Elderly investors are looking for yield. And elderly investors are suckers for a free meal. Put the two together and you’ve got a recipe for packing the grand ballroom of a Marriott hotel with 300 sixty- and seventy-somethings who are prime targets for a brokerage firm looking to peddle illiquid investments.
David Lerner Associates, a Syosset, N.Y.-based brokerage firm whose founder was barred from the securities business for a year in 2012, is still out there pitching seniors to break bread at a local hotel and hear the pitch for its investments.
I went to one of those dinners at a Marriott hotel in Trumbull, Conn. in June, and wrote about it in my column tonight for TheStreet Foundation. Prominent in the pitch that night was the firm’s non-traded real-estate investment trust, a highly illiquid investment that I sure wouldn’t want my elderly mom to buy.
What’s stunning is that investors trip over themselves to attend Lerner events despite the firm’s history. From my story:
Finra said in a complaint on May 27, 2011 that Lerner and his firm targeted many “unsophisticated and elderly” clients to sell illiquid non-traded real-estate investment trusts that were concentrated in the hotel industry. The firm used misleading marketing techniques to sell the REITs, Finra said. In the months after the complaint, Finra said Lerner sent letters to 50,000 customers in an attempt to “counter negative press.” And even those letters had “exaggerated, false or misleading statements,” according to an amended Finra complaint on Dec. 13, 2011. The $14 million in fines and restitution against the firm was Finra’s largest monetary sanction of 2012, said Michelle Ong, a Finra spokeswoman.
You can read the story here.
Here’s the latest in the long-running battle between Goldman Sachs and the women who sued the firm in 2010 for gender discrimination:
Both sides in recent weeks have filed dozens of briefs and exhibits, mostly focused on the women’s request earlier this year that the court grant them class status so that they can represent 2,300 current and former associates and vice presidents who allegedly were discriminated against in pay and promotion policies. Among issues that have come up: Whether women at so-called “extreme jobs” like the ones at Goldman simply can’t cut it.
Goldman trotted out Michael A. Campion, a Purdue University management professor, to make the case. While Campion testified that he did not have the data to draw a conclusion as to whether women make less because of the demands of an extreme job, he said it is “plausible” and that “it’s a consideration that’s not minor.” I talk about Campion’s theory in my column today for TheStreet Foundation.
On July 3, Goldman, Sachs & Co. submitted a 74-page memorandum of law and declarations of 27 Goldman Sachs witnesses to Judge James C. Francis of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and to three women who are suing the firm for gender discrimination.
So where are the documents?
The high-profile case of Cristina Chen-Oster et al. v. Goldman, Sachs & Co. et al. has been going on since Chen-Oster and two other former Goldman women sued in 2010. On July 1, the women’s lawyers filed a brief asking the court to certify them as a class. I wrote about the heavily redacted document in this story for TheStreet.
On July 3, Goldman filed its response. But 16 days later, it still is not on the court docket.
As it turns out, Goldman has been at work redacting that document over the past two weeks, and you can’t help but wonder what it is that the firm is so hellbent on keeping from the public. I raised that question in my latest column for TheStreet. You can read it here.
Four years ago, a former Goldman Sachs & Co. executive and two of her former colleagues sued the firm, alleging sex discrimination and asking to be certified as a class.
Today, the women filed documents that added to an extensive dossier of allegations. Among the filings was a request that a judge in the Federal district court in Manhattan allow H. Christina Chen-Oster and her co-plaintiffs to proceed in their suit as a class representing a class of women who work — or worked — at the bank.
I wrote about the latest round of filings for TheStreet Foundation today. You can read my column here, but here are a few highlights:
There are the strip clubs. The guys who organize departmental golf games and don’t invite the women. The liberal use of the word “bimbo” to describe Goldman women, many of whom graduate from the same Ivy League schools the men do. And, of course, the very discouraging numbers about pay and promotion. But the biggest deal about Chen-Oster’s brief filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York court July 1 seeking class action status is the redactions. Because even when women and their lawyers fight bitter battles to get their hands on important documents that expose discrimination, companies always seem to find a way to keep the public from hearing about the worst stuff.
Brokerage firms put an immeasurable amount of energy into making sure the public never sees the real numbers on women, promotions, and compensation. And they get apoplectic at the idea that the public might read allegations like that of former Goldman employee Shanna Orlich, who says she went to a holiday party in 2007 where a male managing director had hired women clad in “short black skirts, strapless tops, and Santa hats” to mingle with the Goldman men.
And yet, somehow, what started as a cluster of professional women at Goldman has mushroomed into a very important case.
Still, there’s much we don’t know. Take a look at the latest filing and scroll through to see the thick black lines that keep you from hearing the whole story.
Finra, which is the outfit that Wall Street pays to regulate itself, is pushing hard on a proposal that it thinks will help nail bad guys on Wall Street.
It sounds great on the surface: Give arbitrators permission to refer a rogue to the director of enforcement even as an investor’s hearing is going on. You know, so we can catch people like Bernie Madoff, who was such a trusted name on Wall Street that he was chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market.
As of now, arbitrators have to wait until a hearing is over before they can tell headquarters that a villain is on the loose. Finra wants to be able to get on the case ASAP.
Nice idea, if only it didn’t have the potential to wreak havoc on the arbitration hearing of the poor slob who’s in the middle of trying to get his or her case resolved. It’s yet another example of the nutty things that can happen when you bar investors from going to court, where you don’t have all the secrecy of arbitration and thus don’t have to jump through hoops to figure out ways to get the word out. Here’s my story published tonight on TheStreet.com.
“Do your homework” sounds like reasonable enough advice when you’re leafing through a personal finance magazine or listening to the babble of the talking heads on a financial show. But is it practical?
In my story today for TheStreet Foundation, I write about a publicly traded real-estate investment trust, Anworth Mortgage Asset Corp. Its shareholders will vote at the company’s annual meeting today to determine whether the current board will be ousted in favor of a group proposed by activist investor Arthur Lipson.
I’m not so interested in the pyrotechnics of the fight itself. I’m just wondering if there’s any way that a shareholder without a private investigator’s license could possibly understand the far-flung activities of Anworth management without quitting their day jobs. From my story:
A thorough vetting of the company’s officials would take an investor from Anworth’s standard filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission to a hodge-podge of regulatory documents that occasionally outline mishandling of investor money by stock brokers who worked for a brokerage firm controlled by the CEO.
We really ought to stop giving the public the impression that if they just took the time to read an annual report, or a prospectus, or whatever, that they can take control of their portfolio and stay on top of things.
It’s my first column as founding journalism fellow at TheStreet Foundation, and I’m looking forward to producing more. You can read the column here.
TheStreet Inc. announced last week that I will be the founding fellow at its newly formed foundation to support investigative journalism and promote financial literacy. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to continue writing stories that hold financial institutions and regulators accountable when they neglect or abuse the public.
TheStreet Foundation is the brainchild of CEO Elisabeth Demarse, and will be run by Vanessa Soman, General Counsel at TheStreet. TheStreet’s Chief Investment Officer, Stephanie Link, is Chairman of the Board of the foundation.
“We are thrilled to name Susan Antilla as our Founding Fellow and to help her continue her insightful and impactful reporting,” Ms. Soman said in a press release. “Investigative journalism has become a thing of the past in many newsrooms, but The Street Foundation’s efforts will help keep original reporting alive and consumers informed.”
You can read the full press release here.
As many times as I’ve run across stories about financial ripoffs of the elderly, I still can’t help but be shocked at the cruelty it takes to fleece people who are so fragile. In my article yesterday for TheStreet.com, I wrote about how much worse the problem has become, and how it will only get worse from here.
While elder financial abuse is in some respects nothing new in the annals of fraud, the aging of the baby boom generation and Americans’ increasing longevity are coming together in a perfect storm that could cause the problem to skyrocket. A 2010 survey by the Metropolitan Life Foundation estimated that victims of elder financial abuse lost at least $2.9 billion in 2010, up 12% from 2008.
I begin with a story about 73-year-old Charles S. Bacino, who lay dying in a hospital bed in 2012 when the man he called his “financial affairs manager” came by to visit and persuaded him to invest $82,000 in a cocoa and banana plantation in Ecuador. Mr. Bacino, who was hooked up to a morphine drip to soothe the pain of his pancreatic cancer, gave his keys to the man so that he could fetch his checkbook. Less than a month later, Mr. Bacino was dead and the whereabouts of his money was a mystery.
You can read the full article here.
When a Federal agency reins in sleazy debt collectors and slipshod mortgage servicers, that’s more than enough to get politicians enraged — at the agency, not the bad guys.
The two-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has already collected $3 billion to return to aggrieved consumers, and has done such good follow-up when consumers call to complain that lenders and others who fall under its jurisdiction are actually helping customers right away rather than face the ire of the CFPB.
In my story for TheStreet.com today, I talk about the bizarre reaction to CFPB from Republicans in the House of Representatives.
A gaggle of chest-beating Republicans has been in attack mode against the CFPB since before it even opened its doors, trashing the agency’s architect, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, and passing bills to try to weaken its authority. The latest effort, up for a vote in the House of Representatives in coming weeks: the Consumer Financial Protection and Soundness Improvement Act of 2013, which would reduce the agency’s pay schedule and make it easier to overturn its rules, among other curtailments.
Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, actually makes a good point when he criticizes CFPB for collecting extensive consumer data that is a worry in these times of compromised personal information, but he’s so over-the-top in his condemnations that his constructive criticisms could get lost.
A favorite practice of Hensarling’s is to introduce CFPB Director Richard Cordray at official hearings with taunts about the agency being “accountable to no one,” which is always kind of funny since the CFPB chief is sitting across from his cantankerous questioners precisely because he is being held accountable. Hensarling managed to squeeze references to Cordray as “credit czar” and “national nanny” and “benevolent financial product dictator” in a single sentence at a hearing in September.
You can read my story here.
Just because a stock broker has a license to do business doesn’t mean they’ve received a meaningful stamp of approval from regulators. Next time some financial person is pitching you for business, go back and read the stunning coverage of Mark C. Hotton, a guy who allegedly was fleecing investors for years as regulators sat back and ignored a stream of red flags.
Hotton is the fellow who fooled the Broadway producers of “Rebecca: The Musical” into thinking he’d raised millions of dollars in financing for them. The producers of Rebecca only lost $60,000 doing business with Hotton. Others haven’t been so lucky.
Hotton is in jail today, and it’s a joke when you consider that, after years of alleged stealing of millions from investors, he finally got caught because he fleeced a few big-shots from show-biz. It’s even more of a joke that U.S. prosecutors took a deep bow for their “lightning speed” sleuthing after catching Hotton 22 years after his first crime — which should have been a reason to keep him out of the brokerage business altogether.
I wrote about Hotton’s capers in a recent Bloomberg column. A week after that story, I wrote a second one, this time for TheStreet.com, about a fresh complaint against (the now-incarcerated) Hotton filed by Finra, which is the Wall-Street-funded regulator that is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission. There really ought to be a special judicial forum where the public can bring complaints against regulators who are utterly clueless.
You’re seen a lot of headlines about robo-trading in the financial markets, but don’t fool yourself that it’s some new problem for regulators.
The debate’s been going on for 25 years as to what we can do to rein in computer trading. We’re still bringing up the same questions, and we’re still living in a time where Wall Street is way ahead of its regulators on the high-speed trading issue.
I talk about it in my column this morning for TheStreet.com. Read article
It could have been worse for JP Morgan and its CEO Jamie Dimon: The New York Times might have broken the story on some other day, like when readers weren’t on red alert for today’s Supreme Court ruling on health care. In any event, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Susanne Craig broke the news this morning that the JPM loss that was supposed to be only $2 billion (aka, the “tempest in a teapot” loss) might wind up being $9 billion. You can read that article here.
I wrote about Dimon in my column “JPMorgan’s Dimon Goes From ‘Least-Hated’ to ‘Most-Embarrassed’” for TheStreet.com in May, calling Dimon “Wall Street’s most cooed-over magazine cover boy.” (I should note that I’ve never seen any cooing over Dimon by Craig, a refreshing exception among financial writers). I’ve seen a lot of top execs get fawned over by business writers over the years, but the adulation of Dimon has for a long time been over-the-top. You can read that story here.
I’m always happy to hear from readers, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a message @antillaview.
JP Morgan’s Dimon said “Lobbying is a Constitutional right. We have our right to have our voice heard.”
My column today for TheStreet.com: Read article
Were they talking about millions? Or billions? Whatever. It’s only other people’s money, so what’s the big fuss?
Here’s my column for TheStreet.com on Jamie Dimon’s testimony today: Read article
So she was tearful. Do we care?
The chief investment officer of JPMorgan Chase (JPM_), who resigned Monday in the wake of the bank’s announcement of an embarrassing $2-billion-plus loss on her watch, is but the latest high-ranking woman to depart a business famous for its gender discrimination. [...] Read article
To a lot of writers, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has been a rock star. To me, he’s always seemed more like a very proficient plumber.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. Plumbers can be useful technicians when you need an expert who knows how keep the toilet from backing up. Dimon made his way to the top, in part, because he was a guy who did his homework, crunched the numbers, and made it his business to understand, well, the pipes and connections inside a securities firm. [...] Read article
“What’s interesting about the economic crisis is that it’s not just cheating — it’s cheating with a religious belief.”
A Duke University prof explains why and how we lie, and how we might clean things up. Meet Professor Dan Ariely in my column today: Read article