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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Morgan Keegan Losses Keep Growing In FINRA Rulings

More investors are scoring legal victories in their claims against Morgan Keegan & Company and a group of proprietary mutual funds. As reported June 7, 2009, by The Birmingham News, 16 of investors’ 20 wins came in the past 25 arbitration hearings with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). In April, the Memphis-based investment firm suffered six consecutive losses in arbitration negotiations with investors.

Many investors who have filed claims with FINRA lost up to 95% of their money the Morgan Keegan mutual funds.

The claims against Morgan Keegan involve several collapsed bond funds that plummeted in value following the onset of the mortgage loan crisis. The common theme in the majority of investors’ claims is that Morgan Keegan misrepresented the mutual funds as corporate bonds and preferred stocks, giving the illusion of diversification and low risk levels.

Later, losses in the funds – which entailed more than $2 billion between March 31, 2007, and March 31, 2008 – were traced back to the underlying investments made by Morgan Keegan. The investments included risky and untested types of subprime mortgage securities, collateral debt obligations (CDOs) and other debt instruments.

Hyperion Brookfield Asset Management now manages the funds at the center of the ongoing litigation.

FINRA Finds Morgan Keegan Liable

A Birmingham arbitration panel (FINRA Case Number 08-00926) ruled against Morgan Keegan & Company in a claim involving the RMK Select High Income-C Bond Fund. 

In March 2008, investors Richard and Carolyn Bland filed their claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), charging Morgan Keegan of failing to disclose certain risks about the Select High Income-C Bond Fund, unsuitability, failure to supervise and breach of fiduciary duty.

On June 10, 2009, a FINRA panel awarded the Blands $21,000 plus interest, deciding Morgan Keegan failed to properly supervise trading activity in the claimants’ account, allowing all of their assets to be deposited into the Morgan Keegan Select High Income-C Bond Fund to the exclusion of other investments.

Crime & Punishment: Madoff Gets 150 Years

Shattered dreams and broken spirits were, in part, vindicated today when a federal judge formally sentenced disgraced financier Bernie Madoff to 150 years in federal prison.

Before Judge Denny Chin of U.S. District Court in New York imposed the sentence, several victims, including former friends of Madoff’’s, told their stories of how the money manager’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme had destroyed their lives. One victim said Madoff’s scam not only ruined her financially, but forced her to turn to food stamps and to scavenging for food in dumpsters. 

Madoff, who was arrested Dec. 11, 2008, orchestrated his money scheme over what investigators now believe is decades by presenting his firm, Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, as a genuine investment advisory business. In actuality, the company served as a front for a Ponzi scheme, with Madoff using money from new investors to make payments to previous ones, thus creating a false sense of legitimacy. Regulators now contend Madoff’s business hadn’t made a trade in at least 13 years. 

Madoff’s roster of clients entailed the who’s who of Hollywood, including director Steven Spielberg, charities, universities, friends, money managers, global firms and even his own sister.

Today, investigators are continuing to look for others who may have collaborated with Madoff. To that end, on June 23, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed civil fraud charges against Cohmad Securities, its chairman, Maurice Sonny Cohn, his daughter, chief operating officer Marcia Cohn, and vice president and broker Robert Jaffe. A second SEC lawsuit named investment adviser Stanley Chais, a Beverly Hills philanthropist, who allegedly oversaw three funds that invested the entirety of their assets – nearly $1 billion – with Madoff.  In channeling the money to Madoff, the SEC says the associates collected several hundred million dollars in fees.

Madoff’s sentence is the maximum allowed under federal law. After hearing the sentence read aloud, the courtroom erupted into universal applause.

The case is U.S. v. Madoff, 09-cr-00213, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

FINRA Hands Win To Investor In Case Against Stifel Nicolaus

On March 23, 2009, a St. Louis, Missouri, FINRA arbitration panel awarded investor Philip Rein $220,944 plus interest on his claims of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence against Stifel, Nicolaus & Company. 

According to award documents (FINRA # 07-01495), the claimant alleged that St. Louis-based Stifel Nicolaus failed to heed his stated investing objectives, which were focused on generating money for retirement income. Instead, Stifel created a retirement portfolio for Rein by investing a portion of his assets in a Pacific Life Variable Annuity and another portion of assets in three aggressive, all equity, money-management funds.

Ultimately, because of the Stifel’s selected investments, the investor said he lost the majority of his principal.

Schwab YieldPlus Fund Arbitration Award Issued

Charles Schwab & Company has been hit with yet another arbitration award connected to its Schwab YieldPlus Fund. On May 29, 2009, a FINRA arbitration panel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, awarded more than $14,500 plus interest to Gary Wilhelm on claims of negligence and misrepresentation on the part of the San Francisco-based investor firm and the sale of the Schwab YieldPlus Fund. 

According to the award (FINRA # 08-02118), Wilhelm invested a portion of his retirement IRA in the Schwab YieldPlus Fund based on recommendations by Charles Schwab that it was a “safer alternative to money market funds but with higher yields.” Despite assurances from Charles Schwab that the YieldPlus fund was low risk, it actually contained a high concentration of mortgage-backed securities. Following the onset of the mortgage loan crisis in 2007, the Schwab YieldPlus Fund plummeted in value and produced millions of dollars in losses for investors.

Wachovia Securities Fined $1.4 Million By FINRA

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced on June 25 that it had fined Wachovia Securities, LLC of St. Louis $1.4 million for the firm’s failure to deliver prospectuses and product descriptions to customers who purchased various investment products from July 2003 through December 2004. FINRA also cited Wachovia for related supervisory failures.

Specifically, FINRA found widespread deficiencies relating to the delivery of prospectuses for certain classes of securities, including exchange-traded funds (ETFs), collateral mortgage obligations (CMOs), auction-rate market preferred securities, corporate debt securities, preferred stocks, mutual funds, alternative investment securities, equity syndicate initial public offerings (IPOs) and secondary purchases of equity non-syndicate initial public offerings.

FINRA’s investigation of Wachovia showed that it failed to deliver the required prospectuses to customers in approximately 6,000 of approximately 22,000 transactions occurring between July 2003 and December 2004. The market value of the 6,000 transactions was approximately $256 million, according to FINRA.

At the time the activity at issue took place, Wachovia Securities, LLC was a subsidiary and non-bank affiliate of Wachovia Corporation. On Jan. 1, 2009, Wachovia Corporation merged with Wells Fargo & Company.

Former Fla. Regions Bank President Wins Arbitration Claim Against Morgan Keegan

Two brothers, Edward and Roderick King, were awarded almost $700,000 by a Birmingham arbitration panel of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for their claims involving a group of collapsed Regions Morgan Keegan mutual funds. One of the brothers, Edward, had once been a local president in Florida for Regions Bank. Regions now owns Morgan Keegan.

According to their complaint, the Kings accused Morgan Keegan of the following violations in connection to certain RMK funds: misrepresentations and omissions, violation of the Alabama Securities Act, breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract.

The funds cited in the Kings’ FINRA claim include the Regions Morgan Keegan High Income Fund, Regions Morgan Keegan Advantage Income Fund, Regions Morgan Keegan Multi-Sector High Income Fund, Regions Morgan Keegan Strategic Income Fund, Regions Morgan Keegan Select Intermediate Bond Fund, and Regions Morgan Keegan Select High Income Fund.

Morgan Keegan is the subject of numerous arbitration cases across the country for investor losses related to proprietary bond mutual funds that were once managed by former Morgan Keegan employee James Kelsoe. The funds, which had been marketed and sold as low to moderate risk funds, collectively lost more than $2 billion in 2007 and 2008 because of risky investments in low-tier and illiquid tranches of asset backed securities.

FINRA’s decision in the King brothers case follows other recent FINRA awards against Morgan Keegan, including $285,000 to a Jackson, Mississippi, investor (FINRA #08-00574), $950,000 to an NFL football player Jerome Woods (FINRA #07-03570) and $431,000 to Philip Richardson of Boca Raton, Florida (FINRA #08-01333).

Target-Date Mutual Funds Under Scrutiny

The concept behind target-date mutual funds is simple: Investors place their money in a fund that is managed around the holder’s intended retirement age. Over the years, target-date funds grew increasingly popular as a safe, conservative investment choice, becoming a staple in many 401K plans. 

Enter the financial crisis of 2008. As the stock market plummeted, older investors with 2010 target-date mutual funds found themselves facing losses of 40% or more.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is now taking a hard look at target-date mutual funds and whether some companies and financial advisors misled investors about the risks associated with the investments.

As reported June 25 in the New York Times, disclosure policies and regulations overseeing target-date mutual funds are opaque at best. Investment risks vary widely from fund to fund. Adding to the confusion for investors is the fact that mutual fund companies often create target-date funds by bundling them together with existing mutual funds. In doing so, companies or financial advisors are able to collect more assets and fees, while investors are left to figure out what the funds actually contain and exactly how much they are being charged.

 “At the end of the day, consumers need to know what they’re getting into,” said Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat (Wisconsin) and chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, in the New York Times article. “We’d like to see regulation, whether it’s a standardization of target-date composition, or increased clarification of information made available about the plans.”

If you are an individual or institutional investor and have concerns about your investments, contact Maddox Hargett & Caruso at 800.505.5515. We can evaluate your situation to determine if you have a claim.

PIABA Files Petition With SEC To Remove Industry Arbitrator Requirement

A group for attorneys representing individual and institutional investors in securities arbitration disputes has formally petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to remove a requirement that allows representatives from the securities industry to serve as arbitrators on Financial Industry Regulatory Association (FINRA) panels. 

The Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association, or PIABA, filed its petition with the SEC on June 11. 

Currently, FINRA rules mandate that any investor case involving $100,000 or more in damages must be heard by a three-person FINRA arbitration panel, with one of the panelists affiliated with the securities industry. PIABA wants investors to have the right to strike industry representatives from hearing their cases. 

“Requiring customers who believe they have been wronged by the securities industry to have claims decided by panels that must include a representative of that securities industry creates at the least the appearance of bias, if not outright bias,” said PIABA in its petition to the SEC.

As reported June 21 by Investment News, PIABA essentially is asking FINRA to expand a two-year pilot program that it launched in October 2008. The program entails 11 major brokerage firms that agreed to allow up to 276 investor plaintiffs a year choose all-public arbitration panels. 

Year-to-date through May 2009, 3,163 arbitration cases have been filed with FINRA. That is up 85% from the same period last year.

If you are an individual or institutional investor and have concerns about your investments, contact Maddox Hargett & Caruso at 800-505.5515. We can evaluate your situation to determine if you have a claim.

SEC Files Fraud Charges Against Former Brookstreet Securities Brokers

The June 2007 meltdown of Brookstreet Securities may finally produce some justice for more than 750 clients who were left with questions and massive financial losses because of bad bets placed by the Irvine, California-based brokerage on risky collateral mortgage obligations (CMOs).

On May 28, 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed fraud charges against 10 former Brookstreet brokers for allegedly disguising the risks of the CMOs and portraying them as conservative, fixed-income investments. The investments were later heavily margined, which ultimately caused Brookstreet’s clients to suffer millions of dollars in losses. Meanwhile, the SEC contends the brokers who sold the risky investments as conservative products pocketed millions of dollars in commissions and salaries.

Seven other brokers from the now-defunct Brookstreet firm face similar charges by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). 

Before it was forced to close its doors two years ago, Brookstreet Securities touted itself as a new kind brokerage firm dedicated to personalized service and innovative technology – a place where clients would find virtually unlimited investment choices designed to grow and protect their savings.

Far from growing or protecting their savings, many clients discovered an altogether different scenario in 2007 after the value of their investments in collateral mortgage obligations was heavily marked down, leaving them with little recourse. They either had to meet immediate and large margin calls or lose their entire investments.

As reported May 28, 2009, by the Registered Rep, the SEC complaint alleges that the 10 brokers named in its case earned $18 million in commissions and salaries from CMO sales while investors suffered more than $36 million in losses on their investments. 

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