Wednesday, September 28, 2016

NASAA Releases Its 2016 Enforcement Report



The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) recently released its Enforcement Report for 2016, an annual publication providing a general overview of the activities of the state securities agencies responsible for the protection of investors who purchase investment advice or securities. Admittedly, the information undercounts many statistics due to differences in fiscal year reporting and a lack of response or underreporting for each survey question posed. However, trends in the 52 U.S. jurisdictions are still apparent in the report.[i]

For the first time since NASAA began tracking enforcement statistics, more registered than unregistered individuals and firms were subject to respondent status.[ii] During 2015, state securities regulators conducted 5,000 investigations and brought 2,000 enforcement actions against 2,700 respondents, which often involved more than one individual or company.[iii]

Sanctions imposed upon those who were found in violation of securities law ranged from incarceration to monetary relief and bans on trading. The year witnessed a combined 849 years of imprisonment, 410 years of probation, and 23 years of deferred prosecution, as well as $538m paid in restitution and $238m in fines/penalties.[iv] In addition to criminal and monetary repercussions, revocation and disbarment from the industry occurred for more than 250 individuals, while another 475 licenses/registrations were denied, suspended or conditioned.[v]   

The five most common violations prompting these actions were, in order of frequency: Ponzi Schemes, Real Estate Investment Program Fraud, Oil & Gas Investment Program Fraud, Internet Fraud, and Affinity Fraud.[vi]

The NASAA report found that Ponzi scheme victims were often targeted through the internet or for identifiable attributes, such as race or religion. The report also found that vulnerable seniors were disproportionately victims; jurisdictions that reported on seniors found one-third of all investigations related to their victimization.[vii]

Prison terms have become more common for those conducting such schemes, such as Derek Nelson, found guilty of selling about $37m in promissory notes for property purchases that never took place. As a consequence, Mr. Nelson received 19 years in prison.[viii]

Real estate and oil and gas investment fraud was also a major concern for reporting NASAA members. Some states, such as Colorado, have sought judicial remedy and have secured investor protection by winning the right to have oil and gas interests subject to securities law.[ix]

The report clearly states that all fraud has been made easier to accomplish due to the internet, where only basic computer skills allow an individual from anywhere in the world to “enter” the homes of investors. Scott Campbell was sentenced to 20 years in prison for conducting a Ponzi scheme over the internet from Florida. Alabama garnered 18 convictions in an international bank scheme conducted through Craigslist.[x] Affinity frauds, in which an individual purports to be a member of a certain group, are much easier to accomplish given the anonymity of the internet.

The industry’s heightened attention to elder abuse has not shielded those responsible for supervision or oversight. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC and Fulcrum Securities, LLC were ordered to pay $470,000 to investors for their failure to oversee Christopher Cunningham of Virginia, who defrauded elderly clients in a Ponzi scheme. For his part, Cunningham was disbarred and sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.[xi]

Attorneys are not immune to abusing their positions in order to perpetrate fraud. According to the report, Michael Kwasnik, an estate planning attorney, used his position of trust to perpetrate a $10m Ponzi scheme against elderly victims in New Jersey. The Court found that he had taken advantage of the attorney-client trust. Earlier in the year, Kwasnik also pled guilty to securities fraud in Delaware, utilizing the client trust account of his law firm to commingle monies from both frauds. Though Mr. Kwasnik received no jail time, he was ordered to repay millions in lost monies, amongst other judgments.[xii]

What may be the single worst case of elder victimization presented in NASAA’s annual report was perpetrated by Sean Meadows, owner of a financial planning and asset management firm, Meadows Financial Group LLC (MFG). Meadows perpetrated a $13m Ponzi scheme against 100 individuals, some disabled, poor, or terminally ill. He took the life savings of most, luring them into draining their retirement accounts. Many lost their homes, ability to care for their families, and even pay for cancer treatments.[xiii]

Meadows convinced his victims to pull money out of tax-deferred accounts to invest with MFG, promising these transactions would be tax-free rollovers. He then convinced these same individuals to allow him to do their taxes, in order to cover up the scheme. He either filed fraudulent tax returns or filed nothing at all. As a result, in addition to losing retirement savings, many incurred significant tax liabilities. For his crimes, Meadows received 25 years in prison.[xiv]

As the NASAA report makes clear, positive steps are being taken by its members to address the fraudulent and criminal activities of some individuals and firms. Laura Posner, NASAA Enforcement Section Chair, believes enhanced regulatory scrutiny is responsible for the increase in action documented by the report.[xv] However, it is still necessary to be on alert for promises that seem too good to be true. If you feel you may have fallen victim, please seek consultation from an attorney immediately.   


[i] North American Securities Administrators Association (2016) NASAA 2016 Enforcement Report (Based on 2015 Data) [Electronic Format]. Retrieved from: http://nasaa.cdn.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2016-Enforcement-Report-Based-on-2015-Data_online.pdf. (pp. 11)
[ii] Ibid. pp. 5
[iii] Ibid. pp. 2
[iv] Ibid. pp. 3
[v] Ibid. pp. 4
[vi] Ibid. pp. 4
[vii] Ibid. pp. 5
[viii] Ibid. pp. 6-7
[ix] Ibid. pp. 4-5
[x] Ibid. pp. 7
[xi] Ibid. pp. 7
[xii] Ibid. pp. 9
[xiii] Ibid. pp. 9-10
[xiv]Ibid. pp.  9-10
[xv] NASAA Releases Annual Enforcement Report (9.13.2006) [Electronic Format]. Retrieved from: http:nasaa.org/40256/nasaa-releases-annual-enforcement-report-2

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