Variable Annuity Contract Thief Gets 10-Year Sentence – Hartford and Nationwide Life Insurance Companies

January 25th, 2012
by Daniel Carlson

In October 2011, a former Agent for Hartford and Nationwide Life Insurance companies pled guilty to charges of theft and received a 10-year prison sentence. By Matthew J. Ryan’s own admission, he exploited weaknesses in the insurance companies’ practices and procedures in order to steal from the variable annuity contracts Hartford and Nationwide issued to his clients.

Ryan created fake companies and bogus “transfer forms” which he had his clients sign. The bogus forms gave Ryan the ability to divert funds from his customers’ variable annuities and, ultimately, into his own accounts. Hartford and Nationwide honored thousands of Ryan’s transfer requests, despite the fact that the fraudulent documents were obviously illegitimate. The fraudulent documentation was not detected until 2010. By that time, however,  the former
agent had diverted an excess of $3M over a period of five years.

Two additional insurance companies have settled claims made by Ryan’s fixed variable annuity customers. Currently, combined suits of more than $3M against Nationwide and Hartford are pending.

Are you a former client of Mathew J. Ryan? Do you believe that your variable annuity contract assets have been or are being illegally diverted or invested unsuitably? If the answer to any of
these questions is yes, contact investment fraud lawyer Daniel Carlson at Carlson Law in San Diego for a free consultation. As an experienced investment recovery attorney, Mr. Carlson may be able to help you recoup all or part of financial loss.

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FINRA REACTS TO SEC CHARGES THAT IT MISHANDLED DOCUMENTS

December 7th, 2011
by Daniel Carlson
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According to the October 11 issue of Investment News, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed a complaint against the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), alleging that requested staff meeting minutes were altered by a FINRA director before they were delivered to the SEC in August 2008. The alterations, according to the SEC, rendered the meeting notes incorrect and incomplete.

Although FINRA currently serves as a self-regulatory organization (SRO) for stockbrokers, it has recently aspired to assuming that role for financial advisors, too. Given the SEC’s complaint, however, those aspirations are in jeopardy.

Ironically, it was FINRA, not the SEC, that first brought the problem of the tampered documents to light. After reporting the problem to the SEC, FINRA appointed a new director in its Kansas office where the tampering occurred. The SRO has also updated its protocols for the handling of documents and instituted extensive ethics training for its employees.

But for the SEC, these measures aren’t enough. The commission has ordered that FINRA hire an independent consultant to review the SRO’s training and in-house procedures, and to make recommendations for improvement. The goal? Ensuring that in future the SEC consistently receives reliable and accurate paperwork from FINRA.

Within 30 days of receiving the consultant’s findings and recommendations, FINRA’s board must either implement the suggestions for improvement or protest them. Alternatives to any recommendations that FINRA finds impractical or cumbersome must then be determined and agreed upon by both the board and the consulting agent.

In settling the charges made against it by the SEC, FINRA is neither denying nor admitting them. As an SRO that ensures the compliance of brokers with SEC regulations, however, FINRA recognizes that its own employees must comply with any and all requests made by the SEC.

At Carlson Law, our securities fraud attorneys represent those who have suffered financial loss due to stockbroker misconduct. To learn more about issues in finance today that may affect your wellbeing, check out other blogs at Carlson Law.

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FHFA Files Lawsuits Against 17 Financial Institutions to Recoup Investor Losses

November 9th, 2011
by Daniel Carlson
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In its roles as conservator for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the
Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) filed securities lawsuits against 17
financial entities in federal court as well as in the state courts of
Connecticut and New York in early September 2011. In the lawsuits the FHFA
alleges that the financial institutions, which range from Bank of America and
Citigroup to Deutsche  Bank and Credit
Suisse, violated numerous federal securities and common laws in their sales of
mortgage-backed securities. Citing the Securities Act of 1933, the FHFA seeks
both civil penalties and damages.

According to an FHFA press release, Bank of America and its
fellow financial institutions committed a breach of fiduciary duty when they provided
Fanny May and Freddie Mac with misleading loan descriptions. These
descriptions, which were part of sales and marketing materials, failed to
reveal the true character of the loans, particularly their risk factors. In
other words, they constituted banking fraud.

The current FHFA lawsuit is part of a continuing effort on
the part of Congress and regulators to deal with institutions that engaged in
practices that precipitated the financial crisis of 2008, a crisis in which
risky mortgage-backed securities played an important role. The Washington Post estimates that almost
$200 billion in risky securities were sold to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Regardless of possible negative effects on the financial
sector and on the recovery process of the housing market, the government appears
to be stepping up its efforts to recover the financial losses investors
incurred during the 2008 crisis. These recent FHFA lawsuits are comparable to
an earlier lawsuit in 2011 which the FHFA filed against  UBS Americas, Inc.

If you believe that you have
experienced investment loss due to the misleading marketing practices of a
banking institution, contact an investment recovery lawyer in San Diego today
at Carlson Law.

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Will the SEC File Investment Fraud Charges Against Credit-Rating Companies?

July 5th, 2011
by Daniel Carlson
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According to the Wall Street Journal, in May 2011 the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) acknowledged that credit-rating agencies, desirous of pleasing the companies they rate, are sometimes less than objective in their evaluations. To mitigate this problem, the SEC has proposed that credit-rating firms operate under stricter guidelines.
This month, the Journal reports that the SEC is currently contemplating civil fraud charges against some of these credit-reporting firms for their part in the development of mortgage-bond deals that precipitated the recent financial crisis.
During its investigation, the SEC is examining the research done by Standard & Poor, Moody’s Investors Services, and other ratings agencies into the subprime mortgages (and additional loans) that underpinned recent ill-fated mortgage-bond deals. Was the research adequate? Or was it so slipshod as to constitute negligence or fraud?
Although a Standard & Poor spokesperson declined knowledge of any SEC investigation, she maintained that the ratings firm would cooperate with any request made by the SEC.
The SEC’s inquiry into ratings firms is part of its larger investigation into Wall Street’s culpability in the recent financial crisis. The investigation may or may not result in investment fraud charges being brought against the companies under scrutiny.

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Ambac & Others Agree to Pay $33M to Settle Fraud Allegations Surrounding Bond/Insurance Litigation

June 20th, 2011
by Daniel Carlson

Ambac Financial Group Inc., as well as several of its banking underwriters and insurers, has agreed to pay a total of $33M in order to settle claims of investment fraud. According to investors who experienced significant financial loss, the parties involved hid risks from investors about the mortgage debt it guaranteed.

The primary claimants in the case are the Arkansas Teachers Retirement System, the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi and the Public School Teachers’ Pension and Retirement Fund of Chicago. These claimants allege securities fraud in regard to Ambac bonds and stocks purchased from October 25, 2006 to April 22, 2008.

According to the suit, Ambac gave out misleading information regarding the safety of the bonds it insured in order to inflate the value of the securities. Claimants further allege that Ambac, which insured instruments related to high-risk mortgages, hid its involvement in the subprime loan disaster, an involvement that became clear when the housing market collapsed in 2008. According to the suit, Ambac falsely claimed that it insured the “safest” transactions, when in reality it guaranteed billions of high-risk residential mortgage debt and collateralized debt obligations that were high risk in pursuit of big profit.

Once a federal court has approved the settlement proposal, Ambac will pay claimants 2.5M. Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, HSBC Holding and Wachovia (now a part of Wells Fargo) will pay a combined total of $5.9 million. The four insurance companies involved will pay a total of $24.5M.

If you believe that you’ve been a victim of securities fraud, contact an investment recovery lawyer. Like the claimants in the Ambac case, you could recoup some or all of your financial loss through securities arbitration or litigation. Contact Carlson Law today at 619-544-9300 for a free consultation.

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Principal Protected Notes, Lehman Brothers and UBS Financial Services Arbitrations

June 14th, 2011
by Daniel Carlson
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A recent class action suit against Lehman Brothers as well as an enforcement proceeding against UBS Financial Services by New Hampshire has encouraged investors to hire investment recovery litigators and pursue claims against firms selling Lehman Brothers principal protected notes in an attempt to recoup their financial losses. According to New Hampshire’s claim, UBS engaged in broker malpractice by failing to disclose the risky nature of principal protected notes (PPNs). As a result, New Hampshire investors lost 2.5 million.
Principal Protected Notes
Principal protected notes (PPNs) are structured investments that have been around for years. Like all structured investments, PPNs connect CDs and fixed income notes to the performance of currencies, commodities, equities and/or other assets. Structures investment products are legitimate investments, and principal protected notes are a legitimate form of them.
Structured investments may have partial or full principal protection. Some pay a variable sum at their maturity. Others pay by coupons that are connected to a particular index or security. Given their risk and return reports, structured investments in general are appropriate for the portfolios of many investors.
In short, they are unsecured promissory notes connect to referenced securities, and as such they are not without risks. Unfortunately, according to claimants, investment firms committed broker malpractice by marketing these products to customers as safe investment alternatives.
Marketing of PPNs to Retail Investors
Beginning in 2005, PPNs became a particularly popular type of structured investment for retail customers. Noting their increased sales to non-institutional customers, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) expressed concern that brokers were committing a breach of fiduciary duty by marketing principal protected notes to retail customers as “conservative” investments with “predictable current income.” In fact, the agency issued a notice to brokerage firms in September of 2005 that clear guidance regarding the risks involved in these financial products should be given to retail customers.
PPNs, Lehman Brothers & Bankruptcy
When PPNs mature, investors typically receive a return on the principal from the borrower. In this case, the borrower was Lehman Brothers. Unfortunately for investors, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, even the principal on these notes became unprotected. Lehman’s PPN obligations on the notes were unsecured–and behind secured notes in the creditor bankruptcy line up.
The Case Against Lehman Brothers
Unsurprisingly, investors are now seeking to recover their financial losses. Although the specific allegations of claimants vary, all assert that Lehman Brothers, selling brokerages like UBS Financial Services and others, committed broker malpractice by falsely marketing PPNs as conservative investment product alternatives.
Specifically, claimants allege, these PPN products were depicted as 100 percent principal protected if investors held them to maturity.
Brokers also presented the PPNs as principal protected if the indices underlying them held their value. Furthermore, firms and brokers did not warn customers of the risks involved in investing in PPNs, nor did they warn them about what would happen if the underlying backer of the notes, Lehman Brothers, defaulted. Customers were also not made aware of the Lehman Brothers’ decline and that its fall could affect their investment’s value, making it in effect worthless.
It’s also been alleged that firms continued to push PPNs after Bear Stearns collapse, a failure which should have been a clear indicator or “red flag” of the risks involved in investing in banks that hold large numbers of subprime mortgages. It’s also been alleged that firms pushed PPNs on retail customers at a time when they themselves were reducing their PPN holdings. The accuracy or falsity of these claims has yet to be determined. But if firms did indeed recommend PPNs while reducing their own holdings, litigators are likely to claim broker fraud rather than simply failure to disclose.
Did your financial advisor mislead you into investing in PPNs, causing you to suffer financial loss as a result? If so, you need the advice of an investment recovery counsel. Contact Carlson Law in San Diego at 619-544-9300 today for a free consultation.

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Performance Fee Thresholds for Investors to be Raised by the SEC

June 9th, 2011
by Daniel Carlson
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High net-worth investors will enjoy lower fees—that is, if the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) proposed changes to performance based fees proceed as planned.

The SEC intends to increase the dollar thresholds investors must meet before financial professional can charge them performance based fees. Currently, the thresholds are determined under two provisos of Rule 205-3 of the Investment Advisers Act: (1) brokers must have a reasonable belief that the client has a net worth of more than $1.5M, or (2) they must manage a minimum of $750,000 worth of investments for the client.

According to investment recovery lawyer Daniel Carlson of Carlson Law Firm, APC the current Act contains inherent risks for the average investor because it could encourage brokers to take big risks in order to make bigger fees: “If a high-risk investment fails, brokers don’t experience the financial consequences personally, but investors, particularly retirees, can end up losing everything.”

The SEC says it will issue an order revising the test for allowing performance fees to (1) a reasonable belief that the investor has $2 million in net worth or (2) $1 million of assets under management. In addition, the SEC order will exclude an investors primary residence from consideration in the 2 million dollars net worth evaluation, add a method for factoring inflation into the dollar amount tests.

If you are a high net-worth investor and have been exposed to unsuitable risk, you may have a claim for recovery of your losses.  Contact Carlson Law at 619-544-9300 for a free consultation.

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Halliburton Class Action for Securities Fraud, Case Reinstated – a Victory for Claimants

June 9th, 2011
by Daniel Carlson
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According to a June 6, 2011 article by James Vicini for Reuters (“Halliburton securities fraud lawsuit reinstated”) the U.S. Supreme Court has reinstated a securities fraud class-action lawsuit filed against Halliburton in 2001 by pension and mutual fund investors on behalf of all buyers of Halliburton stock between June 1999 and December 2001.
Claimants in the case charge that Halliburton fraudulently overstated its engineering and construction revenues as well as the positive impact its merger with Dresser Industries would have on the company. At the same time, claimants allege, Halliburton misled investors regarding the company’s liabilities due to asbestos.
Because of these misrepresentations, claimants argue, Halliburton stock was artificially inflated and, when the company revealed the true state of its affairs, its stock fell dramatically, causing financial loss to investors.
The lawsuit had formerly been thrown out of court by a Texas federal judge who ruled that evidence of loss causation, a link between the claimants’ losses and the company’s actions, was insufficient. And an appeals court upheld that decision.
Their rulings created confusion among appeals courts regarding the necessity of claimants to prove loss causation early in the litigation process.
The Supreme Court disagreed with the judge and the appeals court, ruling that stock fraud plaintiffs do not have to prove loss causation simply in order to pursue a class-action lawsuit. That’s good news not only for claimants in the Erica P. John Fund v. Halliburton case, but also for injured investors throughout the nation who’ve had their suits quickly dismissed due to insufficient initial proof of loss causation.

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FINRA CEO Says Brokers Must “Push and Pull” for Private Placement Information

June 6th, 2011
by Daniel Carlson

Often, investment advisors, stockbrokers and brokerages who unsuitably push Reg. D Private Placements on investors claim that any financial losses investors subsequently experience occur despite their due diligence. However, these private investments pay high fees that can induce some financial professionals to look the other way, focusing on the fifteen percent fee rather than the best interests of their clients in recommending these high-risk investments without the required due diligence having been performed. With the smell of large commissions and enormous fees in the air, it’s probably easy for brokers to rationalize away all of the drawbacks, risks, and any lack of appropriate due diligence for private placement investments.

Luckily for investors the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has decided to come down hard on the sales of Reg. D Private Placements. At a yearly meeting of the agency, FINRA CEO and Chair Richard Ketchum explained that in the future brokers who promote and sell private placements must “push and pull” for the necessary due diligence information in order to avoid liability and assure that they’re making sound investment recommendations for their clients. That means doing a lot more than reading basic investment documents and attending “canned” meetings if questions needed to be asked.

At Carlson Law we pursue brokerage firms and financial professionals who recommend inappropriate, high-risk private placements to clients. For elderly investors, conservative investors, and those with a net worth of less than $1 million or a yearly income of less than $200,000, private placements may be per se inappropriate investments. If you’ve suffered financial loss due to stockbroker malpractice, contact Carlson Law in San Diego today at 619-544-9300.

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Costs Associated with Investing in Mutual Funds

June 2nd, 2011
by Daniel Carlson

If you’ve invested in mutual funds, you should know that taxes can affect your investment, sometimes significantly reducing your net returns. To completely avoid federal taxes, consider investments such as tax free municipal bonds. Also be aware that some mutual fund investments are more tax efficient than others. Below is some basic information regarding mutual fund fees, expenses and income taxation, check with your professional tax preparer regarding your specific tax situation.

What other costs are associated with mutual funds?

In addition to taxes, mutual fund fees and ongoing fund expenses related to holding mutual funds affect your net returns. For instance, when you sell, buy, and exchange shares, you will likely pay sales loads and transaction fees. Additionally, as a mutual fund holder you must pay ongoing expenses, i.e. management fees and 12b-1 fees.

When you’re considering purchasing a mutual fund, be sure to consult the fee table located at the front of its prospectus. This table compares the costs of different funds. And be aware that just because high fees are associated with a fund doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a high-performing investment product.

Nontaxable capital returns
You can receive a return on a mutual fund without having to pay taxes on it. Usually, this happens when the return recovers some or all of your cost basis in the fund. Because they’re not strictly earnings, these returns are tax-free. You must, however, report them on your tax return.

Taxable dividend income
Many mutual funds pay dividends on a yearly, monthly, or quarterly basis to shareholders on a pro-rata basis. These dividends must be reported on your tax return for the year they were distributed.

Mutual fund dividends earned by individual shareholders often, but not always, qualify for taxation at capital gains rates. For instance, corporate stock dividends that a mutual fund receives and passes to shareholders usually qualifies for taxation at capital gains rates. If, however, mutual fund dividends are the result of other some other type of earning, such as interest, they’re taxed like ordinary income. Furthermore, special holding period requirements often must be met in order for dividends to qualify for long-term capital gain tax treatment.

Short-term capital gains
For tax purposes, short-term capital gain distributions are usually treated like dividends.

Long-term capital gains
Fund shareholders receive long-term capital gain distributions on a pro-rata basis. They must report these earning on their tax returns as long-term capital gains no matter how long they have held them.

Selling shares
When you sell shares in a mutual fund, usually you must pay tax on any capital gains earned. The taxable amount is ordinarily equal to the difference between the sale price and the original share purchase price. The tax owed on a gain depends on the rate at which the gain is taxed, which depends on how long you held the shares before selling them. In general, if you hold shares over a year before you sell them, any gain realized is considered long-term capital gain. On the other hand, if you sell after less than a year, any gains you earn will be considered short-term gain and taxed accordingly.

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