Massachusetts regulators are demanding that LPL Financial pay $2.5 million in restitution to senior investors, along with $975,000 in fines and disgorgement of $208,000 in commissions tied to the sale of unsuitable variable annuities.
The announcement comes nearly two months after LPL Financial was charged with failure to supervise advisor Roger Salvatore Zullo in connection with the VA sales to at least 11 clients, many of whom had worked in the health care sector. Zullo was fired by the independent broker-dealer on Dec. 2.
“The facts in this case make clear that seniors and retirees continue to be prey to unscrupulous advisers targeting 401(k) and 403(b) rollover assets to gain high commissions on unsuitable products,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin, in a statement.
The securities regulators’ order notes that LPL’s advisor misrepresented clients’ ages and their net worth to make them “appear more suitable and that LPL failed to detect various red flags and discrepancies which should would have prevented the harm.”
In December, the regulator’s office said that Zullo and LPL received more than $1.8 million in variable annuity commissions from 2013 to 2016. About $1.79 million of that came from commissions on the same product, the Polaris Platinum III (B Shares) variable annuity.
The Boston-based advisor “bypassed LPL’s paper-thin compliance review process for these sales by fabricating client financial suitability information, such as age and liquid net worth,” according to the 84-page complaint.
Galvin’s office says the vast majority of Zullo’s annuity sales were of Polaris Platinum annuities, which carry a 7% commission — split between Zullo, 90%, and LPL, 10%. In many instances, clients had to pay surrender charges when Zullo persuaded them to switch to the Polaris Platinum annuity.
Zullo, who joined LPL in 2004, had been in the industry since 1988 and has no disclosures previously, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck.
In addition to the restitution and fines announced Monday, Galvin’s order imposes a cease and desist, censure and requirement that the IBD conduct a comprehensive internal investigation of the advisor’s brokerage and advisory activities and its own policies and procedures.
“We take our responsibility to supervise very seriously and are committed to serving our investors. We are pleased to have worked with the state of Massachusetts to resolve this matter,” LPL said in a statement.
For its part, Massachusetts regulators say they will continue to monitor and discipline firms that harm senior investors.
“With the risk of the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary rule being dismantled, it is crucial that the states step in to fill this void,” Galvin said. “The Securities Division and I intend to do that by vigilantly policing this area to protect retirees, and I would also caution Washington not to dismantle Labor’s rule and abandon mom and pop investors.”
He adds that the securities division’s complaint against Zullo is ongoing.