his involvement in the $3.8M Castleberry Financial Services Fraud. He is also now facing parallel civil fraud charges brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Prosecutors charged Strochak, who was the Director of Alternative Investments and a Senior EVP at Castleberry Financial Services Group, and two other firm executives earlier this year over the scam, which promised 8-12% yearly returns on bond-like investments while touting a robust business that was handling hundreds of millions of dollars in capital and had over 300 investors. The fraud raised almost $3.8M from at least 17 investors.

According to the SEC, Strochak, former Castleberry CEO Norman Strell, and ex-President T. Johnathan Turner made misrepresentations to prospective investors, including that its investments were insured and bonded by top insurers like Chubb Group and CNA Financial Group. They allegedly continued to make these representations even after some investors complained that they never received evidence of said insurance.

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.

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.

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