Articles Posted in FINRA Settlements

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Fines Merrill Lynch $2.8M

Finra has fined Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith Inc. $2.8 million. By settling, the firm is not denying or admitting to the self-regulatory organization’s charges.

FINRA said because of system errors, Merrill Lunch inaccurately reported millions of trades.The regulator said that Merrill Lynch’s supervisory system as it relates to specific matters related to documenting, reporting, and records was  not designed in a reasonable manner.

 

Ernst & Young Settles Audit Failure Charges By Agreeing to Pay Over $11.8M

Ernst & Young LLP has agreed to resolve U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing it of audit failures. The monetary settlement, along with the $140M penalty that audit client Weatherford International agreed to pay separately, will go back to investors who were hurt in the accounting fraud.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has expelled the real estate firm formerly called DT Securities and its owner/CEO Markel Newton. According to the regulator, the firm and Newton engaged in negligent misrepresentations involving private placements. Markel is also barred for alleged violations involving two of the firm’s offerings to purchase real estate in Georgia and Florida, as well as a third one involving alcoholic treatment facilities in California.

According to FINRA, in the private placement offerings Fresh Start, DT Atlanta, and DT Florida, Markel and DT should have disclosed that the California Department of Real Estate had submitted a complaint against him in 2010. The complaint against Markel and DT Ventures Real Estate Investments accused them of performing certain activities without the required real estate license, as well as making misrepresentations about deposits made for purchase to sellers. In 2011, Markel consented to a 30-day suspension.

In addition to accusing Markel of not alerting the state, FINRA also accused Markel of improperly releasing escrow proceeds to purchase properties prior to satisfying funding-raising goals that were delineated in two of the private offerings. The settlement document said that although DT Florida had originally aimed to raise at least $3M by the end of November in 2009, that closing date was extended to 1/29/10. The funds were to go back to investors if that figure wasn’t achieved. The private placement offering put into effect by DT Atlanta in 2011 came with the goal to raise a minimum of $1.7M—a figure that was later lowered to $400K. That lower figure was reportedly never properly fulfilled.

 

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is fining Raymond James Financial Inc. http://www.securities-fraud-attorneys.com(RJFS) and Raymond James & Associates (RJA) $17M. The self-regulatory organization is accusing the company of widespread failures related to anti-money laundering compliance.

According to FINRA, from ’06 to ‘14 the processes that the firm had in place to stop money laundering failed to line up with its business growth. The SRO said that the company instead depended on “patchwork” systems and procedures to identify suspect activity. Because of this, Raymond James was unable to notice certain “red flags” that arose.

FINRA also said that both firms did not perform the mandated due diligence and risks reviews for foreign institutions. RJFS is accused of not putting into place and maintaining a Customer Identification Program that was adequate.

It was just in 2012 that Raymond James Financial Services was subject to sanctions for its inadequate procedures related to anti-money laundering. The firm said that it would evaluate its AML procedures and programs.

Also sanctioned and fined is former Raymond James Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Officer Linda Busby. She is suspended for three months and must pay a $250K fine. FINRA said that along with the two firms, she did not succeed in setting up AML programs geared toward the two companies, respectively.

By settling, Raymond James Financial Services, Raymond James & Associates, and Busby are not denying or admitting to the FINRA charges.

It is important that financial firms have systems in place to identify suspect transactions that may be signs of money laundering.

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BNY Mellon to Pay Massachusetts $3M Over Computer Problem That Impacted Mutual Funds
Bank of New York Mellon (BK) will pay $3 million to the state of Massachusetts to resolve a probe that found that a computer glitch did not calculate net asset values for over 1,000 mutual funds. Although the bank hired SunGard InvestOne to calculate these values, there was one weekend last year when a malfunction occurred.

The Massachusetts Securities Division conducted an investigation and discovered that BNY Mellon lacked a back-up plan to deal with such a malfunction. Because of this, non-uniform and untimely information was sent to clients and funds. As Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin noted, it is the job of financial institutions like BNY Mellon to oversee third-party vendors and put into place a back-up plan in the event a vendor’s system fails. The bank says that in the wake of the outage, it took action to protect client interests and ensure that the daily net asset values were issued.

BNY Mellon said that it has since made investors and the funds that sustained losses because of the computer error whole. The bank has made changes to supervisory procedures.

WedBush to Pay $675K Fine to Nasdaq and FINRA over Trading and Clearing Errors Involving Exchange-Traded Funds
Wedbush Securities Inc. will pay a $675K fine to the Nasdaq Stock Market and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. over clearing and trading mistakes involving redemption and trading activities related to leveraged ETFs. Wedbush served as Scout Trading, LLC’s clearing firm.

According to FINRA, from 1/10 to 2/12, Scout Trading was not long enough in the shares that made up the redemption orders. Scott Trading turned in more than 250 naked redemption orders via Wedbush. These involved nearly a dozen ETFS that totaled over 295 million shares. This activity and ETF shortselling on the second market by Scout Trading led to Wedbush’s failure to deliver on a number of occasions. (This could have led to a naked short sale in which the seller does not arrange to borrow the securities in a manner timely enough for the buyer to receive the delivery within the standard three days.)

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is accusing VFG Securities of failing to supervise brokers to make sure that clients’ portfolios did not become overly concentrated in illiquid investments. In its complaint against the brokerage firm, the regulator said that from 11/10 to 6/12, VFG made nearly 95% of revenue from the sale of nontraded real estate investment trusts and direct participation programs. An audited financial statement with the SEC said that by 6/30/12, the broker-dealer had nearly $4M in revenues for that past year.

The self-regulatory organization said that VFG Securities owner Jason Vanclef wrote a “The Wealth Code,” which he used as sales literature to market investments in direct participation programs and nontraded REITs, in order to bring potential investors. He purportedly claimed in the book that nontraded REITs and nontraded direct participation programs provide capital preservation and high returns—a claim that is misleading, inaccurate, and not in line with information in the prospectuses for the instruments sold by VFG Securities. Such investments are typically high risk to the extent that an investor may end up losing a substantial part of if not all of his/her investment.

Vanclef also wrote in the book that by investing in the instruments that he recommended, investors stood to earn 8-12% results and consistent returns. FINRA said that he and the firm did not give readers a “sound basis” upon which to assess such claims.

In an interview with Vanclef, InvestmentNews said that FINRA has been “persecuting” him, ever since VFG underwent an exam in 2012. That is the year when the self-regulatory organization started concentrating more of its attention on illiquid alternative investment sales. Vanclef is accusing the regulator of “character assassination.”

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is sanctioning J.P. Turner & Co. for violating a rule mandating that brokers must make sure that municipal securities transactions between a customer’s account and the firm’s account occur at a price that is “fair and reasonable.” The SRO contends that the firm’s supervisory system did not provide the kind of supervision that could achieve compliance with securities regulations involving fair pricing

As part of the settlement, J.P. Turner will pay a $140K fine and over $76K plus interest in customer restitution.

The brokerage firm will also pay a $75k fine related to the ongoing use of a third-party telemarketer, which continued after it made the decision to stop using the marketing firm. Because the telemarketer stopped getting a do-not-call list from the firm, it continued to call people on the registry.

J.P. Turner agreed to settle both cases without denying or admitting to the charges.

In other news, the Securities and Exchange Commission is charging and fining 14 muni bond underwriting firms for issuing inaccurate information to investors. Collectively, the firms will pay about $4.58M for federal securities law violations that purportedly occurred between ’11 and ’14. The alleged violations involved the sale of municipal debt that used offering documents with materially false statements or omissions about borrower compliance as they pertain to disclosure duties. The SEC said that the firms did not perform proper due diligence to identify issues before selling the bonds.Barclays Capital Inc. (BARC), which will pay $500K, Wells Fargo Bank (WFC) N.A. Municipal Products Group, which will pay $440K, Jefferies LLC (JEF), which will pay $500K, and TD Securities USA LLC, which will pay $500K.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel has awarded First United Bank & Trust and First United Corp. over $11.5M in their securities fraud case against FTN Financial Securities Corp., Hugh James Boone, and Franklin Benjamin Kennedy. The bank is claiming unsuitable investments, misrepresentations, omission, breach of fiduciary duty, failure to supervise, breach of implied contract, and common law fraud involving the claimants’ purchase of preferred term securities, trust preferred securities, and other collateralized debt obligations. Two of the preferred term securities at issue are the PreTSL Notes, also known as the I-PreTSLI notes, and the PreTSL XVII.

The claimants said that that purchase of the PreTSL Notes were among a number of transactions in their leverage strategy. They said that the respondents were aware that the notes had deteriorated after they were issued but did not inform the claimants. The respondents denied the claimants’ allegations. Boone and Kennedy in their response said that they acted properly as financial adviser.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel arbitration panel says that Morgan Stanley (MS) must pay at least $2.4M to settle the latest client claims accusing its former broker, Steven Mark Wyatt, of mishandling their investments. The brokerage firm fired Wyatt in 2012.

According to a group of doctors and their loved ones, Wyatt, who was their broker, made unauthorized and excessive trades in the stock market that cost them during and after the 2008 financial crisis. Wyatt bought thinly-traded stocks for the investors and placed speculative bets on exchange-traded funds and other securities in their portfolios.

This is the latest batch of claims against Wyatt, Morgan Stanley, and managers at the Mississippi branch where he worked. The claimants believe that Morgan Stanley failed to detect warning signs of Wyatt’s purported wrongdoing. Other employees named in this securities case are adviser Hilary Zimmerman, currently a Morgan Stanley senior vice president, and branch manager Fred Eugene Brister III. The claimants contend that Brister failed to properly supervise Zimmerman and Wyatt. They say that their accounts were mismanaged and suspect trading occurred.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is fining Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC (MS) $2M for violations involving short sale and short interest reporting rules. The violations purportedly took place over six years. The financial firm is also accused of not putting into place a supervisory system designed in a reasonable enough manner that it could identify and prevent such violations.

Financial firms are supposed to report to the SRO on a regular basis their total short positions involving equity securities in proprietary firm and customer accounts. However, according to the self-regulatory organization, Morgan Stanley did not accurately and completely report such positions in certain securities that involved billions of shares. FINRA also said that the firm’s supervisory system was deficient.

Meantime, under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation SHO for regulating short sales, firms are supposed to aggregate their positions in a security to determine whether they are short or long. Through an aggregation unit, Regulation SHO lets firms track positions in a security separate from other positions at the firm and via certain trading desks or operations.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is fining 10 firms $43.5 million in total for letting their equity research analysts solicit investment business and offering favorable research coverage related to the the planned Toys “R” Us initial public offering. The firms were fined: $2.5 million for Needham & Co. LLC; $4 million for Wells Fargo Securities, LLC (WFC), Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. (DB), Morgan Stanley & Co., LLC (MS), and Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. respectively; and $5 million each for JP Morgan Securities LLC (JPM), Barclays Capital Inc. (BARC), Goldman Sachs & Co. (GS), Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (C), and Credit Suisse Securities USA LLC (CS). FINRA rules state that firms are not allowed to use research analysts or promise favorable research to garner investment banking business.

In 2010, Toys “R” Us and its private equity owners asked the ten firms to compete for involvement in an initial public offering. The self-regulatory organization said that all of the institutions used equity research analysts when soliciting for this role.

The company asked the analysts to create presentations to determine what their views were on certain issues and if they matched up with the perspectives of the firms’ investment bankers. The firms knew that how well their analysts did with this would impact whether or not they would be given the underwriting role in the IPO.