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.