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

If you are an investor that lost money in non-traded REITs and you believe that broker misconduct may have been a factor, please contact our securities fraud law firm immediately and request your free case evaluation.