October 22, 2012
FINRA Fines David Lerner Associates for Unfair Sales Practices: CEO is Suspended for One Year
FINRA has ordered David Lerner Associates, Inc. (DLA) to pay approximately $12 million in restitution to affected customers who purchased shares in Apple REIT Ten, a non-traded $2 billion Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) DLA sold, and to customers who were charged excessive markups. As the sole distributor of the Apple REITs, DLA solicited thousands of customers, targeting unsophisticated investors and the elderly, selling the illiquid REIT without performing adequate due diligence to determine whether it was suitable for investors. To sell Apple REIT Ten, DLA also used misleading marketing materials that presented performance results for the closed Apple REITs without disclosing to customers that income from those REITs was insufficient to support the distributions to unit owners.
FINRA also fined DLA more than $2.3 million for charging unfair prices on municipal bonds and collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs) it sold over a 30 month period, and for related supervisory violations.
In addition, FINRA fined David Lerner, DLA's founder, President and CEO, $250,000, and suspended him for one year from the securities industry, followed by a two-year suspension from acting as a principal. David Lerner personally made false claims regarding the investment returns, market values, and performance and prospects of the Apple REITs at numerous DLA investment seminars and in letters to customers. To encourage sales of Apple REIT Ten and discourage redemptions of shares of the closed REITs, he characterized the Apple REITs as, for example, a "fabulous cash cow" or a "gold mine," and he made unfounded predictions regarding a merger and public listing of the closed Apple REITs, which he inappropriately claimed would result in a "windfall" to investors.
FINRA also sanctioned DLA's Head Trader, William Mason, $200,000, and suspended him for six months from the securities industry for his role in charging excessive muni and CMO markups. The sanctions resolve a May 2011 complaint (amended in December 2011) as well as an earlier action in which a FINRA hearing panel found that the firm and Mason charged excessive muni and CMO markups.
FINRA also required DLA to retain independent consultants to review and propose changes to its supervisory systems and training on both sales of non-traded REITs and pricing of CMOs and municipal bonds. In addition, DLA agreed to revise its advertising procedures, including videotaping sales seminars attended by 50 or more people for three years, and is required for one year to pre-file all advertisements and sales literature with FINRA at least 10 days prior to use.
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