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.
December 2011
Hernan Charry Jr. aka Herman Charry (Principal)
AWC/2010022715607/December 2011
Charry failed to enforce his firmís WSPs regarding the handling of PPM, subscription documents and investor funds for private placement offerings his firm sold, and he failed to effectively supervise the associated personsí handling of such documents
Charry did not prevent the associated persons from sending subscription documents directly to the private placement issuer, which precluded the firm from conducting adequate oversight or review of the transactions and from retaining transaction-related documents.   
Charry failed to review private placement transactions for suitability and typically did not review or approve private placement transactions effected by the associated persons he supervised. He failed to enforce the firmís WSPs and failed to effectively supervise the associated personsí use of non-firm email for securities business. Charry was aware of, and did not prevent, the associated persons from using personal email accounts to conduct securities business. The use of non-firm email accounts prevented the firmís compliance staff from reviewing the associated personsí customer communications, and the firm was unable to retain securities-related communications. 
When Charry resigned from the firm, he left the keys for the office and the key for filing cabinets containing firm customersí non-public personal information with the officeís landlord, who was not affiliated with Charryís firm. This failed to safeguard the customersí non-public personal information and, in addition, made such information available to a non-affiliated third party without providing customers with the appropriate notice, thereby causing the firm to violate Rules 10 and 30 of SEC Regulation S-P. 
Hernan Charry Jr. aka Herman Charry (Principal): Fined $10,000; Suspended 20 business days
Tags:  WSPs    Supervision    Private Placement    Regulation S-P     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
James Carl Gaul (Principal)
AWC/2010021058402/December 2011
Acting through Gaul and another firm principal, his firm negligently omitted material facts in connection with its sales of promissory notes. 

The notes were issued by an entity that a real estate developer controlled. Acting through Gaul and another firm principal,the firm negligently failed to disclose to investors that the entity had been experiencing cash flow problems and that the entity and other companies affiliated with the real estate developer failed to make required interest payments to investors.

Acting through Gaul and another firm principal, the firm  negligently failed to disclose that it was unlikely that the entityís affiliated company would be able to make its scheduled principal payments totaling $10 million that were due to its note holders. 

Acting through Gaul, 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, its registered representatives and associated persons to achieve compliance with applicable securities laws and regulations, and created additional or amended supervisory procedures where such testing and verification identified a need. The firmís supervisory control policies and procedures failed to identify producing managers and assign qualified principals to supervise such managers

The firm also failed to notify FINRA electronically of its reliance on the limited size and resources exception. For a year-end, the firm, acting through Gaul, failed to prepare an annual certification from its CEO, or equivalent officer, that it had in place processes to establish, maintain, review, test and modify written compliance policies and WSPs reasonably designed to achieve compliance with applicable FINRA rules, MSRB rules and federal securities laws and regulations, and that the CEO had conducted one or more meetings with the firmís CCO in the preceding 12 months to discuss such processes. For another year-end, the firm, acting through Gaul, filed an annual certification that did not fully comply with FINRA Rule 3130(c).

Acting through Gaul, the Firm failed to establish, maintain and/or enforce WSPs reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the laws and regulations applicable to its business in conducting private placement offerings (including training representatives regarding the risks for these offerings and establishing standards for determining the suitability of these offerings for investors), the review of electronic correspondence, and the review and approval of advertising materials.
James Carl Gaul (Principal): Fined $10,000; Suspended 30 business days in all capacities; Suspended 18 months in Principal capacity only
Jeffrey Alan Smith (Principal)
AWC/2010022715605/December 2011
Smith  failed to enforce his member firmís WSPs and failed to effectively supervise the activities of the firmís associated persons over whom he had supervisory responsibility to ensure that they were complying with FINRA rules and federal securities laws and regulations. 

Smith failed to 
  • enforce the firmís WSPs regarding the handling of PPM, subscription documents, and investor funds for private placement offerings sold by the firm; 
  • effectively supervise the associated personsí handling of such documents so that he did not prevent the associated persons from sending subscription documents directly to the private placement issuer, precluding the firm from conducting adequate oversight or review of the transactions and from retaining transaction-related documents; 
  • review the firmís private placement sales for suitability, and typically did not review or approve private placement transactions effected by the associated persons he supervised; and
  • enforce the firmís WSPs and failed to effectively supervise their use of non-firm email for securities business. 
Smith was aware of, and did not prevent, the associated persons from using personal email accounts to conduct securities business. The use of non-firm email accounts prevented the firmís compliance staff from reviewing the associated personsí customer communications, and the firm was unable to retain securities-related communications.
Jeffrey Alan Smith (Principal): In light of financial status, no fine; Suspended in Principal capacity only for 20 business days
Tags:  WSPs    Private Placement    Email     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Kenneth William Gneuhs (Principal)
AWC/2010022715606/December 2011
Gneuhs failed to enforce his member firmís WSPs and failed to effectively supervise the activities of firm associated persons over whom he had supervisory responsibility. 

Gneuhs failed to enforce the firmís WSPs regarding the handling of PPM, subscription documents and investor funds for private placement offerings his firm sold, and failed to effectively supervise the associated personsí handling of such documents. Gneuhs did not prevent the associated persons from sending subscription documents directly to the private placement issuer, which precluded the firm from conducting adequate oversight or review of the transactions and from retaining transaction-related documents. Gneuhs failed to review the firmís private placement sales for suitability, and typically did not review or approve private placement transactions effected by the associated persons he supervised. 
Gneuhs failed to enforce the firmís WSPs and failed to effectively supervise the associated personsí use of non-firm email for securities business. Gneuhs was aware of, and did not prevent, the associated persons from using personal email accounts to conduct securities business. The use of non-firm email accounts prevented the firmís compliance staff from reviewing the associated personsí customer communications, and the firm was unable to retain securities-related communications. 
Kenneth William Gneuhs (Principal): In light of Gneuhs' financial status, no fine; Suspended in Principal capacity only for 20 business days.
Tags:  WSPs    Supervision    Private Placement    Email     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
October 2011
Patrick Thomas Walker (Principal)
AWC/2008011724302/October 2011

Walker's member firm was issued a Letter of Caution following a FINRA examination, which advised of numerous deficiencies in the firmís WSPs; these deficiencies included maintenance of the firmís Form BD, prohibition of commission payments to non-registered entities, designation of an appropriately licensed principal for each of the firmís product lines, maintenance of WSPs at each OSJ, investigation into the qualifications of new hires, obligations of the firm when handling accounts of associated persons employed at other FINRA-regulated broker-dealers, timely providing account records to customers, prompt notification to regulators of deficiencies in required net capital, and prohibition of the sale of unregistered securities beyond the private offeringís expiration dates. The Letter of Caution also indicated that the firmís WSPs were deficient with respect to Regulation S-P. 

Although issued only to the firm, the Letter of Caution was delivered to Walker in his capacity as president and chief compliance officer of the firm; thus, Walker had notice of the deficiencies but failed to update and amend the WSPs to correct the deficiencies. A later FINRA examination disclosed the same deficiencies outlined in the Letter of Caution, but Walker failed to update and amend the WSPs to correct the deficiencies. In addition, FINRA determined that Walker failed to establish, maintain and enforce WSPs and supervisory control procedures in the cited areas to ensure compliance with applicable securities laws and regulations, including Regulation S-P.

Patrick Thomas Walker (Principal): Fined $5,000; Suspended in Supervisory/Principal capacities only for 10 business days.
Tags:  WSPs    Regulation S-P     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
September 2011
Veritrust Financial, LLC
AWC/2008011640802/September 2011

The Firm failed to establish and maintain a supervisory system or WSPs reasonably designed to detect and prevent the charging of excessive commissions on mutual fund liquidation transactions.

The Firm failed to put in place any supervisory systems or procedures to ensure that customers were not inadvertently charged commissions, in addition to the various fees disclosed in the mutual fund prospectus, on their mutual fund liquidation transactions. The firmís failure to take such action resulted in commissions being charged on transactions in customer accounts that generated approximately $64,110 in commissions for the firm.

The firm had inadequate supervisory systems and procedures to ensure that a firm principal reviewed, and the firm retained, all email correspondence for the requisite time period; the firm failed to review and retain securities-related email correspondence sent and received on at least one registered representativeís outside email account, and the firm did not have a system or procedures in place to prevent or detect non-compliance.

The firm failed to conduct an annual inspection of all of its Offices of Supervisory Jurisdiction (OSJ) branch offices.

The Firm failed to comply with various FINRA advertising provisions in connection with certain public communications, including websites, one billboard and one newsletter, in that a registered principal had not approved websites prior to use; websites did not contain a hyperlink to FINRAís or Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC)ís website; one website, the billboard and the newsletter failed to maintain a copy of the communication beginning on the first date of use; and sections of websites that concerned registered investment companies were either not filed, or timely filed, with FINRAís Advertising Regulation Department. In addition, websites contained information that was not fair and balanced, did not provide a sound basis for evaluating the facts represented, or omitted material facts regarding equity indexed annuities, fixed annuities and variable annuities. Moreover, websites contained false, exaggerated, unwarranted or misleading statements concerning mutual B shares; the firmís websites and the billboard did not prominently disclose the firmís name, and a website, in connection with a discussion of mutual funds, failed to disclose standardized performance data, failed to disclose the maximum sales charge or maximum deferred sales charge and failed to identify the total annual fund operating expense ratio, and a website, in a comparison between exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds failed to disclose all material differences between the two products.

Furthermore,the firm failed to report, or to timely report, certain customer complaints as required; the firm also failed to timely update a registered representativeís Uniform Termination Notice for Securities Industry Registration (Form U5) to disclose required information. The firm failed to create and maintain a record of a customer complaint and related records that included the complainantís name, address, account number, date the complaint was received, name of each associated person identified in the complaint, description of the nature of the complaint, disposition of the complaint or, alternatively, failed to maintain a separate file that contained this information.

The firm failed to ensure that all covered persons, including the firmís president and CEO, completed the Firm Element of Continuing Education (CE). The firmís 3012 and 3013 reports were inadequate, in that the 3012 report for one year was inadequate because it failed to provide a rationale for the areas that would be tested, failed to detail the manner and method for testing and verifying that the firmís system of supervisory policies and procedures were designed to achieve compliance with applicable rules and laws, did not provide a summary of the test results and gaps found, failed to detect repeat violations including failure to conduct annual OSJ branch office inspections, advertising violations, customer complaint reporting, and ensuring that all covered persons participated in the Firm Element of CE. FINRA also found that the firmís 3013 report for that year did not document the processes for establishing, maintaining, reviewing, testing and modifying compliance policies to achieve compliance with applicable NASD rules, MSRB rules and federal securities laws, and the manner and frequency with which the processes are administered. In addition, the firm also failed to enforce its 3013 procedures regarding notification from customers regarding address changes.

Veritrust Financial, LLC : Censured; Fined $90,000; Ordered pay $34,105.40, plus interest, in restitution to customers
Tags:  Email    WSPs    Commissions    Annual Compliance Certification    OSJ     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Bill Singer's Comment
If this case were a pinball machine, I think it likely would have hit the all-time highest score.  The scope of these violations are impressive.
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.

June 2011
David Elijah McKee (Principal)
AWC/2008011640801/June 2011

In his capacity as the vice president of compliance, McKee failed to supervise certain aspects of his member firmís securities business

Acting on his firmís behalf, McKee failed to

  • establish and maintain a supervisory system or written supervisory procedures reasonably designed to detect and prevent the firm from charging excessive commissions on mutual fund liquidation transactions;
  • adequately supervise the firmís communications with the public;
  • adequately supervise the firmís compliance with NASD Rule 3070 and Uniform Termination Notice for Securities Industry Registration (Form U5) reporting provisions and customer complaint recordkeeping requirements; and
  • comply with NASD Rules 3012 and 3013, in that the Rule 3012 and 3013 reports that he prepared on his firmís behalf were inadequate.

Thee firmís 3012 report for one year was inadequate because it failed to provide a rationale for the areas that would be tested, failed to detail the manner and method for testing and verifying that the firmís system of supervisory policies and procedures were designed to achieve compliance with applicable rules and laws, and did not provide a summary of the test results and gaps found. The 3012 report also failed to detect repeat violations including, the failure to conduct annual Office of Supervisory Jurisdiction (OSJ) branch office inspections, advertising violations, customer complaint reporting and ensuring that all covered persons participated in the Firm Element of Continuing Education.

The firm's 3013 report for one year did not document the processes for establishing, maintaining, reviewing, testing and modifying compliance policies to achieve compliance with applicable NASD rules, MSRB rules and federal securities laws, and the manner and frequency with which the processes are administered. In addition, the firm failed to enforce its 3013 procedures regarding notification from customers regarding address changes.

David Elijah McKee (Principal): Fined $15,000; Suspended 30 business days in Principal/Supervisory capacities only
Tags:  Annual Compliance Certification    Supervision    WSPs     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Bill Singer's Comment

These types of cases always strike me as "sloppy" because they largely have to do with failures to document actions that have usually been taken.  Pardon my cynicism but, hey, even the preparation of an insincere report is better than simply failing to prepare any report.

March 2011
Vincent Michael Bruno (Principal)
AWC/2009018771701/March 2011

As his member firmís Chief Compliance Officer, Bruno failed to ensure that his firm established, maintained and enforced a supervisory system and WSPs reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the rules and regulations in connection with private offering solicitations. Acting through Bruno, his firm maintained a deficient supervisory system and WSPs with respect to private offering solicitations in that those procedures did not specify who at the firm was responsible for performing due diligence, what activities firm personnel were required to satisfy the due diligence requirement, how due diligence was to be documented, who at the firm was responsible for reviewing and approving the due diligence that was performed and for authorizing the sale of the securities, and who was to perform ongoing supervision of the private offerings once customer solicitations commenced.

As a result of its deficient WSPs, the firm failed to conduct adequate due diligence on private placement offerings, and Bruno failed to take any other steps to otherwise ensure that it was conducted.

Vincent Michael Bruno (Principal): Fined $10,000; Suspended 1 month in Principal capacity only.
Tags:  Private Placement    CCO    Due Diligence    WSPs     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
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