Victory – Vindicated By The California Court of Appeals

“The victory benefits investors everywhere by making clear that basic rules of due process do apply in FINRA arbitration”

In August, 2014, I represented Sandra Liebhaber in a FINRA hearing requested by Royal Alliance Associates and its one time financial advisor, Kathleen Tarr. This was an expungement hearing in which Royal Alliance and Tarr asked FINRA to erase any trace of the claim that my client had filed and settled with Royal Alliance. To grant that extraordinary remedy, the FINRA three-person panel had to find essentially that Ms. Liebhaber had filed a false claim. Ms. Liebhaber did not and would not file a false claim, and when I found out about the request, Darlene Pasieczny and I agreed to represent her without charge at the hearing to oppose the expungement. At the hearing, the arbitrators allowed Ms. Tarr to testify that she was a minister’s daughter and had done nothing wrong. When I asked to cross examine Ms. Tarr, the FINRA panel refused to allow me to ask her any questions. I then asked permission to call Ms. Liebhaber as a witness, to testify about what Ms. Tarr really had done. The panel refused to allow her to testify, as well. And, along the way, they told me that they had heard enough from me, despite the fact that I retained my cool and acted with respect through the entire Gulag-like ordeal. When the decision came down, and not surprisingly, the panel granted the expungement.

Yesterday, we were vindicated by the California Court of Appeals. The court found that the panel had acted improperly. It vacated the FINRA panel’s decision granting expungement. Ms. Liebhaber’s claim will remain on Ms. Tarr’s Broker-Check report, as it should.

The victory benefits investors everywhere by making clear that basic rules of due process do apply in FINRA arbitration. It was the product of many hands. I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend and colleague in Beverly Hills, Lenny Steiner, who ably represented Ms. Liebhaber before the California Court of Appeals. I thank FINRA itself for recognizing that the panel had done wrong, and joined us in the request that the court toss the arbitration ruling. I also thank Susan Antilla, whose reporting on this case originally in The New York Times, and again yesterday in TheStreet.com, brought much-needed national attention to the case. And, last but clearly not least, I thank Sandra Liebhaber, who cared enough for future victims of investment abuse to fight the good fight.

A copy of the California Court of Appeals decision, which is scheduled for publication, can be found on the California Courts website.

 

Investor Defenders is a practice group of Samules Yoelin Kantor LLP focused on representing investors in situations where professional misconduct resulted in a financial loss. Lead securities attorney Bob Banks has earned a national reputation for his success fighting on behalf of investors in FINRA arbitration and in court for over 30 years. Consultations are complimentary and most cases are done on contingency fee, meaning that our clients do not pay any attorney fees unless we recover losses.

George Merhoff and Energy Stocks – The Investigation Continues

The Investigation of Klamath Falls Financial Advisor George Merhoff Jr. and Cetera Investments, Pacific West Securities, Inc. Continues

Customer Concerns Grow About Energy Stock Concentration and George Merhoff

Our office continues to investigate Cetera Investments and its representative George Merhoff Jr. Since our last reporting, even more investors have called us to report that they suffered significant losses in their accounts as a result of having virtually all of their investments in energy stocks. We continue to evaluate how widespread this problem is for our clients and potentially others who were customers of George Merhoff. Mr. Merhoff is currently a registered representative of Cetera Investments, and was previously a registered representative of Pacific West Securities, Inc.

If you are or were a customer of George Merhoff and are willing to share your information with us that might help us in this investigation, or if you have lost money in another investment or have concerns about the conduct of another financial advisor, please call our office at 800-647-8130 for a confidential, and free no obligation consultation.

Is Your Investment Portfolio Over-Concentrated in Energy Stocks?

Here is why we are conducting our investigation: When a portfolio is heavily weighted in one particular industry sector, we refer to it as a non-diversified, over-concentrated account. Over-concentration increases volatility and risk in investment portfolios. Licensed securities stockbrokers and have an obligation under the law and FINRA Rule 2110 to recommend only suitable investments and trading strategies, based upon the particular customer’s risk tolerance, investment objectives, investment experience, time frame, and other factors when recommending an investment. If a broker recommends the same types of concentrated energy sector portfolios to a broad array of clients, regardless of their needs for safety and moderation, that suggest that the securities laws may have been violated.

What is FINRA and what is the Suitability Rule?

FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) is the self-regulatory organization that is authorized by Congress to regulate the securities industry.

That includes brokers and brokerage firms. FINRA has various rules to do this including Rules 2110 and 2111, which provide that a broker’s investment recommendations must be “suitable” for the customer. Suitability includes reasonable-basis suitability (that the investment or investment strategy is suitable for at least some investors), customer-specific suitability (the recommendations are suitable for that specific customer), and quantitative suitability (that a series of recommended transactions, even if suitable in isolation, when considered together are not excessive and unsuitable for that customer). Violations of the FINRA suitability rules may implicate other laws such as negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, and financial losses caused by the unlawful conduct may be recoverable by the investor.

Do you have questions about losses in accounts managed by Cetera Investments or George Merhoff?

The fact that you invested with Mr. Merhoff or Cetera does not necessarily mean that there was wrongdoing. However, if your account was over-concentrated in energy stocks and you did not ask for those investments, we would like to hear from you. Bob Banks, a nationally recognized securities attorney, has fought for investors in court and FINRA arbitration since 1985. He has successfully represented investors in over-concentration cases where there has been a failure to diversify investments. He leads the Investor Defenders practice group at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP. If you have lost money in an investment, or if you have any concerns about the conduct of your financial adviser, please contact us, or call our office at 800-647-8130 for a free no obligation consultation.

Energy Stocks: Problems with Cetera Investments and George Merhoff

Investigation: Cetera Investments and George Merhoff

At the request of our clients, we are investigating Cetera Investments and its representative George Merhoff Jr. regarding concerns that the investment portfolios held at that firm were overly concentrated in energy stocks. Investors report to us that they have suffered significant losses as a result of having virtually all their investments in energy company investments. We are evaluating how widespread the problem is for our clients.  We also want to compare similarities of our clients’ investment portfolios to those of other clients of Cetera Investment where George Merhoff was the advisor. Please feel free to contact our office if you are willing to share information that might assist our clients and us in this investigation. You may remain anonymous if you prefer.

Is Your Account Concentrated In Energy Stocks?

Here is why we are conducting our investigation: When a portfolio is heavily weighted in one particular industry sector, we refer to it as a non-diversified, over-concentrated account. Over-concentration increases volatility and risk in investment portfolios. Licensed securities stockbrokers and have an obligation under the law and FINRA Rule 2110 to recommend only suitable investments and trading strategies, based upon the particular customer’s risk tolerance, investment objectives, investment experience, time frame, and other factors when recommending an investment. If a broker recommends the same types of concentrated energy sector portfolios to a broad array of clients, regardless of their needs for safety and moderation, that suggest that the securities laws may have been violated.

FINRA BrokerCheck Reveals Customer Complaints

Mr. Merhoff and Cetera are both registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Mr. Merhoff’s (CRD#2918171) FINRA BrokerCheck report reveals six prior disclosure events. He previously was registered with Pacific West Securities Inc. in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Cetera Investment Services (CRD#15340) operates out of St. Cloud Minnesota, and has offices in Oregon. Their BrokerCheck report shows 26 disclosure events including claims of breach of fiduciary duty and failure to supervise.

Do you have questions about losses in accounts managed by Cetera Investments or George Merhoff?

The fact that you invested with Mr. Merhoff or Cetera does not necessarily mean that there was wrongdoing. However, if your account was over-concentrated in energy stocks and you did not ask for those investments, we would like to hear from you. Bob Banks, a nationally recognized securities attorney who is listed in SuperLawyers and Best Lawyers In America, has fought for investors in court and FINRA arbitration since 1985.  He has successfully represented investors in over-concentration cases where there has been a failure to diversify investments. He leads the Investor Defenders practice group at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP. If you have lost money in an investment, or if you have any concerns about the conduct of your financial adviser, please contact us or call our office at 800-647-8130 for a free no obligation consultation.

Three Protections For Pension Funds

Geoff Mulville wrote in an article for the Associated Press printed in The Oregonian on January 24 that pension funds could be damaged by the recent stock market slide.

Pension and other retirement funds will best weather the storm when protected by the following three strategies:

  1. Proper Asset Allocation
  2. Diversification Within Asset Classes
  3. Careful Management of Investment Costs

If you are an employer who selected your fund manager, do you know how to evaluate those criteria? Bob Banks works with registered investment advisors to evaluate and advise about the legal and investment consequences of your employer sponsored retirement fund.

Investor Defender attorneys Robert S. Banks Jr. and Darlene Pasieczny have the experience, knowledge, and dedication to help you. Banks, a nationally recognized securities attorney, has fought on behalf of investors in court and FINRA arbitration since 1985. If you have concerns about your investments, lost money in an investment, or if you have concerns about the conduct of your financial advisor, please contact us for a free, confidential initial consultation with an experienced securities litigation attorney. For more information about different types of securities claims, the FINRA arbitration process, current investigations, sample cases and results, and our attorneys, visit our website at InvestorDefenders.com and SamuelsLaw.com.

Before Hiring a Financial Professional – Ask These Questions

It’s a new year and you’re looking to hire a broker or investment advisor to help you with your financial planning and investment decisions. What questions should you ask at that first meeting? FINRA recently released an Investor Education top 5 questions to ask:

1. What experience do you have working with people like me?

2. Are you registered with FINRA, the SEC or a state securities regulator?

3. Do you or your firm have an overarching investment philosophy?

4. Do you or your firm impose any minimum account balances on customers?

5. How do you get paid?

Before you entrust your retirement or other savings with a financial professional, it’s important that you understand the answers to these and other questions.

The Investor Defenders attorneys at Samuels Yoelin Kantor represent investors each day who were unlucky in hiring the wrong adviser. We work to recover investment losses caused by negligent portfolio management, unsuitable product sales, excessive transactions (“churning”), and other bad acts.

Investor Defender attorneys Robert S. Banks Jr. and Darlene Pasieczny have the experience, knowledge, and dedication to help you. Since 1985, they have represented clients nationwide. If you have concerns about your investments or the conduct of your financial adviser, please contact us for a free, confidential initial consultation with an experienced securities litigation attorney. For more information about different types of securities claims, the FINRA arbitration process, current investigations, sample cases and results, and our attorneys, visit our website at InvestorDefenders.com and SamuelsLaw.com.

Banks’s Case Regarding FINRA Highlighted in Investment News

Bob Banks’s case is highlighted in a story in Investment News about the FINRA arbitration expungement process.

Deleted: FINRA Erases Many Broker Disciplinary Records

Investor Defender attorneys Robert S. Banks Jr. and Darlene Pasieczny have the experience, knowledge, and dedication to help you. Mr. Banks himself has over 30 years experience representing investors in recovering millions of dollars in investment losses, and he has served on FINRA’s own National Arbitration and Mediation Committee. If you have any questions about the story and FINRA arbitration, or have concerns about your financial advisor or investment portfolio, please contact us and visit our website at investordefenders.com.

Form U5 Information Gets to BrokerCheck Faster with New FINRA Rule Change

Effective December 12, 2015, certain information provided on the registration termination paperwork (Form U5) for a brokerage firm or terminated broker will be accessible on BrokerCheck in 3 business days instead of 15. The SEC approved the proposed change to FINRA Rule 8312 (FINRA BrokerCheck Disclosure). The Form U5 includes important information for investors researching brokers or firms on BrokerCheck, including whether a broker was fired from a firm and the reason given by the firm for termination.

See the full FINRA Regulatory Notice 15-49.

BrokerCheck and other investor educational materials are available on FINRA’s website.

Investor Defender attorneys Robert S. Banks Jr. and Darlene Pasieczny have the experience, knowledge, and dedication to help you. Mr. Banks himself has over 30 years experience representing investors in recovering millions of dollars in investment losses, and he has served on FINRA’s own National Arbitration and Mediation Committee. If you have concerns about your financial advisor or investment portfolio, please contact us and visit our website at investordefenders.com.

LPL Financial In Trouble Again For Improper Sales of Non-Traded REITs

The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) announced Wednesday a settlement with brokerage firm LPL Financial. The settlement is the result of a multi-state investigation led by the Nevada Secretary of State Securities Division into LPL’s failure to implement adequate supervisory systems and failure to enforce its own written procedures regarding sales of non-traded REIT shares.

Under the terms of the settlement, in addition to remediating certain investor losses, LPL will pay civil penalties of $1.425 million to be distributed among 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. LPL already reached a prior settlement with Massachusetts’s securities regulators in 2013, and a separate action by New Hampshire securities regulators is still pending.

This is only the latest sanction against LPL for improper sales of non-traded REIT shares to investors. In May, 2015, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ordered LPL to pay about $10 million for broad supervisory failures in the sales of non-traded REITs, non-traditional exchange-traded funds (ETFs), certain variable annuities and other complex products.

My advisor sold me a non-traded REIT…. I didn’t understand the risks. Can I get my money back from these state regulator settlements?

If you have any concerns about a sizable non-traded REIT purchase, contacting an attorney experienced in representing investors in securities litigation and FINRA arbitration is your first stop.   While the recent settlements between LPL and other brokerage firms with state securities regulators may include some limited compensation for certain investors, only a private action in court or FINRA arbitration is the best chance to rescind (unwind) an unsuitable investment sale, or otherwise recover your investment losses from improper investment recommendations.

What’s so Risky About Non-Traded REITs?

  • Not a “liquid” investment. Non-traded means not traded on a public securities exchange. It may be that the only way an investor can re-sell the shares is to take pennies on the dollar in a private secondary market.   A financial advisor should clearly explain this to you before you invest, and you should be willing to take the risk of not having access to your investment. Be wary if your advisor tells you not to worry, that the company will buy it back, or that they can make special arrangements for a sale. A non-traded REIT may occasionally offer to buy back a limited amount of investor shares at some highly discounted value, but the company is not required to do that and it is impossible to predict if or when it may happen.
  • Expected holding time can be long (7-10 years) and may never end. The idea behind a REIT is that it is a pooled investment fund for income-producing real estate with special tax breaks under the Internal Revenue Code. At some point, the real estate project may fully develop and the company has a “liquidity event” – the first date when an investor can sell his or her shares. But, that date can be years away – or never occur – if the underlying real estate investments are unsuccessful.   Retail investors are unsecured creditors if the company goes belly-up, putting you at the end of the line for a payout. Be wary if your advisor recommends a non-traded REIT without explaining the risk of a long time horizon or total loss of your investment, in particular if you are 60+ years old and thinking about retirement needs.
  • High front-end fees that may not be disclosed end up costing investors. Those fees can be up to 16%, so the $10,000 you put in is really only an $8,400 investment. That makes a big difference over time as to how dividend payments are calculated and your principal investment value.

A recent study by the Securities Litigation & Consulting Group found that investors are about $50 billion worse off for having put money into non-traded REITs, versus exchange-traded REITs (which do exist).

  • Those same front-end fees mean big commissions for the financial advisor. Your broker might earn 8 – 10% on the sale of a non-traded REIT. This can create an incentive to recommend unsuitable products to the investor. Be wary if your advisor does not (or cannot) explain the illiquidity, long time horizon, higher risk of loss of investment, and high costs of purchasing a non-traded REIT.

These are some of the most prominent risks of non-traded REIT sales. Many brokerage firms, not only LPL Financial, have been sanctioned for supervisory failures and other sales practice violations regarding these risky products. Whether a non-traded REIT is a suitable component of an investment portfolio is a case-by-case analysis, and the Investor Defender attorneys at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP may be able to help recover your money.

Investor Defender attorneys Robert S. Banks Jr. and Darlene Pasieczny have the experience, knowledge, and dedication to help you. Mr. Banks himself has over 30 years experience representing investors in recovering millions of dollars in investment losses, and he has served on FINRA’s own National Arbitration and Mediation Committee. If you have concerns about your financial advisor or investment portfolio, please contact us and visit our website at investordefenders.com.

Banks Quoted in Investment News Article Regarding Expungement Language

Investor Defender attorney Robert S. Banks, Jr. was recently quoted by Investment News, in an article about FINRA arbitration expungement procedures.

Expungement has been a controversial issue because brokers are routinely granted arbitration awards that allow them to expunge, or forever erase, customer arbitration complaints from their BrokerCheck records.  The FINRA board is scheduled to consider incorporating the current arbitrators’ expungement guidance into the FINRA Code of Arbitration Procedure at an upcoming board meeting.  Mr. Banks commented that, while FINRA is correct in recognizing that expungement remains a problem, the changes under consideration will not solve the problem.

Robert S. Banks, Jr. has over 30 years experience representing investors in securities industry disputes and FINRA arbitration across the United States. His clients include institutional investors, pension funds, municipalities, fiduciaries, as well as individual investors. If you have concerns about your financial advisor or investment portfolio, please contact us and visit our website at investordefenders.com

Investor Defenders is a practice group of Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focused exclusively on investor advocacy.

FINRA Examines Conflict in Broker Compensation

As reported by Investment News recently, FINRA has sent letters to brokerage firms asking about Broker Compensation. The goal is to discourage firms from selling products that benefit the brokerage firm and the broker at the expense of the customer. I think FINRA enforcement staff would agree that investors expect their financial advisors (whether called registered representatives or investment advisors) to recommend an investment based on what is in the client’s best interest, and not on the amount of sales compensation to be earned.  I applaud FINRA for sending out its compensation inquiries. There have been too many cases where my clients have been sold investments that paid a 5% commission, where there were far more appropriate investments available, that paid less to the salesman.  FINRA should take the next logical step and support the Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary standard. Brokers claim to have the client’s best interests at heart, and they should be held to the same standard  — the fiduciary standard —  when handling the life savings of public investors.

I have represented investors in breach of fiduciary duty cases for more than 25 years.  If you have questions about investor rights issues, do not hesitate to contact Investor Defenders at (800) 647-8130.

Robert S. Banks, Jr. has over 30 years experience representing investors in securities industry disputes and FINRA arbitration across the United States. His clients include institutional investors, pension funds, municipalities, fiduciaries, as well as individual investors. If you have concerns about your financial advisor or investment portfolio, please contact us and visit our website at investordefenders.com

Investor Defenders is a practice group of Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focused exclusively on investor advocacy.