Articles Posted in Merrill Lynch

SEC Reportedly Investigating Wells Fargo Over Possible Inappropriate Investment Sales to Wealth Management Clients
According to news reports, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Wells Fargo’s (WFC) Wealth Management unit to see whether its clients were inappropriately sold certain in-house investment services even though these were not in their best interests. A source told Bloomberg that the regulator’s role in the probe has not been publicly disclosed.

However, in a regulatory filing, Wells Fargo revealed that it is looking into whether inappropriate recommendations were made related to 401(k) plan rollovers, alternative investments, and brokerage customer referrals to the firm’s “investment and fiduciary-services business.” The bank noted that it was assessing these matters in its wealth management business in the wake of inquiries made by federal agencies.

Bloomberg notes that it was in 2015 that JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) consented to pay $267M over allegations that its customers were not told that it had profited by placing their funds in certain hedge funds and mutual funds that charged particular fees.

Continue reading

According to Reuters, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) must pay FINRA and the SEC $13M in penalties each — $26M in total — because its anti-money-laundering procedures and policies were purportedly inaccurate. According to the regulators, from ’11 to ’15, these policies and procedures were “not reasonably designed” enough to account for the additional risks involved in certain services offered by some of its retail brokerage accounts.

The SEC’s cease-and-desist order states that Merrill Lynch did not do an adequate enough job of monitoring, identifying, and reporting certain suspect activity involving transaction patterns in customer accounts. Among the allegations is that when the firm provided traditional banking services, the software that was supposed to identify possibly suspect transactions did not screen for such activities.

The $26M fine comes just two months after the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK fined Merrill Lynch $45.5M for not reporting 68.5 million exchange traded derivative transactions between ’14 and ’16. Because the firm’s wealth management division cooperated with the FCA’s probe, the original fine of $64.9M was reduced by 30%.

Continue reading

Former LPL Broker is Barred For Not Disclosing Private Securities Sales
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority announced a bar against Leslie Koonce, an ex-LPL (LPLA) broker. According to the self-regulatory organization, Koonce lied when he failed to disclose that he had engaged in private securities sales. Koonce allegedly pitched a private company’s convertible promissory notes to at least 30 potential investors.

FINRA contends that not only did Koonce help facilitate the transfer of $175K to at least three LPL customers so they could invest in the private securities, but also, he invested $50K of his own funds. All the while, said the SRO, Koonce failed to notify LPL in writing of his involvement in these transactions. When he filed out compliance questionnaires twice in 2012, Koonce denied any involvement in these types of transactions.

LPL fired Koonce in 2015. He later went to work with Cetera and then EK Riley Investments. The ex-broker no longer works in the securities industry.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Ex-Merrill Lynch Broker Pleads Guilty to Bank Fraud
Jeffrey Kluge, a longtime Merrill Lynch broker, has pleaded guilty to defrauding two banks of more than $8.7M. His bank fraud ran from 2001 through November 2016.

Kluge’s plea agreement said that he fabricated account statements under Merrill Lynch’s name and pledged fake collateral to the banks so he could set up multi-million dollar credit lines. For instance, in 2001 he was able to get a $150K credit line with Alliance Bank in Minnesota by telling the financial institution that he had enough municipal bond funds as collateral. In fake account statements he sent the bank as evidence of these bond holdings, Kluge concealed from Alliance Bank that he had already promised the assets in the accounts for loans from the firm.

In 2007, Kluge was able to get a $1M credit line from Platinum Bank, which is also in Minnesota. He defrauded Platinum Bank in similar fashion.

Continue reading

The Financial Industry Regulatory has barred a broker who worked at Merrill Lynch for almost half a century from the securities industry. Louise J. Neale left the broker-dealer and voluntarily ended her registration with the firm last year during an internal probe about her supervisory performance involving fund transactions. She later refused to testify about her resignation before FINRA. This is a violation of the self-regulatory organization’s rules and was immediate grounds for the industry bar. Although Neale worked at Merrill since 1968, it wasn’t until 2003 that she became a registered representative and later a supervisor.

In an unrelated case, FINRA barred another ex-broker for violating firm policies after he, too, refused to testify about the allegations in front of the SRO. John Simpson worked at RBC Capital Markets from 3/2009 to 2/2016. He was let go by the firm for violating its policies about discretion related to client accounts.

Meantime, FINRA has barred two ex-JP Morgan (JPM) brokers. One of the brokers, Brian Alexander Torres, had only been in the securities industry for two months when he was fired by the broker-dealer. Torres admitted that he misappropriated funds from the firm’s affiliate bank. Finra asked Torres for information and documents, but he would not provide them nor would he testify.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a unanimous ruling allowing investors to sue Bank of America Corp’s Merrill Lynch (BAC) and other brokerage firms in New Jersey state court even though the lawsuit cites federal laws. The plaintiffs, who are Spectrum Group International Inc. investors, claim that they sustained investment losses because the brokers engaged in illegal short-selling. They are invoking NJ’s RICO statute in their case. RICO is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It is a federal law that allows for victims of organized crime to seek civil damages. It also provides provisions for other extended penalties. Bank of America Merrill Lynch claims that this naked short selling case is meritless.

The plaintiffs are accusing Merrill Lynch and other broker-dealers of playing a part in causing Spectrum’s market capitalization to drop by $800M in 11 months. The investors said that the firms did this by helping naked short sellers who bet against the company, causing its share price to plunge.

Naked Short Sales
A short sale involves the use of borrowed shares to bet that a security’s price with drop. The short sale is naked if the trader doesn’t borrow the shares required to make the transaction happen. Under Regulation SHO, naked short sales cannot be used to manipulate a security. Still, lawsuits over illegal naked short selling haven’t done too well in federal court.

Continue reading

The state of Virginia has arrived at a $63M settlement with 11 banks to resolve claims that they bilked the state’s retirement system by purportedly misrepresenting the quality of residential mortgage-backed securities in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis. The resolution settles all claims against the financial firms accused of causing financial harm to the Virginia Retirement system and its taxpayers and pensioners.

The banks involved will pay the following amounts respectively to settle, including:

· UBS Securities for $850K
· Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. and Countrywide Securities Corp. (BAC) for $19.5M
· Credit Suisse Securities (CS) for $1.2M
· RBS Securities (RBS) for $10M
· HSBC Securities (HSBC) For $2.5M
· Barclays Capital (BARC) for $9M
· Goldman Sachs & Co. (GS) for $2.9M
· Morgan Stanley & Co. (MS) for $6.9M
· Citigroup Global Markets (C) for $4.8M
· Deutsche Bank Securities (DB) for $5.6M

The state lost $383M over RMBS it purchased from 2004 to before 2010 and it had to sell most of these securities, which were toxic and constructed on junk mortgages. The settlement is the largest non-healthcare related financial recovery in a case involving Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act-related violations. However, according to the state’s Attorney General Mark Herring, even though the firm is settling it is not denying or admitting liability.

Continue reading

Gary Yin, an ex-Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) broker, must pay $1.4M in restitution for helping a client launder money made from insider trading. Yin admitted to helping former Qualcomm Inc. president Jing Wang conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars made in insider trading in that company and another company.

Yin set up brokerage accounts in the British Virgin Islands using a shell company to hide the scam and helped Wang transfer $525,000 to the shell account. He also transported documents to Wang’s brother in China to allegedly help hide the scheme from the FBI.

Now Yin must forfeit $27,000 in profits he made from trades in Qualcomm stock that were set up in a Merrill broker account in his mother-in-law’s name in the British Virgin Islands. He must also pay a $5,000 fine

Continue reading