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SEC Charges Adviser Over Cherry-Picking Trades

By Carmen Germaine of Law360.com The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday filed an in-house suit alleging a Hawaii-based investment adviser cherry-picked profitable trades for himself instead of clients' accounts and falsely claimed he wouldn't "double dip" on management and advisory fees. The SEC's suit, filed in its administrative forum, alleges Laurence I. Balter and his Kihei, Hawaii-based firm Oracle Investment Research violated securities laws by making trades for both Balter and Oracle clients in one omnibus account, cherry-picking profitable trades for Balter's account and assigning unprofitable transactions to clients. Jina L. Choi, the director of the SEC’s San Francisco regional office,...

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Government’s Willful Blindness Theories Put Lawyers At Risk

By Melissa Maleske of Law360.com The government's recent focus on holding individuals accountable for corporate misdeeds is supporting the rise of aggressive theories of prosecution, including the idea that even absent actual knowledge, they should have known something was amiss — and defense experts say that's an especially dangerous development for attorneys. Willful blindness is a boon to prosecutors, a theory that allows them to bring cases even where lawyers can show they had no actual knowledge that they were involved in misconduct. "In a world where second-guessing has become a blood sport, lawyers can be exposed," says Lawrence Spiegel, a partner at...

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Royal Bank Unit Aided $123M ATM Ponzi Scheme, Suit Says

By Suevon Lee of Law360.com Royal Bank of Canada and a Los Angeles-based banking subsidiary have been sued in California state court for negligence and other claims by dozens of individual investors alleging a bank officer enabled a $123 million Ponzi scheme through an ATM machine leaseback program operated by the in-receivership Nationwide Automated Systems Inc. City National Bank NA, the Southern California bank that merged with RBC in November 2015, is accused in the Friday lawsuit of aiding and abetting through branch manager Brian Patrick Fitzwilliam a long-running scheme that bilked many investors, including senior citizens, of $123 million through the...

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Paving Stone Co. Head Gets 10 Years For $26M Ponzi Scheme

By Stewart Bishop of Law360.com A New York man on Friday was sentenced to over 10 years in prison for running a $26 million Ponzi scheme through a purported paving stone company, in a case that has also ensnared a former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission attorney accused of aiding the scheme. Eric Aronson, 48, the founder and head of PermaPave Industries LLC and PermaPave USA Corp., was sentenced to 124 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $26 million after pleading guilty in September 2014 to securities fraud. Aronson was charged along with former SEC counsel and current private attorney Fredric Aaron,...

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State regulators reveal top enforcement targets and the price they pay

Agencies brought more cases against registered advisers than unregistered entities, and certain products featured in many of them By Mark Schoeff Jr. of investmentnews.com For the first time since they've been keeping enforcement statistics, state regulators last year brought more cases against registered financial advisers than against unregistered entities. In its 2015 enforcement report, the North American Securities Administrators Association said 812 registered advisers were named as respondents in cases, compared to 791 unregistered individuals and firms. Overall, state regulators opened 4,487 investigations last year and took 2,074 enforcement actions, according to the report, which was released at the NASAA annual conference in...

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Charlestown, Indiana man pleads guilty in securities fraud case

Richard Collins ordered to pay $250,000, sentenced to prison By Elizabeth Depompei of newsandtribune.com A Charlestown man was ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution after pleading guilty in a securities fraud case Monday. Richard Collins was president of R.C. Vision Quest in Jeffersonville, where he reportedly sold unregistered securities without being licensed to do so, a violation of the Indiana Uniform Securities Act. According to a July news release from the Indiana Secretary of State, Collins made cold calls to investors in North Carolina and Virginia and promised them high returns for investing. Collins reportedly advertised his business as being religion-based and all of...

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Indiana awards whistleblower $95K with more whistleblowers likely in financial advice sector

Earlier this month, Indiana announced its first whistleblower award, giving $95,000 to a former JP Morgan official who helped the state's regulators make an advice-related case against the firm that resulted in a $950,000 settlement. The informant showed how the firm failed to make proper disclosures to clients about proprietary funds in discretionary accounts. The whistleblower exposed JP Morgan for putting its interests before its clients. Federal and state securities regulators are relying more on firm insiders to uncover wrongdoing. As a result, the investment advice sector may find itself more vulnerable to whistleblowing. The Securities and Exchange Commission has been awarding...

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SEC Wants Firms To Watch Reps With Troubled Pasts

By Carmen Germaine of Law360.com The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced Monday that it is launching exams to test the compliance oversight and controls of investment advisers that hire individuals with a disciplinary history. The SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations released a risk alert Monday saying the office’s staff will soon start conducting examinations of investment advisers registered with the SEC that employ or contract with individuals who have a history of disciplinary events in order to assess how firms supervise higher-risk individuals. “Such individuals may present an increased risk of future misconduct, and thus can present harm to clients,”...

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2 Firms To Pay SEC Fines Over Wrap Fee Compliance Failures

By Carmen Germaine of Law360.com James & Associates and Robert W. Baird & Co. agreed Thursday to pay a fine to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over claims they failed to ensure clients enrolled in programs with a single annual fee weren’t being overcharged commissions for certain trades. The two firms both agreed to pay civil penalties without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations that they failed to ensure clients in their “wrap fee” programs, who are charged a single annual fee for bundled investment advisory and trade execution services, weren’t being charged unsuitable commissions on trades made with broker-dealers outside...

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Day Traders Think They Can Win in Online Ponzi Schemes

Software makers and speculators help to keep $47 million a year flowing through a world of fraudulent investment schemes. By Eduardo Thomson and Janan Hanna of Bloomberg.com It’s the financial equivalent of a game of chicken: Put money into a likely Ponzi scheme, get paid for a while, and then try to get out before the collapse. That’s how some people seem to be using online “high-yield investment programs,” or HYIPs. The sites promise ludicrous returns—the equivalent of 1,000 percent or more annually—based on vague investment plans involving, say, bitcoin or currency trading. In reality, many are just passing money from new investors...

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