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Merrill Fires Advisor Who Threw Racist Insults, Drink at Smoothie Shop

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What You Need to Know

  • James Iannazzo of the Iannazzo Group in Connecticut was charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias, breach of peace and criminal trespass.
  • Merrill said Monday it does “not tolerate behavior of this kind.”
  • Ianazzo was under extreme emotional stress and regrets his actions, his lawyer says.

Merrill Lynch on Monday said it fired one of its advisors after he was arrested and charged over an incident at a Robeks smoothie shop in Connecticut on Saturday in which he was captured on video yelling, swearing and making comments toward an employee about their immigration status and throwing a drink at an employee. He said the store had sold him a smoothie that caused his son to have a severe allergic reaction.

An employee captured the incident in a profanity-laden video that went viral on social media.

“Our company does not tolerate behavior of this kind,” Merrill spokesman Bill Halldin told ThinkAdvisor by email on Monday. “We immediately investigated and have taken action. This individual” — James Iannazzo, 48, of Fairfield, “is no longer employed at our firm.”

At about 2:26 p.m. on Saturday, the Fairfield Police Department received several calls from employees at the store, at 2061 Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield, reporting a customer was “throwing things, yelling at employees, and refusing to leave,” FPD said in a news release.

An investigation revealed that at about 1:05 p.m., Iannazzo made a purchase at Robeks and left the store without incident, according to FPD. But, at about 1:39 p.m, Iannazzo called 911 requesting an EMS response to his home, saying his son was suffering from an allergic reaction. The son was transported to a hospital.

Shortly after that, Iannazzo returned to the smoothie shop and “confronted employees, yelling at them and demanding to know who had made the smoothie which contained peanuts, causing his child’s allergic reaction,” FPD said.

FPD added: “When employees could not provide Iannazzo with the answer he became irate, yelling at the employees using a number of expletives. He then threw a drink at an employee, which hit their right shoulder. The employee reported that they had no complaints of pain or injury. Iannazzo also made comments toward an employee referencing their immigration status.”

The video shows him calling a employee an “immigrant loser.”

Although employees told Iannazzo to leave multiple times, he remained inside the shop and continued yelling insults at the employees, according to FPD. He then tried to open a locked door that led to an “Employees Only” area where the employees were, behind the counter.

Iannazzo left the store before police arrived but was soon identified, according to FPD, noting he turned himself into police without incident. Iannazzo told police he was upset about his son having a severe allergic reaction.

During the investigation, however, employees reported Iannazzo never told them about his son’s peanut allergy and had only requested there be no peanut butter in his drink, according to FPD.

Iannazzo was arrested and charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias in the second degree, breach of peace in the second degree and criminal trespass in the first degree. He was issued a court appearance for Feb. 7 at Bridgeport Superior Court.

Iannazzo did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.

On Twitter, Iannazzo’s lawyer, Frank Riccio II, posted a statement saying: “Mr. Iannazzo wholeheartedly regrets the incident that took place at the Fairfield Robeks on January 22, 2022. Mr. Iannazzo placed an order at the Robeks and stressed to the staff that the product must not contain peanuts. His receipt acknowledged that the order should not contain peanut butter. His son has a life-threatening peanut butter allergy.”

Riccio added: “Upon drinking the Robeks smoothie, his son had a severe allergic reaction which required transport via ambulance to the hospital. When faced with a dire situation for his son, Mr. Iannazzo’s parental instinct kicked in and he acted out of anger and fear. He is not a racist individual and deeply regrets his statements and actions during a moment of extreme emotional stress.”

He told ThinkAdvisor Monday morning that Iannazzo’s son was “home and thankfully on the road to recovery.”

Iannazzo was with Merrill for his entire career as a registered representative, starting in 1996, according to his report on the Financial Industry Regulatory Association’s BrokerCheck website. Initially, he was registered only as a broker but added the advisor designation in 2001.

He was part of the Iannazzo Group at Merrill, according to his LinkedIn profile, which said he was with the wirehouse since November 1995 and served as a wealth management advisor and managing director, while also holding the certified financial planner designation.

Pictured: James Iannazzo. Photo: Fairfield Police Department