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Category Archives: Wachovia – Wells Fargo

FINRA Sides With Victim in Case of Spousal Theft From a Brokerage Account

For some ex-spouses, the marriage vow of “for richer or poorer” weighs heavily on the side of poorer. More cases are coming forth involving ex-spouses stealing from each other through a brokerage account. Recently, Maddox Hargett & Caruso, P.C. represented a client whose ex-husband falsified various documents and transferred funds from several Wells Fargo accounts into several E*Trade accounts without his former wife’s knowledge or consent.

An arbitration panel of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ruled in favor of the victim, holding Wells Fargo and E*Trade liable to her for more than $80,000 in compensatory damages.

In addition, the FINRA arbitration panel ruled that Wells Fargo Advisors and E*Trade Securities had to pay the investor $11,960 in interest, as well as $22,500 in attorney fees and $4,500 in arbitration hearing session and fees.

FINRA’s decision sends a clear and strong message that if one spouse “steals” money from another spouse’s brokerage account, the brokerage firm involved could, in fact, be held liable for any financial losses that may occur as a result.

SEC to Wells Fargo: Excessive CDO Markups Were Made by Wachovia Unit

Investment deals involving collateral-debt obligations (CDOs) have come back to haunt Wells Fargo & Co. Wells has agreed to pay $11.2 million to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that its Wachovia Capital Markets LLC unit sold CDOs to a Zuni American Indian tribe and other investors at prices 70% higher than its own estimate of the mark-to-market value of the securities.

As reported April 6 by Investment News, the SEC’s complaint alleges that Wachovia failed to inform investors in another CDO that it had transferred 40 residential mortgage-backed securities from an affiliate at above-market prices to avoid losses on its own books.

“Wachovia caused significant losses to the Zuni Indians and other investors by violating basic investor protection rules – don’t charge secret excessive markups and don’t use stale prices when telling buyers that assets are priced at fair market value,” said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a statement.

Wells Fargo, without admitting or denying the allegations, will pay restitution of $6.75 million and a $4.45 million penalty. A total of $7.4 million will be returned to investors who were harmed by the misconduct, according to the SEC.

Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia in 2008.

Former Wachovia Reps Preyed On Elderly, SEC Says

Ex-Wachovia Securities brokers William Harrison and Eddie Sawyers told clients they had a “sure thing” for them to invest in – complete with 35% returns and no chance of losing their principal. Instead, investors ended up losing $8 million.

In a federal fraud lawsuit filed last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) says Harrison, 33, and Sawyers, 45, created a “business” called Harrison/Sawyers Financial Services as a subterfuge to entice their clients to invest in a new investment product that promised big returns and no risk. The SEC says the two focused almost entirely on elderly customers, many of whom were unsophisticated investors.

According to the complaint, Harrison and Sawyers made numerous misrepresentations about the products they were selling. In one instance, Harrison told an investor that the money was being placed in stocks, when it was actually being used for high-risk options trading. The SEC says both men asked clients to sign blank forms, then filled out the forms designating Harrison’s wife, Deana, as the clients’ agent and power of attorney.

Harrison and Sawyers also created user IDs and passwords for some clients’ accounts on an online trading site called optionsXpress, as well as set up the accounts so that clients wouldn’t receive statements, according to the charges.

Meanwhile, Harrison and Sawyers were profiting from their scheme. In July 2008, the two men withdrew $234,000.

In early fall, as the financial crisis began to take hold, Harrison and Sawyers started to lose large amounts of their clients’ money. Some clients’ accounts fell 70%. One couple invested $100,000 and later learned that their account had dwindled to $16,000, the lawsuit says.

Harrison resigned from Wachovia Securities on Oct. 13, 2008. In his letter of resignation, he stated that he had “misdirected” $6.6 million of his clients’ money. Sawyers resigned the following day.

Most of the investors who became victims of Harrison and Sawyers had their money in conservative investment products and no knowledge of how to invest in stocks and bonds or how to read financial statements. Many were retired and living on fixed incomes, the SEC says.

Ex-Wachovia Brokers Accused Of Defrauding Elderly Clients

Two former Wachovia Securities brokers – William Harrison and Eddie Sawyers – are accused of misleading dozens of elderly clients into investing in what they called a sure thing. Instead, investors lost approximately $8 million, according to a lawsuit filed Dec. 15 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The SEC complaint alleges that Harrison and Sawyers misrepresented the investment strategies they were selling to at least 42 clients in 2007 and 2008. Among their promises: A guarantee of 35% returns without any risk to investors’ principal investment. In reality, the brokers were using investors’ money to trade securities in risky online deals.

The SEC said that in July 2008, Harrison and Sawyers withdrew $234,000 from three client accounts as compensation for their management services. They split the amount.

As reported Dec. 16 by Bloomberg, the SEC accuses the duo of recruiting Wachovia investors to a new business venture called Harrison/Sawyers Financial Services.

According to the complaint, Harrison and Sawyers touted their venture as “an essentially foolproof investment plan guaranteed to make money regardless of market conditions.”

Instead, investors – all of whom the SEC says were “unsophisticated investors” – lost big.

In one instance, Harrison and Sawyers reportedly told a husband and wife who had invested $100,000 that their money had “maxed out” by achieving a 35% return. In truth, the couple’s investment had lost nearly $84,000.

Most of the investors involved in the scheme were more than 50 years of age. Some were retired and living on fixed incomes, the SEC says.

In addition to allegations of misrepresentation, the lawsuit says that the two brokers set up online brokerage accounts in some clients’ names, while pooling the investment money from other clients into accounts set up in the name of Harrison’s wife and in a joint account held by the Harrisons.

If you’ve suffered losses while doing business with William Harrison and Eddie Sawyers, please contact our securities fraud team. We will evaluate your situation to determine if you have a claim.

Pennsylvania Securities Commission Orders Wachovia to Refund $324.6M to ARS investors

In the wake of the collapse of the auction rate securities market in February 2008, many of the nation’s largest financial institutions quickly agreed to settlements with state securities regulators as a way to resolve charges they misled retail and institutional investors about the liquidity risks of the instruments they underwrote.

The latest state to order a Wall Street institution to buy back auction rate securities from investors is Pennsylvania, which on Aug. 11 ordered Wells Fargo & Co.’s Wachovia unit to buy back $324.6 million of auction rate securities from an estimated 1,300 Pennsylvania retail investors.

Wachovia also will pay a $2.52 million assessment to the state for its role in the auction rate securities market.

In a press release on the ARS agreement with Wachovia, Pennsylvania Securities Commissioner Steven Irwin said the bank “marketed and sold these securities as safe, liquid and cash-like investments when, in fact, they were long-term investments subject to a complex auction process that failed in early 2008, leading to illiquidity and lower interest rates for investors.”  

The Pennsylvania Securities Commission is continuing its investigation of other investment firms and their sales of auction rate securities. In July, the regulator ordered TD Ameritrade to repurchase $26.5 million of auction-rate securities. That same month, Pennsylvania also reached a settlement with Citigroup over ARS sales. That settlement, which was part of a larger deal agreed to with 12 states, required Citigroup to buy back $978.1 million worth of auction rate securities from Pennsylvania investors. In addition, Citigroup paid a $2.31 million fine to the Pennsylvania Securities Commission.

Five Broker/Dealers Fined By FINRA For Supervisory Failures

Five broker/dealers, all dealing in variable annuities, mutual funds and other types of securities, are facing fines of $1.7 million by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for failing to properly supervise sales to customers, many of whom were elderly and retirees. 

The five firms, along with their respective fines, include:

  • McDonald Investments (now KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc.) – $425,000
  • IFMG Securities – $450,000
  • Wells Fargo Investments, LLC – $275,000
  • PNC Investments – $250,000
  • WM Financial Services, Inc. (now Chase Investment Services Corp.) – $250,000

According to FINRA, brokers at each of the firms operated out of branches of affiliated banks, selling the investments to bank customers. The brokerage customers were referred by bank personnel, and sales of these financial products represented a significant portion of each firm’s business.

 “Today’s actions underscore the need for firms operating bank branches to have effective systems and procedures in place to monitor sales of variable annuities, mutual funds, and UITs,” said Susan Merrill, FINRA Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, in a press statement. 

“Bank broker-dealers have access to a broad customer base through their retail bank branches. Proper care must be taken to appropriately supervise sales to those customers, particularly the elderly who can be unfamiliar with securities products as they seek alternatives to certificates of deposit and other bank offerings.”

McDonald Investments also was charged with selling variable annuities with enhanced death benefit riders to 25 customers aged 78 or older. The customers were either too old to be eligible for the rider or very close to the ineligible age and would have received little or no benefit from the rider despite paying higher fees for it over the life of the annuity. 

The customers will be given the opportunity to get their money back plus interest, according to FINRA.

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.

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