Articles Posted in Uncategorized

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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Credit Suisse AG (CS) has agreed to settle currency rigging charges brought by New York’s Department of Financial Services by paying $135M. According to the state regulator, from at least ’08 to ’15, the Zurich-based bank violated NY banking law and engaged in other “unlawful conduct” that “disadvantaged customers.”

The consent order states that Credit Suisse did not put into place controls over its FX business that were “effective.” Also, its traders are accused of the “inappropriate sharing” of information with other banks that could have resulted in exchange rate rigging, coordination of trades, and a rise in the “ bid/ask spreads” that were offered to the bank’s forex customers. The DFS probe said that these actions were geared toward creating more profit for Credit Suisse, while decreasing its losses and harming not just its own customers but the marketplace. Meantime, other banks that it may have colluded with also sought to profit.

Credit Suisse is one of several banks whose traders are accused of gathering in chat rooms to rig currency prices. According to Bloomberg, traders from Barclays PLC (BARC), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), and Citigroup (C) are waiting for their trials over allegations that they sought to manipulate currencies. To date, banks accused of currency rigging have paid $5.8M to the US Justice Department to settle charges.

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Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC trustee Irving H. Picard announced that a settlement has been reached for $687M with Thema International Fund for its ties to the multibillion-dollar Madoff Ponzi Scam. Now, a court must approve the agreement.

According to Bloomberg, the “Irish investment fund funneled $1.1B” to the Ponzi scam that bilked thousands of investors, including those who were with offshore feeder funds, of billions of dollars over several decades. The $687M is representative of all the funds transferred from Madoff’s securities firm to Thema International prior to the former’s collapse, in addition to 19.26% of the withdrawals beyond that time period.

Thema International Fund belongs to a number of offshore entities with ties to Madoff friend and Austrian banker Sonja Kohn and the Benbasset family of Switzerland. Picard contends that Kohn and the Benbassets granted Madoff key access to funds as his Ponzi scam began to fail.

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Lord Abbett is suing Valeant Pharmaceuticals contending that the defendant violated New Jersey’s RICO law. The institutional investor is claiming $80B in losses. By invoking the state’s RICO law, Lord Abbett could seek a penalty three times greater than the actual losses it allegedly suffered when the pharmaceutical company’s share price went down.

According to the mutual fund company, it purchased Valeant’s debt securities at a price that was artificially inflated after the pharmaceutical company provided it with information that wasn’t correct. Now, Lord Abbett is alleging violations of RICO law in NJ, which is where Valeant is headquartered.

The institutional investor is not the only party to file a RICO case against Valeant. The other complaints are primarily over allegations that the pharmaceutical company committed fraud by engaging in business practices that were deceptive, including charging too much for drugs. These plaintiffs are claiming hundreds of millions of dollars of losses.

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In Manhattan appeals court, a panel for the Appellate Division, First Department ruled that Ambac Assurance Corp. must prove all common law fraud elements in its mortgage-backed securities case against Countrywide Home Loans. The insurer, which underwrote 17 residential mortgage-backed securitizations, filed its RMBS fraud lawsuit against Bank of America’s (BAC) Countrywide in 2010.

Bank of America purchased Countrywide in 2008. That same year, the bank settled civil fraud charges related to questionable mortgage practices from before the 2008 financial crisis by agreeing to pay $16.65B to state and federal authorities.

According to the RMBS fraud case, Ambac put out insurance policies that were irrevocable and without conditions when it guaranteed a number of principal payments plus interest to investors that backed Countrywide RMBSs. The financial guaranty insurer is now accusing Countrywide of breaking warranties and contractual representations involving securitizations and its business practices, as well as of putting out false statements about its loans and operations and, as a result, fraudulently compelling Ambac to issue certain policies.

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Bloomberg reports that according to sources, the US Securities and Exchange Commission has launched a probe into Statim Holdings. Inc., an Atlanta, Georgia-based financial firm, after the latter told investors in its main hedge fund that there was no risk of financial losses for investing. The regulator’s investigation comes in the wake of a state probe by the Georgia Securities Division. Statim is helmed by Joseph A. Meyer.

Meyer told investors in the Arjun fund’s main share class that they would never sustain financial losses. However, they have to commit their funds for a decade or lose 50% of their principal should they decide for early redemption.

The hedge fund manger has said that he uses a computerized system that he designed and he invests the bulk of clients’ funds in Treasury bonds. In 2015 Bloomberg News placed Arjun at number eight in its list of hedge funds that had assets ranging from $250M and $1B. BarclaysHedge has given 17 awards to Arjun.

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The US Supreme Court said that it will hear a securities fraud lawsuit accusing Leidos Inc. (LDOS) of leaving out key information, as well as misstating other important ones, in securities filings. The lead plaintiff in the case is the Indiana Public Retirement System, which brought its complaint in 2012.

The investor fraud lawsuit is related to a kickback scam that took place when Leidos, it was called Science Applications International Corp (SAIC) at the time, was constructing a computerized payroll system for New York City. The scam resulted in fraud charges being brought against two SAIC employees. The government contractor ended up paying over $500M in fines to settle related charges.

The Indiana retirement fund contends that SAIC failed to dislose its liability connected to the fraud when it submitted its filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission and that it only made the necessary disclosures in June 2011, which was months after the scam collapsed. Under SEC provision Item 303, companies must disclose uncertainties and trends that may impact their business. The retirement fund also is accusing SAIC of misstatements regarding ethics and internal controls, including the alleged misstatement that the contract with NY was immaterial to its operations.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering Purshe Kaplan Sterling Investments (PKS) to pay almost $3.4M in restitution to a Native American tribe. The tribe had paid excessive sales fees for the purchase of Business Development Companies (BDCs) and non-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).

Gopi Vungarala was the Purshe Kaplan Sterling registered representative for the tribe from 7/2011 through at least 1/15/15. He was also the tribe’s Treasury Investment Manager at the same time. It was his job was to oversee the group’s investment portfolio.

FINRA’s case against Vungarala in this matter has yet to be resolved. However, Purshe Kaplan Sterling must also pay $750K for its purportedly inadequate supervision of nontraded REIT and BDC sales.

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A 401(K) participant is suing Aon Hewitt for its purported involvement in a kickback scam involving Financial Engines. Aon Hewitt is not the first company to be subject to such allegations involving the 401(K) advice provider.

According to a participant in the Caterpillar 401(k) Retirement Plan, the alleged “covert kickback operations” cost retirement savers millions of dollars as a result of the excessive fees paid to Financial Engines for managed-account services. The complaint contends that the service fees were much higher than needed because of an agreement between Aon Hewitt and Financial Engines in which the latter paid the former kickbacks.

The kickbacks were purportedly a substantial percentage of the fees that Financial Engines charged, even though Hewitt and its sister companies, which are also defendants in the 401(K) lawsuit, didn’t provide any investment advisory services in exchange for the payments. According to plaintiff Cheryl Scott, Aon Hewitt received a 20-25% kickback.

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IT Specialist Accused of Hacking Expedia Executives and Insider Trading

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil insider trading charges against Jonathan Ly, who worked as a technology specialist for online travel company Expedia. According to the regulator, Ly hacked senior company executives and traded on company secrets ahead of nine announcements between 2013 and 2016.

As a result of his alleged insider trading, Lyn made almost $350K in profits. To settle the SEC case against him, Ly will pay over $348K of disgorgement and more than $27K in interest. This is a deal that still has to be subject to court approval.

Meantime, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington has filed parallel criminal charges against Ly.

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