Wall Street Investment Fraud Lawyer Blog
Published on:

A South Carolina grand jury has indicted a Greenville broker named Claus Foerster for defrauding his clients out of $2.8 million.  According to news reports, the indictments states that Foerster persuaded clients to invest in a fictitious company called SG Investment Management.  According to the Associated Press, Foerster provided his clients with bogus earnings statements that falsely indicated their funds were invested and earning profits.

Foerster allegedly perpetrated this fraud over a 14 year period from 2000 to 2014 while he was associated with three different brokerage firms.  Foerster was associated with Raymond James & Associates, Inc. from February 2013 to June 2014; Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc. from February 2008 to February 2013; and Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. d/b/a Smith Barney from July 1997 to February 2008.

In 2014, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) barred Foerster from the securities industry due to allegations that he was running a Ponzi scheme.  Foerster was terminated by Raymond James in 2014 after he admitted that he had misappropriated client funds.

Published on:

Following up on our previous blog post, broker dealers that sold UDF non-traded REITs to investors include, but are not limited to, IMS Securities Inc., Berthel Fisher & Co. Financial Services Inc., Centaurus Financial Inc., and VSR Financial Services, Inc.

These firms have a history of regulatory violations and customer complaints:

  • The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) has fined and/or reprimanded IMS Securities Inc. twice for failure to supervise and once for allowing a registered representative to sell securities in Texas without being licensed in Texas.
Published on:

Following up on our previous blog post, United Development Funding IV was organized on May 28, 2008.  UDF IV shares began trading on the NASDAQ under the symbol “UDF” on June 4, 2014.  Prior to June 4, 2012, UDF IV was a public non-traded REIT.

An investment in a public non-traded REIT is essentially an investment in in an illiquid start-up real estate company that must accumulate assets quickly and is subject to significant risks. Such an investment is unsuitable for most investors.  Non-traded REITs are typically sold to unsuspecting retail (“mom and pop”) investors who are seeking yield in the low-interest rate environment.  They get pitched to investors by financial advisers who are incentivized to sell non-traded REITs by getting paid outsized commissions from the company.

Shares of UDF IV were initially sold through a securities brokerage firm named Realty Capital Securities, LLC (“RCS”), as the Dealer Manager of the securities offering, and possibly through various other Soliciting Dealers – securities brokerage firms that may have been retained by RCS to sell shares of UDF IV.  RCS reportedly raised over $1 billion from retail investors and was paid commissions and fees for selling UDF IV to retail investors.

Published on:

Shares of United Development Funding IV collapsed 55% to $3.20 per share on Thursday, February 18, before trading was halted.  UDF IV is a publicly traded REIT.  The collapse occurred after the FBI raided the company’s offices in Texas.  A prominent hedge fund manager had previously accused UDF IV of essentially operating as billion dollar Ponzi scheme.  In addition, the firm’s independent accounting firm resigned and has not been replaced, according to reports.  Shareholder class action lawsuits have been filed.

What investors need to know is this.  Class actions lawsuits are designed to take a large group of investors with very small losses and aggregate them into a single lawsuit.  At the end of the process, the recovery is typically small.  There is another, better path for investors with significant losses, and that is filing a securities arbitration claim against the brokerage firm that sold the investment.

Investment advisers, brokers and their firms have a legal duty to understand and communicate to investors all the material facts about an investment, including the risks, before the investment is made.  In other words, they have a duty not to misrepresent or fail to disclose any important facts before the investment is made.  In addition, they have a duty not to recommend an investment that is unsuitable for the investor based on the investor’s investment objective, risk tolerance and time horizon.  If any of these duties is breached, and losses occur, the investor has a compelling claim to recover those losses in arbitration.

Published on:

Fortune magazine reports that investors have lost $1.78 Trillion so far this year!  Investors should review the asset allocation of their portfolios and determine whether or not it is appropriate given their risk tolerance, investment objective and time horizon.  Financial advisors and their firms have a duty to their clients to make suitable investment recommendations and to avoid recommending unsuitably risky investments.

A portfolio’s asset allocation – the percentage of stocks, bonds and cash – is responsible for over 90% of a portfolio’s performance, according to modern portfolio theory. A portfolio composed of 100% stocks is inappropriate for most investors.  The Vanguard S&P 500 Stock Index Fund has lost about 10% year-to-date as of February 12.  The Vanguard Balanced Index Fund has lost about 6% year-to-date.  The former is invested 100% in the 500 largest cap stocks.  The latter is a mix of 60% S&P500 stocks and 40% bonds.

We have many years of experience in representing investors in securities arbitrations against brokers who have breached such duties.  If you have any questions about your investments, we would be happy to evaluate your situation and make a recommendation at no charge to you.

Published on:

On December 15, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission commenced an action in federal district court in the Southern District of New York against Edward Durante for fraud in the sale of millions of dollars of VGTel stock to numerous of investors.  On January 6, 2016, the SEC filed an Amended Complaint naming Abida Khan, Larry Werbel, Christopher Cervino, Walter Reissman, Kenneth Wise and Evolution Partners Wealth Management, LLC (“Evolution Partners”) as additional defendants.  The activities detailed in the SEC Complaint occurred between 2010 and 2013.  Many of the investors were older investors with conservative risk tolerances.

According to the SEC Complaint, Durante had previously been sentenced to prison for perpetrating a multi-million dollar securities fraud.  Durante purchased VGTel as a shell company.  The SEC alleges that Durante assumed false identities in his dealings with investors (aka Edward Wise, Ted Wise, Efran Eisenberg and Anthony Walsh).  Investors were falsely told that VGTel was a publicly traded company that could rise in value to $50 per share quickly as a result of several major deals.  Unfortunately, VGTel was worthless, and Durante and his associates fraudulently manipulated the market to pump up the price of VGTel stock, according to the SEC Complaint.

Some investors sent their funds to companies controlled by Durante (either Zenith Estates or New Market Enterprises, Inc.).

Published on:

On September 29, 2015, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) released for public comment a proposed model to help broker-dealers, investment firms, and employees to better recognize if a senior or other vulnerable adult is being financially exploited.

Judith Shaw, the NASAA President and Maine Securities Administrator, said, “Working together we can and will close the holes in our safety net of support and protection for vulnerable adult investors.”

The model entitled “An Act to Protect Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation” has four key objectives:

Published on:

Fraud is always a danger in the world of investment advisers. In a recent example of this, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against Arthur F. Jacob, age 56, and his firm, Innovative Business Solutions LLC (“IBS”) of Florida.  Jacob is a disbarred attorney and a Certified Public Accountant whose history includes misappropriation of client funds, among other misconduct.  Neither Jacob nor IBS were registered with the SEC or any state as investment advisers, which is often a tell-tale sign of fraud.

According to the SEC, Jacob and IBS had about $18 million belonging to 30 client households, including Georgia residents, under their control from 2009 through July 2014.  The clients signed a “Durable Power of Attorney / Security Account Limited Discretionary Authorization,” which gave Jacob and IBS the ability to buy, sell and trade in the client accounts.  Jacob and IBS received $517,000 in advisory fees for managing the accounts, which included retirement accounts.  The accounts were held at large brokerage firms, which the SEC did not identify in its Order Instituting Administrative Proceedings against Jacob and IBS.

Jacob and IBS allegedly misrepresented and failed to disclose material information about the risks of his investment strategy and certain exchange traded funds (“ETFs”) that were used.  Clients were told that the strategy and the ETFs was low-risk or no-risk when Jacob had reason to know they were not. The SEC also charged that Jacob made false and misleading statements to clients about the profitability of his investment strategies. The ETFs included high-risk products like Proshares Short S&P500 and Proshares Short Russell 2000, which amounted to speculative bets that the S&P 500 and Russell 2000 would decline in value over the short term.  Clients lost nearly 50% of their investment in these products.

Published on:

On June 29, 2015 the Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against Wisconsin-based investment advisory firm and owner Mark P. Welhouse of Welhouse and Associates Inc. The firm and owner are being charged with improperly allocating certain options trades that appreciated in value to personal and business accounts, while allocating other trades that depreciated in value to clients.

According to the SEC, the Enforcement Division has engaged in a “data-driven initiative to identify potentially fraudulent trade allocations known as ‘cherry-picking.’” Through this process the SEC Enforcement Division was able to find that Welhouse purchased options in a master account for Welhouse & Associates Inc. and put off allocating the funds into his clients’ accounts until later in the day to determine if the securities would appreciated in value. The SEC claims Welhouse gained about $442,319 in ill-gotten gains allocated to S&P 500 exchange-traded fund. On average, a personal trade made by Welhouse had “a first-day return of 6.28 percent while his clients’ trades in these options had an average first-day loss of 5.05 percent.”

The SEC conducted a statistical analysis to determine if Welhouse’s profits could have been sheer luck or coincidence, but “after running a simulation one million times, the staff concluded it could not.” This process came about because according to Julie M. Riewe, Co-Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division, “Cherry-picking schemes can be extremely difficult to detect without an investor astutely noticing that something may be amiss and coming to us with a complaint about the adviser.”

Published on:

In the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports, light is shed on the fact that roughly 1 in 20 senior adults claim to have been financially abused and why seniors seem to be among the most frequent targets of fraudsters. These perpetrators disguise themselves as government officials such as the FBI or the IRS and claim that the potential victims owe money, they will also offer prizes, sweepstakes, and gifts to give incentive for victims to hand over information such as social security numbers. Some will even use a person’s family as incentive to fork over thousands upon thousands of dollars, such as the case of Beth Baker. Mrs. Baker lost $65,000 in a scheme where she was led to believe her beloved grandson had fallen into legal trouble in Peru and needed her help to release him from prison and pay for legal fees. Baker was instructed not to tell anyone about what was happening and that if she did, terrible things would happen to her grandson and to put the funs on Green Dot MoneyPak cards—these cards are virtually untraceable. Within in the span of five days, Baker lost almost all of her liquid savings.

Fraudsters are able to gain footholds in their senior victims by preying on the elderly’s vulnerabilities such as isolation, loneliness, trusting natures, relative wealth, and in some instances declining mental capabilities. They also use mirroring techniques in order to develop a false bond with their victims and also aid in extracting personal information from their victims. According to Consumer Report the amount of money swindlers have captured is roughly $30 billion annually. Unfortunately only 1 in 44 cases of elderly financial abuse are actually reported. According to the former head of the Manhattan district attorney’s Elder Abuse Unit and current general counsel for EverSafe (a fraud-monitoring service for seniors), “Victims are often deeply ashamed…They worry that if they’re viewed as vulnerable, they’ll lose their independence.” One study that was conducted by the Chicago Health and Aging Project showed that people who fell victim to financial exploitation were hospitalized at a greater rate than people who were not.

Some ways recommended by Consumer Report to avoid falling victim to financial schemes is to sign up for robocall interception services such as Nomorobo, opt out of commercial mail solicitations, have someone trustworthy help you pay your bills, vet all contractors, check financial adviser’s credentials, arrange for limited account oversight, set up an emergency plan and entrust someone to be your power of attorney, visit an elder law attorney. As a loved one visit your elderly often, help set up a limited account, and in extreme circumstances file for guardianship or conservatorship.