Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state’s top securities regulator, has charged a Cape Cod investment advisor with overcharging clients in a scheme that also diverted commissions and fees to a local broker-dealer and its representative.
Francis J. Weller Jr. of Orleans and his company, Weller Asset Management, face charges that include violation of their fiduciary duty as well as failing to disclose conflicts of interest.
According to the complaint from Galvin’s Securities Division, Weller had an arrangement with Missouri-based BD Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and one of the firm’s representatives that let Weller use Stifel’s resources in exchange for all his clients’ business.
Weller required that all his advisory clients open trading accounts with Stifel, and that allowed Stifel’s local representative to get full-service commissions for his stock recommendations. Weller also charged his clients management fees.
Weller’s arrangement with Stifel cut Weller’s own overhead costs, but cost his clients — most of whom were senior citizens living in Massachusetts — a good deal of money. According to the complaint, between 2012 and 2017, not only did Weller’s clients pay over $1 million in commissions to Stifel and its representative, they also paid Weller hundreds of thousands of dollars in advisory fees.
According to the complaint, Weller never told his clients about the arrangement, even though state regulations required material conflicts of interest to be disclosed in writing before any investment advice was provided.
Stifel could not be reached for comment.
The Securities Division seeks censure and a cease and desist order, as well as revocation of Weller’s registration as an investment advisor in Massachusetts, disgorgement of profits from wrongdoing and an administrative fine.
Stifel, for its part, has agreed to a fine of $300,000 and to cease and desist from conduct in violation of the Massachusetts Securities Act. The firm will also be censured and hire a consultant to review all trades in connection with Weller, as well as to make good on any found to be unsuitable.