Articles Posted in FINRA

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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In the securities arbitration claim brought by a wine mogul against Fidelity Brokerage Services, a Financial Industry Regulatory panel may not have ordered the financial firm to pay claimant Peter Deutsch compensation but that doesn’t mean the panelists believe that the broker-dealer placed its former client’s interests before its own.

Deutsch’s family’s company, Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, markets Yellow Tail and Beaujolais Nouveau wines. He is accusing Fidelity of not handling his account properly when he bet on Chinese shares. He claims that this cost him up to $436M. Deutsch contends that he believed Fidelity unit Fidelity Family Office when it told him his best interests were the firm’s priority but they then allegedly proceeded to ignore what he wanted and lent out shares belonging to him. The brokerage unit also stopped Deutsch’s trading in China Medical Technology shares when it prevented him from buying an additional 50 million stock shares. Now he claims that this foiled his attempt to gain a controlling stake in the company.

Ruling on Deutsch’s bid for damages last month, the arbitrators turned down that request “in its entirety” on the grounds that they believe he would have lost money anyways even if Fidelity had dealt with his account differently. The panel agreed with the firm in that calculating damages could not be done in a way that wasn’t based on hypotheticals. The arbitrators didn’t weigh in on his claim that the broker-dealer acted inappropriately by lending his shares to short-sellers.

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Investment Firm and Its CEO Are Expelled and Barred for Inflating the Price of Shares Before Selling Them

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has expelled Hallmark Investments and barred Steven G. Dash, who is the firm’s CEO, over a securities scam that involved selling stocks at inflated prices. According to the self-regulatory organization, Hallmark, Dash, and firm representative Stephen P. Zipkin used an outside broker-dealer and engaged in manipulative trading, as well as in trade confirmations that were misleading, to sell almost 40,000 shares of stock to 14 customers at prices that were fraudulently inflated. Zipkin has been suspended by FINRA for two years and he will have to pay over $18K in restitution.

Hallmark purportedly employed a trading scam to sell the Avalanche shares that they owned at $3/share. Meantime, the prices for Avalanche were selling at the public offering price of $2.05/share and Hallmark sold other Avalanche shares to other customers for as low as 80 cents/share. Also, the investment firm, Zipkin, and Dash failed to tell customers that Hallmark owned the shares they were buying or that it was marking up the transactions (or that the shares could be bought for less on the open market) even as it sold the shares to others at lower prices.

Four Firms Are Ordered to Pay $4.75M for Market Access Rule Violations

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, CBOE Holdings company Bats, the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, and their affiliated Exchanges have fined four financial firms $4.75M collectively for violating the Securities Exchange Act of 1934’s Rule 15c3-5, which is also known as the Market Access Rule. The fines are: $2.5M for Deutsche Bank (DB), $800K for J.P. Morgan (JPM), $1M for Citigroup (C), and $450K for Interactive Brokers (IBKR).

The firms have given market access to quite a number clients that engage in millions of trades daily. However, according to FINRA, Bats, NASDAQ, and NYSE, when doing so, they purportedly did not comply with at least one of the Market Access Rule’s provisions when they did not put in place certain risk management controls and procedures so that orders that were “erroneous or duplicative,” or went beyond certain kinds of thresholds, could be detected or prevented. The firms are also accused of not having systems in place for properly supervising customer trading so that “potentially volatile and manipulative activity” could be avoided.

Judge Orders Deutsche Bank Subsidiary to Pay $150Mfor Libor Rigging
A federal judge is ordering Deutsche Bank Group Services, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bank (DB), to pay $150M for its involvement in an interest rate manipulation scam. The London unit pleaded guilty last year to rigging the London Interbank Offered Rate benchmark.

The fine comes two years after Deutsche Bank settled Libor rigging allegations with US and British regulators for $2.5B. According to prosecutors, derivatives traders at the German bank and at other banks colluded together to manipulate LIBOR rates to preference their trading positions.

Libor rigging allegations are not the only claims that Deutsche Bank has been contending with. Recently, the German Bank reached a $7.2B settlement with the US DOJ over its part in the 2008 global financial crisis. Meantime, NY and British officials ordered Deutsche Bank to pay $630M in fines because of alleged money laundering that occurred in Russia.

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Ex-Investment Adviser Loses Arbitration Claim Over Gold Exchange-Traded Fund
Ex-financial adviser Dawn Bennett is on the losing end of a $1M securities arbitration claim brought by a former client who claims that she recommended he invest in a gold exchange-traded fund. Steven Santagati brought his ETF securities case to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. He alleged failure to supervise, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence.

InvestmentNews reports that in an interview this week, Santagati accused Bennett of taking advantage of his lack of understanding about “financial details.” Santagati said that Bennett leveraged his account and invested in risky investments, including the SPDR Gold Shares exchange traded fund.

Finra awarded Santagati $746K. Western International Securities, which was Bennett’s ex-brokerage firm, and her Bennett Group Financial Services are additional respondents in this case. They were found “jointly and severally” liable for the violations. In addition to Santagati’s award, they must pay $27K in expert witness fees and $252K in legal fees.

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Voya Accused of Not Disclosing Revenue Received for Mutual Fund Sales
The US Securities and Exchange Commission said that Voya Financial Advisors (VOYA) would pay approximately $3.1M to regulators and investors for not telling customers about revenue the firm was paid related to a mutual fund program that didn’t bill transaction fees. Voya’s clearing broker-dealer paid the firm a percentage of the money made from the mutual fund sales. This was information that should have been shared with investors.

Also, since 2014, Voya and the third-party brokerage firm were involved in a separate agreement under which Voya provided certain administrative services in return for a percentage of service fees involving certain mutual funds. The regulator said that these payments were a conflict because they gave Voya incentive to preference these funds over other investments, which could have impacted what the firm recommended to advisory clients. As part of the settlement, Voya will pay about $2.6M of disgorgement, approximately $175K of interest, and a $300K penalty. The firm is not, however, denying or admitting to the SEC’s findings.

Fired Waddell & Reed Broker is Barred from the Securities Industry
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred an ex-Waddell & Reed Inc. broker from the industry. Paul D. Stanley was fired from the firm last year for allegedly violating its policies regarding supervision, compensation, and conduct.

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FINRA Fines LPL Financial $900K

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined LPL Financial (LPLA) for either not sending or failing to create records showing that it had sent over 1.6 million mandatory account notices to customers over a 36-month period. Under industry rules, account notices have to be sent to customers at three-year intervals which is when determination of suitability is evaluated. FINRA said that LPL did not send more than 25% of such written notices over a period of seven years.

The financial firm accepted the self-regulatory organization’s settlement but is not denying or admitting to the findings. However an LPL spokesperson said in an email that the firm had self-reported the matter and was committed to “enhancing” structures for compliance and risk management.