A former Williamsport insurance agent, William E. Hocker, was sentenced to 17 years in prison and required to pay back almost $1.5 million which he took from unsuspecting investors, including his own mother. In October, Hocker pleaded guilty to securities fraud involving the scheme he perpetrated for 10 years. Hocker, who was licensed to sell insurance products but not annuities or securities, preyed mostly on family, friends, and the connections they brought to him. In the classic “too good to be true pitch,” Hocker lured investors in by promising them incredibly high returns of 25-30% with little to no risk.
Interestingly, comparatively few Americans realize that, under certain circumstances, they can sue their stock broker and his or her brokerage firm in the even that something goes wrong in the account. The most important part of that sentence is really “under certain circumstances.” While those circumstances are certainly not unlimited, there are a number of issues related to financial professional malpractice that come up again and again.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or SIFMA, has long advocated free and efficient capital markets in the United States. Recently, the organization came out in favor of a proposal by the securities industry self-regulator, FINRA, to force registered brokerage firms to contribute to an investor compensation fund. The fund would be earmarked for investors who have been injured by broker misconduct and investment fraud, and it would allow them to recover even when a brokerage company has gone bankrupt or out of business.
Financial scam artists are some of the most sophisticated criminals around. However, if you ask many law enforcement officials and regulatory agencies, investors often play right into their hands by not being cautious enough when vetting a new investment opportunity or by getting carried away into believing a “too good to be true scheme” that involves “no risk” and “huge returns.” There’s a reason why the Ponzi Scheme, invented around the turn of the 20th century, is still doing big business one hundred years later.
In order to strengthen the message that such schemes will not be tolerated, and will be punished tot he fullest extent of the law, the financial industry watchdog agency, FINRA, has begun to look at the role of individual brokers in shoring up the Woodbridge scam. After all, Woodbridge’s success, during which it swelled to a value of over $1.2 billion at its peak, relied heavily upon an extensive network of brokers and investment professionals who sold Woodbridge promissory notes to retail investors.
A recent judgment in FINRA arbitration for nearly a quarter of a million dollars against a broker who sold Woodbridge notes to investors has struck fear in the hearts of many firms who weren’t paying attention to their brokers over the past few years. If one firm can be held responsible for the failings of a broker, they all potentially can. And that’s a billion-dollar problem.
In one of the largest ever investment fraud schemes in US history, a federal judge in Florida has ordered the operator of a ponzi scheme to pay $1 billion in restitution and fines. Former investors, many of whom were elderly and unsophisticated, can look forward to at least some return on their original investment in the massive ponzi scheme perpetrated by the Woodbridge Group of Companies and its former owner, Robert Shapiro.
Once you're inside a Ponzi Scheme, it can look and feel a lot like a normal investment opportunity, especially if the scheme operator is adept at creating false investment documentation. The key is not to get draw into a Ponzi Scheme in the first place. The most common signs of these frauds are evident from the beginning - that's when you have the greatest chance of identifying them.
According to recent information released by the securities industry watchdog, FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), over his long 35 year career with major brokerage houses including Stifel and most recently Wells Fargo, former Certified Financial Planner John Gregory Schmidt formed close personal relationships with elderly and infirm clients in order to win their trust and steal their money.
According to the Massachusetts Depart of Justice, Raymond Montoya ran his Ponzi scheme for almost a decade under the auspices of a fund called RMA Strategic Opportunity Fund, LLC. Over the years, investors transferred millions of dollars to Montoya on the promise that he would invest the money in stocks and bonds.
An investment advisor charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme spent close to a million dollars on prayers from Hindu priests in order to keep the feds at bay. In spite of her prayers, however, Dawn Bennett was convicted by the federal government of defrauding more than 200 investors of nearly $18 million over the past several years.
According to the US Attorney’s office in Arizona, a group operating a Ponzi Scheme solicited millions of dollars in investments for various companies and projects, including real estate, recycling, and land development in Mexico. The solicitations were made through numerous seminars, magazines articles, radio broadcasts, and private offerings.
The SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) announced today that it has obtained a court order to shut down a major investment operation worth approximately $345 million. According to the SEC complaint, the scheme involved more than 230 investors from the United States and was lead by Kevin B. Merrill and Cameron Jezierski.
Financier Steve Stovanovich liked to play the big man. Over the past few years, he has pledged multimillionaire donations to the University of Chicago and institute named on his behalf. But as a recent investigation by the Chicago Maroon has revealed, Stovanovich may not possess the vast wealth he says he has.
According to public records, Greensburg, Pennsylvania based brokerage firm, Trustmont Financial Group, Inc. was ordered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to pay an aggrieved client more than $1 million in damages.
According to the SEC's complaints, salespeople for the recently bankrupted Woodbridge group brought in millions of dollars in commissions for themselves largely by promising elderly wealthy investors guaranteed returns on the investments.
In a recent Securities and Exchange Commission complaint, the SEC alleged that insurance broker James E. Hocker of Bellefont, Pennsylvania engaged in fraudulent investment scheme that lasted approximately seven years, from 2010 to 2017.
According to the SEC's complaint, a group of financial managers and companies located in different regions of the country, including in New York, Florida, Texas, and Ohio, orchestrated what appears to a massive fraud to bilk unwitting investors out of millions of hard-earned dollars.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced that it was investigating Robert Shapiro, former head of the Woodbridge Group of Companies, for allegedly running a $1 billion Ponzi scheme.
What can you do, oh unsophisticated investor, to protect yourself against the attacks and traps of some of history's most dastardly fraudsters? For a start you can ask yourself the following 5 questions about investment fraud - and answer them as honestly as possible. Remember, when you're trying to protect yourself from the deception, the last thing you want to do is self-deceive!