Articles Posted in FINRA

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined Aegis Capital Corp. $550K for inadequate supervision and anti-money laundering systems related to its low-priced securities sales. According to the self-regulatory organization, the firm’s supervisory system that oversees trading involving delivery versus payment (DVP accounts) was not designed in a manner reasonable enough to properly “monitor and investigate” trading in the accounts, especially those involving securities transactions that were priced low.

With DVP accounts, a broker-dealer making the trades does not have to be holding the securities that are bought and sold. FINRA said that Aegis did not “adequately monitor or investigate” seven DVP customer accounts, a number of which belonged to foreign financial firms, in which trading involved the liquidation of billions of dollars of such securities. These transactions resulted in millions of dollars in proceeds. A number of these institutional clients made the transactions for underlying customers whose identities Aegis did not know.

The SRO found that Aegis failed to mark these transactions as suspect even after a clearing firm highlighted that there were anti-money laundering-related red flags. Aegis is settling FINRA’s case but without denying or admitting to the regulator’s findings.

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Meyers Associates is Fined by FINRA Over Misleading Sales Literature
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering Meyers Associates, now called Windsor Street Capital, to pay a $75K fine for a number of securities violations, including sending sales literature that was misleading via email and not supervising books and records preparations. The firm’s principal, Bruce Meyers, is now barred from working as a firm supervisor or principal.

According to the regulator’s National Adjudicatory Council, Meyers Association has been named in 16 disciplinary actions this century. It paid about $390K in sanctions for different issues, including issuing false statements, supervisory deficiencies, omissions related to a securities offering, improper review of emails, inadequate maintenance of books and records, and not reporting customer complaints in a timely manner. Last year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission turned down Meyers’ appeal of a FINRA securities ruling that prevented him from serving as firm CEO.

Ex-RBS Trader Banned and Fined £250,000 for Manipulating Libor
The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority has banned ex-Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) trader Neil Danzinger from the securities industry and ordered him to pay a $338,000 over allegations that he rigged the London interbank offered rate (Libor). According to the regulator, Danziger, a former RBS interest rate derivatives trader, “routinely” asked RBS Libor submitters to modify the rate to benefit his trading positions. He also allegedly factored in certain trading positions when serving as a submitter and on more than one occasion got a broker to help him to rig other banks’ yen Libor submissions.

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Raymond James Financial to Pay Fine to FINRA Over Email Communications
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined Raymond James Financial Services (RJF) $2M for not maintaining supervisory systems and procedures that were “reasonably designed” enough to oversee emails. The firm settled the case but without denying or admitting to the charges. It also agreed to a risk-based retrospective review of past emails for potential violations.

FINRA examined Raymond James’ email system “during a nine-year review period.” According to the self-regulatory organization, the system had significant flaws that allowed email communications to not undergo “meaningful review.” As a result, “unreasonable risk” was created that could have allowed for “certain misconduct” to go undetected. Also, the firm did not assign enough resources or staff to the team tasked with evaluating emails that had been flagged by the system, even as the number of flagged correspondence grew in volume.

FINRA said that Raymond James “unreasonably excluded” certain personnel who worked on customer brokerage accounts from “email surveillance.” The SRO claims that the emails of 300 registered representatives who were employed in branches with their own email servers were not subject to the “lexicon” of phrases and words for detecting emails that might merit review for potentially suspect conduct.

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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.

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SEC Awards Whistleblower $4.1M
A company insider who notified the US Securities Exchange Commission about a “widespread, multi-year securities law violation” involving the employer, is getting a $4.1M whistleblower award. The individual, who is a foreign national employed abroad, also provided information and help during the regulator’s probe. Further details about the case have been kept confidential so as to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of the whistleblower.

This is the third whistleblower award issued this month by the SEC. The regulator awarded two other people $8M each for their help in another successful enforcement action.

To date, the SEC whistleblower program has awarded 50 whistleblowers over $179M.

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Craig Scott Capital, LLC Loses FINRA Membership After Its Representatives Are Accused of Excessive Trading
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has expelled Craig Scott Capital, LLC over finding that three of the firm’s registered representatives allegedly engaged in excessive trading in the accounts of customers. The self-regulatory organization said that the charges imposed on customers, including markdowns, markups, and commissions, were not in line with the latter’s financial states and goals.

Now, FINRA is holding Craig Scott Capital accountable for the excessive trading, which it described as churning. This type of excessive trading involves making trades in a customer’s account in order to earn a commission.

FINRA is also accusing the firm of not putting into place and enforcing a “reasonable supervisory system” to prevent excessive trading and failing to properly supervise the registered representatives involved in the alleged wrongdoing so these behaviors could have been prevented. The regulator accused Craig Scott’s owners of not taking reasonable action even though they detected the red flags indicating that excessive trading might be taking place.

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FINRA Orders JPMorgan Securities to Pay $1.25M
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that J.P. Morgan Securities LLC (JPM) will pay $1.25M for not conducting proper background checks—or, in certain instances, conducting them but not in a timely enough manner—from 1/2009 through 5/2017 on 8,600 of its associated persons that were non-registered. According to the self-regulatory organization, this included the failure to properly fingerprint about 2,000 non-registered associated persons. The lapses kept the brokerage firm from knowing whether these individuals should be disqualified from employment.

Meantime, other non-registered associates persons who were fingerprinted were only screened for criminal convictions as they related to federal banking laws, as well as to list that was “internally created.” Still, said FINRA, four people who warranted disqualification due to a prior criminal conviction were allowed to work as non-registered associated persons.

Under federal securities laws, breakage firms must fingerprint certain associated staff even if they are employed in a non-registered manner because they could still pose a risk to customers otherwise. Fingerprinting allows for the identification of folk convicted of past crimes that may disqualify them from working for a firm in an associated role.

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FINRA is ordering Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (MS) to pay about $9.8M in restitution to and a $3.25M fine for purportedly not properly supervising hundreds of financial representatives who sold short-term trades of UITs. The firm settled without denying or admitting to the regulator’s charges.

According to the self-regulatory organization, from 2/2012 through 6/2015, the brokerage firm’s representatives effected short-term UIT rollovers, including a number of them more than 100 days prior to maturity, in customer accounts. FINRA said that the firm did not properly supervise these reps, when they engaged in the UIT sales, nor did it properly train them regarding the investments. It also purportedly failed to give supervisors adequate guidance about how to study transactions for signs of unsuitable short-term trading. Morgan Stanley is accused of failing to put into effect a system “adequate” enough to identify short-term UIT rollovers and of not providing supervisory assessment for UIT rollovers before execution.

UITs
Unit investment trusts are investment companies that offer units in a securities of a portfolio. They are subject to termination on a certain maturity date, usually after 15 months or 24 months. They typically come with certain fees, including a creation fee and a deferred sales charge. According to FINRA, when a new UIT compels a customer to be pay higher sales charges over time, this could be a red flag indicating suitability issues.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority extended hearing panel has ordered brokerage firm C.L. King & Associates, Inc. to pay a $750,000 for purportedly acting negligently by making material representations and omissions to issuers in connections with debt securities redemptions for a hedge fund customer. The panel said that the broker-dealer and Gregg Alan Miller, its Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Officer, did not put into place a reasonable AML program and failed to adequately react to red flags indicating that the liquidation of billions of penny stock shares involving two customers might be signs of suspect activity. Miller has been suspended from fulfilling a principal role for half a year and he must pay a $20K fine.

Per the hearing panel’s ruling, the hedge fund’s manager set up joint accounts at the firm. A number of terminally ill people were given joint tenancy with survivorship rights to the accounts and they were paid $10K, after which they gave up their ownership rights to the assets in the accounts.

The accounts were used to buy corporate bonds at reduced rates that came with a survivor option. This feature made it possible for the manager, as the survivor of the joint account, to redeem investments from issuers through the brokerage firm for the full principal figure prior to maturity once the joint tenant had died. The FINRA panel said that CL King had a duty to let issuers know when the redemption process was taking place that the joint tenants that were terminally ill and not beneficiaries of the investments.

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In a settlement with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a number of Cetera Financial Group brokerage firms have agreed to collectively pay $3.3M for not properly supervising whether mutual fund sales charge waivers were applied correctly clients at charitable organizations and in retirement plans. The firms that have settled include Cetera Financial Specialists, Cetera Investment Services, Summit Brokerage Services, First Allied Securities, and Girard Securities.

The $3.3M is how much these clients were excessively charged plus interest for the mutual funds that they bought from July 2009 to July 2017. According to the self-regulatory organization, the brokerage firms either: charged front-end sales charges to charitable organization and retirement plan customers that bought A shares in mutual funds even though they were eligible to have these fees waived or sold them class C/B shares while charging them back-end sales charges and “higher ongoing fees and expenses.”

FINRA accused the Cetera firms of not reasonably supervising the way the sales charges waivers were applied to the mutual fund sales and leaving it up to financial advisers to decide whether the waivers should be applied. The SRO also contends that the broker-dealers did not maintain written policies and procedures that were adequate enough to help financial advisers in making such determinations.

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