A New York City brokerage and two of its executives were found guilty by a federal jury on all counts of fraud and related charges Wednesday in a case centering on misleading investors on the value of high-yield securities.
A 2016 Securities and Exchange Commission complaint had charged Portfolio Advisors Alliance Inc. and its leaders with fraud and related charges in connection with a private placement offering with American Growth Funding II LLC.
The SEC had also alleged that American Growth Funding II LLC and its owner knowingly sent out false information and concealed other information to investors. American Growth Funding II falsely promised investors 12% annual returns and yearly audits, the SEC said.
However, the SEC obtained a final consent judgment against AGF II and Johnson in January in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Specifically, the agency had earlier charged American Growth Funding II, its owner, Ralph Johnson, PAA, and its leaders, Howard Allen III and Kerri Wasserman, with violating the fraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and 1934.
PAA, Allen and Wasserman are liable on all counts of the SEC antifraud provisions, according to the ruling.
The jury also found Allen and Wasserman “aided and abetted” the firm’s fraud. It also found that Wasserman aided and abetted Allen’s own violations of those antifraud provisions. Allen and Wasserman were also found liable as control persons for the firm’s violations.
“Brokerage firms have a duty to truthfully disclose all material information about an investment recommended to their customers,” stated Marc Berger, Regional Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office in a release Wednesday.
In the private placement, AGF II raised about $8.6 million from investors from March 2011 through 2013. However, Johnson knew the company lied when it communicated its financial statements had been audited and would continue to be audited —no audit of AGF II’s financials occurred until 2014, according to the SEC. Moreover, its monthly statements hid how dangerous the business really was, the SEC alleged.
Wasserman was informed that that the investor documents contained lies, but he took no action and allowed the firm’s brokers continued using misleading documents to solicit investors, according to the complaint.