Archive for May, 2011

Is It Really Too Late? Fraud, Statutes of Limitations & Recovering Investment Losses

May 26th, 2011
Wall Street, Manhattan, New York, USA

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Although it’s been three years since financial misconduct on Wall Street rocked the nation, investors still have opportunity to recoup some or all of their financial loss.

If you suffered financial loss during the recent crisis, your broker, brokerage or financial advisor may be legally responsible for that loss. A variety of legal actions can be brought against financial professioals for malpractice, such as negligent investment misrepresentation for making inappropriate investment product recommendations, intentinal securities fraud and inapropriate account turnover/excessive trading or “churning” to name only a few examples.

“Each state has different statutes of limitations for different kinds of claims,” explains Daniel Carlson of Carlson Law, a securities litigation firm in San Diego. “Your ability to file for damages depends on where you live and the kind of claims you have. While one state may have a three-year statute of limitations for all claims, others may have deadlines as long as 10 years for claims like breach of fiduciary duty. And in some states, the ‘discovery rule’ applies to fraud. That means the statute of limitations’ clock doesn’t start ticking until an investor ‘discovers’ he or she has been defrauded.”

Defrauded investors may also be able to file claims in more than one state. “It depends upon where you live, where you transacted business with your broker and whether the account agreement has a ‘choice of law’ provision indicating the state law that applies in the event of any claims,” Carlson says.

“And of course there’s more than one way to file a claim,” he adds. “If there are several options available, a good litigator will choose the state and the claims that give their clients the best chance of success.”

Did you experience financial loss due to your financial advisor’s misconduct? Did your broker lie to you about an investment? Did he or she give you advice inappropriate to your financial goals? Don’t wait any longer to fight for the compensation you deserve. Remember, legal deadlines do exist, and your time could be running out.

To discuss your options, contact Carlson Law at 619-544-9300 for a free consultation with an experienced investment recovery lawyer.

“Even if claims seem to have exceeded the applicable statute of limitations, defrauded investors should still contact an attorney,” Carlson advises. “By using all the legal means at their disposal, securities fraud attorneys can sometimes still recover client losses through arbitration even after a statute of limitations has expired.”

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Did Wall Street Bankers Commit CDO Fraud?

May 25th, 2011
Goldman Sachs New World Headquarters

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In 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began a civil fraud investigation of over a dozen banking firms that traded and sold mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). This investigation has engendered subsequent probes into the behavior of Wall Street firms.

Did Wall Street bankers defraud investors by selling them CDOs in order to make a profit for themselves—and a few special clients—when the mortgage market collapsed? Federal prosecutors believe so. In fact, in the spring of 2010, they launched a criminal investigation into the matter, and it’s still ongoing.

Investigators allege that a number of major Wall Street banks (including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and UBS) created CDOs in order to sell and then bet against (short) them in the event of a crash. These CDOs include Baldwin 2006-I and AB Spoke, which Morgan Stanley sold investors, and Carina, Cetus and Virgo, which Citigroup, Deutsche and UBS may have sold for fraudulent purposes.

New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has also begun an investigation into the behavior of Wall Street banks regarding CDOs. Investigators allege that Citigroup, Credit Agricole, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS gave credit rating agencies misleading data in order to inflate CDO ratings. These agencies in turn have been harshly criticized and even sued for assigning high scores to numerous toxic CDOs.

Furthermore, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Manhattan and the SEC are collaborating to determine if Wall Street banks misrepresented CDOs to their clients, failing to disclose pertinent facts when trading, marketing and selling them to clients.

Since hearings in Congress revealed that fraudulent conduct on Wall Street precipitated the nation into financial crisis, prosecutors have taken legal action against two traders for Bear Stearns without success. However, legislators are calling for more prosecutions, and criminal probes into Wall Street’s activities widening.

The SEC has subpoenaed Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase and UBS, asking that they turn over a wide range of paperwork, including prospectuses and offering documents (final copies as well as drafts) and lists of investors associated with mortgage-related transactions. The SEC has also filed an action in federal court against Goldman Sachs, claiming that a trader on behalf of the company created an investment product designed to fail so that one of the company’s pet hedge-fund clients could bet against it and profit at the expense of less favored Goldman investors. Goldman is purportedly seeking to settle the case out of court.

From 2005 to 2007, diverse Wall Street banks issued CDOs totaling $1.08 trillion. The research firm Thomson Reuters reports that Citigroup, Deutsche Banks and Merrill Lynch issued the greatest dollar amount. J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, UBS and Goldman were numbers five, seven, ten and 14 on the list, respectively.

If you believe that you’ve suffered financial loss due to CDO fraud, contact Carlson Law at 619-544-9300 for a free consultation today. The investment recovery litigators at Carlson Law are dedicated to getting justice for securities fraud victims.

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Justice for Morgan Keegan Investors an Ongoing Struggle

May 23rd, 2011
Seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commi...

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Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc., a financial services division of Regions Financial Corporation, has been the subject of numerous regulatory investigations in the last few years.

Originally founded by Allen B. Morgan, Jr., James Keegan and two other businessmen in 1969, Morgan Keegan didn’t grow on a large scale until the 1980s when it began acquiring other brokerage houses, beginning with the Mississippi-based Geary & Patterson. By 1990, it had purchased a total of four investment houses, and it was hungry for more. From 1992 to 1997, it bought seven additional firms as well as a sports agency, Athletic Resource Management.

Morgan Keegan itself was purchased in 2001 by Regions Financial. Regions incorporated its brokerage unit into the firm, creating a division specializing in asset management, investment banking and securities brokerage.

In April 2011, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) as well as various state regulatory agencies and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed civil suits against Morgan Keegan.
According to many investor complaints filed with FINRA, State and SEC suits and investigations, from 2004 to 2007, the company marketed Select Intermediate Bond Funds and Select High Income Funds as low-risk securities to investors who had requested safe, short-term corporate commercial paper investments. Furthermore, Morgan Keegan did not inform clients that most of their assets (over 50 percent) were invested in sub-prime, illiquid, untested investment structures, such as mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

When the mortgage market collapsed in 2007, investors lost big. According to the SEC, the company and two of its top execs, Thomas Weller and James Kelsoe, purposely hid the plummeting value of their risky investments through 262 so-called “price adjustments.”

The result of Morgan Keegan’s blatantly behavior was predictably catastrophic for their clients. Thousands of investors, hoping to recoup their financial loss, have filed or will file arbitration claims against Morgan Keegan with FINRA.

Unfortunately, although regulators unanimously agree that Morgan Keegan committed acts of egregious fraud that financially harmed clients, investor claimants in FINRA proceedings, generally individual or family trust investors, have thus far experienced very mixed success in recovering their losses. Why? They’ve consistently been denied access to documents necessary to their cases by FINRA arbitration panels.

Despite the fact that Morgan Keegan has publically admitted it’s been the subject of multiple regulatory investigations, the thousands and thousands of documents relating to these investigations have been denied to claimants and their counsel because many arbitrators have refused to order that Morgan Keegan produce this potentially damning paperwork. Consequently, time and time again, arbitration panels have rendered decisions on claims without having all the relevant facts.

Clearly, this must change if investors are to receive just compensation for their financial loss. And with persistent, long-term petitioning by defrauded investors and their lawyers, no doubt it will change.

If you feel you have been a victim of investment fraud or negligence, contact Carlson Law in San Diego. Carlson Law specializes in investment recovery litigation and arbitration. Call 619-544-9300 now for a free consultation.

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Citigroup Must Pay Claimants $54M in Damages in MAT/ASTA Investment Fund FINRA Arbitration

May 17th, 2011

In April 2011, Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. was ordered by a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel to pay damages of more than $54M for its misconduct in managing and promoting a wide range of investment products, including MAT/ASTA municipal bond hedge funds.

The three claimants will receive 100 percent of the compensatory damages they sought, which total $34,058,948, as well as 8 percent interest and $17,000,000 in punitive damages. Furthermore, Citigroup must pay claimants’ attorney fees, expert witness fees, hearing session fees and the nonrefundable portion of the claimants’ filing fee.

The settlement process focused on the company’s poor handling of MAT/ASTA municipal arbitrage funds, including MAT Two, MAT Three and MAT Five; MAT Finance; ASTA Three and ASTA Five; and ASTA Finance. Without regard to their high-risk nature, the funds were promoted as alternatives to municipal bond portfolios. Furthermore, Citibank falsely characterized them as having strong risk-control features. FINRA found that Citibank not only falsely marketed MAT/ASTA funds, but that it also seriously mismanaged them.

If you believe that Citigroup Global Markets mishandled your investments but have yet to file a claim, don’t delay. Contact an experienced investment recovery lawyer in San Diego at Carlson Law today. It may not be too late to recoup your financial loss and stand up for your rights as an investor.

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FINRA Fines Wells Fargo for Slow Delivery of Prospectuses

May 17th, 2011

According to a May 5, 2011 Investment News article, Wells Fargo took as many as 153 days to deliver prospectuses to more than 900,000 clients who purchased mutual funds in 2009. (Securities law requires that prospectuses be delivered to purchasers within three days of the buy.) For dragging their feet, the company has been fined $1M by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

Wells Fargo also allegedly failed to take action to remedy the situation after learning that up to 9 percent of its customers had not received prospectuses within the requisite three days.

FINRA enforcement chief Brad Bennett stressed the importance of prospectuses to customers, as they contain important data regarding a fund’s costs, plans, performance history and risks. By failing to deliver prospectuses in a timely manner, said Bennett, Well Fargo deprived its customers of key information.

According to the article, Wells Fargo further broke FINRA rules by failing to report client complaints. Neither did the company disclose all arbitration claims that involved its representatives within the required 30 days.

Were you one of Wells Fargo’s more than 900,000 unlucky customers? If you suffered financial loss as a result of the company’s misconduct, contact an investment recovery attorney at Carlson Law.

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Is Your Broker Guilty of “Switching” Mutual Funds to Generate Fees?

May 13th, 2011
Mutual fund

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Ordinarily, mutual funds are long-term investments. And ordinarily, brokers who switch shares among funds with comparable investment goals have committed a violation if the switch serves little or no legitimate financial purpose other than earning him or her a fee. Such switching not only increases the fees investors pay, but it also puts them at risk of increased tax liability.

Often, investors are unaware that their broker has increased their investment costs and risks by “switching” their mutual funds. Mutual funds are intended to be held for a substantial length of time, not traded like individual stocks. To do so results in considerable charges that don’t apply to common stocks. Furthermore, the majority of mutual funds, by their very nature, may already be diversified and do not need to be traded unless there’s been a major change in the allocation of their assets or the fund manager’s market focus is narrow to the extent that it increases investor risk.

Mutual fund switch transactions are a violation of FINRA acceptable sales practices. If you believe you may have experienced financial loss due broker switching, contact an investment recovery lawyer at Carlson Law. Your broker’s misconduct may constitute a viable claim on your part for damages.

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FAQs About Mutual Funds

May 13th, 2011

How do you buy mutual funds?
To purchases shares (portions) in a mutual fund, investors may go through stockbrokers, banks, insurance agents and other investment professionals. They can even buy portions from the fund directly.
When you buy shares, you pay the current net asset value (NAV) for each share. You also pay any sales charge (sales load).

Are mutual funds easy to sell?
Yes, any mutual fund will buy back your shares during regular business hours. Within seven days, you’ll receive the NAV for each share sold minus any sales load.

Are mutual funds a risk-free investment?
No. Just as individual stocks fluctuate in value, so does the portion price of mutual funds. Therefore, the value of your investment will sometimes be more, sometimes less than its original price.

How do you choose the mutual fund that’s right for you?
To determine if you should invest in a mutual fund, acquaint yourself with the major types that are available.

Mutual funds may be categorized by their asset types. Most are either bond funds, stock (equity) funds or money market funds. However, numerous variations exist within these three categories. In fact, some mutual funds combine several types of investments. An asset allocation fund, for instance, is a type of mutual fund that combines all three asset classes—funds, stocks and money markets. Some mutual funds, funds of funds, invest in other mutual funds rather than in individual securities.

Mutual funds may also be categorized according to the investment strategy that they follow. Funds that attempt to reduce tax liability, for example, are called tax-efficient funds. Some mutual funds are managed actively while others try to imitate an index.

Every mutual fund has its own rewards and risks. In general, the greater the potential return, the greater the risk of loss.

When you’re looking for a mutual fund, be sure to shop around, comparing mutual funds of the same type with each other. If you find a mutual fund that interests you, carefully examine its prospectus. Think about the goals, risks, and expenses involved in investing. Is the mutual fund’s aim in keeping with your own? Are the risks acceptable to you?

If you feel overwhelmed by your investment options, do what many other investors do: consult a financial expert. If you were advised to invest in funds that were higher risk than was explained to you by your financial advisor, you may have a claim to recover your losses. Contact Carlson Law for a free consultation.

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Before you Invest in a Mutual Fund, Learn the Basics. Fees, Costs and Undisclosed Risk Can Make Mutual Funds Unsuitable for Investors.

May 13th, 2011

Mutual Funds 101
Mutual funds are sold by companies that pool money (capital) from many investors. This capital is then invested in bonds, stocks and/or other securities. Investors in the fund all have shares, and these shares represent a part of the fund’s holdings.

If you’re interested in making an investment, a mutual fund may or may not be the right choice for you. Like all investments, they come with many different levels of risk. They aren’t insured or guaranteed by financial institutions or government agencies, even those sold by banks. However, because mutual funds are often a mix of various bonds and/or stocks, the risk is some mutual funds is “spread out” or diversified. That said, some mutual funds are not diversified, and it is important to understand that a mutual fund investment can be very high risk, or very low risk, depending upon the holdings and the goals of the fund. Each fund must be looked at individually to determine if it is appropriate for the investor, in the same manner as any individual stock or other investment.

Mutual funds are managed by professional fund managers. These managers invest the money investors contribute into individual stocks, bonds and other securities. And because mutual funds buy and sell securities in large amounts at one time, they usually incur fewer fees, thus operating in a cost-efficient manner. However, it is very important to carefully examine prior to purchase all of the fees and costs associated with the fund you are purchasing as they can vary greatly and take a significant bite out of your return.

If you feel your financial advisor placed you in inappropriate mutual fund investments and/or failed to disclose the fees and costs associated with investment or that the underlying holdings of the fund were beyond your tolerance for risk, you may have a case. Call Carlson Law at 858-544-9300 for a free consultation.

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Promoting Real Estate Loans to Fund Private Placement and Limited Partnership Investments

May 11th, 2011

Making financial investments with money from a loan on your home is generally a poor, high risk activity. And it’s a particularly poor idea when the investment is a private placement that’s speculative and unable to be liquidated easily or traded publically. Brokerage houses that encourage clients to take out extra mortgages or home equity loans in order to buy risky investments in limited partnership and private placements are often held liable for their customers’ financial loss.

In 2009, the Ameritas Investment Corporation was fined $100,000 by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for not supervising one of its brokers whose deceptive financial recommendations to customers included home refinancing to purchase securities. The broker was fined $60,000 by FINRA, and her license was suspended for five years.

If your broker encouraged you to take out real estate loans in order to invest in any private securities, limited partnerships or other investments, you should seek the advice of a securities attorney. Contact Carlson Law for a free consultation.

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Variable Annuity Exchanges & Replacements: Annuity Loss – Annuity Fraud – Did You Get Shafted by Your Broker?

May 11th, 2011

There is a continuing problem for investors relating to the improper sale or switching by investment advisors of variable annuities that can be annuity fraud and result is annuity losses. Many older investors have been counseled by their brokers to replace their old variable annuity contracts with new ones. In many cases it may be unsuitable and result in the creation of fees and commissions for the advisor, surrender charges for the investor and new long term non-liquid investment. Furthermore, adding insult to injury, in some cases advisors have neglected to exercise due diligence by assuring that the exchange of those annuities was tax free under Internal Revenue Code (Section 1035).

If done properly, exchanging variable annuities should be tax free.
In a tax-free 1035 exchange, the owner of a variable annuity replaces the current contract with a new contract. No tax is paid on the investment gains or income from the old variable annuity. If, however, an investor gives up his or her old annuity for cash and then uses that money to buy a new annuity, he or she will have to pay taxes on the old annuity.

Variable annuities can be fraught with hidden costs.
An additional problem with variable annuities is that exchanging and replacing them often results in surrender charges. Customers must pay these charges when annuities are surrendered before the end of their given surrender period. Usually, that’s six to eight years from the purchase date. Because surrender charges reduce the amount of money available for reinvestment in a new annuity, they also lower an investor’s potential return. And if that weren’t bad enough, the new replacement annuity has a new surrender period, so funds are ordinarily locked into place for another six to eight years.

In general, seniors shouldn’t invest in them.
Because of the risks, high fees and surrender charges associated with variable annuities, they’re poor financial choices for most investors over 65. In fact, California law requires that selling agents prove that an annuity replacement is of “substantial benefit” to their senior clients.

FINRA oversight of variable annuities is increasing.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has recently implemented new rules regarding broker recommendations to purchase and exchange variable annuities, making variable annuities one of the few securities products with its own suitability requirements. These new rules require that brokerage firms put supervisory procedures into practice for the detection and prevention of “inappropriate exchanges.”

Should you contact a securities attorney?
If you’re an older investor whose financial advisor has advised to exchange or replace variable annuities, resulting in a loss in your annuity either fraom annuity fraud or simple negligence, call Carlson Law for a free consultation at 619-544-9300. Furthermore, if your broker failed to facilitate a tax-free 1035 exchange of variable annuities, contact our firm. Your broker may be liable for any or all fees, taxes and financial loss you incurred as a result.

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