In a recent regulatory case, on May 5, 2023, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Office of Hearing Officers imposed sanctions on Centaurus Financial, Inc. and its financial advisor Donnie Ingram for engaging in unsuitable and unethical practices, as well as supervisory failures. Centaurus Financial, Inc. was censured and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and $388,962 in restitution to harmed customers. Donnie Ingram was suspended from association with any FINRA member firm in any capacity for six months, fined $15,000, and ordered to pay $388,962 in restitution to harmed customers. The sanctions were the result of Ingram’s unsuitable recommendations to customers to purchase Unit Investment Trusts (UITs), Bluerock Residential Growth REIT Inc. (BRG), and MacKenzie Realty Capital, Inc. (MAC) at higher costs when there were lower cost options available.
Earlier this year, in February 2023, Centaurus Financial also agreed to pay a $750,000 civil penalty after the SEC charged the firm in connection with the unsuitable recommendation of variable interest rate structured products to retail customers. The SEC’s order found that Centaurus failed to implement, and its branch manager failed to follow, Centaurus’ customer-specific suitability procedures and that Centaurus violated the broker-dealer books and records provisions of the federal securities laws. The SEC’s order found that Centaurus violated Sections 17(a)(2) and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”) and Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and Rules 17a-4(e)(5), 17a-4(f)(2), and 17a-3(a)(17)(i)(B)(3) thereunder. The SEC concluded that Centaurus failed reasonably to supervise the firm’s brokers.
Financial institutions like Centaurus Financial, Inc. must properly supervise financial advisors and customer accounts. Brokerage firms must establish and maintain a reasonably designed system to oversee account activity, such as recommendations to purchase alternative investments, such as GWG L Bonds, UITs, and REITS, to ensure compliance with securities laws and industry regulations. When a brokerage firm fails to supervise its financial advisors or the investment account activity sufficiently, it may be liable for investment losses sustained by customers.