Articles Posted in Guest Contributor

On February 26, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order Making Findings and Imposing Remedial Sanctions and a Cease-and-Desist Order against EquityStar Capital Management, LLC, an unregistered investment adviser, and its owner, Steven Zoernack.  According to the SEC’s Order, EquityStar and Zoernack offered and sold investment interests in two unregistered investment funds from about May 2010 to about March 2014.  The SEC’s Order alleges that in the course of making these offers and sales, EquityStar and Zoernack “made material misrepresentations and omissions and engaged in a fraudulent scheme involving this and other deceptive conduct.”

Zoernack was tasked with writing and publishing marketing materials for the funds that EquityStar managed.  In these marketing materials, Zoernack allegedly claimed that the funds’ manager, whose name was not disclosed, had “an impeccable and unblemished past record with the SEC.”  According to the SEC, however, Zoernack was in fact the manager, and he had “two criminal fraud convictions, had previously filed for bankruptcy, and had numerous money judgments and liens against him.”  The Order also claims that Zoernack made various efforts to hide his criminal record and negative financial history, including paying a search-engine manipulator to make positive information about him appear before negative information in search engine results. Continue reading

On February 13, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it is accepting registrations for the National Compliance Outreach Seminar (“National Seminar”).  The National Seminar, which is part of the SEC’s Compliance Outreach Program, is designed to help educate registered investment advisers’ chief compliance officers (“CCOs”), as well as their senior officers, about “various broad topics applicable to larger investment advisory firms and investment companies.”  The National Seminar will take place on April 12, 2018 at the SEC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and it will last from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET.  While only 500 participants can attend in person, a live webcast will be provided via

This year the National Seminar will include six panel discussions between SEC personnel, CCOs, and various other industry representatives.  SEC personnel who participate in the panels typically include officers from the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, the Division of Investment Management, and the Division of Enforcement’s Asset Management Unit, as well as officers from other SEC divisions or offices.  CCOs and other senior staff in private advisory firms typically participate in the panels as well.  Each of these panels reflects areas of concern which the SEC likely intends to prioritize in 2018. Continue reading

On February 7, 2018, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published its Examination Priorities for 2018.  The Examination Priorities cover “certain practices, products, and services that OCIE believes may present potentially heightened risk to investors and/or the integrity of the U.S. capital markets.”  The five priorities that OCIE specifically listed are (1) issues crucial to retail investors, such as seniors and those saving for retirement, (2) compliance and risks in critical market infrastructure, (3) FINRA and MSRB, (4) cybersecurity, and (5) anti-money laundering programs.  This is not an exclusive list, and OCIE invited comments concerning how it can adequately promote compliance.

OCIE intends to continue to make shielding retail investors from fraud a priority.  OCIE plans to focus especially on senior investors and those saving for retirement.  For example, examiners will pay particular attention to firms’ internal controls that are intended to monitor their representatives, especially in relation to products targeted at senior investors.  OCIE will also focus on disclosure of the costs of investing, examination of investment advisers and broker-dealers who primarily offer advice through digital platforms, wrap fee programs, mutual funds and exchange traded funds, municipal advisors and underwriters, and the growth of the cryptocurrency and initial coin offering markets. Continue reading

Whether or not the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) will formally name advertising as among its priorities in 2018, it is clear from its activity and that of the Enforcement Division in 2017 that advertising should remain a concern of every registered investment adviser and chief compliance officer.

In September 2017, OCIE published a Risk Alert identifying the most common compliance issues pertaining to Rule 206(4)-1 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, otherwise known as the “Advertising Rule.”  An advertisement includes “any notice, circular, letter or other written communication addressed to more than one person, or any notice or other announcement in any publication or by radio or television, which offers” advice regarding securities.  The Advertising Rule forbids an investment adviser from “directly or indirectly… publishing, circulating, or distributing any untrue statement of material fact, or that is otherwise false or misleading.” Continue reading

On January 8, 2018, FINRA published its 2018 Annual Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter.  As we noted in our last blog post, FINRA announced in December 2017 that it would continue to make enforcement a priority in the coming year.  This Letter can be useful in helping firms ensure compliance since it outlines regulatory issues that FINRA plans to prioritize in the coming year.

According to the Letter, fraud is perpetually a significant issue for FINRA.  This past year, FINRA made numerous referrals to the Securities and Exchange Commission “for potential insider trading and other fraudulent activities involving individuals outside FINRA’s jurisdiction.”  One area of fraud that FINRA intends to place particular focus on is microcap fraud schemes, especially schemes targeting senior investors.  FINRA advises member firms that they should pay attention to their brokers’ activities involving microcap stocks, especially when the brokers show a newfound interest in purchasing microcap stocks for their accounts or for customers’ accounts. Continue reading

Susan A. Schroeder, the Executive Vice President and Head of Enforcement at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, recently discussed FINRA’s Enforcement Department’s day-to-day activities and goals at an event sponsored by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (“SIFMA”).  Schroeder discussed FINRA’s efforts to combine two enforcement groups into one unit, as well as FINRA’s intention to continue to devote its time to “vigorous enforcement” despite calls for less regulation in Washington.

In early 2017, FINRA began what Schroeder described as “a comprehensive self-evaluation and organizational improvement initiative called FINRA360.”  Before FINRA360, FINRA employed two separate enforcement teams.  One was tasked with administering disciplinary events pertaining to trading-based matters discovered by FINRA’s Market Regulation oversight division.  The other was tasked with administering disciplinary events brought forward by FINRA’s other regulatory oversight divisions, such as Member Regulation and Corporate Financing.  FINRA concluded through FINRA360 that combining these two enforcement groups into one unit could bring about “more efficiency and greater effectiveness through better communication.” Continue reading

On November 15, 2017, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, the Co-Directors of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement, published the Division’s Annual Report for fiscal year 2017.  Avakian and Peikin emphasized the Division’s commitment to enforcing the federal securities laws in order to “combat wrongdoing, compensate harmed investors, and maintain confidence in the integrity and fairness of our markets.”  They also emphasized their goals of shielding investors, discouraging misconduct, and reprimanding and penalizing those who violate the federal securities laws.  To accomplish these goals, five core principles, according to Avakian and Peikin, will serve as the Division’s road map.

First, the Division will focus primarily on retail investors, who Avakian and Peikin believe are not only the most common market participants, but also are the most susceptible and least equipped to handle financial loss.  The Division plans to keep confronting violations of the securities laws that can have a strong impact on retail investors, such as accounting fraud, sales of unsuitable products, Ponzi schemes, and pump and dump schemes.  The Division has also established a Retail Strategy Task Force to formulate competent methods of confronting securities law violations that affect retail investors.  The Retail Strategy Task Force will work with the SEC’s examination staff and the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy to pinpoint risk areas common to retail investors. Continue reading

Earlier this year the Maryland General Assembly amended parts of the Maryland Securities Act and added some new sections to it.  The amendments went into effect on October 1, 2017.  Changes to the Maryland Securities Act include the creation of the Securities Act Registration Fund, adoption of the North American Securities Administrators Association’s Senior Model Act to address financial exploitation of seniors, and changes in fees for certain filing categories.

The amendments added a new section, Section 11-208, which establishes a Securities Act Registration Fund.  The Fund’s purpose is “to help fund the direct and indirect costs of administering and enforcing the Maryland Securities Act.”  The Fund will comprise registration fees, money that the State sets aside for the Fund in its budget, and any money accepted from any other source for the Fund’s benefit.  The Fund cannot be used for any purpose other than administering and enforcing the Maryland Securities Act. Continue reading

Earlier this year, the Kansas Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision holding that Mark R. Schneider (“Schneider”), an investment adviser representative and broker-dealer, violated the Kansas Uniform Securities Act by recommending nontraditional exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”) to a client whose investment objective was to produce income.  Schneider was ordered to pay $94,720.60 in restitution and a $25,000 civil penalty.

For over 20 years, Schneider acted as investment adviser to Mary Lou and Jeffrey Silverman.  Schneider oversaw the Silvermans’ assets, tax returns, and life insurance, and he had discretionary authority over their investments.  In 2010, Mr. Silverman died, and Mrs. Silverman obtained $1,150,000 from Mr. Silverman’s life insurance policy.  In May 2010, Schneider formulated a financial plan to help Mrs. Silverman garner income from investments she would make using the money from the life insurance policy. Continue reading

On October 24, 2017, Morgan Stanley declared that it has decided to withdraw from the Protocol for Broker Recruiting (“Protocol”).  Morgan Stanley stated that the Protocol is “replete with opportunities for gamesmanship and loopholes” and that the Protocol is “no longer sustainable.”  It believes that leaving the Protocol will be beneficial for its growth as a company.  However, it is expected that Morgan Stanley’s withdrawal from the Protocol might bring significant consequences to the investment management industry, including potentially the end of the Protocol itself. Continue reading