June 17, 2014

FINRA Orders Merrill Lynch to Repay $89M in Restitution, $8M Fine for Excessive Mutual Fund Fees for Charities, Retirement Accounts

FINRA says Bank of America (BAC) Merrill Lynch failed to waive mutual fund sales charges for a number of retirement accounts and charities. Now the wirehouse must pay as restitution $89 million and a fine of $8 million. The firm settled without denying or admitting to the findings.

The majority of mutual funds with the firm’s retail platform are supposed waive specific fees for charities and retirement plans that qualify for this consideration. However, Merrill Lynch neglected to ensure that its advisers were correctly implementing these waivers. This impacted 41,000 accounts.

The SRO says that from about ’06 – ’11, firm advisers put tens of thousands of accounts into certain funds, including Class A mutual fund shares, and promised to waive specific sales charges for charities and retirement accounts. It then did not act to ensure that all of the fees were actually waived.

In a statement, FINRA said that Merrill Lynch’s formal procedures don’t offer enough guidance or information about these waivers. Even when the firm found out that the waivers weren’t implemented in all eligible accounts, it still depended on its advisers to waive the fees. The regulator believes that Merrill Lynch did not properly supervise the sales nor did it notify or train its staff that there might be less costly alternatives they could offer investors.

A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch said the issue is a legacy one from prior to the merging of Bank of America with Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc. The discrepancy was discovered after the acquisition. FINRA said that even though the firm discovered the problem as early as in 2006, it did not notify the SRO about it until 2011.

Investors have already been repaid $65 million of the $89 million in restitution. $21.2 million will go to some 13,000 small business retirement accounts. More than 2.1 million 403(B) retirement accounts will get $3.2 million.

Please contact the SSEK Partners Group today.


Finra tags Merrill Lynch with $8 million fine for mutual fund sales charges
, Investment News, June 16, 2014

FINRA Fines Merrill Lynch $8 Million; Over $89 Million Repaid to Retirement Accounts and Charities Overcharged for Mutual Funds, FINRA, June 16, 2014


More Blog Posts:
FINRA Headlines: SRO Fines Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and Barclays Capital $1M Each & Makes Dark Pool Data Available, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 7, 2014

NY Hedge Fund Adviser Faces SEC Charges Over Conflicted Transactions and Whistleblower Retaliation, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, June 16, 2014

Ex-ArthroCare CEO and CFO Convicted in Texas Securities Fraud Case, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 11, 2014

November 7, 2013

Lawmakers & Industry Folk Address the DOL Amending the Definition of Fiduciary, Reg A Plus Offerings, Oversight, Rogue Brokers, and Expungement Rules

US House Passes A Bill Prohibiting the US Labor Department DOL From Amending Its Definition of “Fiduciary” Until SEC’s Uniform Conduct Standard is Established
A bill that would not allow the Department of Labor to amend its rules regarding the definition of the term “fiduciary” until after Securities and Exchange Commission adopts its own rule that places broker-dealers and investment advisers under a uniform standard of conduct has passed in the US House of Representatives. The DOL has been trying to revise its definition of “fiduciary” in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Those who voted to prohibit revising the definition have been worried about possibly ending up with two rulemakings that were inconsistent with one another.


Reg A Plus Offerings and Their Oversight Get Capitol Hill Debate
At a Senate Banking Committee’s Securities, Insurance, and Investment Subcommittee hearing about developments involving the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, discussion ensued about Reg A Plus offerings. The SEC has yet to put out a proposal about “Reg A Plus,” which is the term used by its staff to refer to the new Reg A threshold.

Per the JOBS ACT’S Title IV, the SEC has to put in place a rule that will give exemption to certain offerings of up to $50 million (the current Reg A exemption is $5 million). While Reg A plus offerings would be exempt from SEC registration, they will have to adhere to state level registration unless found on a national securities exchange or sold to a “qualified purchaser.” Already, some in the industry are calling for a “workable definition” of what constitutes a “qualified purchaser” so that certain offerings would be exempt from state registration requirements.

There are those who believe that Reg A Plus offerings would benefit “Main Street businesses” that are not the likeliest candidates for other JOBS Act provisions. That said, the existing blue sky registration process puts in place additional limitations and burdens that might discourage those who would use a new Reg A Plus exemption.

Meantime, the North American Securities Administrators Association has put out a proposal (and is seeking comment) on streamlining the review of Reg A Plus offerings by the states. NASAA says long standing state policies will have to be modified and a “peel back” of certain requirements is necessary to make the offerings more viable.


Sen. Markey Worries About Rogue Brokers, Expungement of Violations from Public Records
In letters to the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, US Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass) expressed his concerns about the high rate of broker-dealers that are able to get certain complaints removed from their records. Markey co-authored the bill that eventually led to the creation of FINRA’s BrokerCheck, which is the online database that provides information about the records of broker-dealers and brokers that the public can access. However, he worries that with such a high expungement rate for these advisers, investors are not getting an accurate picture of these people’s records.

The senator from Massachusetts believes that expunging settlement deals from a broker’s records should be prohibited. Meantime, FINRA said it has started to make changes to preserve the integrity of its BrokerCheck system and enhance investor protections.

Markey also voiced worry about a report in the Wall Street Journal noting that millions of dollars in arbitration awards aren’t paid because some firms file for bankruptcy instead. Markey wants the SRO to make brokerage firms carry insurance to cover arbitration awards. He is dismayed that there are thousands of brokers who keep selling securities even after being kicked out by FINRA. He told the SRO that it needs to do a better job of finding “rogue brokers” who stay in business even though they’ve been expelled.


The SSEK Partners Group represents individual and institutional investors that have sustained losses from broker fraud. Contact our stockbroker fraud law firm today.


U.S. House passes bill to delay fiduciary rules at SEC, Labor Dept, Reuters, October 29, 2013

NASAA Outlines Plan for Streamlined State Review of JOBS Act-related Multi-State Offerings, North American Securities Administrators Association, October 30, 2013

Senator: Finra too weak to go after deadbeat broker, Investment News, October 25, 2013


More Blog Posts:

Judge Dismisses Shareholder Lawsuit Suing Bank of America For Allegedly Concealing AIG Fraud Case, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 6, 2013

JPMorgan’s Admission to CFTC of “Reckless” Trading Could Lead to More Securities Fraud Cases, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 4, 2013

Why did UBS Financial Advisors Recommend Puerto Rico Muni Bonds to Elderly and Retired Investors?, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 6, 2013

September 11, 2013

FINRA Fines Santander Investment Securities Inc. $350,000 For Not Supervising Foreign Fund Offerings

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is fining Santander Investment Securities Inc. $350,000 over allegations that the brokerage firm failed to adequately supervise foreign fund offerings. The SRO says that the broker-dealer did not have a system in place to properly oversee communications between brokers, a registered firm principal, non-registered employees, and investors about the purchase of non-US funds.

FINRA found that the principal had the job of determining interest from institutional investors in the US for funds overseen by a fund manager who was affiliated with the firm but was not regulated by SRO or based in the US. The principal and those mentioned above contacted investors about buying non-US funds in the future.

FINRA says that Santander Investment Securities should have had a registered individual supervising the registered personnel in relation to these communications. It also found that these interactions took place at presentations where sales materials were given out to prospective investors. However, notes the SRO, the brokerage firm did not appoint an individual registered with the firm to make sure procedures and policies were being enforced at these gatherings, nor did it apply these protocols with the public or look at and approve the fund presentations and other materials. Copies of the material that was distributed were not kept, as required. FINRA says that the materials included claims that were exaggerated.

Santander Investment Securities turned in its letter of acceptance, consent, and waiver after FINRA entered its findings.

Broker Fraud

It is the duty of broker-dealers to set up and execute a reasonable supervisory system so that customers are shielded from abusive and negligent sales practices. Failure to set up such procedures and policies can be grounds for securities fraud liability if investors sustain losses because of inadequate supervision.

FINRA


More Blog Posts:

Former Broker Claims He is the Reason FINRA’s Regional Director Resigned, While Ex-JP Morgan Broker Files Arbitration Claim Against His Former Employer, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, June 18, 2013

Radio Host Dave Ramsey and Financial Advisers Get Into Twitter Fight, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 14, 2013

Brokerage Firms Change Hands as Insurers Divest In House Securities Firms, While REIT Manager Schorsch Buys First Allied Securities, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 12, 2013

September 4, 2013

FINRA Fines Expected to Drop 41% in 2013

Even though the number of disciplinary actions from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has dropped just slightly this year, fines paid to the SRO are expected to be 41% lower from what was assessed in 2012.

In its Disciplinary and Other FINRA Actions report for the first half of 2013, FINRA said there were $23 million of fines—compare that to the same time period last year when the SRO fined brokerage firms and associated individuals $39 million. The total in fines it would assess for 2012 would reach $78 million. This year’s total is estimated to reach $46 million.

One reason for the decline might be that FINRA had already brought its biggest cases related to the market collapse. A decrease in supersize fines of those over $1 million has also occurred during the year’s first six months. However, in July, the SRO reported fining a financial firm $7.5 million while another had to pay investor restitution of $1.5 million. Supersize fines were also imposed on other broker-dealers.

ThinkAdvisor lists the leading five enforcement issues for FINRA for the first half of this year (figures were reported in Disciplinary and Other FINRA Actions): municipal securities, with 25 case at $4.3 million; electronic communication, with 25 cases at $2.5 million; mutual funds with 18 cases at $21 million; suitability, with 31 cases at $1.7 million; and short selling, with 16 cases at $1.5 million.

FINRA
FINRA is the biggest independent regulator of securities firms in the US—4,215 broker-dealers (and their branches) and about 633,620 brokers. It is here to protect investors and ensure market integrity.

FINRA Arbitration
Many securities cases are resolved via FINRA arbitration. You want to work with an experienced FINRA arbitration lawyer that can help your recover your investment fraud losses. Our securities fraud law firm represents investors throughout the country.

FINRA Fines On Track to Fall 41% This Year, ThinkAdvisor, September 6, 2013

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

US Securities and Exchange Commission

More Blog Posts:
FINRA Enhances Its Arbitrator Vetting Policy, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 26, 2013

Citigroup Must Pay $11M Claimant for Royal Bank of Scotland Investment Losses, Says FINRA Arbitration Panel, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 7, 2013

GAO Wants SEC to Look At Other Criteria for Who Qualifies As An Accredited Investor, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 31, 2013

August 7, 2013

Citigroup Must Pay $11M Claimant for Royal Bank of Scotland Investment Losses, Says FINRA Arbitration Panel

A FINRA arbitration panel has decided that Citigroup (C) and Edward J. Mulcahy, one of the firm’s ex-branch managers, has to pay $11 million to investor John Fiorilla. Fiorilla is a legal adviser to the Holy See who went to Citigroup because he wanted to de-risk a $16 million stock position in Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

According to the claimant, he asked Citigroup to employ derivatives to assist in hedging his position against losses but the firm did not fulfill the request. When the market failed in 2008 his account suffered over $15 million in losses.

Fiorilla is claiming breach of contract, failure to control and supervise, breach of fiduciary duty, gross negligence, negligence, and other violations. His claim against Mulcahy is over an alleged failure to supervise.

The FINRA arbitration panel says Citigroup has to pay $10,750,000 and 9% interest from 5/1/09 until full payment of the award is reached. Mulcahy, who retired from Citigroup recently, must pay $250,000 and interest.

Citigroup denies the securities fraud allegations and is disappointed with the arbitration ruling.

Arbitration
Arbitration is one venue through which securities disputes between parties are resolved. To be eligible to be heard before a FINRA panel, cases must involve a FINRA-registered individual or entity and an investor (including broker v. investor, broker-dealer v. investor, brokerage firm and stockbrokers v. investors) or multiple FINRA-registered entities and/or individuals (such as broker v. broker, broker v. brokerage firm). Claims need to be submitted within six years that the events leading to the dispute happened.

Investors have to arbitrate before FINRA if this is mandated in their written agreement together, the dispute is with a FINRA member, and involves that member’s securities business. Industry members must arbitrate their disputes with each other before FINRA if a brokerage firm/broker’s securities business activities are involved. Brokerage firms and brokers have to enter into FINRA arbitration if the investor requests it.

The best way to increase the chances your FINRA securities case will come out in your favor is to hire an experienced FINRA arbitration lawyer.

Citigroup Ordered to Pay Investor $11 Million, On Wall Street, August 10, 2013

Arbitration Overview, FINRA


More Blog Posts:
Texas Money Manager Sued by SEC and CFTC Over Alleged Forex Trading Scam, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 6, 2013

GAO Wants SEC to Look At Other Criteria for Who Qualifies As An Accredited Investor
, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 31, 2013

Sonoma County Files Securities Lawsuit Over Libor Banking Debacle, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 2, 2013

May 22, 2013

LPL Financial Ordered to Pay $7.5M FINRA Fine Over E-Mail Failures

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority says that LPL Financial LLC must pay a $7.5 million fine for inadequately supervising more than 28 million business emails between 2007 and 2013. This is the largest fine the SRO has ever imposed over an e-mail case.

According to FINRA, LPL’s systems for overseeing and storing e-mails failed a minimum of 35 times. It contends that the firm did not succeed in fulfilling its duty to retain e-mails, supervise its representatives, and properly respond to requests by regulators. The SRO attributes these problems to the brokerage firm’s failure to put enough resources toward updating its e-mail system as its business grew quickly.

Among the e-mail failures:

• Not keeping up access to hundreds of millions of emails during migration to a less costly email archive (80 million emails were corrupted)
• Not retaining and reviewing 3.5 million Bloomberg messages over a seven-year period
• Not archiving emails received by customers via third party advertising platforms transmitted via e-mail.

In addition to the paying the fine, LPL will have to set up a $1.5 million fund to pay brokerage customers that may have been affected by the e-mail failures. However, by settling this FINRA case, the broker-dealer is not denying or admitting to wrongdoing. The financial firm maintains that it is the one that reported the e-mail issues to FINRA in 2011. It also says that it has taken on a thorough redesign of its e-mail systems, policies, and procedures while working with independent experts to make sure the proper actions are taken.

Institutional Investment Fraud Lawyer William Shepherd disagrees with LPL’s claim that no wrongdoing occurred: “Some observers claim that this firm has done nothing but carry insurance and not supervise its brokers for years. They all but said so when they asked one of their client OSJs to consider taking over conducting supervision for them. In other words they wanted to become some sort of clearing firm that also gets a piece of the commission pie. This fine and action demonstrates in no uncertain terms that they simply did not supervise.”

FINRA also claims that during its investigation into this matter, LPL made misstatements, including the statement that the e-mail problems weren’t identified in June 2011 when firm staff had information that could have allowed the issues to be sussed out in 2008. A LPL is also accused of making the misstatement that there were no red flags to help identify these e-mail issues when actually there were.

The e-mail system problems resulted in the firm’s failure to produce all the emails that state and federal regulators asked for. The SRO speculates that the brokerage firm may have even failed to give certain private litigations and FINRA arbitration claimants the emails that they needed.

LPL to Pay $9 Million for Systemic Email Failures and for Making Misstatements to FINRA, FINRA, May 21, 2013

FINRA fines LPL Financial $9 million for email violations, Reuters, May 21, 2013


More Blog Posts:
LPL Financial Continues to Stay on Regulators’ Radar, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 10, 2013

LPL Financial Ordered to Pay $100K for Lack of Adequate Oversight that Resulted in Unsuitable Investments for Clients, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 29, 2011

SEC Submits Request for Data on Whether to Make Brokers & Investment Advisers Abide by Uniform Fiduciary Standard, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 4, 2013

August 8, 2012

Institutional Investor Securities Roundup: Biremis, Corp. Settles Securities Violation Charges with Industry Bar, FINRA Contacts Broker-Dealers About Conflicts of Interest Via Sweeps Letters, & Regulators Examine Financial Market Infrastructures

Broker-dealer Biremis Corp. and its CEO and president Peter Beck agreed to be barred from the securities industry to settle Financial Industry Regulatory Authority allegations that they committed supervisory violations related to the prevention of manipulative trading, securities law violations, and money laundering. The SRO says that even though the financial firm’s specialty was executing trades for day traders, it had only obtained order flow from two clients outside the US from June 2007 through June 2010 and that both had connections to Beck.

FINRA contends that the broker-dealer and Beck did not set up a supervisory system that could be expected to comply with the regulations and laws that prohibit trading activity that is manipulative, such as “layering,” which involves making non-bona-fide orders on one side of the market to create a reaction that will lead to an order being executed on the other side. The SRO also says that Beck and Biremis did not set up an anti-money laundering system that was adequate, which caused the brokerage firm to miss warning signs of certain suspect activity so that it could report them in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, FINRA has also been attempting to deal with the issue of conflicts of interests via sweep letters, which it sent to a number of broker-dealers. The SRO is seeking information about how the financial firms manage and identify conflicts of interest. In addition to requesting meetings with each of them, FINRA wants the brokerage firms to provide, by September 14, the department and employee names of those in charge of conflict reviews, information about the kinds of documents that are prepared after such evaluations, and the names of who gets the final documents and reports after the conflict reviews.

Another area where regulators have been taking a hard look is the financial market infrastructures. The International Organization of Securities Commissions and the
Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems put out a joint report last month providing guidance about resolution and recovery regimes that apply to financial market infrastructures. The “Recovery and resolution of financial market infrastructures” is a follow-up report to the "Key Attributes of Effective Resolution Regimes for Financial Institutions" by the Financial Stability Board.

The board had said that financial market infrastructures needed to be subject to resolution regimes in a manner that was appropriate to them. This report tackles these matters as they apply to financial market infrastructures, including important payment systems, central counterparties, central securities depositories, trade repositories, and securities settlement systems.

FINRA Expels Biremis, Corp. and Bars President and CEO Peter Beck, FINRA, July 31, 2012

Recovery and resolution of financial market infrastructures (PDF)

FINRA Launches Conflict-of-Interest Sweep of BDs, AdvisorOne, August 9, 2012


More Blog Posts:

Texas Securities Roundup: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Sued Over Financial Adviser’s Ponzi Scam, Judge Dismisses Ex-GE Executive Whistleblower’s Lawsuit Over His Firing, & Ex-Stanford Financial Group CIO Pleads Guilty to Obstructing the SEC’s Probe, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 3, 2012

MSRB Seeks Public Comment on New Fiduciary Duty Rule for Municipal Advisors, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, February 21, 2011

$1.2 Billion of MF Global Inc.’s Clients Money Still Missing, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, December 10, 2011

Continue reading "Institutional Investor Securities Roundup: Biremis, Corp. Settles Securities Violation Charges with Industry Bar, FINRA Contacts Broker-Dealers About Conflicts of Interest Via Sweeps Letters, & Regulators Examine Financial Market Infrastructures " »

May 29, 2012

Institutional Investment Securities Round-Up: Citigroup Agrees to $3.5M FINRA FIne Related to Subprime RMBS, Ex-Broker Consents to $600K CFTC Fine Over Alleged Options Trading Scam, and Senate Ag Chair Presses Regulators To Fully Implement Dodd-Frank

Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (CLQ) has consented to pay the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority a $3.5M fine to settle allegations that he gave out inaccurate information about subprime residential mortgage-backed securities. The SRO is also accusing the financial firm of supervisory failures and inadequate maintenance of records and books.

Per FINRA, beginning January 2006 through October 2007, Citigroup published mortgage performance information that was inaccurate on its Web site, including inaccurate information about three subprime and Alt-A securitizations that may have impacted investors’ assessment of subsequent RMB. Citigroup also allegedly failed to supervise the pricing of MBS because of a lack of procedures to verify pricing and did not properly document the steps that were executed to evaluate the reasonableness of the prices provided by traders. The financial firm is also accused of not maintaining the needed books and records, including original margin call records. By settling, Citigroup is not denying or admitting to the FINRA securities charges.

In other institutional investment securities news, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Kent Whitney an ex-registered floor broker at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, agreed to pay $600K to settle allegations by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that he made statements that were “false and misleading” to the exchange and others about a scam to trade options without posting margin. The CFTC contends that between May 2008 and April 2010, Whitney engaged in the scam on eight occasions, purposely giving out clearing firms that had invalid account numbers in connection with trades made on the New York Mercantile Exchange CME trading floors. He is said to have gotten out of posting over $96 million in margin.

The CFTC says that before an option was about to expire, Whitney would make orders to sell front-month out-of-the-money options. By doing this, he was “implicitly” representing that the accounts were open and had enough margin to cover trades (In truth, the accounts had no margin and were closed). When the clearing firms would turn the trades down because the accounts were closed, they would give back the trades to the executing floor brokers’ clearing firms. The following day, Whitney would give account numbers that were valid to clear the trades. The CFTC says that this process allowed him to avoid the margin posting. Also, when Whitney traded, he would allegedly collect the options premium. By settling, he is not denying or admitting to the CFTC allegations.

Meantime, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has written a letter to the heads of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the CFTC, the US Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Board, the Comptroller of the Currency, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation urging them to go ahead and complete its implementation of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Right now, regulators are a year behind on the deadline for most of the law’s rules.

Stabenow cited JPMorgan Chase's (JPM) recent over $2 billion trading loss and MF Global Inc.’s (MFGLQ) bankruptcy last fall as clear examples of the need to pass Dodd-Frank. She worried that there hasn't been sufficient rulemaking to enforce the act’s new derivatives laws. She said that now is the time to finish writing the rules and “fully” implementing the law.

Our institutional investment lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD, LLP represents investors throughout the US. We also have clients that are located abroad.

FINRA fines Citigroup Global Markets $3.5 million, Reuters, May 22, 2012

Federal Court in New York Orders Chicago Resident and Former Floor Broker, Kent R.E. Whitney, to Pay $600,000 for Margin Call Avoidance Scheme, CFTC, May 23, 2012

Chairwoman Stabenow: It Is Time To Fully Implement Wall Street Reform, AG.Senate.gov, May 18, 2012


More Blog Posts:

SEC Practice of Settling Enforcement Actions Without Requiring Defendants to Deny or Admit to Allegations Gets Support from Federal Judges and Democrats, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 26, 2012

Alleged Ponzi-Like Real Estate Investment Scam that Defrauded Victims of $9M Leads to SEC Charges Against New Jersey Man, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 24, 2012

SEC Charges New York-Based Fund Manager and His Two Financial Firms Over Alleged $11M Ponzi Scheme, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, May 28, 2012

March 27, 2012

Citigroup Ordered by FINRA to Pay $1.2M Over Bond Markups and Markdowns

FINRA says that Citigroup Inc. subsidiary Citi International Financial Services LLC must pay over $1.2M in restitution, fines, and interest over alleged excessive markdowns and markups on agency and corporate bond transactions and supervisory violations. The financial firm must also pay $648,000 in restitution and interest to over 3,600 clients for the alleged violations. By settling, Citi International is not denying or admitting to the allegations.

According to FINRA, considering the state of the markets at the time, the expense of making the transactions happen, and the value of services that were provided, from July ’07 through September ’10 Citi International made clients pay too much (up to over 10%) on agency/corporate bond markups and markdowns. (Brokerages usually make clients that buy a bond pay a premium above the price that they themselves paid to obtain the bond. This is called a “markup.”) Also, from April ’09 until June ’10, the SRO contends that Citi International did not put into practice reasonable due diligence in the sale or purchase of corporate bonds so that customers could pay the most favorable price possible.

The SRO says that during the time periods noted, the financial firm’s supervisory system for fixed income transactions had certain deficiencies related to a number of factors, including the evaluation of markups/markdowns under 5% and a pricing grid formulated on the bonds’ par value rather than their actual value. Citi International will now also have to modify its supervisory procedures over these matters.

In the wake of its order against Citi International, FINRA Market Regulation Executive Vice-President Thomas Gira noted that the SRO is determined to make sure that clients who sell and buy securities are given fair prices. He said that the prices that Citi International charged were not within the standards that were appropriate for fair pricing in debt transactions.

If you believe that you were the victim of securities misconduct or fraud, please contact our stockbroker fraud law firm right away. We represent both institutional and individual investors that have sustained losses because of inadequate supervision, misrepresentations and omissions, overconcentration, unsuitability, failure to execute trades, churning, breach of contract, breach of promise, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, margin account abuse, unauthorized trading, registration violations and other types of adviser/broker misconduct.

Before deciding to work with a brokerage firm that is registered with FINRA, you can always check to see if they have a disciplinary record by using FINRA’s BrokerCheck. Last year, 14.2 million reviews of the records of financial firms and brokers were conducted on BrokerCheck.

Read the Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent

Citigroup Fined for Bond Markup, The Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2012

FINRA BrokerCheck®


More Blog Posts:

Securities Claims Accusing Merrill Lynch of Concealing Its Auction-Rate Securities Practices Are Dismissed by Appeals Court, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 30, 2011

Merrill Lynch Faces $1M FINRA Fine Over Texas Ponzi Scam by Former Registered Representative, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 10, 2011

Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch Settles for $315 million Class Action Lawsuit Over Mortgage-Backed Securities, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, December 6, 2011

Continue reading "Citigroup Ordered by FINRA to Pay $1.2M Over Bond Markups and Markdowns" »

January 26, 2012

Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Ordered to Pay $1M FINRA Fine for Not Arbitrating Employee Disputes Over Retention Bonuses

FINRA says that Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith must pay a $1M fine because it didn’t arbitrate employee disputes about retention bonuses. Registered representatives that took part in the bonus plan had signed promissory notes stating that should such disagreements arise, they would go to New York state court and not through arbitration to resolve them. FINRA says this agreement violated its rules, which requires that financial firms and associated individuals go through arbitration if the disagreement is a result of the business activities of the associated person or the firm.

It was after merging with Bank of America that Merrill Lynch set up a bonus plan to keep high-producing registered reps. The financial firm gave over 5,000 registered representatives $2.8B in retention bonuses that were structured as loans in 2009. By agreeing that they would go to state court, the representatives were greatly hindering their ability to make counterclaims. FINRA also says that because Merrill Lynch designed the bonus program so that it would seem as if the money for it came from MLIFI, which is a non-registered affiliate, the financial firm was able to go after recovery amounts on MLIFI’s behalf in court, which allowed Merrill Lynch to circumvent the arbitration requirement. After a number of registered representatives did leave the financial firm without paying back the amounts due on the promissory notes in 2009, Merrill Lynch filed more than 90 actions in state court to collect these payments.

Since September 14, 2009, FINRA has been expediting cases involving claims made by brokerage firm over associated persons accused of not paying money owed on a promissory note. Such disputes are supposed to be resolved through arbitration.

The SRO has also been known to get involved in other types of financial firm-employee disputes. For example, in another recent FINRA proceeding, an arbitration panel ordered Citigroup to pay a former investment advisor team and their administrator $24M for not fairly compensating them for transactions involving an institutional client that they brought with them when they moved from Banc of America Securities. Robert Vincent Minchello, his brother James Bryan Minchello, and Martha Jane Sullivan claimed that Citigroup only partially compensated them for a few of the transactions before cutting them out of that business relationship.

Merrill fined $1 mln for failure to arbitrate, Reuters, January 25, 2012

SEC Approves Rule Establishing Expedited Procedures for Arbitrating Promissory Note Cases, FINRA, September 14, 2009


More Blog Posts:

Securities Claims Accusing Merrill Lynch of Concealing Its Auction-Rate Securities Practices Are Dismissed by Appeals Court, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 30, 2011

Merrill Lynch Faces $1M FINRA Fine Over Texas Ponzi Scam by Former Registered Representative, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 10, 2011

Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch Settles for $315 million Class Action Lawsuit Over Mortgage-Backed Securities, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, December 6, 2011

Continue reading "Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Ordered to Pay $1M FINRA Fine for Not Arbitrating Employee Disputes Over Retention Bonuses" »

January 11, 2012

Oppenheimer & Co. Must Buyback $6M in Auction-Rate Securities from Investor, Says FINRA Arbitration Panel

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel has ordered Oppenheimer & Co. to repurchase the $5.98 million in New Jersey Turnpike ARS that it sold Nicole Davi Perry in 2007. The investor reportedly purchased the securities through Oppenheimer Holdings Inc. (OPY).

Perry, who, along with her father, filed her ARS arbitration claim against the financial firm in 2010, accused Oppenheimer of negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. She and her father, Ronald Davi, were reportedly looking for liquidity and safety, but instead ended up placing their funds in the auction-rate securities. They contend that they weren’t given an accurate picture of the risks involved or provided with a thorough explanation of the securities’ true nature.

Oppenheimer disagrees with the panel’s ruling. In addition to buying back Perry’s ARS, the financial firm has to cover her approximately $134,000 in legal fees.

It was just in 2010 that Oppenheimer settled the ARS securities cases filed against it by the states of New York and Massachusetts. The brokerage firm consented to buy back millions of dollars in bonds from customers who found their investments frozen after the ARS market collapsed and they had no way of being able to access their funds.

Oppenheimer is one of a number of brokerage firms that had to repurchase ARS from investors. These financial firms are accused of misrepresenting the risks involved and inaccurately claiming that the securities were “cash-like.” A number of these brokerage firms' executives allegedly continued to allow investors to buy the bonds even though they already knew that the market stood on the brink of collapse and they were selling off their own ARS.

ARS
Auction rate securities are usually corporate bonds, municipal bonds, and preferred stock with long-term maturities. Investors receive interest rates or dividend yields that are reset at each successive auction.

ARS auctions take place at regular intervals—either every 7 days, 14 days, 28 days, or 5 days. The bidder turns in the lowest dividend yield or interest rate he or she is willing to go to purchase and hold the bond during the next auction interval. If the bidder wins at the auction, she/he must buy the bond at par value.

Failed auctions can happen when there are not enough bidding buyers available to acquire the entire ARS block being offered. A failed auction can prevent ARS holders from selling their securities in the auction.

There are many reasons why an auction might fail and why there is risk involved for investors. It is important that investors are notified of these risks before they buy into the securities and that they only they get into ARS if this type of investment is suitable for their financial goals and the realities of their finances.

Panel Says Oppenheimer Must Buy Back $6M In Auction-Rate Securities, Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2012

Oppenheimer settles with Massachusetts, NY, Boston, February 24, 2010

More Blog Posts:
Oppenheimer Funds Investors Can Proceed with Their Securities Fraud Lawsuit, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 19, 2011

Investors in Oppenheimer Mutual Funds Considering Opting Out of $100M Class Action Settlement Have Until August 31, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 6 2011

Raymond James Settles Auction-Rate Securities Case with Indiana Securities Division for $31M, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 27, 2011

Continue reading "Oppenheimer & Co. Must Buyback $6M in Auction-Rate Securities from Investor, Says FINRA Arbitration Panel" »

November 23, 2011

Wells Investment Securities Agrees to $300,000 Fine by FINRA for Alleged Use of Misleading Marketing Materials for REIT Offerings

To settle FINRA accusations that it used misleading marketing materials when selling Wells Timberland REIT, Inc., Wells Investment Securities, Inc. has agreed to pay a $300,000 fine, as well as to an entry of the findings. However, it is not denying or admitting to the securities charges.

FINRA claims that as the wholesaler and dealer-manager of the non-traded Real Estate Investment Trust’s public offering, Wells approved, reviewed, and distributed 116 sales and marketing materials that included statements that were misleading, exaggerated, or unwarranted.The SRO contends that not only did most of the REIT’s sales literature and advertisements neglect to disclose the meaning of Wells Timberland's non-REIT status, but also it implied that Wells Timberland qualified as an REIT during a time when it didn’t. (Although its initial offering prospectus reported that it planned to qualify as an REIT for the tax year finishing up at the end of 2006, it did not qualify until the one ending on December 31, 2009.) Also, FINRA believes that Wells Timberland’s communications about portfolio diversification, redemptions, and distributions included misleading statements and that the financial firm lacked supervisory procedures for making sure the proprietary data and sensitive customer information were properly protected with working encryption technology.

While non-traded REITs are usually illiquid for approximately 8 years or longer, certain tax ramifications can be avoided if specific IRS requirements are met. FINRA says that the Wells ads failed to ensure that investors clearly understood that an investment that is not yet an REIT couldn’t offer them those tax benefits.

Last month, FINRA put out an alert notifying investors about the risks of public non-traded REITs. Non-exchange traded real estate investment trusts are not traded on a national securities exchange. Early redemption is usually limited and fees related to their sale can be high, which can erode one’s overall return. Risks involved include:

• No guarantee on distributions, which can exceed operating cash flow.
• REIT status and distributions that come with tax consequences
• Illiquidity and valuation complexities
• Early redemption that is limited and likely costly
• Fees that can grow
• Unspecified properties
• Limited diversification
• Real Estate risk

FINRA wants investors considering non-traded REITs to:

• Watch out for sales literature or pitches giving you simple reasons for why you should invest.
• Find out how much the seller is getting in commissions and fees.
• Know how investing in this type of REIT will help you meet your goals.
• Carefully study the accompanying prospectus and its supplements.

Finra Fines Wells Investment Securities For Alleged Misleading Marketing Materials, The Wall Street Journal, November 22, 2011

Public Non-Traded REITs—Perform a Careful Review Before Investing, FINRA


More Blog Posts:
Chase Investment Services Corporation Ordered by FINRA to Pay Back $1.9M for Unsuitable Sales of Floating-Rate Loan Funds and UITs, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 19, 2011

Morgan Stanley Faces $1M FINRA Fine for Excessive Markups and Markdowns on Corporate and Municipal Bond Transactions, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, September 17, 2011

Citigroup Global Markets Inc. Sues Two Saudi Investors in an Attempt to Block Their FINRA Arbitration Claim Over $383M in Losses, Stockbroker Fraud, October 22, 2011

Continue reading "Wells Investment Securities Agrees to $300,000 Fine by FINRA for Alleged Use of Misleading Marketing Materials for REIT Offerings " »

November 19, 2011

Chase Investment Services Corporation Ordered by FINRA to Pay Back $1.9M for Unsuitable Sales of Floating-Rate Loan Funds and UITs.

FINRA says that Chase Investment Services Corporation will pay back investors for losses sustained from the unsuitable recommendation made that they buy floating rate loan funds and unit investment trusts. In addition to paying back clients $1.9M, Chase must also pay a $1.7M fine.

According to FINRA, brokers with Chase recommended these financial instruments to clients even though the investments were not suitable for them—either because they had hardly any investment experience or only wanted to take conservative risks. The SRO also says that the Chase brokers had no reasonable grounds to think the financial products would be a right fit for these investors.

FINRA believes that Chase failed to properly train its brokers or give them guidance about the suitability of floating-rate loan funds and UITs, as well as the risks involved. For example, there were UITs that contained a significant portion of assets in closed-end funds with high-yield or junk bonds. Yet, despite the risks involved, brokers from Chase made about 260 recommendations that were not suitable for clients who had little (if any) investment experience or were averse to high-risk investments. These investors ended up losing about $1.4 million.

Also subject to substantial credit risk and illiquidity were the floating-rate loan funds. Despite the fact that concentrated positions in the fund were unsuitable for specific clients, FINRA says that Chase brokers still recommended these to clients who wanted low risk, very liquid investments or preferred to preserve principal. Because of these allegedly unsuitable recommendations, investors lost almost $500K.

FINRA says that WaMu, Investments Inc., also recommended that customers by floating-rate loan funds, even though these were not appropriate for the investors. The financial firm, which had merged with Chase in 2009, is also accused of not properly training or supervising its employees that sold the investments.

More About UITs
Unit investment trusts involve diversified securities baskets that may contain high-yield bonds. While junk bonds can make greater returns for investors than investment-grade bonds, they also come with a high degree of risk.

More About Floating-Rate Loan Funds
These mutual funds are invested in short-term bank loans for companies with a below investment grade crediting rating. What investors earn will fluctuate depending on what interest rates the banks happen to be charging on the loans.

In the wake of the allegations against Chase, FINRA Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement Brad Bennett said that it was key that financial firms provide the proper guidance and training to brokers about product sales while supervising sales practices.

JPMorgan unit fined $1.7M over investment sales, Bloomberg Business Week/AP, November 15, 2011

FINRA Orders Chase to Reimburse Customers $1.9 Million for Unsuitable Sales of UITs and Floating-Rate Loan Funds, FINRA, November 15, 2011


More Blog Posts:
Morgan Stanley Faces $1M FINRA Fine for Excessive Markups and Markdowns on Corporate and Municipal Bond Transactions, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, September 17, 2011

Wedbush Ordered By FINRA Panel To Pay $3.5M to Trader Over Withheld Compensation, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 16, 2011

Bank of America Merrill Lynch to Settle UIT Sales-Related FINRA Charges for $2.5 Million, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 22, 2010

Continue reading "Chase Investment Services Corporation Ordered by FINRA to Pay Back $1.9M for Unsuitable Sales of Floating-Rate Loan Funds and UITs. " »

September 17, 2011

Morgan Stanley Faces $1M FINRA Fine for Excessive Markups and Markdowns on Corporate and Municipal Bond Transactions

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc. $1 million for charging excessive markdowns and markups to corporate and municipal bond transactions clients. The SRO has also ordered that the financial firm pay $371,000 plus interest in restitution to these investors. By agreeing to settle, Morgan Stanley has not denied or admitted to the securities charges.

According to FINRA, the markdowns and markups that Morgan Stanley charged ranged from under 5% to 13.8%. Considering how much it costs to execute transactions, market conditions, and the services valued, these charge were too much.

The SRO also determined that the financial firm had an inadequate supervisory system for overseeing markups and markdowns of corporate and municipal bonds. Morgan Stanley must now modify its written supervisory procedures dealing with markups and markdowns involving fixed income transactions.

FINRA Market Regulation Executive Vice President Thomas Gira has said that Morgan Stanley violated fair pricing standards. He noted is important for financial firms that sell and purchase securities to make sure that clients are given reasonable and fair prices whether/not a markdown or markup exceeds or is lower than 5%.

A Markup is what is charged above market value. It is usually charged on principal transactions involving NASDAQ and other OTC equity securities. Markups on principal transactions usually factor in the type of security, its availability, price, order size, disclosure before the transaction is effected, the type of business involved, and the general markups pattern at a firm.

A markup on an equities security that is over 5% is seldom considered reasonable or fair. Regulators have rules in place for how much registered representatives can charge customers for services rendered. Not only do the charges have to be reasonable, but also they must be fair and not show particular preferences to any clients.

The 5% policy also applies to agency transactions. Commissions for such transactions also must be “fair and reasonable.” Commissions that go above that must be justified and are often closely examined by regulators.
While most securities professionals are committed to doing their jobs fairly and ethically, there are those determined to take advantage of the system to defraud investors. There are also honest mistakes that can occur that also can result in investor losses.

Financial firms and their representatives are responsible for protecting investors and their money from unnecessary losses resulting from securities fraud or other negligence.

Morgan Stanley Fined $1M Over Muni-Bond Markups, Bloomberg, November 10, 2011

FINRA Fines Morgan Stanley $1 Million and Orders Restitution of $371,000 for Excessive Markups and Markdowns, FINRA, November 10, 2011


More Blog Posts:
Whistleblower Claims SEC is Illegally Destroying Records of Closed Enforcement Cases, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 31, 2011

Ex-Bank of America Employee Pleads Guilty to Mortgage Fraud Scam Using Stolen Identities to Buy Homes Not For Sale, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 30, 2011

Securities Lawsuits Expected to Reach Record High in ’11, Says Advisen Ltd. Report, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, April 23, 2011


**This blog has been backdated.


Continue reading "Morgan Stanley Faces $1M FINRA Fine for Excessive Markups and Markdowns on Corporate and Municipal Bond Transactions" »

July 16, 2011

Wedbush Ordered By FINRA Panel To Pay $3.5M to Trader Over Withheld Compensation

A Financial Industry Regulator Authority Panel has ordered WedBush Securities Inc. to pay one of its traders over $3.5 million for refusing to properly compensate him. According to claimant Stephen Kelleher, he worked for the financial firm for years without consistently getting the incentive-base compensation that he was promised as a municipal sales trader. Kelleher started working for Wedbush in 2007 until right before the arbitration ruling was made.

Kelleher claims that Wedbush withheld nearly $5 million from him. While he regularly received his base salary, the bulk of his income, which was incentive-based compensation, was unevenly distributed and issued to him in May 2008, October 2009, and April 2010. Even then Kelleher contends that he did not receive everything he was owed.

In his FINRA arbitration claim, Kelleher alleged violation and failure to pay per labor laws, breach of contract, unfair business practices, and fraud. He sought over $6.1 million, including $4.17 million in compensation owed, close to $878,000 in interest, and penalties of $1 million and $2,100 over labor code violations. He also sought damages for civil code law violations, as well as punitive damages.

During the FINRA hearing, witnesses testified that it was Wedbush president and founder Edward W. Wedbush who made decisions about paying and withholding incentive compensation. Another Wedbush employee said that there were two years when he too didn’t get the incentive-based compensation that he was owed. The FINRA panel blamed Wedbush’s “corporate management structure” that required that Edward Wedbush, as majority shareholder, approve bonus pay at his discretion.

In addition to the $3.5 million, the FINRA panel also told Wedbush it has to give Kelleher the vested option to purchase 3,750 Wedbush shares at $20/share and another $375 shares at $26/share. Wedbush also must pay the Claimant for the $200 part of the FINRA filing fee that is non-refundable.

Wedbush intends to appeal the securities arbitration ruling.

Related Web Resources:
Wedbush ordered to pay $3.5M for ‘morally reprehensible failure', Investment News, July 11, 2011

FINRA Orders Wedbush to pay trader $3.5 million, OnWallStreet, July 1, 2011


More Blog Posts:
FINRA Panel Orders Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Corporation to Pay $64M Over Losses Sustained by Rosen Capital Institutional LP and Rosen Capital Partners LP, Institutional Investors Securities Blog, July 14, 2011

Raymond James Must Pay $925,000 Over Auction-Rate Securities Dispute, Institutional Investors Securities Blog, September 1, 2010

Fisher Investments Inc. Ordered to Pay Retired Investor $376,075 Over Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 8, 2011

Continue reading "Wedbush Ordered By FINRA Panel To Pay $3.5M to Trader Over Withheld Compensation" »

July 14, 2011

FINRA Panel Orders Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Corporation to Pay $64M Over Losses Sustained by Rosen Capital Institutional LP and Rosen Capital Partners LP

Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Corporation must pay hedge funds Rosen Capital Partners LP and Rosen Capital Institutional LP $63,665,202.00 in compensatory damages plus interest (9% from October 7, 2008). A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel issued the order which found the respondent liable.

In their statement of claim, made by the claimants in 2009, the hedge funds accused Merrill Lynch of reach of contract, fraud, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing (the New York Uniform Commercial Code), and negligence related to the allegedly unexpected margin calls that caused the claimants to sustain financial losses.

Rosen Capital Partners and Rosen Capital Institutional had originally sought at least $90 million in compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages and other costs. Meantime, Merrill Lynch had sough to have the entire matter dismissed and that it be awarded all costs incurred from the suit and other relief as deemed appropriate.

Institutional Investment Fraud
Our securities fraud attorneys represent corporations, banks, partnerships, financial firms, retirement plans, large trusts, charitable organizations, municipalities, private foundations, school districts, and high net worth individuals. We seek to obtain the financial losses of our clients that were caused by securities fraud and other illegal activities committed by financial firms and their representatives, brokers, and advisers.

Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP represents investors in the US and abroad. Contact our institutional investment fraud law firm today.

Read the details of the FINRA dispute resolution, Wall Street Journal (PDF)

New York Uniform Commercial Code, Justia

Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Hit With $64 Million FINRA Arbitration Award, Forbes, July 6, 2011

More Blog Posts:
Raymond James Must Pay $925,000 Over Auction-Rate Securities Dispute, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, September 1, 2010

Fisher Investments Inc. Ordered to Pay Retired Investor $376,075 Over Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 8, 2011

$750,000 Arbitration Award Against Stone & Youngberg LLC Confirmed by District Court, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 30, 2011

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