FINRA recently entered into a settlement with Gar Wood Securities LLC (the “AWC”) concerning allegations that Gar Wood facilitated the sale of restricted securities in violation of the Section 5 of the 1933 Act, and the Firm failed to identify “suspicious” activity in a customer’s account that should have warranted the filing of a Form SAR-SF.
Following its broad ruling in UBS Financial Services v. Carilion Clinic, 706 F.3d 319 (4th Cir. 2013), the 4th Circuit has issued two recent decisions that somewhat lessen the impact of the UBS holding. In UBS, the court held that a customer of a FINRA firm is anyone “not a broker or dealer, who purchases commodities or services from a FINRA member in the course of the member’s business activities,” including “investment banking and the securities business.” But in two recent rulings, the Court refused to further extend that definition, enjoining two FINRA arbitrations in which claims were based on (1) losses resulting from bonds issued by a FINRA member where the claimants purchased those bonds in a secondary market transaction from an unaffiliated third party and (2) losses resulting from purchases of fraudulent securities that were recommended by an attorney informally associated with an advisor at a FINRA-member firm.
Morgan Keegan & Co. v. Silverman, 706 F.3d 562 (4th Cir. 2013)
The Defendants in Morgan Keegan suffered losses in bond funds that were distributed and underwritten by Morgan Keegan (“MK”). The losses were allegedly in part the result of MK’s failure to disclose certain information regarding the valuation of – and risk associated with – the bonds. In enjoining the arbitration, the 4th Circuit noted that no contractual relationship existed between the Defendants and MK – the Defendants had not purchased the funds through an IPO but in a secondary market transaction from Legg Mason, a FINRA member unaffiliated with MK. Continue reading
Lincoln Financial Securities Corp. recently settled with FINRA concerning supervisory deficiencies over a now-deceased rep (Kenneth Wayne McLeod) who purportedly ran a Ponzi scheme targeting retired government employees (Department of Enforcement v. Lincoln Financial Services Corp. – Case No. 2010025074101). A copy of the FINRA AWC can be accessed here: (FINRA AWC). FINRAs case is a follow-up to an SEC action which charged Kenneth Wayne McLeod’s estate and entities run by Kenneth Wayne McLeod with operating a Ponzi scheme promising investors with tax-free returns of 8% to 10% per year (Securities and Exchange Commission v. Estate of Kenneth Wayne McLeod, F&S Asset Management Group, Inc. and Federal Employee Benefits Group, Inc. – Case No. 10-22078, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida). A copy of the SEC Complaint can be accessed here: (SEC Complaint). Continue reading
On January 30, 2013, we sent FINRA a comment letter concerning the controversial proposed rule which would require disclosure of all “enhanced compensation” – forgivable loans, up-front bonuses, back-end bonuses, and the like – to customers. For those opposed to the proposed rule, the comment period is open until March 5, 2013. The text of our comment letter is set forth below:
Marcia E. Asquith Office of Corporate Secretary FINRA 1735 K Street, NW Washington, DC 20006-1506
Re: Comment on Proposed FINRA Rule concerning Enhanced Compensation
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit issued a favorable ruling on the arbitrability of suits against FINRA members. Traditionally, under FINRA Rule 12200 any “customer” may request arbitration of a dispute with a FINRA member. UBS and Citi argued that Carilion was an issuer of securities, not a customer, and thus did not have the right to arbitrate their claims against the banks, both of which are FINRA members. The 4th Circuit joins the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and several district courts that have recently defined “customer” broadly in the FINRA context. The case is UBS Financial Services v. Carilion Clinic, (3:12-cv-00424-JAG).
Carilion is a non-profit hospital administration group based in West Virginia that issued $308 million of municipal bonds through UBS/Citi to finance a series of renovations and improvements. $234 million of that debt was issued in the form of auction rate securities (“ARS”).
It is commonplace in the securities industry for reps to transition from one broker-dealer to another. If the rep is a big producer, it is typical for the hiring firm to offer the rep a “forgivable loan” as an inducement to join. Depending upon the size of the producer’s book, the forgivable loan can equal 100% to 200% of the producer’s trailing 12 month’s of production, and is typically forgiven in equal increments annually over a 7 to 9 year period.
FINRA just published Regulatory Notice 13-02, seeking comments on a proposed rule to require disclosure of “conflicts of interest” relating to recruitment compensation practices. The proposed rule, called “Enhanced Compensation”, has the following components:
- For one year following the rep’s start date, the “recruiting” broker-dealer must disclose the “details” of the enhanced compensation “at the time of first individualized contact by the recruiting member or registered person with the former customer after the registered person has terminated his or her association with the previous firm.” That should make for an interesting first conversation with the customer.
The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) recently released its Enforcement Report for 2012. A copy can be found here.
NASAA is an association primarily comprised of state securities regulators. Through the association, its members engage in multi-state enforcement actions and other collaborative activities. NASAA’s Enforcement Section tracks trends in securities fraud and oversees the activities of various Project Groups, including: Internet fraud investigations, oil/gas ventures, Reg D investigations, securities investigation database and enforcement zones.
The Enforcement Report contains a multitude of interesting statistics. According to NASAA:
On October 24, 2012, Susan Axelrod (FINRA’s executive vice president, member regulation sales practice) spoke at PLI’s seminar for broker-dealer regulation and enforcement. Broker-dealers and registered representatives should take note because FINRA’s enforcement agenda was made clear. Issues of concern for FINRA include:
FINRA has seen an uptick in instances where a customer’s email account has been hacked and the perpetrator sends a phony email to a brokerage firm requesting an outbound wire transfer. Given that NASD Rule 3012 requires diligent supervision concerning the outbound transmittal of funds, FINRA requested that “broker-dealers reassess their policies and procedures for accepting instructions to withdraw or transfer funds via electronic means to ensure that they are adequately designed to protect customer accounts from the risk that customers’ email accounts may be compromised and used to send fraudulent transmittal or withdrawal instructions.” (FINRA Regulatory Notice 12-05). In that Notice, FINRA recommended that firms verify that the email was sent by the customer and adopt policies to identify “red flags” such as transfer requests that are out of the ordinary or to an unfamiliar third-party account.
Two recent FINRA arbitration awards highlight increased focus by FINRA arbitrators concerning discovery abuses by litigants. FINRA’s rules require cooperation of the parties in discovery (Rule 12505) and specifically empower the arbitrators to issue sanctions for lack of cooperation, failing to comply with the discovery rules, or frivolously objecting to the production of documents or information (Rule 12511). Rule 12511 also permits the panel to dismiss a claim, defense or proceeding if prior warnings or sanctions have proven ineffectual.
Miriam Dean v. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC (FINRA Arbitration No. 11-03911)
Although the power to dismiss a claim is in the rule book, until recently, you would be hard pressed to find an award which exercised that power. That changed with Miriam Dean v. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC (FINRA Arbitration No. 11-03911), wherein the customer asserted claims in connection with an investment in a reverse convertible note. Apparently, the customer ignored the first discovery order. Somewhat miffed by the customer’s non-compliance, the arbitrator issued a second order giving the claimant the following 3 options: