A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel awarded an elderly couple from New York $3.2 million for being put into unsuitable variable annuity and life insurance policies by a former AXA advisor, Francesco Puccio, who was recently convicted of stealing from another elderly AXA client.
Jason Kane, a partner at the Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane law firm, who represented the two plaintiffs, James and Sandra Fitzpatrick, said on a Wednesday media call that the award “is believed to be the largest ever paid in upstate New York and also the largest imposed on AXA in arbitration.”
The Fitzpatricks ran the Fitzpatrick Poultry Farm in Whitesville, New York. Puccio, formerly of Webster, New York, was affiliated with the AXA office in Rochester.
Kane told ThinkAdvisor in a phone interview Wednesday that Puccio’s behavior “is commission grabbing, pure and simple. There were perfectly good mutual funds that Puccio switched into a variable annuity” charging high commissions. Also, the Fitzpatrick couple had “four life insurance policies that were switched to a variable annuity.”
AXA has to pay the $3.2 million award to the Fitzpatricks “in one lump sum by the end of May,” Kane said.
According to BrokerCheck, Puccio was barred from the industry in 2015 and has a total of 14 disclosure items, including tax liens and other financial disclosures.
Kane noted on the press call that AXA “sent a felonious broker to serve unsophisticated and elderly clients and then completely abdicated its supervisory obligations.”
An AXA spokesperson told ThinkAdvisor that “the financial professional who was involved in this matter has not been affiliated with the company for more than five years. We do not condone any actions by this individual which were inconsistent with our policies and values.”
AXA, the spokesperson continued, “remain[s] committed to serving our clients with integrity. We have strict policies governing relationships with affiliated financial professionals. This individual did not have a criminal record during the time he was affiliated with the Company.“
Sandra Fitzpatrick said in a statement: “I’m not happy at all about the way AXA treated us. We’ve learned that you can’t just trust anybody. You have to be careful, and you have to ask before you sign any papers.”
PWCK Managing Partner Joseph Peiffer added that the arbitration award “sends a strong message to AXA and other financial giants that they are responsible for the conduct of the financial advisors to whom they lend their names.”