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Category Archives: David Lerner Associates

FINRA: A Year in Review, Part 1

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has released its end-of-the-year report card on various regulatory achievements it made in 2012, along with progress highlights in detecting fraudulent activity, increasing transparency of securities markets and protecting investors.

Among FINRA’s key accomplishments in 2012:

  • Fines totaling $68 million were assessed.
  • A record $34 million in restitution to harmed customers was ordered.
  • 1,541 disciplinary actions (an increase of 53 from 2011) were brought against FINRA-registered individuals and firms.
  • 30 firms were expelled from the securities industry; 294 individuals were barred; and 549 brokers were suspended from association with FINRA-regulated firms.
  • 692 matters involving potential fraudulent conduct were referred by FINRA’s Office of Fraud Detection and Market Intelligence (OFDMI) to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other federal or state law enforcement agencies, including 347      insider trading referrals and 260 fraud referrals.

Disciplinary actions levied by FINRA in 2012 entailed several high-profile cases involving complex financial products, including exchange-traded funds (ETFs), structured products and non-traded REITs, as well as research analyst conflicts, inadequate disclosure and mispricing.

Among the 2012 cases: David Lerner Associates. FINRA sanctioned David Lerner Associates, the firm’s founder, President and CEO, and the firm’s head trader in an action related to the non-traded Apple REITs involving suitability and supervision violations. The settlement also consolidated numerous matters, including a municipal and CMO markup case, a pending enforcement investigation of more recent municipal and CMO markups, and 10 pending market regulation matters involving municipal markups identified through surveillance reviews.

FINRA also sanctioned Citigroup Global Markets, Inc; Morgan Stanley & Co., LLC; UBS Financial Services; and Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC a total of more than $9.1 million for selling leveraged and inverse ETFs without reasonable supervision and for not having a reasonable basis for recommending the securities. Fines totaling more than $7.3 million were levied against the firms, which were required to pay a total of $1.8 million in restitution to certain customers who made unsuitable leveraged and inverse ETF purchases. Similar cases were brought by FINRA against Merrill Lynch and Scott & Stringfellow.

Finally, Merrill Lynch was fined $450,000 for supervisory failures relating to sales of structured products to retail clients. The firm relied upon automated exception-based reporting systems to flag transactions and/or accounts that met certain pre-defined criteria, but did not specifically monitor for potentially unsuitable concentration levels.

Check back for Part 2 of FINRA’s 2012 Year in Review and the various investor protection and transparency initiatives launched in 2012.

2012: A Year in Review, Part 1

Non-traded REITs. Elder fraud. LPL Financial. Medical Capital Holdings. Tim Durham. Provident Royalties. Tenant-in-Common investments. Those were just a few of the investment topics to dominate the financial headlines in 2012.

In January, elderly investors found themselves caught up in scams involving Provident Royalties and Medical Capital Holdings. Both firms had previously been the subject of fraud charges by Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for scamming investors, many of whom were senior citizens, out of millions of dollars through bogus private placement deals.

A number of broker/dealers that sold investments in either Provident or Medical Capital found themselves facing regulatory investigations, as well as arbitration claims by investors. In late January, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ordered CapWest Securities to pay $9.1 million in damages and legal fees stemming from sales of private investments in both Medical Capital and Provident Royalties. The $9.1 million award is thought to be one of the single largest arbitration awards based on sales of failed private placements.

In February, tenant-in-common (TIC) investments and DBSI were big news. A one-time leader in the TIC industry, DBSI was now the focus of a criminal probe. DBSI founder and CEO Doug Swenson also faced charges of tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering and securities fraud.

DBSI, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008, left many of its 10,000-plus investors minus their life savings, while others took devestating financial losses. James Zazzaili, the court-appointed examiner in DBSI’s bankruptcy, stated that DBSI executives ran “an elaborate shell game, one that included improper and fraudulent use of investor money to prop up the company, to spend on pet projects, and to enrich themselves.”

In March, investors in several non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) received an unwelcome wake-up call when their investments unexpectedly declined sharply in value. Pacific Cornerstone Core Properties REIT fell by than 70%; investors in the non-traded REIT learned of the news via a letter from the REIT’s chairman that shares of Cornerstone, once priced at $8, were now worth $2.25.

Other REITs that followed down similar paths Cornerstone in 2012 included the Behringer Harvard Short-Term Opportunity Fund I LP and the Behringer Harvard Opportunity REIT I.

In April, shoddy private placements deals and the lawsuits that later ensued were behind the shuttering of yet another broker/dealer. On April 13, after losing an arbitration claim in March for $1.5 million, Cambridge Legacy Securities LLC filed its withdrawal request with FINRA. Several days later, the company sought bankruptcy protection.

April also witnessed the less-than-desirable IPO of Inland Western REIT. The REIT, now called Retail Properties of America, went public at $8 a share on April 5. The $8 per share price fell well below the expected price of $10 to $12. But that $8 valuation was the result of a 10-to-1 reverse stock split and distribution plan that may have cost pre-IPO investors as much as 70% of their initial investment.

In May, non-traded REITs again reared their ugly head when a FINRA arbitration panel ruled in favor of an investor’s claim against David Lerner Associates and the company’s Apple REIT Nine. FINRA further stepped up its scrutiny of the non-traded REIT sector in May by launching inquiries into several broker/dealers and their sales of the products.

In June, the SEC put life insurers on notice by instructing them to improve their product disclosures, protect legacy variable annuity clients and ensure that swapped benefits were indeed suitable for certain clients.

Investment scams involving financial aid, health insurance and Ponzi schemes also saw significant increases across the country in June.

Check back for Part 2 of our 2012 Year in Review wrap-up!

What’s the Real Value of Apple REITs?

Scrutiny is growing for Apple REITs – securities sold exclusively through David Lerner Associates. The products and Lerner have been in the hot seat for more than a month, after the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) filed a complaint stating that shares in Apple REITS had not been re-priced in years.

Meanwhile, Apple REIT investors have been under the impression that their shares were valued at the $11/share purchase price listed on their account statements. As it turns out, Lerner is now telling a different story. In a recent notice to Apple 7 and Apple 8 REIT investors, the value of the shares was $7.83 and $7.57 per share, respectively.

As reported June 15 by Investment News, FINRA stated in its complaint in May that it was misleading to investors not to reflect the updated value of the REITs on the David Lerner Associates Web site, especially in cases where the REITs pay dividends with principal and borrowed funds instead of operating income.

Accurate pricing of shares of illiquid, long-term non-traded REITs has been a bone of contention for nearly two years. Previously, the common practice in the brokerage industry was to list the share price on client account statements at par value, or the amount at which the broker/dealer sold it, with the product typically priced at $10 or $11 a share.

If you are concerned about your investment in Apple REITs, please contact us to tell your story.

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