Articles Posted in Securities Fraud

FINRA, a regulator of the securities industry, recently barred North Carolina broker Christina Peterman after she failed to respond to a FINRA request for information and documents.  The Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent states that the investigation related to a filing by her Broker-Dealer firm, Truist Investment Services, Inc. stating that she had been discharged based on the allegation that she “accessed client information without a business purpose and engaged in unauthorized client transactions.”

Unauthorized trading by investment advisors is generally considered to be a fraudulent activity.  Typically, unless discretion to trade without speaking to the customer is granted to the broker in writing, the broker is required to obtain permission for all transactions for the customer after discussing the relevant factors which form the basis for a recommended trade.

Greco & Greco has represented North Carolina investors for decades in FINRA arbitrations based on wrongful conduct by stock brokers and their brokerage firms.  If you believe you may have been harmed by a broker’s bad acts, please contact Securities Fraud Lawyer Scott Greco for a free attorney consultation about your case.

 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced significant penalties against sixteen firms for widespread recordkeeping failures, amounting to over $81 million in combined fines. Among the firms involved were Northwestern Mutual Investment Services LLC, Guggenheim Securities LLC, Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Cambridge Investment Research Inc., Key Investment Services LLC, Lincoln Financial Advisors Corporation, U.S. Bancorp Investments Inc., and The Huntington Investment Company. The penalties stem from the firms’ failure to maintain and preserve electronic communications, a violation of federal securities laws. These actions highlight the SEC’s commitment to enforcing compliance with recordkeeping requirements essential for monitoring and enforcing securities laws.

Of particular note is The Huntington Investment Company’s case, which stands out due to its self-reporting and cooperation with the SEC. As a result, Huntington was ordered to pay a lower civil penalty compared to other firms, totaling $1.25 million. This demonstrates the importance of voluntary disclosure and cooperation in regulatory investigations.

The investigations uncovered widespread use of unapproved communication methods, such as personal text messages, across all sixteen firms. Employees at various levels, including supervisors and senior managers, were involved in these violations. The failure to maintain and preserve required records potentially deprived the SEC of crucial information in various investigations.

An Atlanta, Georgia area investment adviser, John Woods, was recently sentenced to 8 years in prison for his role in operating a ponzi scheme. Operating over a staggering 13-year period, Woods defrauded more than 400 individuals, including retirees, seniors, and military veterans, resulting in a loss exceeding $49 million. Under the guise of his fund, “Horizon Private Equity,” Woods promised lucrative returns of six to seven percent to potential investors, claiming minimal risk and a diverse portfolio. However, investigations revealed that the money collected from new investors was used to pay returns to earlier investors, constituting a classic Ponzi scheme.

The case underscores the importance of regulatory vigilance in the investment industry. Despite assurances of safety and profitability, Woods’s actions demonstrated a flagrant abuse of trust, ultimately causing financial ruin to hundreds of victims across 20 different states.

Investment Advisers are fiduciaries, and as such they owe their customers duties of care and loyalty, both of which were flagrantly breached in this situation.  Mr. Woods was a longtime investment adviser representative at Oppenheimer & Co., Inc.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently issued a disciplinary order against Christopher Booth Kennedy, a former registered representative with Western International Securities, for a series of egregious violations. The order which can be found here, stemming from a complaint filed by FINRA’s Department of Enforcement, outlines Kennedy’s misconduct between July 2020 and July 2021. During this period, Kennedy engaged in churning and excessive trading in the accounts of six customers, resulting in significant financial losses.  The Order bars Kennedy from associating with a FINRA firm.

Kennedy’s actions, as detailed in the findings and conclusions of the order, paint a troubling picture of misconduct and deceit. He directed over 5,300 trades totaling more than $350 million in the accounts of six customers, with an average of 102 trades per account each month. These excessive transactions generated substantial commissions for Kennedy while causing substantial losses for his clients. Moreover, Kennedy went to lengths to conceal the true extent of these losses by fabricating account statements and providing false information to his clients.

The disciplinary order found Kennedy in violation of several securities regulations, including Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Regulation Best Interest, and various FINRA rules.

A former stockbroker / investment advisor from Bergen County, New Jersey, has been indicted for allegedly stealing over $3 million from five unsuspecting clients. Kenneth A. Welsh, 42, of River Edge, has been charged with four counts of wire fraud and one count of investment advisor fraud, as announced by U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger on November 16, 2023.

According to the indictment, from July 2017 through March 2021, Welsh, operating as a financial advisor registered with Wells Fargo Clearing Services, purportedly abused his position to misappropriate funds entrusted to him by clients. Instead of responsibly managing their investments, Welsh is accused of diverting substantial sums into accounts under his control, leaving his clients in financial distress. The charges carry severe penalties, with each wire fraud count potentially leading to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the investment advisor fraud count could result in five years behind bars and a $10,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.

The indictment details that Mr. Welsh allegedly used multiple fraudulent means to siphon off customer funds, including having customers sign forms in blank, fraudulently forging signatures, and carrying out unauthorized wires from customer accounts.

Miche Jean was a registered securities salesperson with Morgan Stanley in Rockville, Maryland since 2015. However, on November 12, 2020, Morgan Stanley submitted a Termination Notice (Form U5), indicating that they terminated Jean’s employment due to concerns related to his trading strategy for certain clients, potential unauthorized discretion in specific accounts, and incomplete and delayed communication with clients regarding transactions. Furthermore, on March 30, 2021, an amended Form U5 disclosed a customer complaint alleging unauthorized trading with exchange-traded funds (ETFs) during Jean’s tenure at Morgan Stanley.

Then, on November 15, 2022, the Maryland Securities Commissioner issued a Consent Order in which Jean admitted to fraudulent actions during his time with Morgan Stanley in Maryland. Specifically, he was found to have initiated four ACH transfers, totaling $10,182, from a Morgan Stanley customer’s brokerage account to cover his personal credit card expenses.

FINRA, a national self-regulatory securities regulator, recently barred Mr. Miche from the industry pursuant to a decision by its Office of Hearing Officers.

The local Virginia Securities Fraud Lawyers of Greco & Greco are currently representing multiple Virginia customers of Richmond, Virginia based broker John Starke. These claims for investment losses have been filed in FINRA arbitration against Mr. Starke’s brokerage firm, Centaurus Financial.

As shown by Mr. Starke’s FINRA Brokercheck report, found here, in the last two years customers have filed seven complaints against Mr. Starke, most involving allegations of the sale of illiquid, unsuitable, and high-risk investments.

Alternative Investments, which include REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), are often sold as an alternative to more traditional stocks, bonds, and stock and bond funds. These higher-risk investments are often touted for their high returns, especially in a low interest rate environment, however those high returns are accompanied with corresponding high risk.

On July 25, 2023, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) against LPL Financial LLC, a prominent independent securities broker headquartered in Fort Mill, South Carolina. This disciplinary action followed a series of egregious violations that involved the conversion/theft of approximately $2.4 million of customer funds by two of the firm’s brokers.

Background

The AWC against LPL Financial LLC was the result of a failure to reasonably supervise the transmittal of customer funds, which enabled two firm registered representatives to convert substantial sums of money for their personal use. The findings by FINRA in the AWC are outlined below:

FINRA announced last month that it has barred Charlotte, North Carolina based financial advisor Christopher J. Carpenter.  The FINRA Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent states that Mr. Carpenter failed to produce documents or information requested in response to a FINRA investigation.

The investigation allegedly was initiated in response to a Uniform Termination Notice for Securities Industry Registration (Form U5), reporting Carpenter’s discharge from his firm, LPL Financial. The Form U5 stated that LPL was reviewing Carpenter’s “alleged participation in unapproved real estate investments with customers.”

Mr. Carpenter’s FINRA Brokercheck report states that he was registered with LPL in Charlotte from 2020 to 2023, and prior to that he was registered with Spire Securities.

The online FINRA Brokercheck report for former Western International broker Chris Kennedy shows eleven different customer complaints.  These complaints include allegations of unauthorized trading, unsuitability, breach of fiduciary duty, and other wrongful conduct.  Many of the complaints have been settled, with one settled for over 2.7 million dollars.

The Brokercheck report also states that Western International discharged Mr. Kennedy in 2021 after allegations were made about unauthorized options trading.

Mr. Kennedy was registered with Western at a branch office in Woodland Hills, California and Tarzana, California.

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