Articles Tagged with Fraud

On May 24, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint against an options trading instructor and unregistered investment adviser, Gustavo A. Guzman (“Guzman”).  The complaint alleges that Guzman obtained more than $2.1 million from investors, assuring them that their funds would be invested in equity options and real estate.  However, evidence showed that Guzman misappropriated a third of the funds “and lost the remainder through his options trading while misleading existing or prospective investors.”

Guzman was not registered as an investment adviser with the SEC or any state authority.  However, he was tasked with managing investments in two private funds specializing in options trading and one real estate hedge fund.  He also received management fees for managing these funds.  As a result, Guzman met the definition of an investment adviser in the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) and was subject to its anti-fraud provisions. Continue reading

On May 4, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) reached a settlement with Verto Capital Management, LLC (“Verto”), a New Jersey-based life settlement firm, and its CEO, William Schantz III (“Schantz”).  Verto and Schantz consented to pay the SEC about $4 million, which includes both disgorgement and a penalty, to settle claims that they used funds from new investors to pay older investors in a Ponzi-type manner.  The SEC also alleged that Verto and Schantz diverted investor funds for Schantz’s personal use.

The settlement resulted from a complaint filed by the SEC in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey alleging that between November 2013 and November 2015 Verto and Schantz issued about $12.5 million worth of nine-month 7% promissory notes to investors.  Verto and Schantz claimed that the funds from these promissory notes would be used to purchase “life settlements,” which are life insurance policies that have been sold by their original owners to third-party buyers.  The SEC’s complaint alleges that Verto and Schantz made a variety of misrepresentations in the sale of these promissory notes. Continue reading

On April 10, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that it brought enforcement actions against 27 firms and individuals.  According to the SEC, these firms and individuals published articles on investment websites about various companies’ stock.  The articles did not disclose to investors, however, that they were not “independent, unbiased analyses,” and they allegedly gave investors the opinion that they were.  The articles also did not have any disclaimers stating that the authors were being paid for promoting various companies’ stock.

The SEC conducted investigations through which it found that public companies engaged promoters or communications firms to create publicity for their stocks.  The promoters and communications firms then employed writers to write articles about the companies.  These articles, however, did not inform the public that the writers were receiving compensation from the public companies.  The SEC claims that, because these articles did not disclose the compensation arrangement, they created the impression that they were impartial when in fact they were “nothing more than paid advertisements.”  Moreover, the SEC found that more than 250 articles contained untrue statements that the writers were not being paid by the companies that their articles were discussing.  As a result, the SEC is alleging that the relevant firms and individuals committed fraud. Continue reading

On February 2, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut against Sentinel Growth Fund Management, LLC (“Sentinel”), an investment adviser, and its founder, Mark J. Varrachi (“Varrachi”).  The complaint alleges that from about December 2015 to November 2016, Varacchi and Sentinel stole $3.95 million or more from investment advisory clients.  The complaint asks that the District Court impose a permanent injunction against Varacchi and Sentinel, order them to disgorge any ill-gotten gains, and order them to pay civil penalties.

Neither Sentinel nor Varrachi was registered as an investment adviser with the SEC or with any state regulatory authority.  However, the SEC charged both of them with violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”).  The SEC found that Sentinel was “in the business of providing investment advice concerning securities for compensation,” which fits the definition of an investment adviser in Section 202(a)(11) of the Advisers Act.  As for Varrachi, the SEC determined that because he owned and managed Sentinel, he too was an investment adviser.  As a result of meeting the definition of an investment adviser, Sentinel and Varrachi were subject to the Advisers Act’s antifraud provisions. Continue reading

On December 13, 2016, the Arizona Court of Appeals (“Court of Appeals”) affirmed an Arizona Superior Court’s decision finding that Patrick Shudak, an investment adviser, violated the Arizona Securities Act by acting as an unregistered securities salesperson or dealer in connection with the sale of interests in a real estate venture.

From January 2008 through July 2009, Shudak sold membership units in a company known as Parker Skylar & Associates, LLC (PSA).  Neither Shudak nor PSA was registered as a securities salesperson or dealer under the Arizona Securities Act.  Shudak stated in PSA’s promotional materials that the money invested in PSA would “be used to purchase and develop real property.”  In reality, however, Shudak placed the money that investors put into PSA into his personal account, the personal accounts of others such as his girlfriend, and business accounts of other business that Shudak owned or had some affiliation with.

In December 2009, investors started to grow worried when Shudak stopped returning phone calls and replying to the investors’ demands for information.  As a result, Shudak was obligated to stop serving as PSA manager and to give up his PSA membership.  He subsequently filed for bankruptcy in April 2010.

On December 1, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that it had filed a complaint for injunctive and other relief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida against Onix Capital LLC (“Onix Capital”), an asset management company, and its owner, a Chilean national by the name of Alberto Chang-Rajii (“Chang”).  The complaint alleges that Onix Capital and Chang “violated the federal securities laws by fraudulently raising approximately $7.4 million from investors based on material misrepresentations regarding the investments offered, the use of the funds raised, and the background and financial success of Chang himself.”

Onix Capital was not an SEC-registered adviser, nor was Chang registered as an investment adviser or broker-dealer.  However, the SEC alleged that Onix Capital and Chang violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”).  Specifically, the SEC alleged that Chang, “for compensation, engaged in the business of advising… investors… as to the value of securities or as to the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities,” and therefore met the definition of an “investment adviser” subject to the anti-fraud provisions of the Advisers Act. Continue reading

On July 29, 2016, the Appellate Court of Illinois entered a decision reversing a circuit court decision that affirmed an administrative order of the Illinois Secretary of State (“Secretary”) finding that Richard Lee Van Dyke, a registered investment adviser with the Illinois Department of Securities (“Department”), had defrauded clients by recommending the sale of indexed annuities in violation of Illinois law.

Section 2.1 of the Illinois Securities Law of 1953 (“Act”) provides that the term “security” is defined to include a “face amount certificate.”  Section 2.14 of the Act further defines a “face amount certificate” to include “any form of annuity contract (other than an annuity contract issued by a life insurance company authorized to transact business in this State)”.  However, Section 12(J) of the Act prohibits fraudulent or manipulative conduct as an investment adviser regardless of whether the investment adviser sells securities.  The Van Dyke case is perhaps most notable for its rejection of the circuit court’s conclusion that Van Dyke’s practices were fraudulent. Continue reading

The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently filed suit against a North Carolina investment adviser for allegedly defrauding investors in the sale of certain real estate-related investments in unregistered pooled investment vehicles. The adviser, Richard W. Davis Jr., solicited investors primarily from the Charlotte, North Carolina region and was able to raise approximately $11.5 million from 85 investors, the majority of which were individuals with retirement accounts. However, he allegedly failed to disclose to clients that the money in the funds was being steered towards several other entities beneficially owned by himself.

Davis allegedly told investors in one of his funds that the fund’s capital would be invested in short term fully secured loans to real estate developers. He allegedly failed to mention, however, that many of the real estate developers receiving these loans were companies owned and operated by himself, creating an inherent conflict of interest. Furthermore, the companies never repaid the loans in full and Davis allegedly failed to inform his investors of this or reappraise the value of the fund’s investment. Instead, Davis allegedly misrepresented the value of the pooled fund by repeatedly stating that it had not lost any value.

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Last month the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) instituted and simultaneously settled an administrative enforcement case in which a civil penalty of $225,000.00 was assessed against Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc. (Cambridge).  The action illustrates the importance of designing and implementing effective heightened supervision programs for investment adviser representatives who have a history of allegations of rules violations or other misconduct or disclosure items on the Form U-4.

The case stemmed from an incident that was the subject of a separate SEC proceeding filed in 2013 against Richard P. Sandru, who was an investment adviser representative operating from Cambridge’s Perrysburg, Ohio branch office.  In that proceeding, Sandru was found to have forged clients’ signatures on financial planning agreements or, in some cases, adding client charges to the agreements without the clients’ knowledge and without obtaining additional signatures from the clients authorizing the additional charges.  Sandru’s conduct, which the SEC characterized as a fraudulent scheme to misappropriate client funds, took place between 2009 and 2011 and potentially affected 47 advisory clients, from whom Sandru allegedly misappropriated “at least $308,850.00.”  Sandru was, at this time, an OSJ of Cambridge and supervised two other Cambridge representatives and other administrative assistants.

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Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil lawsuit against four individuals who are alleged to have defrauded seniors through so-called “Free Dinner” investment seminars conducted by their investment adviser firm.  The SEC alleged that Joseph Andrew Paul and John D. Ellis, Jr., who managed and jointly owned Paul-Ellis Investment Associates, LLC (PEIA), created materially false and fraudulent marketing material in order to induce Florida residents to attend the “Free Dinner” seminar.  More specifically, the SEC alleged that the marketing materials included performance return statistics that were not consistent with the actual track record of the firm, but rather had been copied and pasted from another advisory firm’s website.

The individuals were also alleged to have recruited James S. Quay of Atlanta, Georgia and Donald H. Ellison of Palm Beach, Florida, who allegedly used the false material to mislead seniors who responded to the “Free Dinner” invitation.  The SEC further alleges that Mr. Quay used an alias, Stephen Jameson in order to conceal his true identity.  Mr. Quay was previously involved and was held liable in an enforcement action brought by the SEC in 2012.  Before that, Quay was an active sales agent in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme operated by an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the SEC, Quay was also convicted of tax fraud in 2005.

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