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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.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken significant action against Bruderman Asset Management, now known as Gary Goldberg Planning Services, LLC (BAM), and its founder, Matthew J. Bruderman. The SEC has instituted public administrative and cease-and-desist proceedings against these entities, with a final Order found here, citing violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The proceedings revolve around the alleged misuse of client funds by BAM, which raised over $6.1 million from investment advisory clients and directed these funds towards entities with ties to Bruderman. The SEC alleges that these actions violated various sections of the Advisers Act, including Sections 206(2) and 206(4), and Rule 206(4)-7.

According to the SEC Order, between February 2017 and August 2021, BAM, under Bruderman’s direction, persuaded at least thirteen investment advisory clients to invest substantial amounts totaling $6.1 million in entities where Bruderman had significant ownership and decision-making authority. Shockingly, these clients were not informed that their investments would temporarily be diverted to cover expenses unrelated to their intended investments or to repay loans made by Bruderman himself.

One particularly concerning example involved a $500,000 equity investment, where $400,000 was transferred to Bruderman’s personal bank account to repay a loan owed by one of the entities. The clients invested based on BAM’s advice, unaware of the temporary diversion of their funds. Despite BAM’s written policies requiring disclosure of material conflicts of interest, these conflicts remained undisclosed, leaving clients in the dark about the use of their investments.

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 has announced on its website that it has barred Tennessee financial advisor D. Wray Rodgers of Collierville.  According to FINRA’s Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent, Mr. Rodgers was registered with the firm Vining-Sparks IBG, LLC, and FINRA had begun an investigation regarding “whether Rodgers engaged in an outside business activity without providing prior written notice to his member firm and whether he misused customer funds.”

Vining-Sparks had filed a U-5 filing for Mr. Rodgers stating that he had voluntarily resigned from the firm in May 2022.  According to the AWC, Mr. Rodgers failed to appear for related on the record testimony, and he and FINRA agreed to a sanction of a bar from registering with FINRA securities Broker-Dealers.

Mr. Rodgers’ FINRA Brokercheck report shows one customer complaint relating to an alleged failure to disclose risk from 2011, with a $105,000.00 settlement.

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.

Former RBC and Ameriprise securities broker Scott Jay Matalon of Jericho, New York was recently barred from the industry by FINRA, a securities regulator.  The Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent states that Mr. Matalon failed to produce documents or information in response to an investigation regarding an arbitration Statement of Claim which was filed.

Mr. Matalon’s FINRA Brokercheck report lists a criminal charge, as well as a customer complaint seeking $2,500,000 in damages.  The Brokercheck description of the customer complaint references allegations of conversion of funds from the now deceased customer.

Firms that employ securities salespersons can be held liable for the conversion (theft) of customer funds even if the firm claims that its supervisors were not aware of the theft.  Please read here about broker theft and failure to supervise.  If you were a victim of a financial advisor who stole funds from your accounts or investments, please contact our securities fraud lawyers for a free consultation about your case.

Our securities fraud blog has previously addressed the risks to investors regarding inverse and leveraged ETFs.  A new type of ETF has emerged, however, which can carry even higher risks.  The North American Securities Administrators Association recently issued an advisory to investors regarding single stock ETFs.  Inverse and leveraged single stock ETFs are complex instruments which attempt to multiply the returns of a single stock when it goes up (leveraged) or down (inverse).

These investments obviously carry higher risks than if an investor just invests in a single stock, and can include similar risks to using margin to purchase more shares of a stock than you can afford with cash, or risk shorting a stock in the hope that the price declines.  Additionally, similar to inverse and leveraged ETFs that are spread over a sector of stocks, these ETFs reset daily, so if they are held for more than a day the price of the ETF can diverge significantly from the price of the underlying stock.

Financial advisors should not be recommending or purchasing these types of ETFs for retail investors unless the investor understands the risks involved and can afford to take those risks.  Such a recommendation should be suitable and in the best interest of the customer.  If you have lost monies in a single stock ETF that you did not understand or that was not suitable for your risk tolerance, please contact W. Scott Greco for a free attorney consultation about your potential case.

FINRA recently suspended an Edward Jones financial advisor from Sunset Beach, California for borrowing money from a customer without firm authorization.  The FINRA Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent against Scott P. Smith can be found here.

According to the AWC, Mr. Smith borrowed money in five different loans from a single customer without advising his firm about the loans.  Loans from customers to stock brokers are generally prohibited unless they fall into several limited exceptions such as when the customer is a family member.  The loans were allegedly discovered when the customer died and the estate raised questions about the loans.  Mr. Smith subsequently resigned from Edward Jones while under investigation.

The FINRA AWC imposed a year suspension on the financial advisor, and a $10,000 fine.

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