Enforcement Actions
Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
CASES OF NOTE
2011
NOTE: Stipulations of Fact and Consent to Penalty (SFC); Offers of Settlement (OS); and Letters of Acceptance Waiver, and Consent (AWC) are entered into by Respondents without admitting or denying the allegations, but consent is given to the described sanctions & to the entry of findings. Additionally, for AWCs, if FINRA has reason to believe a violation has occurred and the member or associated person does not dispute the violation, FINRA may prepare and request that the member or associated person execute a letter accepting a finding of violation, consenting to the imposition of sanctions, and agreeing to waive such member's or associated person's right to a hearing before a hearing panel, and any right of appeal to the National Adjudicatory Council, the SEC, and the courts, or to otherwise challenge the validity of the letter, if the letter is accepted. The letter shall describe the act or practice engaged in or omitted, the rule, regulation, or statutory provision violated, and the sanction or sanctions to be imposed.
July 2011
Prestige Financial Center, Inc. and Lawrence Gary Kirshbaum (Principal)
AWC/2009016405902/July 2011

Prestige, acting through Kirshbaum and at least one other firm principal, were involved in a fraudulent trading scheme through which the then-Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and head trader for the firm concealed improper markups and denied customers best execution.

As part of this scheme, the CCO falsified order tickets and created inaccurate trade confirmations, and the hidden profits were captured in a firm account Kirshbaum and another firm principal controlled; some of the profits were then shared with the CCO and another individual.

The trading scheme took advantage of customers placing large orders to buy or sell equities. Rather than effecting the trades in the customersí accounts, the CCO placed the order in a firm proprietary account where he would increase or decrease the price per share for the securities purchased or sold before allocating the shares or proceeds to the customersí accounts; this improper price change was not disclosed to, or authorized by, the customers, and this fraudulent trading scheme generated approximately $1.3 million in profits for the firmís proprietary accounts. Kirshbaum was aware of and permitted the trading. In an account that Kirshbaum and another firm principal controlled. 47 percent of the profits from the scheme were retained. In furtherance of the fraudulent trading scheme, the CCO entered false information on the corresponding order tickets regarding the share price and the time the customer order ticket was received, entered and executed; the corresponding trade confirmations inaccurately reflected the price, markup and/or commission charged and the order capacity.

In addition, acting through Kirshbaum, Prestige entered into an agreement to sell the personal, confidential and non-public information of thousands of customers to an unaffiliated member firm in exchange for transaction-based compensation from any future trading activity in those accounts. In connection with that agreement, Kirshbaum provided the unaffiliated member firm with the name, account number, value and holdings on spreadsheets via electronic mail. Furthermore, Kirshbaum granted certain representatives of that firm live access to the firmís computer systems, including access to systems provided by the firmís clearing firm, which provided access to other non-public confidential customer information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth and home addresses. Prestige and Kirshbaum did not provide any of the customers with the required notice or opportunity to opt out of such disclosure before the firm disclosed the information, as Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Regulation S-P requires.

Acting through Kirshbaum, Prestige failed to establish and maintain a supervisory system, and establish, maintain and enforce written supervisory procedures to supervise each registered personís activities that are reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the applicable rules and regulations regarding interpositioning, front-running, supervisory branch office inspections, supervisory controls, annual compliance meeting, maintenance and periodic review of electronic communications, NASD Rule 3012 annual report to senior management, review and retention of electronic and other correspondence, SEC Regulation S-P, anti-money laundering (AML), Uniform Application for Securities Industry Registration or Transfer (Form U4) and Uniform Termination Notice for Securities Industry Registration (Form U5) amendments, and NASD Rule 3070 reporting. FINRA found that the firm failed to enforce its procedures requiring review of its registered representativesí written and electronic correspondence relating to the firmís securities business. In addition, the firm failed to establish, maintain and enforce a system of supervisory control policies and procedures that tested and verified that its supervisory procedures were reasonably designed with respect to the activities of the firm and its registered representatives and associated persons to achieve compliance with applicable securities laws and regulations, and created additional or amended supervisory procedures where testing and verification identified such a need. Moreover, the firm failed to enforce the written supervisory control policies and procedures it has with respect to review and supervision of the customer account activity conducted by the firmís branch office managers, review and monitoring of customer changes of address and the validation of such changes, and review and monitoring of customer changes of investment objectives and the validation of such changes. Furthermore, firm failed to establish written supervisory control policies and procedures reasonably designed to provide heightened supervision over the activities of each producing manager responsible for generating 20 percent or more of the revenue of the business units supervised by that producing managerís supervisor; as a result, the firm did not determine whether it had any such producing managers and, to the extent that it did, subject those managers to heightened supervision.

Acting through one of its designated principals, Prestige falsely certified that it had the requisite processes in place and that those processes were evidenced in a report review by its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), CCO and other officers,and the firm failed to file an annual certification one year. The findings also included that the firm failed to implement a reasonably designed AML compliance program (AMLCP). Although the firm had developed an AMLCP, it failed to implement policies and procedures to detect and cause the reporting of suspicious activity and transactions; implement policies, procedures and internal controls reasonably designed to obtain and verify necessary customer information through its Customer Identification Program (CIP); and provide relevant training for firm employeesóthe firm failed to conduct independent tests of its AMLCP for several years. Acting through Kirshbaum and another firm principal, the firm failed to implement policies and procedures reasonably designed to ensure compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to enforce its procedures requiring the firm to review all Section 314(a) requests it received from the U.S. Department of the Treasuryís Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN); as a result, the firm failed to review such requests. In addition, Kirshbaum and another principal were responsible for accessing the system to review the FinCEN messages but failed to do so. Moreover, FINRA found that the firm permitted certain registered representatives to use personal email accounts for business-related communications, but failed to retain those messages.

Furthermore, the firm failed to maintain and preserve all of its business-related electronic communications as required by Rule 17a-4 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and failed to maintain copies of all of its registered representativesí written business communications. The  firm failed to file summary and statistical information for customer complaints by the 15th day of the month following the calendar quarter in which the firm received them. The findings also included that the customer complaints were not disclosed, or not timely disclosed, on the subject registered representativeís Form U4 or U5, as applicable.The Firm failed to provide some of the information FINRA requested concerning trading and other matters.

Prestige Financial Center, Inc. : Expelled

Lawrence Gary Kirshbaum (Principal): Barred

Bill Singer's Comment

Whoa -- one of the all-time, most comprehensive FINRA disciplinary actions. Frankly, not much that could be done wrong wasn't, according to the terms of the settlement. One of the few times when a FINRA member firm is expelled. Also, one of the few times when a CCO is barred. A powerful case. Well written and presented.

Keep in mind that registered persons from this firm may trip your Taping Rule threshold.

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