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Alex James (CRD#: 5630825), a former registered representative with Allstate Financial Services LLC (CRD#: 18272) in West Palm Beach, Florida, is currently being investigated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for potentially undisclosed outside business activities, according to his BrokerCheck record accessed on March 16, 2020. 

Alex James
What happened to lead to this FINRA investigation? On March 6, 2020, FINRA recommended that disciplinary action be brought against Alex James for violating FINRA Rule 3270 and FINRA Rule 2010. FINRA Rule 3270 mandates that brokers receive written approval from their member firms before engaging in any outside business activities. FINRA alleges that Alex James did not do that, instead engaging in private securities activities totaling approximately $667,000. FINRA Rule 2010 mandates that brokers act in a professional manner, and FINRA alleges that Alex James violated Rule 2010 by allegedly providing false information to his firm on annual compliance questionnaires, stating that he reported all outside business activities when that was allegedly not true. 

The Detailed Report of Alex James’s BrokerCheck record lists four outside business activities:

Joe Henehan (CRD#: 1344245), a former broker with Hornor, Townsend & Kent, LLC (CRD#: 4031) in San Bernardino, California, has been permitted to resign from the firm after the company informed him he would be terminated, according to his BrokerCheck record accessed on March 10, 2020.

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What happened to lead to Joe Henehan’s resignation? His firm found that he failed to inform the firm of his tax liens, thereby violating firm policy and securities regulations. The firm told Joe Henehan that he would be terminated, so he resigned.

Indeed, Joe Henehan’s BrokerCheck record lists 11 tax liens, starting in 2009, when he became subject to a tax lien of $29,573. Here are his other listed liens:

Paris Lewis (CRD#: 2335964) has been terminated from his role as a broker with NYLife Securities LLC, according to his BrokerCheck record accessed on March 3, 2020.

What happened to lead to Paris Lewis’s termination? On December 22, 2019, NYLife Securities terminated Paris Lewis after the firm found that he violated company policy by borrowing money from a customer. How did the brokerage firm become aware of Paris Lewis’s alleged misconduct? The firm received a verbal customer complaint.

This is not the first time that Paris Lewis has been discharged from a firm. On February 26, 2015, MetLife discharged Paris Lewis after the firm found that he did not follow firm policy regarding outside business activities. Per FINRA rules, brokers must receive written approval from their firms before engaging in outside business activities, including private securities transactions.

Andy Grant (CRD#: 2709882), a registered representative with Laidlaw & Company (UK) Ltd. in Melville, NY (CRD#: 119037), has been suspended from the securities industry by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), according to his BrokerCheck record accessed on February 21, 2020.

What happened to lead to Andy Grant’s suspension from the securities industry? On January 17, 2020, Andy Grant entered into an Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent agreement with FINRA in which he consented to the entry of findings that he made discretionary trades in customer accounts without customer authorization. Andy Grant also consented to FINRA’s sanction: a 15-day suspension. The suspension will last from February 18, 2020 to March 9, 2020. FINRA also fined Andy Grant $5,000. A copy of Andy Grant’s AWC can be viewed here.

What does it mean to exercise discretion without authorization? Unauthorized trading happens when a broker trades within a non-discretionary account without letting their client know. Did your broker inform you before every trade they made in your portfolio? Did you recognize every trade listed on the monthly or quarterly statements your brokerage firm sent to you? If not, your broker may have exercised discretion without the proper approval, which is a violation of FINRA Rule 2010.

Johnny Guan (CRD#: 5711977), a registered representative with Aegis Capital Corp. (CRD#: 15007) in Red Bank, New Jersey, is currently involved in a pending customer dispute in which a client alleges that he recommended unsuitable investments, overconcentrated their portfolio, made unauthorized transactions, and breached his fiduciary duty (putting his interests ahead of the client’s), according to his BrokerCheck record accessed on February 4, 2020.

Johnny Guan
This is not the only disclosure on Johnny Guan’s BrokerCheck record. On April 15, 2016, he became involved in a customer dispute in which a customer alleged that the broker recommended unsuitable investments, misrepresented investments, and engaged in negligence. The client originally requested $40,000 in damages; the dispute settled for $7,200.

Over his 10-year career in the securities industry, Johnny Guan has worked for three brokerage firms. In addition to his current role at Aegis Capital Corp., he has also worked for National Securities Corporation (CRD#: 7569) and Newbridge Securities Corporation (CRD#: 104065).

Jerry Wells (CRD#: 1015358), a registered representative with Sagepoint Financial, Inc. (CRD#: 133763) in Rochester, New York, has been suspended from the securities industry by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), according to his BrokerCheck record accessed on January 22, 2020.

Jerry Wells
On December 4, 2019, Jerry Wells entered into an Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) with FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, consenting to FINRA’s findings that he “falsely represented that variable annuities purchases were not variable annuities replacements.” FINRA found that he submitted variable annuity applications that falsely stated that the recommended variable annuities would not alter or replace any existing variable annuities. However, Wells knew that proceeds from other variable annuities were funding the recommended variable annuities. He also caused his firm to maintain inaccurate books and records by failing to complete the proper replacement forms. As a result, FINRA suspended Jerry Wells from the securities industry from January 6, 2020 to March 5, 2020. A copy of Jerry Wells’s AWC can be viewed here.

This is not the first time Jerry Wells has come under fire for potential misconduct related to variable annuities. On April 7, 2008, a client filed a customer complaint against Jerry Wells, alleging that a variable annuity she purchased in December 2007 was not suitable because of a seven-year surrender charge. The matter was settled for $7,860.62.

Bart BohrerBart Bohrer (CRD#: 4315654), a registered representative with Calton & Associates, Inc. (CRD#: 20999) in Tampa, Florida, is currently involved in three pending customer disputes totalling over $900,000, according to his BrokerCheck record accessed on January 17, 2020.

On March 4, 2019, a client alleged that Bart Bohrer violated the Minnesota Securities Act and violated federal securities laws. The client is seeking $445,000 and the dispute is pending.

On November 28, 2019, a client alleged that Bart Bohrer violated federal securities laws, breached his contract, and breached his fiduciary duty. The client is requesting $5,000 in damages and the matter is pending.

Moe Azizi (CRD#: 2154719), a broker with Centaurus Financial, is currently involved in a customer dispute over unsuitable investments, according to his BrokerCheck report accessed on October 24, 2019. If your broker recommended securities that were not suitable given your investment goals, you may have a suitability claim and might benefit from seeking the counsel of the securities attorneys of Fitapelli Kurta.

Moe Azizi
On September 20, 2019, clients alleged that Moe Azizi “facilitated unsuitable, high-risk and illiquid investments.” Illiquid investments cannot be sold and are unsuitable for investors who would like easy access to cash. Unscrupulous brokers, however, may convince investors to invest in illiquid investments because of the high commissions they generate for themselves. On October 15, 2018, a customer alleged that their financial advisor, Moe Azizi, “recommended unsuitable investments.”

Moe Azizi is no stranger to the securities industry. Over his 28-year career in the securities industry, Moe Azizi has worked for six broker-dealers. In addition to his current position with Centaurus Financial, Inc. (CRD#: 30833) in San Jose, California, he has worked for five other broker-dealers:

Joseph Pratt (CRD#: 719416), formerly a registered representative with Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated (CRD#: 793), has been barred by FINRA for alleged insider trading, according to his BrokerCheck report accessed on October 23, 2019.

On September 5, 2019, Joseph Pratt entered into an AWC in which he consented to the findings that he “obtained confidential information that he received from insiders at a public biopharmaceutical company, and misused the confidential information by communicating it to several of his member firm’s customers.” An AWC is a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent in which a broker accepts the allegations against them without admitting or denying them, and in which a broker waives their right to appeal the decision. For more information about AWCs, please see our article “What is FINRA AWC?”

Joseph Pratt also “sold away” from his member firm by selling private securities, convincing individuals (including his firm’s customers) to invest a total of $436,000. This is a violation of FINRA Rule 2010. He consented to a bar from the securities industry. On September 24, 2019, FINRA accepted the AWC.

Richard PittmanRichard Pittman (CRD#: 2845145), a registered representative with Cetera Advisors LLC in Memphis, Tennessee, is currently involved in a pending customer dispute in which a client alleges that Richard Pittman recommended unsuitable investments in 2008, according to his BrokerCheck record accessed on October 23, 2019. The investments in question involve oil and gas, as well as limited partnerships (in which an investor’s liability is limited to the amount they invested in a given business venture). The client, who filed the complaint on September 24, 2019, is seeking $150,000 in damages; the matter is pending.

This is not the only instance in which a client has alleged that Richard Pittman recommended unsuitable investments in 2008. The other three disclosures on Richard Pittman’s BrokerCheck involve the same allegations. On October 19, 2016, another client sued Richard Pittman for $200,000. The matter was ultimately settled for $75,000. On August 9, 2018, a client filed a complaint against Richard Pittman, requesting $736,000 in damages. The dispute was settled for $95,000. Just three months later, on October 31, 2018, a client sought $200,000 in damages, and the matter was settled for $75,000. All the investments involved oil and gas, as well as real estate. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are illiquid and are not suitable for investors who want to be able to easily convert their assets to cash should the need arise.

What does Richard Pittman have to say in response to these allegations? According to his Broker Comment, he “asserts that the investments were suitable at the point of sale, when suitability is determined. Later performance does not and cannot affect the initial suitability determination. Matter settled by the prior BD as a business decision.” Registered representatives have a responsibility to recommend suitable investments to their clients, considering their risk tolerance, long-term goals, and need for liquidity, along with other factors. If the recommended investments later performed such that a client lost a significant amount of money, it is possible that the registered representative placed the client in investments that were too risky given their unique goals and needs.