Articles Posted in Misrepresentations and Omissions

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against “repeat securities law violator” Steven J. Muehler, who it has barred from associating with any broker-dealer since 2016. Once again, the regulator is accusing him of defrauding small businesses.

Muehler and his companies Altavista Capital Markets LLC, Alta Vista Securities, LLC, and Alta Vista Private Client, LLC—all unregistered brokerage firms— offered broker-dealer services to a number of small business clients. Services include finding investors and raising money from them through an online securities change that was supposedly proprietary. In exchange, fees were paid to Muehler and his brokerage firms, as well as rights to a percentage of the funds raised and equity in each business.

Muehler and his firms claimed that they have been successful in raising millions of dollars on clients’ behalf. However, in a previous SEC case, he admitted defrauding small businesses.

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After backing Outcome Health, an advertising company, Goldman Sachs Investment Partners (GS) and other investors are among those suing the startup for fraud and to get their money back. The lawsuit, filed a couple of months ago, comes in the wake of allegations that investors were fooled by inflated information financial performances and were charged for ad space that they never received. Outcome denies any wrongdoing.

It wasn’t too long ago that the company was generating high profits and revenue, while investors were told that their returns were guaranteed. Just last spring, institutional investors, including Goldman, infused $478M into the ad company, which streams pharmaceutical advertising onto tablets and flatscreens at doctor offices.

According to the Wall Street Journal, there had been red flags even back then. The newspaper noted how even the “savviest investors” can miss or ignore warnings. For example, Outcome already had a lot of debt, including $325M for a loan. It also lacked an independent board to conduct oversight and its co-founders were poised to make an “unusually large payout.”

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The CFTC is accusing Peregrine Financial Group and its owner Russell R. Wasendorf, Sr. of misappropriating client monies, including statements that were untrue in financial statements submitted to the CFTC, and violating customer fund segregation laws. The Commission filed its securities fraud complaint against the registered futures commission merchant in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Per the CFTC’s complaint, during an audit by the National Futures Association, Peregrine misrepresented that it was holding more than $200M of client funds when it only held about $5.1M. The regulator says that the whereabouts of this at least $200 million in customer fund shortfall are not known at this time. In the wake of the allegations, Peregrine has told its clients that it was being investigated for “accounting irregularities.”

The Commission contends that beginning at least 2/2010 until now, Peregrine and Wasendorf did not meet CFTC Regulations and the Commodity Exchange Act by not maintaining enough client money in accounts that were segregated. The brokerage and its owner also are accused of making false statements about the funds that were being segregated for clients that were trading on US Exchanges in required filings.

Wasendorf, who reportedly tried to kill himself on Monday is now in a coma. The NFA just recently was given information that he may have been responsible for a number of falsified bank records.

The CFTC wants a restraining order to preserve records, freeze assets,, and establish a receiver. It is seeking disgorgement, restitution, financial penalties, and other appropriate financial relief.

Yesterday, Peregrine’s clearing broker Jefferies Group Inc. said that it had started unloading positions held for the futures brokerage’s clients after a margin call was not met. Jeffries Group doesn’t expect to sustain losses.

Meantime, the NFA and “other officials, have frozen all customer funds and Peregrine is not allowed to accept or solicit new client funds or accounts or make trades for customers unless it involves liquidating positions or distributing their money. Also looking into this financial matter is the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

It was just this year that a court-appointed receiver in Minnesota sued Peregrine over allegedly disregarding warning signs that the futures brokerage’s client Trevor Cook was running a Ponzi scam. According to the securities lawsuit, investments by Cook and others with Peregrine that were supposedly profitable sustained over $30 million in losses as the allegedly culpable participants moved about $48 million from clients to Peregrine accounts.

According to Fox Business, the fallout from these latest allegations against Peregrine could be bigger than the MF Global collapse as traders blame regulators for not doing enough and industry members fight to recapture investor confidence.

CFTC Files Complaint Against Peregrine Financial Group, Inc. and Russell R. Wasendorf, Sr. Alleging Fraud, Misappropriation of Customer Funds, Violation of Customer Fund Segregation Laws, and Making False Statements
, CFTC, July 10, 2012

Peregrine Financial Allegedly Has $200 Million Shortfall, Bloomberg, July 10, 2012

PFG Scandal Deepens as CFTC Files Claim, Fox Business News/Reuters, July 10, 2012

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ABA Presses for Self-Funding for SEC and CFTC, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 31, 2012

CFTC and SEC May Need to Work Out Key Differences Related to Over-the-Counter Derivatives Rulemaking, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, January 31, 2012

SEC and CFTC Say They Found Out About JPMorgan’s $2B Trading Loss Through Media, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 31, 2012

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In U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, federal judge Manuel Real threw out five of the seven securities claims made by the Securities and Exchange Commission in its fraud lawsuit against ex-IndyMac Bancorp chief executive Michael Perry and former finance chief Scott
Keys. The Commission is accusing the two men of covering up the now failed California mortgage lender’s deteriorating liquidity position and capital in 2008. Real’s bench ruling dilutes the SEC’s lawsuit against the two men.

The Commission contends that Keys and Perry misled investors while trying to raise capital and preparing to sell $100 million in new stock before July 2008, which is when thrift regulators closed IndyMac Bank, F.S.B and the holding company filed for bankruptcy protection. They are accusing Perry of letting investors receive misleading or false statements about the company’s failing financial state that omitted material information. (S. Blair Abernathy, also a former IndyMac chief financial officer, had also been sued by the SEC. However, rather that fight the lawsuit, he chose to settle without denying or admitting to any wrongdoing.)

Attorneys for Perry and Keys had filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that five of the seven filings that the SEC is targeting cannot support the claims. Real granted that motion last month, finding that IndyMac’s regulatory filings lacked any misleading or false statements to investors and did not leave out key information.

The remaining claims revolve around whether the bank properly disclosed in its 2008 first-quarter earnings report (and companion slideshow presentation) the financial hazards it was in at the time. The judge also ruled that Perry could not be made to pay back allegedly ill-gotten gains.

Real’s decision substantially narrows the Commission’s securities case against Perry and Keys. According to Reuters, the ruling also could potentially end the lawsuit against Keys because he was on a leave of absence during the time that the matters related to the filings that are still at issue would have occurred.

Before its collapse in 2008, Countrywide spinoff IndyMac was the country’s largest issuers of alt-A mortgage, also called “liar loans.” These high-risk home loans are primarily based on simple statements from borrowers of their income instead of tax returns. Unfortunately, loan defaults ended up soaring and a mid-2008 run on deposits at IndyMac contributed to its collapse. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, which places its IndyMac losses at $13 billion, went on to sell what was left of the bank to private investors. IndyMac is now OneWest bank.

Judge dismisses parts of IndyMac fraud case, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2012

3 Former IndyMac Executives Are Accused of Fraud, New York Times, February 11, 2011

Read the SEC Complaint (PDF)

More Blog Posts:
SEC Looks Likely to Win Appeal in $285M Securities Settlement that Judge Rakoff Rejected, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, March 15, 2012

Citigroup’s $75 Million Securities Fraud Settlement with the SEC Over Subprime Mortgage Debt Approved by Judge, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 23, 2010

Alleged Ponzi-Like Real Estate Investment Scam that Defrauded Victims of $9M Leads to SEC Charges Against New Jersey Man, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 24, 2012

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Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (CLQ) has consented to pay the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority a $3.5M fine to settle allegations that he gave out inaccurate information about subprime residential mortgage-backed securities. The SRO is also accusing the financial firm of supervisory failures and inadequate maintenance of records and books.

Per FINRA, beginning January 2006 through October 2007, Citigroup published mortgage performance information that was inaccurate on its Web site, including inaccurate information about three subprime and Alt-A securitizations that may have impacted investors’ assessment of subsequent RMB. Citigroup also allegedly failed to supervise the pricing of MBS because of a lack of procedures to verify pricing and did not properly document the steps that were executed to evaluate the reasonableness of the prices provided by traders. The financial firm is also accused of not maintaining the needed books and records, including original margin call records. By settling, Citigroup is not denying or admitting to the FINRA securities charges.

In other institutional investment securities news, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Kent Whitney an ex-registered floor broker at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, agreed to pay $600K to settle allegations by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that he made statements that were “false and misleading” to the exchange and others about a scam to trade options without posting margin. The CFTC contends that between May 2008 and April 2010, Whitney engaged in the scam on eight occasions, purposely giving out clearing firms that had invalid account numbers in connection with trades made on the New York Mercantile Exchange CME trading floors. He is said to have gotten out of posting over $96 million in margin.

The SEC has charged David M. Connolly with running a Ponzi-like scam involving investment vehicles that bought and managed Pennsylvania and New Jersey apartment rental buildings. According to prosecutors in New Jersey, Connolly’s alleged victims were defrauded of $9 million. He also faces criminal charges.

None of Connolly’s securities offerings were registered with the SEC. (Since 1996, he had raised more $50 million from over 200 clients who invested in over two dozen investment vehicles.)

Per the Commission’s complaint, in 2006 Connolly allegedly started misrepresenting to clients that their funds were to be solely used for the property linked to the vehicle they had in invested in when (unbeknownst to them) he actually was mixing monies in bank accounts and using their funds for other purposes. Although clients were promised monthly dividends from cash-flow profits that were to come from apartment rentals and their principal’s growth from property appreciation, these projected funds did not materialize. Instead, Connolly allegedly ran a Ponzi-like scam that involved earlier investors getting their dividend payments from the money of newer investors.

He also allegedly made materially false and misleading omissions and statements about: investors’ money being placed in escrow until a purported real estate transaction closed, the financial independence and state of each property, the amount of equity victims had in properties, and the condition of each property. (Also containing allegedly false material misrepresentations and omissions was the “offering prospectus,” which provided information about how the investment vehicles would use the investor funds, the projected investment returns, prior vehicles performances, the mortgage financials for the real estate held in the investment vehicles, and the apartment buildings’ vacancy rates.)

Connolly is accused of improperly using proceeds from refinanced properties to keep his scheme running, and he even allegedly took $2 million of investors’ funds for himself. After he stopped giving dividend payments to investors in April 2009 (when money from new investors stopped coming in and the investment vehicles’ properties went into foreclosure), Connolly allegedly kept making sure he was getting dividends and a $250,000 income from the remaining client funds.

Meantime, a federal grand jury has charged him with one count of securities fraud, three counts of wire fraud, five counts of mail fraud, and seven counts of money laundering. A conviction for securities fraud comes with a 20-year maximum prison term and a $5 million fine. The other charges also come with hefty sentences and fines.

Read the SEC Complaint (PDF)

Multimillion-Dollar Real Estate Ponzi Schemer Indicted For Fraud And Money Laundering, Justice.gov, May 17, 2012

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Dallas Man Involved in $485M Ponzi Scams, Including the Fraud Involving Provident Royalties in Texas, Gets Twenty Year Prison Term, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, May 8, 2012

REIT Retail Properties of America’s $8 Public Offering Results in Major Losses for Fund Investors, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, April 17, 2012

JPMorgan Chase $2B Trading Loss Leads to Probes by the SEC, Federal Reserve, and FBI, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 15, 2012

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Two securities lawsuits have been filed on behalf of shareholders and investors of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) over the financial firm’s $2 billion trading loss from synthetic credit products. According to CEO Jamie Dimon, the massive loss is a result of “egregious” failures made by the financial firm’s chief investment office and a hedging strategy that failed. Both complaints were filed on Tuesday in federal court.

One securities case was brought by Saratoga Advantage Trust — Financial Services Portfolio. The Arizona trust is seeking to represent everyone who suffered losses on the stock that it contends were a result of alleged misstatements the investment bank had made. Affected investors would have bought the stock on April 13 (or later), which is the day that Dimon had minimized any concerns about the financial firm’s trading risk during a conference call.

Per Saratoga Advantage Trust v JPMorgan Chase & Co., the week after the call, losses from the trades went up to about $200 million a day. The Arizona Trust is accusing Dimon and CFO Douglas Braunstein of issuing statements during that conversation that were misleading and “materially false,” as well as misrepresenting not just the losses but also the risks from major bets placed on “derivative contracts involving credit indexes reflecting corporate bonds interest rates.” As a result, when the derivate bets faltered “horribly,” the company suffered “billions of dollars in lost capital,” as well as additional losses in the billions for JPMorgan shareholders in terms of market capitalization. The securities fraud lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for investors.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has revived the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud lawsuit against Morgan Keegan & Co. accusing the financial firm of allegedly misleading investors about auction-rate securities. The federal appeals court said that a district judge was in error when he found that alleged misrepresentations made by the financial firm’s brokers were immaterial. The case will now go back to district court. Morgan Keegan is a Raymond James Financial Inc. (RJF) unit.

The SEC had sued Morgan Keegan in 2009. In its complaint, the Commission accused the financial firm of leaving investors with $2.2M of illiquid ARS. The agency said that Morgan Keegan failed to tell clients about the risks involved and that it instead promoted the securities as having “zero risk” or being “fully liquid” or “just like a money market.” The SEC demanded that Morgan Keegan buy back the debt sold to these clients.

In 2011, U.S. District Judge William Duffey ruled on the securities fraud lawsuit and found that Morgan Keegan did adequately disclose the risks involved. He said that even if some brokers did make misrepresentations, the SEC had failed to present any evidence demonstrating that the financial firm had put into place a policy encouraging its brokers-dealers to mislead investors about ARS liquidity. Duffey pointed to Morgan Keegan’s Web site, which disclosed the ARS risks. He said this demonstrated that there was no institutional intent to fool investors. He also noted that a “failure to predict the market” did not constitute securities fraud and that the Commission would need to show examples of alleged broker misconduct before Morgan Keegan could be held liable.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged six ex-executives of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) with securities fraud. The Commission claims that they not only knew that misleading statements were being made claiming that both companies had minimal holdings of higher-risk mortgage loans but also they approved these messages.

The six people charged are former Freddie Mac CEO and Chairman of the Board Richard F. Syron, ex-Chief Business Officer and Executive Vice President Patricia L. Cook, and former ex-Single Family Guarantee Executive Vice President Donald J. Bisenius. The three ex-Fannie Mae executives that the SEC has charged are former CEO Daniel H Mudd, ex-Fannie Mae’s Single Family Mortgage Executive Vice President Thomas A. Lund, and ex- Chief Risk Officer Enrico Dallavecchia.

In separate securities fraud lawsuits, the SEC accuses the ex-executives of causing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to issue materially misleading statements about their subprime mortgage loans in public statements, SEC filings, and media interviews and investor calls. SEC enforcement director Robert Khuzami says that the former executives “substantially” downplayed what their actual subprime exposure “really was.”

The SEC contends that in 2009, Fannie told investors that its books had about $4.8 billion of subprime loans, which was about .2% of its portfolio, when, in fact, the mortgage company had about $43.5 billion of these products, which is about 11% of its holdings. Meantime, in 2006 Freddie allegedly told investors that its subprime loans was somewhere between $2 to 6 billion when, according to the SEC, its holdings were nearer to $141 billion (10% of its portfolio). By 2008, Freddie had $244 billion in subprime loans, which was 14% of its portfolio.

Yet despite these facts, the ex-executives allegedly continued to maintain otherwise. For example, the SEC says that in 2007, Freddie CEO Syron said the mortgage firm had virtually “no subprime exposure.”

It was in 2008 that the government had to bail out both Fannie and Freddie. It continues to control both companies. The rescue has already cost taxpayers approximately $150 billion, and the Federal Housing Finance Administration, which acts as its governmental regulator, says that this figure could rise up to $259 billion.

Today, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae both entered into agreements with the government that admitted their responsibility for their behavior without denying or admitting to the charges. They also consented to work with the SEC in their cases against the ex-executives.

The Commission is seeking disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus interest, financial penalties, officer and director bars, and permanent and injunctive relief.

Ex-Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac execs charged with fraud, USA Today/AP, December 16, 2011

SEC Charges Former Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Executives with Securities Fraud, SEC, December 16, 2011


More Blog Posts:

Former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Told Hedge Funds About Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Bailouts in Advance, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 30, 2011

Morgan Keegan Settles Subprime Mortgage-Backed Securities Charges for $200M, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 29, 2011

Freddie Mac and Fannie May Drop After They Delist Their Shares from New York Stock Exchange, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 25, 2010

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Bank of America, Corp. has agreed to pay investors $315 million to settle their class action claim accusing Merrill Lynch of misleading them about the risks involved in investing in mortgage-backed securities. If approved, the proposed settlement would be one of the largest reached over MBS that caused investors major losses when the housing market collapsed. The lead plaintiff in this securities case is the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi pension fund.

The class action lawsuit accused Merrill of misleading investors about $16.5 billion of MBS in 18 offerings that were made between 2006 and 2007. They are claiming possible losses in the billions of dollars. (The offerings occurred before Bank of America bought Merrill.)

The plaintiffs contend that Merrill’s offering documents were misleading. They also believe that the original investment-grade ratings for the securities, which had been backed by loans from Countrywide, IndyMac Bancorp Inc., First Franklin Financial unit, and New Century Financial Corp. were unmerited. Most of these investments were later downgraded to “junk” status.

By agreeing to settle, Bank of America is not admitting to or denying wrongdoing.

This settlement must be approved by US District Judge Jed Rakoff, who just last week rejected the proposed $285M securities settlement between Citigroup Global Markets Inc. and the Securities and Exchange Commission. He ordered that the case be resolved through trial. Rakoff was also the one who refused to approve another proposed Bank of America securities settlement—the one in 2009 with the SEC—for $33 million over misstatements that were allegedly made regarding the purchase of Merrill. Rakoff would later go on to approve the revised settlement of $150 million.

Rakoff has criticized a system that allows financial firms to settle securities fraud allegations against them without having to admit or deny wrongdoing. He also has expressed frustration at the “low” settlements some investment banks have been ordered to pay considering the amount of financial losses suffered by investors.

Our securities fraud lawyers represent individual and institutional clients that sustained losses related to non-traded REITs, private placements, principal protected notes, auction-rate securities, collateralized debt obligations, mortgage-backed securities, reverse convertible bonds, high yield-notes and other financial instruments that were mishandled by broker-dealers, investment advisers, or their representatives. We also work with victims of Ponzi scams, affinity scams, elder financial fraud and other financial schemes.

BofA Merrill unit in $315 mln mortgage settlement, Reuters, December 6, 2011

Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi


More Blog Posts:

Citigroup’s $285M Settlement With the SEC Is Turned Down by Judge Rakoff, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 28, 2011

Citigroup’s $285M Mortgage-Related CDO Settlement with Raises Concerns About SEC’s Enforcement Practices for Judge Rakoff, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 9, 2011

Ex-Lehman Brothers Holdings Chief Executive Defends Request that Insurance Fund Pay Legal Bills, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 19, 2011

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