Articles Posted in Securities Fraud

In a move intended to emphasize that FINRA’s ultimate mandate is to protect investors, the SRO’s National Adjudicatory Council last week issued newly-revised Sanction Guidelines including tougher ranges of recommended punishments to be meted out against member firms or brokers who commit fraud or make unsuitable recommendations to customers.

Since 1993, FINRA has maintained and published “Sanction Guidelines” setting forth common securities rule violations and the range of disciplinary actions FINRA can issue for such violations, including monetary fines as well as suspensions, bars from the industry and other sanctions.

Specifically, the revised Guidelines, announced in Regulatory Notice 15-15 available on FINRA’s website at www.finra.org, contain revisions to the Sanctions relating to two specific areas: (i) fraud, misrepresentations or material omissions of fact; and (ii) suitability and the making of unsuitable recommendations to investing customers. According to the Notice, the ramped-up sanctions are meant to reinforce that fraudulent conduct is unacceptable, and that FINRA adjudicators on the Regulatory side should consider strong sanctions for such conduct, including barring or expelling repeat offenders, particularly where aggravating factors outweigh mitigating ones. With regard to unsuitability, the heightened punishments include an increase in the high-end range of suspensions from one year to two, as well as recommending bars, suspensions or expulsions for the most egregious recidivists.

Reuters reports that Morgan Stanley’s annual 10-K, filed March 2, 2015, indicates that the New York Attorney General intends to file a lawsuit related to 30 subprime securitizations sponsored by the company. This follows lawsuits and similar allegations by attorneys general in California, Virginia and Illinois. The New York Attorney General indicated that the lawsuit would allege that Morgan Stanley misrepresented or omitted material information related to the due diligence, underwriting and valuation of loans and properties. In the 10-K, Morgan Stanley stated that it does not agree with the allegations.

Morgan Stanley also reached a $2.6 billion agreement in principle last month with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California to resolve claims related to what it called “residential mortgage matters.”

It remains to be seen whether investors will reap any of the benefits of these government actions seeking to mend the damage done by the subprime mortgage crisis and the proliferation of mortgage-backed securities (MBS), residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS), and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

This week, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied the appeal of an arbitration award against Merrill Lynch by the Associated Humane Societies Inc. of Tinton Falls, N.J. In the original FINRA arbitration, the society alleged that certain of its investments were improper, it improperly sustained penalties and other charges when the investments were liquidated, its accounts were improperly managed and churned, and it was overcharged for management of its accounts. The society sought $10 million in punitive damages, $872,171 in compensatory damages and $544,299 in attorneys’ fees. After an 18-day hearing, the FINRA panel found in favor of the society, but awarded it only $168,103 in compensatory damages and $126,077 in punitives.

The society appealed. A 3-judge appellate division panel upheld the award in October, finding that the FINRA panel did not abuse its discretion. Associated Humane Societies, Inc. v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., No. L-4376-13 (Oct. 29, 2014). The New Jersey Supreme Court denied any further appeal on Feb. 17, 2015.

Though the society was ultimately disappointed with the size of the award, the decision shows the reluctance of courts to disturb FINRA arbitration awards.

Does the conventional wisdom regarding asset allocation hold up in today’s economy? The New York Times recently featured an article suggesting that a portfolio teeming with risky stocks, derivatives, and other exotic investments may, in fact, not be suitable for even young investors. The Times points out that these young investors experience higher rates of unemployment and are more likely to cash out their 401(k)’s and other investments when they switch jobs. An appropriate suitability analysis under FINRA Rule 2111 would take these factors into account. It is highly likely that many brokers are still using a one-size-fits-all asset allocation formula for their young customers.

Investors may have a variety of claims against such brokers who fail to take into account current market conditions, including unsuitable investment advice, fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions, and failure to supervise.

Recent Securities Fraud tweets by Ross Intelisano:

FT: Investigators listened in on almost 100 clients of Primary Global. Buyer (and Seller) Beware. http://t.co/GRNEcNs · reply · retweet · favorite

MBIA Drops Merrill Fraud Case.Hard to tell if ML settled with dollars or MBIA forced to just withdraw.Bad news if latter http://t.co/kwPT9t8 2 hours ago · reply · retweet · favorite

FINRA fined UBS Financial Services, Inc. $2.5 million, and required it to pay $8.25 million in restitution for omissions and misleading statements made regarding the “principal protection” feature of Lehman Brothers100% Principal-Protection Notes (PPNs).

Our firm is presently representing investors of the Lehman PPNs against UBS in arbitrations at FINRA. It’s good to see FINRA stepping up and fining UBS in this matter. It’ll be a battle in the many pending arbitrations against UBS for investors to enter the fine into evidence as an indication of wrongdoing by UBS.

According the FINRA press release, UBS had described the structured notes as principal-protected investments and failed to emphasize they were unsecured obligations of Lehman Brothers, which eventually filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.

Below is a CNBC guest blog by Ross Intelisano on the two year anniversary of Madoff’s arrest.

Madoff Two Years Later – It’ll Never Be the Same by Ross B. Intelisano – Rich & Intelisano, LLP

December 11, 2008 started like a typical year-end work day. Then the phone rang with a hysterical retired widow screaming and crying that she had just lost almost all of her money investing with Bernie Madoff. That might seem strange to many, but we receive calls like this all of the time. Our law firm represents investors who’ve been defrauded by Wall Street. But the phone kept ringing, all day, every day, from December through February. And the numbers were staggering; tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars lost. Generations of wealth were completely wiped out. We knew immediately. This was going to be the largest fraud ever, and by a long shot. And it was. $18 billion. Almost ten times larger than any other Ponzi scheme.

New York Super Lawyers, a publication of The New York Times Magazine, has named Ross B. Intelisano as one of New York’s top Securities Litigation attorneys in their 2010 publication. The list of Super Lawyers recognizes lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement in their respective fields. Super Lawyers’ selection process is a vigorous multi-phase rating process based on peer nominations and evaluations, combined with third-party research. Their selection process has been recognized by bar associations and courts across the country.

Ross Intelisano is the only attorney on the 2010 New York Super Lawyers top Securities Litigation list who primarily represents institutional and individual investors in securities arbitration.

Investors who lost $1 billion in the Goldman Sachs structured ABACAS CDO were handed a strategic road map by the SEC when it filed the civil fraud complaint against Goldman on Friday. The alleged misrepresentation to ACA by Goldman that Paulson was long the equity tranches of ABACUS and the omission to disclose to ABACUS investors in writing and orally that Paulson handpicked securities in ABACUS while it was simultaneously shorting the same securities are the crux of a potential claim by ABACUS’ investors against Goldman. But what path should investors forge to recover their losses? Court or arbitration? The recent RaceTrac v. Bear Stearns arbitration award shows that a large investor can win a private arbitration against a significant brokerage firm related to misrepresentations and omissions of CDO’s regardless of the risk disclosure language contained in the prospectus.

Since the subprime market meltdown, only one multi billion dollar investor has received a legal award or judgment against brokerage firm for misrepresenting and materially omitting to disclose facts related to CDOs. RaceTrac Petroleum, an Atlanta-based chain of more than 525 retail gasoline convenience stores in the southeast U.S., won a $3.4 million award against Bear Stearns in December 2009. The FINRA arbitration panel ruled that Bear Stearns was liable for misrepresentation and material omission, negligence and failure to supervise related to the Bear Stearns High Grade Funds, a CDO packed hedge fund which caused $1.6 billion in losses in 2007.

The issues in the Goldman ABACUS case are very similar to the Bear Stearns High Grade case. Did Goldman misrepresent or omit disclosing a material fact to the ABACUS investors? Instead of filing a lengthy, costly, public civil lawsuit against Bear Stearns, RaceTrac filed an arbitration claim at FINRA in December 2007 seeking $5 million in damages. Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against the funds’ portfolio managers, Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin. In March 2009, on the eve of the arbitration hearings in Atlanta, the U.S. Attorneys’ Office in New York ran into federal court in Brooklyn to try to stop RaceTrac from going forward with the arbitration until the criminal trials of Cioffi and Tannin were completed. Judge Block shut the government down and allowed RaceTrac to proceed. A jury then acquitted Cioffi and Tannin of all criminal charges November 2009. However, after 16 days of private arbitration hearings, the FINRA arbitration panel ruled that Bear Stearns was liable and awarded damages of almost 70% of RaceTrac’s investment.

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