January 2012 Archives

January 16, 2012

California Stockbroker Discipline Report for September - December 2011

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for warning_flag.jpgThe following information regarding broker misconduct and disciplinary actions taken against California stockbrokers was released by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for the period September through December 2011:

September 2011

John-Eric Bonilla, formerly with U.S. Bancorp Investments Inc., in Sacramento, California, was barred from association with any FINRA member in connection with finding that Bonilla failed to respond to FINRA requests for information related to a claim that Bonilla falsified documents in which he overstated an investor's net worth, annual income, and investment experience and misstated the fee associated with investor's security instrument.

Jerry Jason Rice, formerly with WAMU Investments, Inc., in Fresno, California, was barred from association with any FINRA member in connection with a finding that Rice failed to respond to FINRA requests for information related to allegations that he made misrepresentations and engaged in unauthorized and unsuitable trades.

October 2011

Vikas Goel, with Newport Cost Securities, Inc., in Irvine, California, was fined $7,500 and suspended from association with any FINRA member in connection with findings that Goel placed a customer's signature on statements he prepared without the customer's knowledge, authorization, or consent as a rationale for recommending the customer sell mutual funds to invest the proceeds in various annuities.

Jo Ann Marie Head, formerly with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Whittier, California, was barred from association with any FINRA member and ordered to pay restitution to a customer in the amount of $19,000, which represented a loan granted Head by a customer. FINRA further found that Head conveyed false and exaggerated account values to customers, exercised discretion in customer accounts without authorization, and mischaracterized unsolicited trades as solicited in customers' accounts.

Yaman Huseyn Sencan, formerly with Mercator Associates, LLC, in Rancho Santa Fe California, was fined $20,000 and barred from association with any FINRA member in any principal capacity and suspended from association with any FINRA member for six months in connection with a finding by FINRA that Sencan failed to reasonably supervise the activities of firm personnel engaged in charging excessive commissions, sharing commissions with a non-member and misusing funds on deposit with the firm.

November 2011

UBS Financial Services Inc., in Weehawken NJ was censured and fined $300,000 in connection with a finding by FINRA that the firm failed to reasonably supervise resulting in a failure to prevent improper, excessive, and unsuitable short-term trading for multiple customer accounts.

John William Grant, formerly with Torrey Pines Securities, Inc., in Red Bluff, California, was barred from association with any FINRA member in connection with a finding by FINRA he executed unauthorized transactions in accounts belonging to trustees of a family trust in excess of $1 million.

Larry Alan Prelesnik, formerly with LPL Financial LLC, in Palm Desert, California, was fined $7,500 and suspended from association with any FINRA member for 20 business days in connection with a finding that Prelesnik sent oversimplified and incomplete solicitations to clients in connection with a 100 percent bond positioning strategy.

Krittibas Ray, formerly with White Pacific Securities, Inc., in San Francisco, California, was barred from association with any FINRA member in connection with a finding by FINRA that after soliciting investors to purchase promissory notes as a vehicle to fund the startup of a hedge fund he used some of the $675,000 in proceeds for personal expenses and proceeds from later sales to pay interest and principal amounts due on the notes earlier purchasers held.

December 2011

Internet Securities and Chief Compliance Officer Michael Wayne Beardsley of Oakland, California, were censured, fined $12,500, and required to retain an outside consultant to review and prepare a report concerning the adequacy of the firm's supervisory, and compliance policies and procedures and supervisory controls in connection with a finding by FINRA that as a result of Beardsley's failure to supervise, the firm's representative was able to conduct numerous unsuitable transactions.

Walter Louis Howerton formerly with Wachovia Securities, LLC, in Modesto, California, was fined $12,500 and suspended from association with any FINRA member for six months in connection with a finding that he made unsuitable recommendations related to a customer's account. The losses on the account forced the customer to closer her position at a substantial loss. FINRA further found that Howerton did not have reasonable grounds to believe that the recommendations were suitable for the customer based on her financial situation and needs.

Fred Ralph Schwartz formerly with Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, in Los Angeles, California, was fined $5,000 and suspended from association with any FINRA member for three months and was ordered to pay $42,599 restitution to customers in connection with a finding by FINRA that he engaged in excessive, unsuitable trading in the customers' accounts.

Jeffrey Alan Smith with Accelerated Capital Group in Irvine, California, was suspended from association with any FINRA member in any principal capacity for 20 business days in connection with a finding by FINRA that Smith failed to effectively supervise the activities of the firm's associated persons.

January 10, 2012

Highland Floating Rate Fund Undergoes Metamorphosis in Name Only

my name is.jpgOn January 9, 2012, Highland Funds will officially transfer management of their fund portfolios to a new entity called Pyxsis Capital. If history is any guide, Highland Floating Rate Fund investors should not expect a boost in performance following the name change. According to a 2005 study by Michael Cooper with the Krannert Graduate School of Management at Purdue University, funds that changed their names actually performed worse after the name change.

Highland's change of identity is understandable, particularly in light of the legal backlash faced by brokers and advisors who sold the Highland Floating Rate Fund to unwary investors. See our August 2011 blog posting in the California Securities Fraud Lawyer Blog: Highland Floating Rate Funds' Poor Performance Leads to Investor Lawsuits.

Despite the name change, the Pyxsis Floating Rate Fund's management and investment strategy will continue to remain primarily focused in high-yield "junk bonds." High-yield bonds are characterized by high returns as a reward for the risk inherent in investing in below investment grade securities (rated below BBB by credit reporting agencies). The family of Pyxis floating rate funds plan to invest 75% of the fund's assets in bonds of which more than 80% are below investment grade.


Related Blog Posts:

Highland Floating Rate Funds' Poor Performance Leads to Investor Lawsuits

J.P. Morgan Chase Fined $1.7 Million by Securities Regulators for Unsuitable Sales of Floating-Rate Funds

January 9, 2012

SEC Adopts Regulations to Preclude the Sale of Private Placements to Small Investors

As repeatedly reported here in the California Securities Fraud Lawyer Blog, we have seen an exponential growth in investor complaints involving the sale of private placements. For those of you unacquainted with the term "private placement," click here.

swim at own risk.jpgIn a nutshell, private placements are illiquid non-publicly traded investments that are exempt from registration requirements under the Securities Exchange Act. For this reason, only wealthy and sophisticated investors, referred to as "accredited investors," are allowed to invest in them. In order to qualify as an accredited investor, an individual must have a net worth of $1 million or more. However, this does not mean that it is fair game for stockbrokers and investment advisors to sell private placements to anyone with a paper net worth of $1 million. See related blog posting: Even for Accredited Investors, Stockbroker Recommendations to Buy Private Placements Are Subject to the Suitability Rule.

In an effort to protect smaller investors whose only significant asset is their home, the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") recently took steps to limit Regulation D of the Securities Exchange Act of 1933 to exclude an investor's primary residence from the $1 million net worth calculation. Although the rule became effective February 27, 2012, the net worth prohibition actually took effect back in July 2010 when President Obama signed off on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009. See blog post: Investor Home Equity to be Excluded from $1 Million Minimum Net-Worth Requirement for Accredited Investors

The Bottom Line

We recommend extreme caution to anyone contemplating an investment in a private placement that is limited to accredited investors. Don't be fooled by your financial professional's sales pitch. No matter how you slice it, private placements are illiquid and risky investments. As stated in the fine print: These investments are only appropriate if you are willing to lose your entire investment. Still not convinced? I've got a backlog of cases where clients wrongfully assumed that they could get out of their investment anytime they wanted. They are still waiting.

Related Blog Postings: