Articles Posted in Brokerage Firms In The News

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Stephens, Inc. submitted a letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) in which it was censured and fined $900,000 by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for failing to adequately supervise the content and dissemination of “flash” emails, along with the securities trading in connection with the content of these emails.

According to FINRA, Stephens, Inc., based out of Little Rock Arkansas, created the “flash” emails in order to supplement its published research with frequent communications between research analysts and sales and trading employees.  These emails were allegedly meant to provide a means of sharing publicly available information, such as press releases and earnings calls, with the firm’s sales personnel who would then share the publicly available information to interested clients.  However, FINRA found that from at least August 2013 through January 2016, Stephens, Inc. failed to properly supervise the content and dissemination of these flash emails, thereby creating the risk that they could potentially contain nonpublic information that could be misused by sales and trading staff. Continue reading →

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) slammed MetLife Securities, Inc. (MetLife) with a $25 million fine for negligent misrepresentations and omissions to customers regarding the costs and guarantees relating to variable annuities.  MetLife agreed to the fine, which includes a $20 million fine and $5 million to be paid to customers, without admitting or denying FINRA’s findings.

From approximately 2009 to 2014, FINRA found that MetLife falsely told customers that new variable annuities were less costly than the annuities they were replacing.  Further, MetLife made the replacement annuities appear more beneficial to the customer when they were typically more expensive.  According to FINRA, MetLife sold at least 43 billion in variable annuities which generated $152 million in gross dealer commissions for the firm.  Nonetheless, MetLife failed to supervise its registered representatives to ensure they were property trained and informed of the comparative analysis between the variable annuities and the recommended replacement annuities.  In fact, FINRA found that MetLife principals approved 99.79% of the variable annuity replacements, even though three-quarters (3/4) of the replacement applications contained at least one misrepresentation or omission. Continue reading →

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American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc. (American Portfolios) submitted a letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) in which it was censured and fined $50,000 by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for failing to supervise the unsuitable mutual fund switches by two of its registered representatives.

According to FINRA, American Portfolios, based out of Holbrook New York, engaged in unsuitable mutual fund switching through two of its registered representatives which resulted in its customers incurring nearly $91,000 in unnecessary sales charges. During the relevant time period, FINRA found that the two American Portfolios representatives recommended 78 unsuitable mutual fund switch transactions in 15 customer accounts. Continue reading →

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Finance 500, Inc. of Irvine, California, and Robert Lansing Hicks, of Orange, California, submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC) to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for allegedly failing to establish and implement an anti-money laundering (AML) program and numerous supervisory failures.

FINRA found that between 2005 and 2014, Robert Hicks, who was Finance 500’s owner President, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Compliance Officer and designated Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Officer, and Finance 500 failed to implement and enforce adequate supervisory policies in order to oversee the market making activities of low-priced stocks, sales of unregistered low-priced securities, the review and retention of emails, and the implementation and delegation of supervisory responsibilities. Continue reading →

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David Michael Miller, a former registered representative with Huntington Investment Company (Huntington) was named a respondent in a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) complaint alleging unsuitable Unit Investment Trust (UIT) recommendations. The complaint alleges that Mr. Miller, of Columbus, Ohio, had no reasonable basis to recommend UIT purchases which totaled approximately $5.4 million in 129 customer accounts. Further, the complaint alleges that Mr. Miller failed to exercise the necessary due diligence with respect to the UIT recommendations. Specifically, the complaint states that Mr. Miller allegedly did not read the prospectuses, did not know that the underlying closed-end funds were leveraged, and did not know that certain of the closed-end funds invested in junk bonds and that the UIT prospectuses advised that investing in such bonds should be viewed as speculative and subject to numerous risks, including higher interest rates, economic recession, possible downgrades, and defaults of interest and/or principal.

The complaint further alleges that Mr. Miller negligently misrepresented and omitted material facts to customers in connection with their UIT purchases totaling $964,000. Also, Mr. Miller allegedly misrepresented to this particular customer that the UIT investment was “safe,” and that if the customer hold the investment until termination of the trust, he would receive his entire principal investment plus the 5% interest payment received during the term of the trust. Continue reading →

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In an arbitration proceeding against UBS Financial Services, Inc. (UBS) and UBS Financial Services, Inc. of Puerto Rico (UBS-PR), the Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P. A. won a $1.45 million plus interest award for one of the firm’s clients this week.

The case arose from a series of unsuitable investment recommendations made by a UBS and a UBS-PR financial advisor that our client purchase and hold an excessive concentration of UBS-PR closed-end bond funds in a leveraged UBS-PR account. Because of the financial advisors’ unsuitable recommendations, our client’s investment was not diversified from an asset allocation standpoint and also from a concentration standpoint, as the portfolio was overconcentrated in a single geographic area, namely, Puerto Rico. Continue reading →

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Anthony Grey of Winter Park, Florida submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC) to the Department of Enforcement of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for allegedly charging excessive mark-ups to his clients and engaging in other fraudulent activity. Mr. Grey entered the securities industry in the early 1980s and later became associated with Gardnyr Michael Capital, Inc. (GMCI) in 1994.

During a routine FINRA member conduct examination in 2009, a FINRA examiner discovered a pattern of trades that revealed Mr. Grey artificially inflated prices of bonds for his retail customers. FINRA found that on ten occasions, Mr. Grey charged his customers unfair mark-ups ranging from 5.36% to 19.12%. In seven of the occasions FINRA further alleged that Mr. Grey charged fraudulently excessive mark-ups that he failed to disclose.

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Christian Harkness of La Crosse, Wisconsin submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC) to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for allegedly violating his broker-dealer conduct rules. Mr. Harkness entered the securities industry in 1998 as a General Securities Representative (GSR). Mr. Harkness became associated with UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) in 2007 and later in 2009 to Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. (Stifel) as a GSR.

FINRA found that Mr. Harkness violated NASD Rule 2370 and FINRA Rules 3240 and 2010 by borrowing money from a firm client on two occasions as well as failing to disclose outside business activities. FINRA alleged that Mr. Harkness did not receive written permission from his broker-dealer to participate in either of the activities and thereby violated FINRA conduct rules.

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E.S. Financial Services, Inc. (ESF) of Miami, Florida submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC) to the Department of Enforcement of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for allegedly charging customers additional commission fees without their knowledge as well as keeping inaccurate books and records. ESF faced similar allegations in 2007 for allegedly failing to maintain accurate books and records.

FINRA found that ESF essentially created another source of revenue by charging its customers additional fees. Between September 1, 2011 and October 31, 2012 ESF allegedly charged its customers “a transaction fee and a custody fee in addition to a commission on fixed income transactions.” FINRA alleged that the fees were not related to services provided by ESF and therefore a violation of NASD 2430 and FINRA Conduct Rule 2010. Continue reading →

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VFinance Investments, Inc. (VFinance) of Boca Raton, Florida submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC) to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for allegedly failing to timely execute client orders.

FINRA found that on eight occasions, VFinance failed to execute customers’ orders in Over-The-Counter (OTC) securities. VFinance allegedly did not execute customer orders at the same price or a better price than what they had been trading in the market. This conduct is a violation of FINRA Rule 5320 and 2010. Continue reading →