Enforcement Actions
Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
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
Scott David McElhenny (Principal)
AWC/2009020124301/December 2011
McElhenny applied one investment model in numerous customersí accounts by executing thousands of trades on a group basis in a variable annuity platform offered by one company and a mutual fund platform offered by another company. McElhenny could place one trade, which was not individualized for each of his customers, and that trade would be processed for all of his customers that were part of the trading group. The group trading executed by McElhenny in his customersí accounts involved inverse and leveraged funds. 

McElhenny engaged in such trading without having reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation was suitable for each of his customers in light of their individual investment objectives, financial situation and needs. As a result of McElhennyís recommendations, the customers sustained a collective loss exceeding $1 million. McElhenny exercised discretion in the customersí accounts without each customerís written authorization and his member firmís acceptance of the accounts as discretionary. McElhenny executed more than one hundred unauthorized securities transactions in one customerís account. 
Scott David McElhenny (Principal): Barred
Tags:  Annuities    Variable Annuity    Mutual Funds    Unauthorized Transaction     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
November 2011
Byron Edward Meyer
AWC/2011026619801/November 2011

Meyer verbally informed his supervisors of his outside business activities and his business plans, but failed to provide his firm with prompt written notice of his outside business activities, for which he accepted compensation. Without his relativeís knowledge, Meyer conducted subaccount transfers, or transactions, in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) the relative held to his personal account, which held only a variable annuity contract.  The annuity sub-account transactions reduced the value of the variable annuity contract by $1,395.15 by the time the account was formally transferred to his relative.

Meyer transferred $1,800 from the relativeís IRA to his personal bank account. The firm immediately reversed the transaction as well as reimbursed Meyerís relative $1,395.15 for the accountís reduction in value caused by Meyerís transactions. Meyer has made full restitution to the firm.

Byron Edward Meyer: Fined $12,500; Suspended 25 business days
Tags:  Variable Annuity    IRA     |    In: Outside Business Activities
Michael Ray Howard (Principal)
OS/2008012282901/November 2011

Howard recommended that a customer have her trust purchase a $500,000 variable annuity that would make payments to her heirs. 

Purportedly, the purchase of the $500,000 annuity, issued by an insurance company, would provide the customerís heirs with a monthly income until a certain age. The customer advised Howard that she owned rural real estate, which was held in the trust, and she believed that the property could be sold following her death realizing sale proceeds of approximately $600,000.

Howard arranged for the trust to borrow $500,000 from a bank using the real estate as collateral for the loan and using the proceeds to purchase the variable annuity. The trust had to encumber virtually all of its major assets to secure the loan, including the underlying variable annuity, because the market value of the property was only $375,000. Howard received $38,526.86 in commission for his sale of the variable annuity to the customer.

FINRA found that Howard knew, or should have known, that the cost of the annuity far exceeded the appraised market value of the real estate and the customerís liquid assets, and that the customer could not pay for the variable annuity he recommended without borrowed funds secured in part by the annuity itself. Howard did not have a reasonable basis for believing that his recommendation was suitable for the customer in light of her financial circumstances and needs; Howardís recommendation exceeded the customerís financial capability and exposed her to material risk. In addition, Howard completed the account documents and paperwork for the customerís purchase of the variable annuity, including the variable annuity questionnaire, with false information about the trustís net worth and source of funds.  Further, he provided the completed questionnaire containing the false information about the trustís financial situation to his member firm, and the firm retained the document in its records. Moreover, in reviewing and approving the annuity sale, Howardís supervisor reviewed the variable annuity questionnaire; Howard thus caused the firmís books and records to be inaccurate and impeded supervision of the annuity sale.

Michael Ray Howard (Principal): Fined $40,000; suspended 6 months
Tags:  Variable Annuity     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Bill Singer's Comment
I'm no fan of VAs -- if you think that I'm lying about that, look it up. I've written negatively about the over-sell of this product for some time.  That being said, although I fully get where FINRA was going, that still doesn't excuse a bit of poetic license in this case.  

I am NOT excusing the size of Howard's commission.  I am not agreeing that this VA should have been sold to this customer.  On the other hand, I'm not sure that the "cost of the annuity far exceeded the appraised market value of the real estate and the customer's liquid assets."  That "far exceeded" characterization is unnecessary as the data speak for themselves.

The market value of the realty was $375,000. I'm not sure that the additional $125,000 needed to purchase the VA "far exceeded" the real estate's valuation, much less the customer's additional liquid assets, which had to have been at least a few thousand additional dollars (if not quite a bit more).
October 2011
Miguel Alex Rosas
AWC/2010024396001/October 2011

 Rosas wrongfully converted a customerís funds totaling $14,000 for his personal use by submitting withdrawal requests he forged to his member firm and an annuity company without the customerís knowledge or consent. Rosas completed and forged other customersí signatures on variable annuity withdrawal forms and submitted them to annuity companies, without the customersí knowledge or consent, in an effort to convert funds totaling $45,000 from the customersí variable annuity accounts for his personal use. 

As indicated on these forms, the funds were to be made payable to a limited liability company for which Rosas was the president and CEO. One of the annuity companies cancelled the withdrawal requests and the other annuity company placed stop payments on the checks that were issued.

Miguel Alex Rosas: Barred
Tags:  Forgery    Variable Annuity     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
September 2011
Brian Scott Brewer (Principal)
OS/2005002244102/September 2011

Brewer failed to adequately supervise a registered representativeís variable annuity sales activities.

Brewer personally reviewed and approved variable annuity switches of the registered representativeís customers despite the misstatements and omissions on the switch forms and numerous red flags revealing that the transactions were unsuitable. After becoming aware of the inaccurate information and omissions contained in the forms the registered representative submitted, Brewer did not require that all of the deficiencies be corrected on his member firmís books and records and that customers be presented with forms that were completely accurate. At no time did Brewer take any action to reverse the transactions the registered representative had already effected, nor did he take any actions to prevent the registered representative from completing additional unsuitable switches.

Brewer was responsible for replying to the audit reports and implementing adequate systems and procedures relating to the supervision of variable annuities at his firm; although he was made aware of issues in the variable annuities sales review process cited by the firmís Audit Division, he failed to take adequate steps to correct the identified failings. Brewer failed to maintain an adequate system of supervision and follow-up review, and failed to maintain and enforce written procedures reasonably designed to achieve compliance with applicable securities laws and regulations and FINRA rules in connection with the sale of variable annuities.

Brian Scott Brewer (Principal): Fined $20,000; Suspended 12 months in Principal capacity only
Tags:  Variable Annuity    Supervision     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Richard Barry Holody
AWC/2010022152201/September 2011

 Holody sold equity-indexed annuities (EIAs) to individuals, through insurance companies, with investments totaling approximately $1,002,555, without providing prompt written notice to his member firm; none of these individuals were customers of his firm. Holody received commissions of approximately $79,594.34 from these sales.

The firm prohibited its representatives from selling EIAs not on the firmís approved product list; the annuities Holody sold were not on the approved product list and his acceptance of compensation for the sales constituted engaging in an outside business activity.

Holody recommended that a retired individual liquidate some variable annuity contracts and transfer the proceeds to purchase an EIA an insurance corporation issued. Holody processed all of the paperwork on the individualís behalf to effect the variable annuity contract liquidations to purchase the EIA contract, and the insurance corporation issued a nine-year term EIA contract in the approximate amount of $253,997.37. As a result of these transactions, the individual lost approximately $49,604 in enhanced guaranteed death benefits available under the variable annuity contracts that the individual could never recover. In addition,the insurance corporation EIA contract was also not beneficial to the individual since the variable annuity contracts offered the individual other more favorable features. Moreover, based on the individualís disclosed investment objectives of guaranteed returns on his retirement assets and to provide for his beneficiaries, and the individualís financial situation and needs, Holody lacked reasonable grounds to believe that liquidating the variable annuities to generate funds for the purchase of the EIA contract was suitable for the individual.

Richard Barry Holody: Fined $10,000; Suspended 4 months
Tags:  Variable Annuity    EIA     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Terry Tin Sing Tang (Principal)
AWC/2010021897401/September 2011

Tang opened an account at his member firm on customersí behalf based upon the representations of a registered representative at another FINRA member firm, although Tang never met or spoke directly with the customers.  Instead, all of Tangís communications with the customers were through the registered representative.

Tang caused a variable annuity, in the amount of $532,874.02, to be purchased in the customersí account based upon an order from the registered representative, for which Tang received $28,775.20 in net commission for the transaction but his firm never granted him authority to place third-party orders in the customersí account.

Tang failed to notify his firm that a third-party placed a variable annuity order and failed to obtain the firmís approval to cause this third-party order to be executed in the customersí account.

Terry Tin Sing Tang (Principal): Fined $33,775.20 (includes $28,775.20 disgorgement of commissions); Suspended 10 business days.
Tags:  Variable Annuity     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
July 2011
David Lewis Tieger
AWC/2009018325701/July 2011

Tieger  convinced his junior partner to call an annuity company and impersonate his relative for the purpose of confirming a $275,000 withdrawal from one of the relativeís variable annuity contracts.

The relative attempted to make a distribution from his variable annuity and after growing frustrated with the withdrawal process, instructed Tieger to take care of it. After multiple requests, Tiegerís junior partner agreed to make the telephone call using the relativeís cellular phone, spoke to the annuity company representative and, pretending to be Tiegerís relative, asked the representative to process the contract withdrawal. The junior partner answered the representativeís questions by reading from a script that Tieger had prepared.  Tieger watched the junior partnerís call from outside a glass conference room.

After Tieger left the office building, the junior partner called the representative back to inform him that he was not the relative and that he had called because someone standing next to him asked him to impersonate the relative.

David Lewis Tieger : Fined $5,000; Suspended 30 business days
Tags:  Impersonation    Variable Annuity     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Bill Singer's Comment

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . . this is an edgy one. Tieger was wrong -- no question about that; however, the circumstances are somewhat compelling.  The dalliances of many annuity companies are well known and getting a distribution may often be akin to pulling teeth.

Regardless, I don't condone Tieger's short-cut and fully appreciate the attendant regulatory concerns. Nonetheless, the $5,000 fine I get. The 30-day suspension? I dunno, that's seems a bit heavy handed given the unique facts. Still, I'm not going to lose sleep over the 30-days because it's not so over-the-top but if I were on a hearing panel and this one came before me (keep in mind that this was a settled, non-hearing matter), I might have been satisfied with five days or a straight 30 calendar days.

March 2011
Roger Craig Fulton (Principal)
AWC/2009018041101/March 2011

Fulton submitted a variable annuity application and other documents to his member firm knowing that they contained falsified customer signatures. Fulton recommended that a customer switch a variable annuity he owned for another variable annuity, which had advantageous riders. The customer agreed to the switch, but Fulton agreed to delay the switch until market conditions improved.

Fulton determined that market conditions were appropriate for the switch on a certain date, but the customer was out of town on an extended trip at that time. Fulton and the customer then agreed that the customerís relative would sign the customerís name to the variable annuity application and the other documents necessary to complete the switch transaction, which she did with Fultonís knowledge. Fulton then submitted the annuity application and other documents the relative falsely signed to his firm as authentic, knowing that the customerís signature on the documents was not authentic. In addition, Fultonís submission of the falsified application and other documents to his firm caused the firmís books and records to be inaccurate.

Roger Craig Fulton (Principal): No fine in light of financial status; Suspended 3 months
Tags:  Annuity    Variable Annuity    Signature     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Bill Singer's Comment
I'm not going to defend the RR's conduct but, I'm sorry, this just does not warrant a 3-month suspension.  The key issue that distinguishes this fact pattern from so many other unauthorized signature case is that the client AUTHORIZED the affixation by the relative and the transaction.  Unquestionably, Fulton should have disclosed to his firm that the signature was not the client's original but one authorized in abstentia.  Nonetheless, this error in judgment warrants an admonition and not a formal regulatory sanction as far as I'm concerned. I'm confining that opinion to the very narrow set of facts in this case.
February 2011
Benjamin Harry Cohen
AWC/2009017087301/February 2011

Cohen violated FINRAís suitability rule by failing to understand or convey to customers the cost of a rider to a variable annuity, pursuant to transactions he recommended to customers. Cohen incorrectly communicated the imposed fee. Cohen did not understand the risks and rewards inherent in the variable annuity, with the rider feature, which he recommended to the customers.

Cohen conducted a trade in a deceased customerís account with a purchase of $4,662 of an entity Class A mutual fund share. Cohen had discussed with this customer purchasing the entityís Class A shares prior to the customerís passing, and he had prepared certain paperwork for the transaction prior to the customerís death, but the purchase had not been made at the time of the customerís death. At the time of the transaction, Cohen did not consult with any representative of the deceased customerís estate and also did not notify the firm that the customer had passed away.

In addition, Cohen failed to appear for a FINRA on-the-record interview.

Benjamin Harry Cohen: Barred
Tags:  Variable Annuity    Deceased     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Bill Singer's Comment
A frequent issue for many brokers is how to best handle the portfolio of a deceased client. Should you enter the orders that the deceased gave you prior to his/her death? Should you sell the stock just hit with bad news? Should you close out the profitable option position as expiration date nears?  All legitimate concerns and, frankly, all could require different answers depending upon whether the deceased left an estate, whether there is an executor or administrator involved, whether there is a JTWROS, etc.  The best advice? First, talk to your firm's compliance/legal department. Second, if appropriate, get in touch with the individual legally empowered to handle the deceased's account.
Christopher Gregory Gibas (Principal)
AWC/2005002244703/February 2011

Gibas failed to reasonably supervise a registered representative at his member firm by approving variable annuity transactions the representative recommended and affected; in approving these transactions, Gibas did not adequately respond to red flags that should have alerted him that the transactions were unsuitable.

Gibasí firm placed the representative under heightened supervision, which was formalized by a written agreement the representative and Gibas signed, and under the agreement, Gibas was required, among of things, to pre-approve all the representativeís annuity business and new accounts, to speak with each of the representativeís customers who were 65 or older, and to help the representative diversify her business.

With respect to the variable annuity transactions, they were unsuitable, in that the transactionsí costs outweighed the benefits, and in some of those transactions, the customers purchased a rider for which they were not eligible. At the time Gibas approved these transactions, there were numerous red flags regarding the representativeís variable annuity transactions, including transactions appearing on exception reports, that should have alerted him to the potential unsuitability of her transactions and required follow-up more comprehensive than Gibas otherwise took. Gibas did not adequately carry out his other responsibilities under the firmís heightened supervision of the representative; although Gibas reviewed the representativeís transactions and contacted certain elderly customers before those transactions were affected, some of the conversations with the representativeís customers lasted only a few minutes, were conducted when the representative was present, or before Gibas received any paperwork regarding the proposed transaction. While Gibas met with the representative, as well as with other supervisory and compliance personnel at the firm, none of the steps taken proved effective in preventing the representativeís unsuitable sales.

Christopher Gregory Gibas (Principal): Fined $10,000; Suspended 5 months in Supervisory/Principal capacities only
Tags:  Variable Annuity    Supervision     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Bill Singer's Comment
A well-presented and compelling FINRA disciplinary case.  I like that it not only sets forth what the Principal didn't do but also suggests, by inference, what he should have done.
Cynthia Ann Bulinski
AWC/2005002244704/February 2011

Bulinski made unsuitable recommendations to her elderly clients to purchase variable annuities. She repeatedly failed to tailor her recommendations to meet her customersí individual investment needs, and instead recommended the same variable annuity to her customers, irrespective of age, investment experience, liquidity needs, financial situation and risk tolerance.

Bulinski recommended that elderly customers purchase the same variable annuity with an enhanced death benefit rider, but demonstrated that she did not have reasonable basis for her recommendation because some of the customers were too old to purchase the rider and the rest gained little, if any, benefit from the rider while paying a substantial cost for it. Bulinski recommended unsuitable variable annuities with a rider that was inconsistent with her customersí investment objectives. In numerous instances, Bulinski demonstrated that she did not understand the variable annuity and inaccurately described the investment to a customer as a fixed annuity rather than a variable annuity, and with other customers, incorrectly stated the surrender period and surrender charges her customers would incur.

Bulinski was the subject of several written customer complaints about her lack of disclosure about surrender charges and other product details.

Cynthia Ann Bulinski: Barred
Tags:  Annuities    Variable Annuity     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Resource Horizons Group LLC
AWC/2009017637201/February 2011

The Firm approved advertising materials registered representatives used during several public seminars; the firm sent invitations to members of the public, and the seminar attendees received supplemental materials designed to introduce the firm and the financial services it offered. The invitations failed to provide a sound basis for evaluating the facts regarding the products or services offered. The supplemental materials contained exaggerated and unwarranted language, and the seminar handout had unwarranted language.

The seminar presentations failed to explain a product or strategy.  The discussion of equity-indexed annuities (EIAs) failed to provide a balanced presentation and omitted information.  The discussion of variable annuities omitted material information.

The presentations failed to disclose

  • that projections are hypothetical and are not guarantees,
  • risks attendant with options transactions, and
  • risks and rewards of real estate investment trusts (REITs) in a balanced way.

The discussion of expenses pertaining to mutual funds and variable annuities was misleading; discussion of annuities in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) was misleading.

The list of benefits and features of variable annuities failed to disclose potential restrictions and costs, discussion of 1031 exchanges failed to elaborate on Internal Revenue Code restrictions. The discussion of variable annuities provided an incomplete, and oversimplified presentation and representation that safety and protection are provided by diversification market index certificates of deposit, puts, and living benefits profits provided by variable annuities was promissory and exaggerated.

The firm failed to reasonably supervise its communications with the public and its supervision was not reasonably designed to meet the requirements of FINRA Rule 2210(b)(2). The firmís procedures required the supervisory principal to evidence approval by signing public communications submitted for approval and use, but the supervisory principal only initialed a coversheet that did not identify which communication was approved. In addition, the firm failed to maintain records naming the registered principal who approved the public communication or the date approval was given, nor documentation establishing that a certified registered options principal approved options material or that the material had been properly submitted to FINRAís Advertising Regulation Department for pre-approval.

Resource Horizons Group LLC : Censured; Fined $15,000
Tags:  REIT    EIA    Variable Annuity     |    In: Research and Advertising
January 2011
David William Trende
2007008935010/January 2011
Trende falsified Federal Reserve forms with respect to customers and caused his firm to maintain false books and records by providing false information on Purpose Statements and submitting them to the firm.
A Stock-to-Cash program was designed to help customers of insurance agents fund purchases of fixed annuity and fixed life insurance products; however, loan documents and federal regulations prohibited investment of the loan proceeds in margin securities and from  investing in variable annuities. As part of the Stock-to-Cash loan process, Trende was required to provide a Purpose Statement setting forth the intended use of proceeds, in order to ensure compliance with Federal Reserve Board regulations restricting the extension of margin credit. Trende had general discussions with the customers who agreed to borrow approximately $180,000 concerning the possible uses of the loan proceeds, but no decisions were made about how to use the funds until after the proceeds were received so real estate was written on the Purpose Statement as the specific purpose of the loan. 

The customers did not use the proceeds for the stated purpose of purchasing real estate; they used more than 50 percent of the proceeds of the Stock-to-Cash loan to purchase a variable annuity from an entity, with Trende as their broker, and used the remainder of the proceeds to purchase an equity-indexed annuity, again through Trende, and to pay some debts.

The firm received a commission from the annuity sales, and Trende received a payout from the firm. 

Another of Trendeís customers agreed to borrow approximately $100,000 through the Stock-to-Cash program. In connection with this customerís loan, Trende completed a Purpose Statement for the customerís signature, which stated that the credit was going to be used for real estate. When the customer signed the Purpose Statement, he had discussed several options for the use of the proceeds with Trende, but had not determined how he would ultimately use the loan proceeds but did not use the proceeds to purchase real estate. The customer signed an application to purchase a variable annuity, with Trende as the broker, with most of the proceeds from the Stock-to-Cash loan; the firm received a commission from the annuity sale, and Trende received a payout from the firm. FINRA found that both customers profited on their investments in the securities that they bought for participation in the Stock-to-Cash program and posted as collateral for their loans.

Trende was well aware that his customers had not decided how to use the money at the time the Purpose Statements were signed. Trendeís conduct was unethical and reflects negatively on his commitment to compliance with the securities industryís regulatory requirements.
David William Trende : Fiend $10,000; Suspended 3 months.
Tags:  Borrowing    Stock To Cash    Variable Annuity     |    In: Cases of Note : FINRA
Enforcement Actions