Thursday, March 18, 2010
FINRA announced today that it has expelled Provident Asset Management, LLC, a Dallas-based broker-dealer, for marketing a series of fraudulent private placements offered by its affiliate, Provident Royalties, LLC, in a massive Ponzi scheme. Provident Asset Management misrepresented to investors that the funds raised through the offerings would be used to purchase interests in the oil and gas business, including exploration activity and the acquisition of real estate, oil and gas leases and mineral rights. In fact, investors' funds were commingled and used by an affiliated issuer to make dividend and principal payments to other investors. In addition, the firm acted as the agent in an oil and gas private placement offering but failed to establish an escrow account for investors' funds during the contingency period of the offering.
The action announced today is the first produced by a FINRA initiative involving active examinations and investigations of broker-dealers involved in retail sales of private placement interests, as well as broker-dealers affiliated with private placement issuers. FINRA is looking at firms' compliance with suitability, supervision and advertising rules, as well as potential instances of fraud. The initiative was undertaken in response to an increase in investor complaints involving private placements and Securities and Exchange Commission actions halting sales of certain private placement offerings.
FINRA found that from September 2006 through January 2009, Provident Asset Management marketed and sold preferred stock and limited partnership interests in a series of 23 private placements offered by Provident Royalties, LLC. Provident Asset Management's only business line was acting as the wholesaling broker-dealer for the Provident Royalties' offerings, which were sold to customers through more than 50 retail broker-dealers nationwide, raising over $480 million through approximately 7,700 individual investments made by thousands of investors.
In concluding this settlement, Provident Asset Management neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.