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Ex-Merrill Rep Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison for Fraud

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A former Merrill Lynch broker has been sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to investment advisor fraud and wire fraud in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in Louisville, court documents show.

Christopher Hibbard, 44, of Louisville, Kentucky, defrauded several investors while serving as a registered broker and advisor, U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman said Thursday.

Hibbard was sentenced to 97 months and three years of supervised release by U.S. District Senior Judge Charles R. Simpson III, who also ordered Hibbard to pay a $1,000 criminal penalty, a court document filed Friday shows.

Merrill Lynch “fired Mr. Hibbard nearly three years ago after an internal investigation found he stole client funds and made unauthorized transactions,” company spokesman William Halldin told ThinkAdvisor on Wednesday. “We notified the appropriate authorities and have cooperated with the investigations. Consistent with our policy, we have compensated affected clients.”

Hibbard was affiliated with Merrill Lynch from July 2010 until his termination in January 2018, according to his report on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck website. FINRA barred him from the industry and he is no longer a registered broker or RIA, according to BrokerCheck.

David A. Lambertus, a Louisville attorney who represented Hibbard, said Wednesday he and his client had no comment about the prison sentence.

Wire Transfers, Fake Statements

According to a plea agreement, on or about Feb. 9, 2007, and Dec. 20, 2008, Hibbard made dozens of wire transfers from the brokerage account of a Louisville resident in the total amount of $1.2 million, Coleman said.

Hibbard admitted to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he had misappropriated and used a significant portion of the client’s funds for his own personal use, Coleman said.

“After nearly exhausting the funds in the account, Hibbard presented the client with fraudulent brokerage statements that were used to lull the client into believing the account contained as much as $4 million,” according to Coleman.

Also, between Jan. 10, 2011 and Dec. 20, 2017, Hibbard initiated more than 300 unauthorized Automated Clearing House transfers by wire in interstate commerce from client accounts under his management to an American Express account he controlled, Coleman said.

“Hibbard caused the transfers to be made without the knowledge, permission, or other authorization of the account holder(s) thereby misappropriating and embezzling more than $3 million in client monies and using the funds for personal expenditures,” according to Coleman.

“To effectuate his scheme to defraud,” Hibbard “engaged in unauthorized trading and liquidation of clients’ investments, made unauthorized withdrawals from client annuity accounts, and committed acts of forgery,” Coleman said.

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