Oren Eugene Sullivan is the disgraced South Carolina broker who recently pled guilty to mail fraud in connection to a multimillion dollar, decades-long Ponzi scheme. In January, Sullivan admitted in federal court that from 1995 through 2008 he ran the Ponzi scheme, selling fake investments to individuals and groups of investors, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina.
So why does the Web site of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards still list Sullivan as a CFP in good standing, with no public disciplinary history? It’s a question that was first raised in a Feb. 14 article in Investment News.
As the story aptly points out, designating authorities are finding it more and more difficult to keep up with the bad deeds and misconduct of financial representatives like Sullivan.
Monitoring conduct is an arduous and difficult task. The CFA Institute, which says that 85% of its investigations begin as a result of self-disclosures and 10% from news reports and regulatory Web sites, has two investigators who monitor professional conduct. Most of that work is primarily done via the Internet, according to the Investment News article.
Other designation groups follow similar investigative routes, as well as perform internal investigations before deciding upon punishment. The process, however, can be a lengthy one, ranging from several weeks to a year or more.
Case in point: Oren Eugene Sullivan.
Records with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) state that Sullivan sold clients nearly $4 million of fake promissory notes between 1995 and 2008. He repaid about $1.5 million before getting caught by authorities. In August 2009, Sullivan was barred by FINRA. In January 2010, he pled guilty to one fraud charge and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Somehow Sullivan’s actions didn’t mar his CFP designation with the CFP Board, however. Investment News did note that the CFP Board was aware of the allegations against Sullivan, but wouldn’t confirm whether they were actually investigating him.