Articles Posted in SEC Enforcement

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed fraud charges against two men claiming to be pastors of a church at a strip mall in Orange County, California. Kent R.E. Whitney and David Lee Parrish are accused of targeting members of their local Vietnamese community and defrauding investors of millions of dollars. The regulator has obtained an asset freeze in what it is calling a $25M Ponzi scam.

Whitney, who has a criminal fraud record, is the founder of The Church for the Healthy Self. The Commission said that he established the church three months after getting out of federal prison where he had been serving time for a different investment scam that had defrauded 10 investors of over $600K.

The regulator contends in its complaint that The Church for the Healthy Self’s investment program, called the CHS Trust, touted:

Dennis Gibb, an investment adviser and the owner/president of Sweetwater Investments Inc., has pleaded guilty to falsification of records and wire fraud. Gibb has also settled parallel civil charges brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in which part of that deal involves the liquidation of his Sweetwater Income Flood LP Fund.

Gibb set up the private fund in 2008. The year before, he started to solicit prospective investors who were looking for consistent retirement money. The SEC said that between those two years, at least 15 investors put approximately $7.3M in the Sweetwater Income Flood fund.

According to the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, Gibb defrauded about 15 investors of over $3M. He touted a sophisticated investment approach that in part involved investing in government bonds with the intent to generate “stable returns.” Meantime, even as Gibb stole investors’ money for his own use, he was telling them that the private fund had $7.8M when, in actuality, it was holding less than $2M.

Carol Ann Pederson, an unregistered investment advisor and an ex-CPA, is facing charges accusing her of defrauding more than two dozen investors. The US Securities and Exchange Commission claims that Pederson:

  • Raised at least $29M from investors.
  • Made false promises that their money would go into “federally guaranteed securities.”

79 investment advisers have settled charges brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accusing them of not properly disclosing conflicts of interests involving the sale of costlier mutual fund share classes that caused them to earn more fees. The regulator’s action is related to its Share Class Section Disclosure Initiative. Announced by the SEC’s Division of Enforcement early last year, the initiative gives firms the chance to report disclosure failures that violate the Advisers Act, while offering them more “favorable settlement terms” in return.

Here is a partial list of some of the investment advisers involved in this case:

  • AXA Advisors

William Neil Gallagher, a Dallas area-based radio host based who calls himself the “Money Doctor,” is now facing securities fraud charges accusing him and his companies, Gallagher Financial Group and W. Neil Gallagher, PhD Agency, Inc., of seeking to defraud older investors of their retirement money in a $19.6M Texas-based Ponzi scam/affinity fraud. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought the civil fraud charges against them.

According to the SEC’s complaint, from 12/2014 through 1/2019, Gallagher, who is based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, raised at least $19.6M (maybe even up to more than $29M) from about 60 elderly investors ranging in age from about 60 to the early 90’s. He allegedly did this through his companies in what the regulator is referring to as an “affinity fraud investment scam” that is also a Ponzi scheme.

Gallagher is accused of using his radio shows to target retired Christian investors, who were his radio audience, and to whom he ingratiated himself by often making religious references on his shows. He also allegedly urged radio listeners to call GFC to set up meetings, during which he would help them with their retirement plans and give them advice regarding how to make money without having to take on any risks.

According to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Wedbush Securities has settled allegations accusing the brokerage firm of failing to supervise one of its former registered representatives, Timary Delorme, who is accused of engaging in a pump-and-dump fraud that harmed retail investors. As part of the settlement, Wedbush consented to a censure and will pay a $250K penalty.

The SEC filed this civil securities case against Wedbush a year ago, accusing the broker-dealer of not properly investigating red flags indicating that Delorme might have been defrauding investors. The former Wedbush broker is accused of, from 2008 to 2014, receiving payments, which were issued to her husband,  in exchange for recommending to investors that they make certain trades that were then used in the pump-and-dump fraud.

The regulator said that Wedbush even disregarded an email from a customer reporting the fraud, as well as a number of Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitrations claims and inquiries over Delorme’s trading activities involving penny stocks. Instead, contends the Commission, Wedbush performed two inadequate probes into the allegations against its former broker but didn’t take proper action.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has secured a final judgment against ex-Alexander Capital broker William Gennity, who is accused of excessive churning in clients’ brokerage accounts. Gennity, whom the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) had earlier suspended, will pay nearly $128K in disgorgement, nearly $15K in prejudgment interest, and a $160K civil penalty.

The SEC’s complaint accused Gennity of recommending costly, “in-and-out trading” to four clients between 7/2012 and 8/2014 without having any reasonable grounds for thinking that doing so would cause them to make money. Instead, they lost money as a result, while Gennity made money. The alleged churning purportedly took place while he was an Alexander Capital broker.

Churning typically involves a broker engaging in trades in order to earn more commissions.

Just a few weeks after former Wells Fargo (WFC) broker John Gregory Schmidt consented to a final judgment in the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) investor fraud case against him, the regulator announced that it has barred Schmidt for misappropriating more than $1.3M from clients, most of them elderly retired investors. Schmidt, who also ran Schmitt Investment Strategies Group in Ohio and was already barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra), was fired by Wells Fargo in 2017. In a parallel criminal case, he is also charged with 128 felony counts over the same fraud allegations.

The SEC’s complaint notes that at the time that Wells Fargo fired Schmidt, he had about 325 retail brokerage customers. At least half of them had worked with him for over a decade, and a “significant percentage” were retirees who depended on regular withdrawals from their brokerage accounts to cover their living expenses. Many of them were unsophisticated, inexperienced investors, some of whom were suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Schmidt’s scam purportedly involved making unauthorized sales and withdrawals involving variable annuities from certain customers’ accounts and then using fraudulent authorization letters to move the money to the other clients’ accounts. According to the Commission’s complaint, between ’03 and ’17, Schmidt took money out of seven clients’ accounts and moved the funds to the accounts of other clients to conceal shortfalls there.

Brokerage firm and investment adviser BB&T Securities has agreed to give back over $5M to retail investors, as well as pay the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) a $500K penalty, to resolve charges that Valley Forge Asset Management misled advisory clients into thinking they were getting complete “full-service brokerage services in-house” at an up to 70% reduced rate, even as less costly alternatives were available. BB&T Corp. previously acquired Valley Forge, now a subsidiary called Sterling Advisors.

The regulator contends in its order that Valley Forge, which was registered as a broker and investment advisor, made “misleading statements and inadequate disclosures” about these services and their prices to persuade customers to retain their in-house services. Meantime, Valley Forge purportedly failed to give these advisory clients more services than what they provided to their other advisory clients who had selected other brokerage options. These options charged substantially lower commissions—about 4.5 times less than what the firm charged for its full-service in-house broker services. This, even as those who had chosen the in-house broker services were led to believe they would be getting a “high level of service at a low cost” and beyond what the other clients were getting from the firm.

The SEC is accusing Valley Forge of placing its own interests before that of its advisory clients, costing them money in higher commissions so that the firm could profit. The regulator noted that it was the firm’s duty to fully disclose any material facts to its advisory clients that could impact their relationship, including conflicts of interest. Such disclosures are important so that a client is able to give their informed consent (or not) to these conflicts.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed fraud charges against Castleberry Financial Services, its president T. Jonathon Turner, and CEO Norman M. Strell accusing them of running an investment fund scam that defrauded at least investors of $3.6M in the last year and continues to solicit new investors. The regulator also announced an asset freeze against the company’s operators. Based in Florida, Castleberry, which is a limited liability company, and its investment offerings are not registered with the SEC.

According to the Commission’s emergency action:

  • Castleberry falsely represented that it had hundreds of investment properties in its portfolio, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars invested in local businesses. Biz Journals reported that Castleberry touted itself as an alternative investment manager overseeing nearly $800M in capital. Also, in reality, the company never made significant revenue from investments.
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