Articles Tagged with SEC

Cetera Advisors Fraud Case Rises To $21M

Two months after suing Cetera Advisors for more than $10M for allegedly defrauding retail clients, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has amended its complaint, adding another Cetera Financial Group firm as a defendant. The regulator is now seeking $21M.

According to the amended complaint, Cetera Advisors Network, also a registered broker-dealer and investment advisor, made over $10M in undisclosed compensation that retail advisory clients paid for in fees, mark-ups, administrative fees, and revenue sharing. 

The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced this month that it is granting $55.5M in whistleblower awards to three people—two of them over the same enforcement action. These latest awards means that 58 whistleblower have been collectively awarded $322M since the regulator began issuing these in 2012.

In the same enforcement action, the SEC awarded $15M to one whistleblower and $39M to another. The latter award is the second largest award that the agency’s whistleblower program has granted to one person to date.

Under the SEC’s program, individuals who voluntarily provide unique, timely, and true information to the Commission, with said information resulting in a successful enforcement action and sanctions of over $1M, may be eligible to receive 10-30% of the funds collected. All awards are taken out of an investor protection fund set up by Congress. The money in the fund comes from sanctions paid by securities law violators.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has refused to overturn the US Securities and Exchange Commission ruling that Wedbush Securities Inc. engaged in inadequate supervision of its own regulatory compliance. The appeals court also affirmed the suspension of the brokerage firm’s president and principal Edward W. Wedbush.

The SEC’s 2016 finding had sustained a 2014 ruling by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s National Adjudicatory Council, which ordered Wedbush to pay a $350K fine for either not filing, or filing late, dozens of documents regarding complaints and judgments that had been brought against the investment firm and its financial representatives. Finra found that Wedbush Securities violated the bylaws and rules of the NASD, the NYSE, and the self-regulatory organization itself 158 times and was delinquent in submitting the documents at issue over a five-year period, from 1/2005 to 7/2010.

Wedbush and its president had tried to argue before the SEC that FINRA was wrong in finding that the broker-dealer failed to supervise reporting requirements. The brokerage firm also questioned whether the hearing it received before the SRO was a fair one since a FINRA rule did not specifically note suspension as a sanction.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is proposing a rule that would keep registered representatives and brokers from also referring to themselves as investment advisors. In almost 1,000 pages of new proposals, the regulator articulated that it wants brokerage firms to make sure that the investing public knows that while brokers can sell investment products they are not trusted fiduciary advisors—nor is it their role to continue to offer advice after a sale has been made. Under the proposed rule, brokers would no longer be allowed to call themselves a trusted “advisor” or “adviser.” They can, however, take steps to become a registered investment adviser.

Addressing the proposed package, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said that “investor confusion” about what differentiates broker-dealers from investment advisers is what prompted these latest initiatives. While both can give retail investors advice regarding possible investments, the two have different kinds of relationships with them. Clayton also noted that retail investors can suffer harm if they don’t know that certain conflicts of interest may be involved when working with either broker-dealers or investment advisers. Investors also may be giving more authority over their finances to a broker or investment adviser than they should.

In a 4-1 vote this week, the SEC’s ”Regulation Best Interests” measures for brokers was moved forward. Under the new measures, brokers would be obligated to place clients’ best interests before their own when it comes to recommending investment strategies or products. Brokers would have to set up and enforce written procedures and polices that would identify, expose, get rid of, or avoid conflicts of interest that might involve a financial incentive. While the existing broker standard requires that they recommend investment products that are suitable to each client, brokers are still allowed to endorse the products that gives them the greater financial payday.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is accusing John S. Jumper, a Tennessee businessman and ex-broker, of stealing about $5.7M from the pension plan of Snow Shoe Refractories, LLC, a Pennsylvania company. Now, the commission wants disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with interest, injunctive relief, and penalties.

According to the regulator’s complaint, three times, between 3/2015 and 2/2016, Jumper stole money from the Snow Shoe Refractories, LLC Pension Plan for Hourly Employees by forging documents that supposedly showed he had authority over the fund’s money. He then allegedly used the funds to “capitalize” several businesses to which he had some ties, including, in some cases, ownership. These companies, Alluvion Securities, Speedee Brakes, American Investment Funds II, Thousand Hills Capital, and Evertone Records, have been named relief defendants in the SEC’s pension plan fraud case. The regulator contends that they have no “legitimate claim” on the pension fund’s monies.

Jumper previously worked as a registered representative at a number of brokerage firms for almost two decades. He was the CEO, owner, and registered representative of Alluvion Securities. He also was an investment adviser and President of Alluvion Investments.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has awarded two whistleblowers almost $50M and another over $33M in the largest whistleblower awards that the regulator has issued to date. This ups the total of SEC whistleblower awards granted to $262M to 53 individuals in the last six years.

According to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower Chief Jane Norberg, these latest awards show that whistleblowers can offer information that is “incredibly significant,” making it possible for the regulator to go after serious violations that could have gone “unnoticed. “ Until these latest awards, the largest SEC whistleblower award granted was $30M in 2014.

Whistleblowers who provide quality, unique information involving securities law violations that lead to a successful enforcement action rendering over $1M in monetary sanctions may be eligible to receive an award that is 10-30% of the funds collected.

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SEC Reportedly Investigating Wells Fargo Over Possible Inappropriate Investment Sales to Wealth Management Clients

According to news reports, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Wells Fargo’s (WFC) Wealth Management unit to see whether its clients were inappropriately sold certain in-house investment services even though these were not in their best interests. A source told Bloomberg that the regulator’s role in the probe has not been publicly disclosed.

However, in a regulatory filing, Wells Fargo revealed that it is looking into whether inappropriate recommendations were made related to 401(k) plan rollovers, alternative investments, and brokerage customer referrals to the firm’s “investment and fiduciary-services business.” The bank noted that it was assessing these matters in its wealth management business in the wake of inquiries made by federal agencies.

Bloomberg notes that it was in 2015 that JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) consented to pay $267M over allegations that its customers were not told that it had profited by placing their funds in certain hedge funds and mutual funds that charged particular fees.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Ameriprise Financial Services (AMP). The regulator is accusing the brokerage firm and investment adviser of recommending to retail retirement account customers that they purchase mutual fund shares that charged higher fees. Ameriprise purportedly failed to employ sales charge waivers when applicable.

The Commission’s order contends that the broker-dealer neglected to determine when certain retirement account customers qualified for mutual fund share classes that were not as costly.

Instead, the firm would recommend and sell the more costly mutual fund shares even when the less pricey options were available. Ameriprise is accused of not letting these customers know that the firm would make more from the costly mutual fund shares even as their overall investment returns were harmed.

The SEC said that about 1,971 customer accounts paid nearly $1.8M in up-front sales fees that were not warranted, costlier ongoing fees, “contingent deferred sales charges,” and other expenses because of the way that Ameriprise handled the recommendation and sale of mutual funds to retirement account clients.

The firm is cooperating with the regulator and has paid back customers that were affected with interest. Retirement account customers eligible for the less expensive mutual fund share classes have been moved to those classes free of charge.

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The SEC’s complaint contends that Beaufort and Kyriacou became involved in a pump-and-dump scam with a man that they didn’t know was working for the FBI. With him, they purportedly spoke about using promotions to raise stock prices, engaging in matched trades to affect the stock price, and selling the shares to make a profit.

The SEC filed another complaint contending that in recorded phone calls, HD View CEO Dennis Mancino and CEO of WT Consulting Group LLC William T. Hirschy consented to manipulate the company’s stock by utilizing the undercover agent’s broker network to create a “fraudulent” demand. The two of them were supposed to “manipulate HD View stock” so that its price would go up prior to having the brokers in the agent’s network liquidate their positions. In return, there would be a kickback paid from the money made from trading. The regulator has also filed civil charges against Mancino, Hirschy, and the entities TJM Investments Inc., WT Consulting Group, and DJK Investments 10 Inc.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Ameratex Energy, Inc., Lewis Oil Company, Lewis Oil Corp., their CEO Thomas Lewis, and ex-Ameratex President William Fort over their alleged involvement in an $11.7M Texas oil and gas offering fraud. The companies are based in Plano, Texas.

According to the regulator, the companies and the two men sold unregistered securities to more than 150 investors while making misleading statements about how the proceeds would be used. They also allegedly provided false information regarding prospect wells and sales commissions, as well as provided “false guarantees” regarding the lending out and mingling of funds.

The securities that they offered were not registered with the SEC. The individuals selling the investments were not licensed brokers or associated with brokers that were registered.

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