Archives for Securities Investigations

SEC Charges Aequitas Management with Defrauding Investors

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced that it charged an Oregon-based investment group and three top executives with hiding the rapidly deteriorating financial condition of its enterprise while raising more than $350 million from investors.  Aequitas Management LLC and four affiliates allegedly defrauded more than 1,500 investors nationwide into believing they were making health care, education, and transportation-related investments when their money was really being used in a last-ditch effort to save the firm.  Some money from new investors was allegedly used to pay earlier investors.

The SEC’s complaint, filed today in federal district court in Oregon, alleges that CEO Robert J. Jesenik and executive vice president Brian A. Oliver were well aware of Aequitas’s calamitous financial condition yet continued to solicit millions of dollars from investors to pay the firm’s ever-increasing expenses and attempt to stave off the impending collapse.  Former CFO and chief operating officer N. Scott Gillis allegedly concealed the firm’s insolvency from investors and was aware that Jesenik and Oliver continued soliciting investors so that Aequitas could pay operating expenses and repay earlier investors with money from new investors.

“We allege that Aequitas had severe and persistent cash flow shortages and top executives knew they weren’t using money raised from investors like they said they would.  But they refused to disclose the true financial condition, continued to draw lucrative salaries, and roped even more unknowing investors into a losing venture,” said Jina L. Choi, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office.

According to the SEC’s complaint:

  • From January 2014 to January 2016, Aequitas raised money from investors by issuing promissory notes with high rates of return typically ranging from 8.5 to 10 percent.
  • While Aequitas did use some investor money to acquire trade receivables in health care, education, transportation, and other consumer credit sectors, the vast majority was concentrated in student loan receivables of for-profit education provider Corinthian Colleges.  Corinthian defaulted on its recourse obligations to Aequitas in mid-2014, which significantly exacerbated the firm’s already severe cash flow problems.
  • The executives continued to draw their lucrative salaries, use a private jet, and attend posh dinner and golf outings, all at the expense of investors.  They used the outings to raise more money from investors.  Jesenik, Oliver, and Gillis took home at least $2.5 million in combined salaries during this period.
  • By November 2015, Aequitas could no longer meet scheduled redemptions.  Last month, the firm dismissed two-thirds of its employees and hired a chief restructuring officer.

The SEC’s complaint charges violations of the federal securities laws by Aequitas Management, Aequitas Holdings LLC, Aequitas Commercial Finance LLC, Aequitas Capital Management Inc., and Aequitas Investment Management LLC as well as Jesenik, Oliver, and Gillis.  The SEC seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement with prejudgment interest, and monetary penalties from all defendants as well as bars prohibiting Jesenik, Oliver, and Gillis from serving as officers or directors of any public company.

Aequitas and the affiliated entities have agreed to be preliminarily enjoined from raising any additional funds by offering and selling securities, and agreed to the appointment of a receiver to marshal and preserve remaining Aequitas assets for distribution to defrauded investors.  The stipulated orders are subject to court approval.

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC to discuss your legal options. The Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC is dedicated to helping investors nationwide. If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses. Contact our office toll free at (866) 318-4725 for a complimentary initial consultation.

Categories: Investor Protection, Securities Fraud, and Securities Investigations.

SEC Charges Wells Fargo With Fraud in 38 Studios Bond Offering

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced that it had charged a Rhode Island agency and its bond underwriter Wells Fargo Securities with defrauding investors in a municipal bond offering to finance startup video game company 38 Studios. 

The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC, now called the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation) issued $75 million in bonds for the 38 Studios project as part of a state government program intended to spur economic development and increase employment opportunities by loaning bond proceeds to private companies.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal district court in Providence:

  • The RIEDC loaned $50 million in bond proceeds to 38 Studios.  Remaining proceeds were used to pay related bond offering expenses and establish a reserve fund and a capitalized interest fund.
  • The loan and, in turn, bond investors would be repaid from revenues generated by video games that 38 Studios planned to develop.
  • The bond offering document produced by the RIEDC and Wells Fargo failed to disclose to investors that 38 Studios had conveyed it needed at least $75 million in funding to produce a particular video game.
  • Therefore, investors weren’t fully informed when deciding to purchase the bonds that 38 Studios faced a funding shortfall even with the loan proceeds and could not develop the video game without additional sources of financing.
  • When 38 Studios was later unable to obtain additional financing, the video game didn’t materialize and the company defaulted on the loan.

The SEC also charged Wells Fargo’s lead banker on the deal, Peter M. Cannava, and two then-RIEDC executives Keith W. Stokes and James Michael Saul with aiding and abetting the fraud.  Stokes and Saul agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the allegations and must each pay a $25,000 penalty.  They are prohibited from participating in any future municipal securities offerings.  The SEC’s litigation continues against Cannava, Wells Fargo, and RIEDC.

The SEC’s complaint further alleges that Wells Fargo and Cannava misled investors in an additional way in bond offering materials:

  • Wells Fargo disclosed its bond offering compensation as a share of the placement agent fee plus a $50,000 payment from 38 Studios.  No other fees or compensation to Wells Fargo were disclosed, and the bond placement agreement stated that no other money was anticipated.
  • Investors weren’t informed that Wells Fargo had a side deal with 38 Studios that enabled the firm to receive nearly double the amount of compensation disclosed in offering documents.
  • This additional compensation, totaling $400,000 and paid from bond proceeds, created a conflict of interest that Wells Fargo should have disclosed to bond investors.
  • Cannava was responsible for Wells Fargo’s failure to disclose its additional fees.

The SEC’s complaint charges the RIEDC and Wells Fargo with violations of Sections 17(a)(2) and (a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933, and charges Stokes, Saul, and Cannava with aiding and abetting those violations.  Wells Fargo also is charged with violations of Section 15B(c)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules G-17 and G-32 of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB).  Cannava is charged with aiding and abetting those violations.

In a separate administrative proceeding, the RIEDC’s financial advisor for the bond offering – First Southwest Company LLC – agreed to settle charges that it violated MSRB rules by failing to document in writing the scope of the services the firm was providing in the bond offering until seven months after the financial advisory relationship began.  Without admitting or denying the findings, First Southwest agreed to pay disgorgement of $120,000, prejudgment interest of $22,400, and a penalty of $50,000.

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC to discuss your legal options. The Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC is dedicated to helping investors nationwide. If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses. Contact our office toll free at (866) 318-4725 for a complimentary initial consultation.

 

Categories: Broker Investigations, Investor Protection, Securities Broker Misconduct, Securities Fraud, and Securities Investigations.

Futures Fraud and How To Avoid It

What is Futures Trading?

Futures trading is a formal agreement between parties to buy or sell a particular commodity at a certain price and at a specific point in time. The trading can be done with a number of different commodities: precious metals (i.e., silver or gold), petroleum products (i.e., crude oil and unleaded gas), foreign currency (i.e., Euros, Yen, or Deutschmarks), and agricultural products (i.e., corn, soybeans, or cattle). This type of trading is considered high-risk trading and is best suited for experienced investors who are willing to potentially risk losing their entire investment. For this reason, it’s always best to confer with a knowledgeable investor and do research before agreeing to any trading activity and exposing yourself to potential futures fraud.

What is Futures Fraud?

Futures fraud occurs when the party selling the commodity (e.g., commodity broker, financial advisor, or other third-party) engages in illegal activities or practices while trading futures to investors. Illegal activities often involved in futures fraud can include trading without the investor’s consent, false statements about the risk or value of the investment, withholding information from the investor on purpose (nondisclosure), trading on the investor account for commissions without regard for the investor, and using the investor’s assets for anything other than the stated purpose.

What Are Some Warning Signs of Futures Fraud?

The following are some common warning signs of potential futures fraud:

  • Investment opportunities that seem too good to be true and get-rich-quick schemes.
  • Promises or guarantees of large profits.
  • Assurances of little or no financial risk in the venture.
  • Claims of currency being traded in an “Interbank Market,” which can refer to a collection of transactions between banks and investment banks.
  • Unsolicited telephone calls about investment opportunities.
  • Requests for urgent transfers of cash to a recipient.

 

Do You Need A Futures Fraud Lawyer?

If you believe that you are the victim of futures fraud, reach out to Place and Hanley and we can examine your case and determine the best course of action. Place and Hanley has the experience required to help you receive the best possible outcome.

Categories: Broker Fraud, Broker Investigations, Securities Fraud, Securities Information, and Securities Investigations.

What is Securities Arbitration?

Securities Arbitration is the process, which takes place following a dispute with a broker or dealer. Prior to arbitration, the investor has determined that the broker engaged in some form of wrongdoing, or otherwise negligent action that resulted in a loss. Depending on the amount of the claim, the investor may or may not have to appear before an arbitrator or group of arbitrators. Arbitration is an alternative to settling in court and is often the preferred method of dispute resolution because it is typically faster and less expensive.

While typically a contract between a firm and investor is what provides ground for arbitration, the absence of a contractual agreement does not mean that the dispute cannot be settled through arbitration. If the broker or firm is registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, they are bound to FINRAs procedural guidelines, which include the duty to participate in arbitration when a conflict arises.

Arbitration is NOT an investor complaint. If you want to make FINRA aware of any suspicious activity then you should file an investor complaint. Arbitration is similar to a court case, with formal proceedings but for the reasons stated above is a simpler and quicker alternative to litigation. If a claim is under $50,000 then the dispute can be settled through what is known as “Simplified Arbitration”. In this scenario, parties provide case materials, which are reviewed by an arbitrator; this does not require parties to appear in person. For cases involving larger sums, arbitration takes place in-person and is reviewed by a panel of up to 3 arbitrators.

To initiate an arbitration, the investor must submit what is known as a “Statement of Claim”. The statement of claim must be articulate and while there is no standardized format, following the format of a suit in court is effective. The statement of claim should include all the pertinent information that the arbitrator(s) need to make an intelligent decision. This included the nature of the dispute, any background information, dates, types of securities at hand, names of the parties involved, the kind of transactions that took place and the damages sought.

Following the statement of claim, the respondents must answer to the allegations. This must also be detailed and simple denial will not suffice. At this point in time the respondent can file a counter-claim against the investor or a 3rd party involved. Once the submission of facts from either side is received by FINRA, a hearing location is chosen. Before the hearing is a discover period, where documentation is provided and exchanged amongst parties involved and FINRA officials. This stage is a window of opportunity for the assertive attorney as it is the opportunity to obtain any and all relevant information from the other party prior to the hearing. Often, the persistence of a dedicated attorney during the prehearing discovery phase can result in a favorable verdict for their client.

The hearing itself is scheduled in advance and follows a similar format to a case in court. Witnesses are interviewed, cross-examined and evidence is produced. A series of questions are asked and there are multiple stages before the process is concluded. The arbitrators will determine what awards are served usually within 30 days of the last hearing. The award will include the basic facts of the dispute but does not have to provide justification or rationale behind the actual dollar amount awarded. The opportunity to appeal a decision exists on the state and federal level but it is rarely ever successful.

The Law Offices of Place & Hanley is a Naples, Florida based firm who have an extensive track record of successfully securing awards for their clients. The arbitration process is complex and difficult to navigate without the guidance and advocacy that skilled attorneys can provide. Place & Hanley offers a free case evaluation to determine the best course of action for you.

Categories: FINRA Arbitration, Florida Securities Attorneys, Securities Broker Misconduct, Securities Fraud, Securities Information, and Securities Investigations.

Derek Bembry Suspended by FINRA

Derek Josef Bembry formerly registered with Signator Investors, Inc. (CRD #5878656, Kansas City, Missouri) submitted an AWC in which he was assessed a deferred fine of $5,000 and suspended from association with any FINRA member in any capacity for six months. Without admitting or denying the findings, Bembry consented to the sanctions and to the entry of findings that he failed to timely respond to FINRA’s requests for documents and information relating to disclosures made on his amended Uniform Termination Notice for Securities Industry Registration (Form U5) regarding a customer’s written complaint alleging that Bembry failed to disclose tax implications on a loan the customer took from his variable life policy.

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC to discuss your legal options.  The Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC is dedicated to helping investors nationwide.  If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses.  Contact our office toll free at (866) 318-4725 for a complimentary initial consultation.

Categories: Broker Fraud, Broker Investigations, FINRA Arbitration, Investor Protection, Securities Broker Misconduct, Securities Fraud, and Securities Investigations.

Attention Investors in the UBS V10 Currency Index with Volatility Cap

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced that UBS AG has agreed to pay $19.5 million to settle charges that it made false or misleading statements and omissions in offering materials provided to U.S. investors in structured notes linked to a proprietary foreign exchange trading strategy.

The case is the agency’s first involving misstatements and omissions by an issuer of structured notes, a complex financial product that typically consists of a debt security with a derivative tied to the performance of other securities, commodities, currencies, or proprietary indices.  The return on the structured note is linked to the performance of the derivative over the life of the note.   Between $40 billion to $50 billion of structure notes are registered with the SEC per year, with many of those notes sold to relatively unsophisticated retail investors.

UBS agreed to settle the SEC’s charges that it misled U.S. investors in structured notes tied to the V10 Currency Index with Volatility Cap by falsely stating that the investment relied on a “transparent” and “systematic” currency trading strategy using “market prices” to calculate the financial instruments underlying the index, when undisclosed hedging trades by UBS reduced the index price by about five percent.

According to the SEC’s order instituting a settled administrative proceeding:

  • UBS perceived that investors looking to diversify their portfolios in the wake of the financial crisis were attracted to structured products so long as the underlying trading strategy was transparent.  In registered offerings of the notes in the U.S., UBS depicted the V10 Currency Index as “transparent” and “systematic.”
  • Between December 2009 and November 2010 approximately 1,900 U.S. investors bought approximately $190 million of structured notes linked to the V10 index.
  • UBS lacked an effective policy, procedure, or process to make the individuals with primary responsibility for drafting, reviewing and revising the offering documents for the structured notes in the U.S. aware that UBS employees in Switzerland were engaging in hedging practices that had or could have a negative impact on the price inputs used to calculate the V10 index.
  • UBS did not disclose that it took unjustified markups on hedging trades, engaged in hedging trades with non-systemic spreads, and traded in advance of certain hedging transactions.
  • The unjustified markups on hedging trades resulted in market prices not being used consistently to calculate the V10 index.  In addition, UBS did not disclose that certain of its traders added spreads to the prices of hedging trades largely at their discretion.
  • As a result of the undisclosed markups and spreads on these hedging transactions, the V10 index was depressed by approximately five percent, causing investor losses of approximately $5.5 million.

UBS agreed to cease and desist from committing or causing any similar future violations, to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $11.5 million, to distribute $5.5 million of the disgorgement funds to V10 investors to cover the total amount of investor losses, and to pay a civil monetary penalty of $8 million.

Although UBS agreed to distribute $5.5 million to V10 investors, if you have lost money in structured investments, you may still have a claim.  Contact Place & Hanley, LLC for a no cost initial consultation.

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC to discuss your legal options.  The Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC is dedicated to helping investors nationwide.  If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses.  Contact our office toll free at (866) 318-4725 for a complimentary initial consultation.

Categories: Broker Fraud, Broker Investigations, Securities Broker Misconduct, Securities Fraud, and Securities Investigations.

Do You Have Investment Losses in YaFarm Technologies

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged two men behind a scheme that defrauded investors in YaFarm Technologies Inc. (YFRM), a company that purported to provide stem cell therapy. The charges outline a scheme by corporate insiders to defraud investors by disguising their role in the company, disguising their control of the company’s shares, and misleading the public about the company’s operations..    The SEC’s complaint was filed in federal court in Boston and charged Frank Morelli III, of Florence, Colorado, and Louis Buonocore, of Woburn, Massachusetts, for their roles in the alleged scheme.  In a parallel case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts today filed a criminal information against Buonocore.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Morelli and Buonocore concealed their ownership of virtually all of YaFarm’s stock, secretly controlled its operations, and paid stock promoters in 2013 to tout it as a legitimate company with growing operations.  The SEC also alleges that the two caused YaFarm to issue materially false and misleading information about business developments that did not exist, including a March 2013 press release announcing a purported partnership with the Integrative Stem Cell Institute.

YaFarm’s stock price and trading volume increased as a result of the promotion campaign and Morelli and Buonocore profited from the gains, selling the YaFarm stock they controlled for more than $1.2 million, the SEC alleged in its complaint.

The SEC’s complaint charges Morelli and Buonocore with violating antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and related rules.  Morelli and Buonocore agreed to partial settlements in which they will be permanently enjoined from engaging in further violations of the federal securities laws, prohibited from certain stock promotional activity, barred from serving as officers and directors of publicly traded companies and barred from participating in a penny stock offering.  The partial settlements are subject to court approval.  The SEC also is seeking return of allegedly ill-gotten gains plus interest and penalties, which will be litigated.

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC to discuss your legal options.  The Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC is dedicated to helping investors nationwide.  If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses.  Contact our office toll free at (866) 318-4725 for a complimentary initial consultation.

Categories: Securities Fraud, Securities Information, and Securities Investigations.

Attention Investors in The Mobile Star Corporation

On September 15, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission”) charged a microcap issuer, The Mobile Star Corporation, and its CEO George Ivakhnik, with defrauding investors by issuing false press releases about the company’s business and prospects.

The symbol for The Mobile Star Corporation is MBST.

The Commission alleges that shortly after Ivakhnik became CEO of the company in the spring of 2012, he began concocting and issuing press releases that had no factual basis. These press releases portrayed a company with considerable financial acumen and resources actively engaged in a wide variety of business ventures including: a ski resort, the manufacture of karaoke booths, the funding of an “event center” in Long Beach, California, and an agreement with a “major higher education institution” to provide financial consulting expertise” and to help “restructure and secure financing.”

On September 17, 2012, the Commission suspended trading in the securities of Mobile Star after the dissemination of the press releases. The Commission’s complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan on September 15, 2015, alleges that Ivakhnik participated in drafting the false press releases and approved their public dissemination, knowing that the press releases contained false statements.

The Commission’s complaint charges Mobile Star and Ivakhnik with violations of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC to discuss your legal options.  The Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC is dedicated to helping investors nationwide.  If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses.  Contact our office toll free at (866) 318-4725 for a complimentary initial consultation.

Categories: Securities Fraud and Securities Investigations.

SEC Charges Nomura Securities Traders with Fraud

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced fraud charges against three traders accused of repeatedly lying to customers relying on them for honest and accurate pricing information about residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS).

The SEC alleges that Ross Shapiro, Michael Gramins, and Tyler Peters defrauded customers to illicitly generate millions of dollars in additional revenue for Nomura Securities International, the New York-based brokerage firm where they worked.  They misrepresented the bids and offers being provided to Nomura for RMBS as well as the prices at which Nomura bought and sold RMBS and the spreads the firm earned intermediating RMBS trades.  They also trained, coached, and directed junior traders at the firm to engage in the same misconduct.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut announced criminal charges against Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters, who no longer work at Nomura.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan:

  • The lies and omissions to customers by Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters generated at least $5 million in additional revenue for Nomura, and lies and omissions by the subordinates they trained and coached generated at least $2 million in additional profits for the firm.
  • Nomura determined bonuses for Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters based on several factors including revenue generation.  Nomura paid total compensation of $13.3 million to Shapiro, $5.8 million to Gramins, and $2.9 million to Peters during the years this misconduct was occurring.
  • Customers sought and relied on market price information from these traders because the market for this type of RMBS is opaque and accurate price information is difficult for a customer to determine.  Therefore it was particularly important for the traders to provide honest and accurate information.
  • Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters went so far as to invent phantom third-party sellers and fictional offers when Nomura already owned the bonds the traders were pretending to obtain for potential buyers.

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC to discuss your legal options.  The Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC is dedicated to helping investors nationwide.  If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses.  Contact our office toll free at (866) 318-4725 for a complimentary initial consultation.

Categories: Broker Fraud, Broker Investigations, Investor Protection, Securities Broker Misconduct, Securities Fraud, and Securities Investigations.

Citigroup Affiliates Charged in Hedge Fund Fraud and Ordered to Pay $180 Million

According to a recent Press Release by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Citigroup affiliates have agreed to pay nearly $180 million to settle charges that they defrauded investors in two (2) hedge funds claiming they were safe, suitable, and low-risk for traditional bond investors. (See SEC Press Release 2015-168)

According to the SEC complaint, affiliates of Citigroup Alternative Investments LLC and Citigroup Global Markets Inc. made material misstatements and omissions in the offer and sale of securities in two (2) now-defunct hedge funds known as the ASTA/MAT fund and the Falcon fund.  Allegations stated that although the risk of principal loss was disclosed in written materials provided to the clients, certain financial advisers and the fund manager orally minimized the significant risk of loss resulting from, among other things, the funds’ investment strategy and use of leverage.  Furthermore, despite the funds’ increased margin calls and liquidity problems, the SEC alleged that financial advisers and the fund manager continued to offer and sell the funds as a safe, low-risk investments, until they collapsed.  (See SEC Administrative Proceeding No. 3-16757)

If you have suffered investment losses as a result of your broker’s or brokerage firm’s misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC to discuss your legal options.  The Law Offices of Place & Hanley, LLC is dedicated to helping investors nationwide.  If you have lost money as a result of your broker’s recommendations, you may be entitled to recover your investment losses.  Contact our office toll free at (866) 318-4725 for a complimentary initial consultation.

Categories: Securities Investigations.