Articles Posted in Financial Firms

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is ordering Wells Fargo & Co.’s (WFC) wealth management unit to pay $3.5M for alleged anti-money laundering reporting violations. Wells Fargo Advisors agreed to pay the penalty. It is settling the charges but without denying or admitting to the regulator’s findings.

According to the SEC, starting in early 2012, new bank managers started pressing compliance officials to cease in their submission of suspicious activity reports. The failure to file these SARs reports, or delay them, reportedly occurred 50 times in a little over a year and involved accounts for international customers who were previously named in such reports.

Federal law mandates that broker-dealers notify the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network about any transactions of at least $5K that they believe may involve illegal activity. The regulator blames a “new senior manager” that was hired in the brokerage firm’s compliance group and placed in charge of the anti-money laundering program.

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Ex-American Reality CFO to Go to Prison for 18 Months
In Manhattan, a US District Court Judge has sentenced Brian Block to 18 months behind bars. Block, who was the CFO of American Reality Capital Properties, was found guilty of fraud when he inflated the financial statements of the real estate investment trust.

Prosecutors accused Block of inputting bogus figures when preparing the REIT’s financial reporting. He allegedly did this to hide a calculation mistake that occurred in an earlier financial report.

Following the disclosure of the accounting misstatements, American Realty’s share price plunged, taking with it over $3B of the REIT’s market worth. It was in late 2014 that the REIT announced that employees had purposely hid accounting errors.

The REIT’s ex-chief accounting officer, Lisa McAlister, has also pleaded guilty to charges over this matter.

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UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) has agreed to settle US Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the brokerage firm of not ensuring that certain charitable brokerage accounts and retail retirement accounts received the sales charge waivers or reduced fee share classes to which they were entitled when they purchased certain mutual funds. However, despite settling, including agreeing to pay a $3.5M penalty, the firm did not admit to or deny the SEC’s findings.

The regulator’s order states that from at least 1/2010 through 6/2015, UBS did not confirm certain customers’ eligibility to purchase from a less costly mutual fund share class and instead recommended that they buy more expensive ones. The customers that were affected purportedly did not have enough information at their disposal to understand that UBS had a conflict of interest when recommending the costlier share classes, such as Class A shares that came with an upfront sales fee and Class B/C shares that charged contingent deferred sales fees at the back-end plus came with costlier ongoing expenses and fees. All of the customers affected had been eligible to buy either no-load Class R shares or load-waved Class A shares.

As a result, claims the Commission, 15,250 customer accounts paid more than $18.5M in excess fees and expenses, upfront sales fees, and “contingent deferred sales charges.” Also, by selling investors the more expensive share classes, UBS earned higher compensations. The brokerage firm is accused of not disclosing to these customers that buying the costlier share classes would hurt their investments’ returns.

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In New York Court of Appeals, MBIA Insurance Corp. and Credit Suisse Securities USA LLC (CS) presented arguments over whether to resuscitate part of the $235M mortgage-backed securities case brought by the insurer against the financial firm. NY Supreme Court Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich previously took out the fraud claim in MBIA’s case after finding that bond insurer wanted the same damages from both that claim and its contract claim. MBIA has since appealed, arguing that Kornreich misread the facts presented, as well as the applicable case law.

The bond insurer contends that both the contract and fraud claims are separate and valid. Credit Suisse, meantime, maintains that contract and fraud claims are “duplicative.”

In addition to cutting the insurer’s fraud claim from the lawsuit, Kornreich rejected MBIA’s request that she find that Credit Suisse breached its warranties regarding the mortgages’ quality in about 29% of instances. The judge also called MBIA to task for not doing its own due diligence regarding the loans’ quality.

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Royal Bank of Scotland Settles DOJ RMBS Fraud Probe for $44M
Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc (RBS) has agreed to a non-prosecution deal with the US Justice Department to resolve a criminal probe accusing traders of defrauding residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and collateralized loan obligation (CLO) customers. As part of the settlement, RBS will pay a $35M fine. It will also pay at least $9M to over 30 customers, including affiliates of Barclays (BARC), Goldman Sachs (GS), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C) and Morgan Stanley (MS), as well as to the Soros Fund Management and Pacific Investment Management Co. RBS admitted to the misconduct.

The bank’s fraud involved mortgage-backed securities, asset-backed securities, and commercial mortgage-backed securities. The group that handled these securities for the bank is no longer in operation.

According to prosecutors, from ’08 to ’13, RBS lied about bond prices, charged unwarranted commissions, and hid the fraud, all the while enhancing its own profits and costing customers money. In a joint press release, the DOJ and the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said that the bank’s employees were encouraged to engage in the wrongful behavior, including misrepresenting material facts to customers, lying about the seller’s asking price to the buyer and lying about the buyer’s asking price to the seller, pocketing the difference between what the buyer paid and what the seller received, and misrepresenting that a non-existent third party was involved in the bond sales so that the bank could charge the extra, unwarranted commission. RBS is also accused of training its CLO and RMBS traders to engage in the fraudulent practices, lying to customers that suspected the fraud, and disregarding its employees who complained about the fraud.

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Deutsche Bank AG (DB) has settled with 45 US states and will now pay $220M to resolve allegations that it engaged in rigging the London Interbank Offered (LIBOR) rate and other benchmark interest rates. According to the settlement, the bank admitted that its managers and traders took part in benchmark rigging from ’05 to ’09.

A press release issued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman states that Deutsche Bank “acted unlawfully,” including that:

· The bank defrauded counterparties when it didn’t disclose that it was making LIBOR submissions that were “false or misleading.”

· Its traders tried to influence the LIBOR submissions of other banks so that Deutsche Bank would benefit.

· The bank knew that other banks were rigging LIBOR, too.

· Deutsche Bank didn’t disclose that the other banks’ LIBOR submissions were not accurate reflections of their borrowing rates or that the published rates were not accurate to the submitting banks’ real borrowing costs.

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A federal jury in New York has found Mark Johnson guilty on criminal charges accusing him of front-running involving a $3.5B currency trade. HSBC’s ex-foreign-exchange cash trading global head is the first banker that the US Justice Department charged over forex rate rigging.

Johnson was convicted on eight counts of wire fraud and one count of wire fraud conspiracy, and he reportedly will appeal the verdict. Johnson maintains that he was acting in the best interest of the client involved and he did not do anything wrong or irregular.

According to acting US Attorney in Brooklyn Bridget M. Rohde, Johnson used confidential information given to him by an HSBC client to make trades in an attempt to earn millions of dollars for the bank and himself while costing the client money. He and ex-HSBC European currency trading head Stuart Scott allegedly engaged in front running, which involves making trades based on advanced information about a big market order, with the advanced trades rendering huge profits once the bigger transaction has upped the price. Scott is currently in the UK battling extradition efforts to bring him back to the US.

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A federal jury in Boston has found Howard Present, the ex-CEO of F-Squared Investments Inc., liable in the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil lawsuit alleging exchange-traded fund fraud. The ruling determined that Present was in violation of the Investment Advisers Act.

According to the regulator, Present sought to defraud investors and acted recklessly in the way he marketed the history of the AlphaSector, which was F-Squared’s flagship product.

The SEC filed its securities fraud lawsuit against Present in 2014. That was when the regulator announced a $35M settlement reached with F-Squared, in which the firm admitted wrongdoing over claims that it misled investors in the way that it falsely marketed AlphaSector as having a lengthy and successful track record that utilized a strategy that a multibillion-dollar wealth manager had developed.

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In New York federal court, Barclays PLC (BAC) is trying to get the US government’s civil residential mortgage-backed securities fraud lawsuit against it dismissed. Prosecutors went after the British bank, a number of its affiliates, and two ex-employees—former mortgage securitizations head Paul Menefee and former subprime loan acquisitions head trader John T. Carroll.

The government contends that the defendants misrepresented the loans packaged in 36 securitizations from 2005 through 2007 were doing well when, in fact, thousands of them had been deemed defective during the vetting process, with hundreds more in default or delinquent.

The RMBS fraud lawsuit is accusing Barclays of letting the loans be packaged into the securitizations despite knowing they were faulty, and even, on occasion, adding in faulty loans that had already been removed from other deals. According to the government, the securitizations failed badly, over half of the mortgages underlying them defaulted, and investors, including banks that were investors, lost billions of dollars.

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Deutsche Bank AG (DB) has consented to pay $190M to resolve an investor fraud lawsuit accusing the German lender of manipulating prices in the foreign exchange market. Despite settling, however, the bank maintains that it did not engage in wrongdoing.

Investors accused Deutsche bank and 15 other banks of conspiring to rig key currency benchmark rates by coordinating strategies and sharing confidential trade information and orders. The bank’s traders are accused of meeting in chat rooms to engage in numerous tactics to make more profits regardless of whether or not this meant losses for investors.

Regulator probes into currency rigging have led to $10B in fines imposed against a number of big banks, including the most recent one by the Federal Reserve, which ordered HSBC to pay a $175M fine for not properly monitoring its currency traders. With the investor lawsuits, Credit Suisse Group AG (CS) is the only one of the banks sued by investors that has not settled.

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