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Category Archives: Promissory Notes

‘Broker to the Stars’ Bambi Holzer Booted From Securities Industry

Once known as a financial broker to the rich and famous, Bambi Holzer has now been barred from the securities industry by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Holzer agreed to the settlement with FINRA last week.

Holzer’s problems seemingly began at the onset of her career in the financial business. As reported in a 2009 article by Forbes, Holzer started working in the 1980s as a receptionist for Oppenheimer & Co. She was promoted within a few weeks to assist the firm’s muni bond trading desk. Shortly thereafter, Holzer moved to Shearson Lehman Hutton, where she was accused of fraud, negligence and churning a client account. According to the Forbes article, Holzer’s employer paid $70,000 to resolve those allegations.

Regulatory records show that Holzer returned to Oppenheimer in 1989 and was “permitted to resign” the following year. Over the years, Holzer worked for at least 10 different broker/dealers, including Brookstreet Securities, A.G. Edwards, Bear Stearns, Newport Coast Securities and UBS.

Despite her problems with regulators – as well as a growing list of investor complaints and disciplinary actions – Holzer somehow managed to maintain an image of wealth and success. With a Beverly Hills office located just off of Rodeo Drive, Holzer counted several celebrities among her clients, including former “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus. In addition to dispensing financial advice, Holzer authored several books and made numerous television appearances.

Eventually, however, Holzer’s sketchy regulatory history caught up with her. In 2007, former client and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as well as other investors, sued Holzer and one of her former employers over a dispute involving $4.4 million invested in annuities. That suit was later settled.

According to the Investment News article, Holzer and her firm at the time, UBS PaineWebber, paid out at least $11.4 million to settle dozens of investor claims that she misrepresented variable annuities by saying that they offered guaranteed returns.

In September 2013, Holzer was suspended by FINRA since September; at the time, her BrokerCheck report contained 115 pages of investor complaints.

One month later, Holzer was sued by FINRA for allegedly lying to one of her former broker/dealers, Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc., about several clients’ net worth when she sold preferred shares of one of the deals issued by Provident Royalties. In July 2009, Provident Royalties was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for fraud and what later turned out to be a $485 million Ponzi scheme.

Broker Who Worked for Firm Caught in Alleged Promissory Note Scam Barred by FINRA

For many investors, promissory notes tend to conjure memories of recent deals gone bad, especially those associated with Medical Capital Holdings or Provident Royalties. Both entities were charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and cost investors millions of dollars in financial losses.

Promissory notes are again back in the news. This time a broker who worked for a firm – Success Trade Securities – that is alleged to have sold more than $18 million in fraudulent promissory notes to 58 investors has been barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

The broker, Jinesh “Hodge” Brahmbhattm, worked for Success Trade Securities from 2009 until April. He was barred by FINRA last week.

Many of the individuals who invested in the fraudulent notes are current and former NFL and NBA players. As reported Nov. 20 by Investment News, one athlete, Jared Odrick of the Miami Dolphins, has filed an arbitration complaint with FINRA against Brahmbhatt, Success Trade and the company’s top executive, Fuad Ahmed.

The letter of acceptance, waiver and consent from FINRA doesn’t mention Brahmbhatt’s work with Success Trade as the reason he was barred from FINRA. Rather, it cites Brahmbhatt’s failure to appear and testify in August at a disciplinary hearing regarding Success Trade and Ahmed.

Earlier this spring, FINRA filed a cease-and-desist order against Success Trade and Ahmed. The order specifically instructed the two “to halt further fraudulent activities” and cited “the misuse of investors’ funds and assets.”

FINRA also filed a complaint against Ahmed and Success Trade, alleging “fraud in the sale of promissory notes issued by the firm’s parent company, Success Trade Inc.”

According to a Nov. 18 story by Yahoo Sports, Brahmbhatt had once been registered in a financial advisers program created by the NFL Players Association. He dropped his FINRA license in April, and told Yahoo Sports at the time that he had more than 30 clients who had purchased some $12 million of the allegedly fraudulent promissory notes from Success Trade.

Meanwhile, Odrick, the NFL player, filed his arbitration complaint with FINRA in April. He says in the complaint that he invested $625,000 in Success Trade notes and one other series of promissory notes beginning in 2011. Among other things, Odrick alleges that he was promised returns of 10% to 12.5%. The Success Trade note “was part of a large Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Success Trade, Ahmed and Brahmbhatt,” the complaint states.


FINRA Weighing Whether Brokerages Should Be Required to Carry Arbitration Insurance

The idea of mandating that brokerage firms carry arbitration insurance is on the table for consideration by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). As reported by the Wall Street Journal last week, the problem of brokerage firms shutting down without paying awards or other legal claims owed to investors has been an ongoing issue for FINRA for some time now.

“We’re going to evaluate the whole area and see if there are additional steps we can take,” said Susan Axelrod, FINRA’s executive vice president of regulatory operations, in the Wall Street Journal story.

As noted in the Wall Street Journal article, “the financial cushion at some brokerage firms is so thin that just one arbitration award could put them out of business. More than 940 firms disclosed net capital of less than $50,000 in their most recent financial reports as of July 1.”

In 2011, FINRA says that $51 million of arbitration awards granted in 2011 haven’t been paid, or 11% of the total awards. The percentage is up from 4% in 2009 and 2010.

Adding to the problem is the fact that many brokers at firms that go out of business often continue working in the financial industry. Meanwhile, investors are left with nowhere to turn and no help by state regulators when they try to collect their awards.

Some state securities regulators support the idea of requiring brokerage firms to have arbitration insurance.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees FINRA, requires smaller brokerage firms to have net capital of at least $5,000 or a level related to the firm’s debts, if higher. The net capital rules are in place to ensure that brokerage firms can return investors’ assets if the firm fails.

Still, those rules don’t do much good for investors who lose money because of alleged broker misconduct and are unable to get their arbitration awards because the firm has shuttered its business.

FINRA’s Axelrod said in the Wall Street Journal article that regulator will consider whether brokerage firms should be required to have “errors and omissions” insurance, which can cover claims for negligence or misconduct by the brokers.

Case in point: Provident Royalties LLC. In 2009, the SEC charged the firm and its three owners of operating a $485 million Ponzi scheme. Earlier this year, the executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the fraud.

FINRA has since taken disciplinary action against several brokerage firms and brokers for allegedly selling Provident Royalties’ private placements without conducting their proper due diligence. More than $150 million was sold by firms that have closed and appear to have no insurance or other means to pay investors.

Indiana Man Charged in Ponzi Scam Targeting Retirement Savings of Investors

Every year, more investors watch helplessly as their retirement savings vanish because of investment fraud. Many of these individuals are elderly investors 65 years of age or older. According to researchers, scams from Ponzi schemes to frauds involving bogus private placements and promissory notes cost U.S. seniors $3 billion a year.

Just this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed fraud charges against an Indiana man accused of stealing millions of dollars in retirement savings from clients. The SEC alleges that John K. Marcum of Noblesville, Indiana, and Guaranty Reserves Trust LLC used clients’ money for personal use and to fund a bounty hunter reality TV show.

Marcum Cos. LLC was named as a relief defendant in the SEC’s case. Marcum is the principal of both Guaranty Reserves and Marcum Cos.

“Marcum tricked investors into putting their retirement nest eggs in his hands by portraying himself as a talented trader who could earn high returns while eliminating the risk of loss,” said Timothy L. Warren, Acting Director of the SEC’s Chicago regional office, in a statement.  “Marcum tried to carry on his charade of success even after he squandered nearly all of the funds from investors.”

The SEC says that Marcum allegedly raised more than $6 million from at least 37 investors by selling investments in Guaranty Reserves Trust. Clients were allegedly told by Marcum that their principal was guaranteed and their proceeds would earn large returns from day trading. In addition, Marcum allegedly provided investors with account statements showing that he had used their money to achieve annual returns of more than twenty percent (20%), with no monthly losses. Marcum also reportedly told his clients that he would use their money to earn strong returns by day-trading in stocks.

In reality, Marcum did very little actual trading, and when he did, he suffered significant losses. Instead of day-trading, Marcum used his investors’ money as collateral for a $3 million line of credit for himself. Marcum turned to this line of credit to finance several start-up businesses, including a bridal store, a soul food restaurant and bounty hunter reality television show. Marcum also used investor money to finance his lavish lifestyle, which included luxury car payments, airline and sporting event tickets, expensive meals and hotel stays, the complaint states.

In the complaint, the SEC says that Marcum assisted many of his investors in setting up self-directed IRA accounts at several trust companies. The investors gave Marcum control of their assets by either rolling their existing IRA accounts into the newly-established self-directed IRA accounts, or by transferring their taxable assets directly to brokerage accounts which Marcum controlled.

Marcum and certain investors then co-signed promissory notes created by Marcum and issued by Guaranty Reserves Trust, which were then allegedly placed into the IRA accounts, the SEC says. The notes were securities and stated that the individual is making an “investment” with GRT. The promissory notes also repeatedly stated that the securities are “asset-backed,” “secured” and “guaranteed,” and promise the payment of interest based on “100% of the asset’s performance.”

Marcum’s scheme, which began in 2010, began to unravel in mid-2013, when certain investors began demanding distributions. Marcum could not comply, because virtually all of his investors’ money was gone. Faced with the reality of being unable to honor investor redemption requests, the SEC alleges that Marcum provided investors with a “recovery plan” that revealed his intention to solicit funds from new investors so that he could pay back his existing investors.

In June 2013, the SEC says Marcum had a phone conversation with three investors in which he admitted that he had misappropriated investor funds and was unable to pay investors back.  During this call, Marcum begged the investors for more time to recover their money, the SEC alleges. According to the complaint, Marcum offered to name these investors as beneficiaries on his life insurance policies, which he claimed included a “suicide clause” imposing a two-year waiting period for benefits.  Marcum suggested that if he was unsuccessful in returning investors’ money, he would commit suicide to guarantee they would eventually be repaid.

The SEC obtained an emergency court order to freeze the assets of Marcum and his company.



Two Virginia Insurance Agents Face Charges Over Promissory Notes

Two Virginia insurance agents – Julius Everett “Bud” Johnson and Walter Ray Reinhardt – face accusations by the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) of misleading investors regarding $1.7 million in sales of promissory notes.

Last fall, the SCC ordered Johnson, Reinhardt and their companies to stop selling the notes for 120 days, alleging that they were illegal securities because neither the notes nor the sellers were registered with the state of Virginia. As for investors – many of whom were reportedly told that their money was guaranteed – they want answers.

“All I got was a runaround,” said James Kelley, a Chesterfield County, Virginia, man who invested $25,000 that was supposed to be repaid in January but wasn’t, according to a Feb. 3 article in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Kelley said he went to speak with Johnson at his office, where he was told Johnson was out. When Kelley waited in the parking lot, however, he says he saw Johnson leave a few minutes later out of a back entrance of the building.

Gerald Crant is another investor who placed $100,000 with Johnson. He claims Johnson told him the promissory notes were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Now he’s worried because he hasn’t received his January interest payment.

According to the Times Dispatch article, Kelley says that Johnson told him he would get more information in the coming weeks, while Crant says he received a letter from Johnson’s lawyer stating that the slow economy was the reason he had to stop making interest payments.

The SCC, which regulates securities transactions in the state of Virginia, lists a litany of allegations against both Johnson and Reinhardt and the 12 companies they operate, including:

· Making material misrepresentations and material omissions;

· Failing to provide financial disclosures;

· Failing to provide investment-risk disclosures;

· Failing to provide a litigation or compliance disciplinary disclosure;

· Failing to disclose that the securities offered were not registered; and

· Falsely stating that the securities were exempt from registration.

In addition, the SCC’s records accuse Johnson and his companies of operating as a fraud. The allegations include issuing corporate promissory notes for one issuer then transferring the money to another entity and using new investors’ money to pay interest to previous investors – something typically associated with a Ponzi scheme.

In September 2009, SCC records show that Johnson and Reinhardt stated they had sold $1.7 million of notes to 38 Virginians, and that the notes were private offerings and complied with federal regulations. A senior investigator with the SCC says he found documents showing Johnson guaranteed $3.2 million of the companies’ debt, while Johnson declared he did not know the outstanding balance on the notes.

The companies that the SCC cites as those operated by Johnson are: Benefit Contract Administrators, MHC Linen Service LLC, River City Cleaners LLC, Roberts Awning Restoration and Renewal LLC (formerly known as Roberts Awning LLC).

Other defendants in the case include Benefit Contract Administrators LLC, Mid Atlantic Insurance Agencies, LivingWell Healthcare of Virginia LLC, Everett Awnings doing business as Roberts Awnings, and FIC Financial Group.

Reinhardt operates three businesses: First Fidelity Financial of Richmond LLC, Commonwealth Assurity LLC and Capital Investor Group.

Reinhardt is accused of selling illegal securities between 2005 and now. He also is accused of operating as the broker-dealer in offerings and selling the illegal promissory notes of Benefit Contract Administrators, MHC Linen Service, River City Cleaners, Mid Atlantic Insurance Agencies, LivingWell Healthcare of Virginia, Roberts Awning Restoration and Renewal and FIC Financial Group.

As an aside, if the securities in the Johnson and Reinhardt case had been registered, investors might have learned some important information about the people and companies behind their investments. Specifically, Reinhardt had previously been barred twice from selling securities in North Carolina.

If you suffered investment losses in connection to either Julius Everett Johnson or Walter Ray Reinhardt, contact us to tell your story.

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