Skip to main content

Menu

Representing Individual, High Net Worth & Institutional Investors

Offices in Indiana and New York City

317.598.2040
212.837.7908

Home > Blog > Category Archives: Provident Royalties

Category Archives: Provident Royalties

Former Banker Who Allegedly Stole Millions in Private Placement Scam Captured

Aubrey Lee Price was a former Georgia investment adviser who went missing in 2012 after duping investors out of millions of dollars in a private-placement fraud scheme. Price was later presumed dead when authorities discovered an apparent suicide note detailing the fraud.

Now, it appears Price is back from the dead. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) reported on its Web site last week that Price had been captured and charged with securities and wire fraud.

In 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) froze the assets of Price, alleging that he had raised about $40 million from hundreds of investors by selling shares in an unregistered investment fund (PFG) that he managed. Price purported to invest fund assets in traditional marketable securities, but he also made illiquid investments in South America real estate and a troubled South Georgia bank. In order to conceal the mounting losses of investor funds, Price created bogus account statements with false account balances and returns that were provided to investors and bank regulators.

As reported today by Investment News, Price pleaded not guilty last Wednesday to federal bank fraud charges in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia before consenting to be held in custody while the case proceeds.

If convicted, Price faces a possible penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. If that happens, it would be justice for victims like Rick Smith. Smith, 63, retired early from Lockheed Martin in 2007 on Price’s advice. Now, however, Smith and his wife have gotten part-time jobs and been forced to sell a boat and RV in order to compensate for the losses they incurred by investing with Price.

“It helps a whole lot just knowing where he is,” Smith said in a Jan. 6 story by the Globe and Mail. “Maybe he’ll pay for what he did.”

 

 

 

‘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.

The SEC’s New Reg D to Create a Potential Storm of Fraud?

Advertising for private-placement securities offerings has been given the green light to move forward following approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week.

In a 4-1 vote, the SEC’s action opens the door for private-equity funds, hedge funds and brokers selling unregistered securities to market the investments to the general public.

Sales will be limited to accredited investors, who are defined as individuals with a net worth of at least $1 million, excluding the value of their home, or earn at least $200,000 annually. Nearly 9 million U.S. households meet the net-wealth criteria to be accredited investors.

As reported July 14 by Investment News, as the general public is introduced to private-securities offerings through advertising, investment advisers are likely to see more demand from clients who want to take advantage of such opportunities. That then puts the onus on advisers to evaluate these often-risky and complex investments and decide whether their clients have the sophistication to thoroughly understand the risks they are taking on.

“It does put more onus on an adviser to make sure someone is an appropriate investor,” said Jennifer Openshaw, president of Finect, a compliant social-media network for the financial industry, in the Investment News story.

“Today, it’s easy to meet the $1 million threshold as an accredited investor,” she added. “But that doesn’t mean they’re sophisticated.”

The SEC’s ruling implements a provision of a law that was enacted in April 2012 – the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. The measure eases securities regulations for small companies.

Supporters of the law say it will help entrepreneurs raise capital. Critics, however, contend that the SEC is lifting the advertising ban without including sufficient measures to protect investors. In response to those concerns, SEC Chairman Mary Jo White recently offered a separate regulatory proposal designed to tighten the rules surrounding private-placement solicitation.

The one dissenter of the SEC who voted against dropping the 80-year-old ban on advertising is skeptical about the potential investor safeguards.

“Any protections from today’s proposal will come too late – if they ever come at all – for investors,” said SEC member Luis A. Aguilar. Aguilar added that the SEC is moving “recklessly” and is “allowing fraudsters to cast a wider net” through private-placement advertising.

A. Heath Abshure, Arkansas’ securities commissioner and president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, echoes those sentiments.

“The decision to lift the ban without simultaneous adoption of appropriate limits, guidance and investor protections for the most common product leading to enforcement actions by state securities regulators underscores the prospect that investors and issuers alike will be exposed to an indeterminate gap in protection,” Abshure said in a statement.

Provident Royalties Execs Sentenced in Private Placement Fraud Scheme

The culprits behind a massive multimillion-dollar private-placement fraud will soon be heading to jail. On July 3, U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone handed down sentences for four former executives of Provident Royalties – a $500 million oil and gas Ponzi scheme that was sold through a network of independent broker/dealers. Unable to pay the litigation costs by investors who later sued over the phony investments, many of those broker/dealers involved with the Provident offerings ultimately were forced to shutter their business.

Brendan Coughlin, 46, and Henry Harrison, 47, were sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. They founded and controlled Provident along with Joseph Blimline, 35, who already had been sentenced to 12 years in prison. Paul Melbye received a sentence of 18 months in prison.

W. Mark Miller, 59, Provident’s chief financial officer and later president, was sentenced to six months in federal prison and six months in home confinement.

In addition, the four executives were ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution. Each had earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

According to the Justice Department, the Provident executives entered into what was essentially a cover-up. Investors lost money due to Blimline’s “manipulation of investor capital prior to his departure in late 2008,” reads a statement from the Justice Department.

“From Jan. 1, 2009, to Feb. 3, 2009, even after discovering what [Mr.] Blimline had done, [Mr.] Coughlin, [Mr.] Harrison, and [Mr.] Melbye failed to disclose the dire state of the company to investors in order to take in an additional $2.3 million, while [Mr.] Miller, who knew that the crime had occurred, authorized lulling payments to investors to conceal the crime from discovery.”

The sentencing of the four men follows a recent announcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approving a rule to allow advertising for private-placement offerings such as the one associated with Provident Royalties. The SEC’s ruling lifts an 80-year prohibition on the practice.

That decision has many concerned. As reported July 11 by Investment News, following the vote, Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar warned that the SEC was moving “recklessly.” He further warned that the regulator’s backing of private-placement advertising would allow fraudsters “to cast a wider net.”

 

 

Legal Issues Continue to Follow B-Ds in 2013

Independent broker/dealers continue to face a wave of legal and regulatory issues in 2013, with many expected to shutter their businesses.

As reported Jan. 20 by Investment News, the problems facing smaller B-Ds with 150 registered representatives or fewer include higher compliance costs, record low interest rates for money market accounts, competitive commission rates from large or discount broker-dealers and a tax increase that will cut available discretionary funds that investors can put to work in the stock market.

Small B-Ds make up the majority of firms registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  In the first 11 months of 2012, pressures on the industry reduced the number of FINRA-registered firms to 4,319 – down 97 firms from the prior year and a 14% decline since the end of 2007.

Regulatory and compliance issues are a key factor contributing to the reduction in smaller B-Ds. In a move to improve investor protections, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved FINRA Rule 4524 in 2012, which mandated that broker/dealers file additional financial or operational schedules or reports as FINRA deemed necessary.

Many B-Ds to close up shop in the past few years have done so because of deals involving failed private placements, such as those connected to Provident Royalties LLC and Medical Capital Holdings LLC. The SEC charged both of those firms with fraud in July 2099, which in turn spurred a rash of investor lawsuits and arbitration claims. As a result, many broker/dealers were unable to contend with the litigation costs and subsequently shut down.

 

Private Placements Shutter Another B-D

Sales of private placements have caused the undoing of 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 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Several days later, the B-D proceeded to seek bankruptcy protection.

As reported April 24 by Investment News, a three-member FINRA arbitration panel had previously awarded investor Marvin Blum $445,000 in compensatory damages, $900,000 in punitive damages, $150,000 in attorneys’ fees and $12,000 in costs, as well as interest.

Blum, who was more than 70 years of age at the time he purchased the investments, was sold nine different private placements over 13 months totaling $500,000, according to the Investment News story.

Cambridge Legacy Securities is owned by The Cambridge Legacy Group. According to FINRA’s Broker Check Web site, the company’s chief executive, O. Ben Carroll, is the subject of an investigation by FINRA for failing “to have reasonable grounds to believe that the private placements offered by Cambridge Petroleum Group and Cambridge Legacy Group pursuant to [Regulation D] were suitable for any customer.”

In 2010, FINRA fined Carroll $25,000, as well as suspended his privilege to act as a principal for three months. He no longer is registered with FINRA.

Cambridge Legacy Securities also is no longer in business. However, an affiliated RIA, Cambridge Legacy Advisors, is, according to the Investment News story.

Failed private-placements deals have forced a number of broker/dealers to shutter their businesses over the past year. Much of the demise stems from sales involving private placements issued by Medical Capital Holdings; preferred stock investments sponsored by Provident Royalties LLC; and tenant-in-common exchanges that were manufactured by DBSI, Inc.

In July 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged both Medical Capital and Provident Royalties with fraud. On Nov. 8, 2010, DBSI filed for bankruptcy. Since then, many investors have filed arbitration claims with FINRA against the various broker/dealers that sold them the failed products.

Senior Citizens Easy Target for Private-Placement Scams

Senior investors are an easy and vulnerable target for financial fraud. Individuals 65 or older manage a large percentage of the nation’s liquid assets and, most important to the perpetrators of financial fraud schemes, they are often more susceptible to money schemes and deception due to physical or mental limitations.

Many senior citizens who become victims of financial exploitation suffer in silence, never reporting the crimes to authorities out of fear or embarrassment. Other victims are afraid of losing their independence or that family members may move them into a nursing home.

According to the AARP, financial scammers cheat investors out of some $40 billion a year, and seniors are the most common targets. As reported by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), some of the most popular financial scams involve “investment pools” to collect money that is then used to purchase and renovate distressed real estate properties. In reality, however, these so-called flips are often Ponzi-like schemes in which the scammer takes the investor’s money to pay off previous investors. Like most Ponzi schemes, the ruse eventually falls apart when there are not enough new investors to continue the scheme.

Another popular investment scam targeting the elderly involves certain promissory notes or private placement investments. The note itself may promise high returns through a private investment, according to NASAA. But in reality, unregistered promissory notes can be a cover for Ponzi schemes or another type of financial fraud.

One prominent case that resulted in investors losing millions of dollars in fraudulent oil and natural gas private placements was that of Provident Royalties, LLC.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed fraud charges against Provident and three company founders in the summer of 2009 for their role in the scheme, which turned out to be an elaborate $485 million Ponzi scheme.

Investors of any age encouraged to always check with their state securities regulator to determine if an investment involving promissory notes or private placements and its sponsors are properly registered.

CapWest Ordered to Pay $9M Over Failed Private Placements

Clients of CapWest Securities received a vindication of sorts today when an arbitration panel of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ordered the broker/dealer to pay $9.1 million in damages and legal fees stemming from sales of failed private investments in Medical Capital Holdings and Provident Royalties LLC.

The problem is that CapWest closed last year, so the likelihood of investors receiving any substantial financial recovery from the award is slim.

Both Medical Capital and Provident Royalties were charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2009.  Investors across the country lost millions of dollars from investments in private placements from the entities.

The $9.1 million award is believed to be one of the single largest arbitration awards based on sales of failed private placements, according to a Jan. 19 article by Investment News.


Top of Page