Feds Order Wells Fargo To Pay $3.4M In Fines

Winston-Salem Journal (NC)

This time, the agency ordered $3.4 million in customer restitution related to investment advice provided from July 2010 to May 2012 by Wells Fargo Clearing Services LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network LLC.

The agency said Wells Fargo neither admitted nor denied the charges in the settlement.

Regulators said the Wells Fargo units provided “unsuitable recommendations of volatility-linked exchange-traded products and related supervisory failures.”

It determined some Wells Fargo representatives recommended the products “without fully understanding their risks and features,” in particular “mistakenly believing that the products could be used as a long-term hedge on their customers’ equity positions in the event of a market downturn.”

In fact, the agency said, volatility-linked ETPs typically are considered short-term trading products that degrade significantly over time and “should not be used as part of a long-term buy-and-hold investment strategy.”

The agency issued a regulatory notice to financial institutions that reminds them “of their sales practice obligations relating to these products.”

The agency said it took into consideration that Wells Fargo “took remedial action to correct its supervisory deficiencies in May 2012, prior to detection by FINRA and around the time that the firm was fined for similar violations relating to sales of leveraged and inverse ETPs.” The bank assisted the agency in its investigation.

“FINRA seeks restitution when customers have been harmed by a member firm’s misconduct,” Susan Schroeder, executive vice president of the agency’s enforcement department, said in a statement. “We also credit firms that proactively detect and correct issues prior to detection by FINRA, as Wells Fargo did in this matter.”

Wells Fargo confirmed the settlement in a statement.

“We are committed to helping our clients achieve their investment goals through advice that is regularly reviewed and aligned to their objectives and risk tolerances,” according to the statement.

“In cooperating fully with FINRA, we have made significant policy and supervision changes, including the discontinuation of the ETPs in focus.”

On Dec. 22, five Wells Fargo financial-services units were fined a combined $5.5 million by FINRA “for significant deficiencies relating to the preservation of broker-dealer and customer records in a format that prevents alteration.”

Wells Fargo Securities LLC and Wells Fargo Prime Services LLC were jointly fined $4 million. Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network and First Clearing LLC were jointly fined $1.5 million.

In 2013, FINRA ordered Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo to pay fines and restitution to settle charges that investor clients were pushed into investments that were inconsistent with their risk preferences. The Wells Fargo Advisors unit was fined $1.25 million and ordered to reimburse $2 million in losses to 239 customers.

In May 2012, FINRA imposed more than $2.7 million in fines and penalties on Wells Fargo Advisors for investment-related violations stemming from January 2008 to June 2009. Some of the violations were related to Wachovia Securities, which Wells Fargo took over at the end of 2008.

Wells Fargo was fined $2.1 million and ordered to pay $641,489 in restitution.

Also affected at that time were Citigroup ($2 million fine and $146,431 in restitution), Morgan Stanley ($1.75 million fine and $604,584 in restitution), and UBS ($1.5 million fine and $431,488 in restitution).

Wachovia, now Wells Fargo, sold risky nontraditional exchange-traded funds to customers who did not want that type of investment strategy, FINRA said.

FinCEN Issues Advisory on Widespread Public Corruption in Venezuela

FinCEN Issues Advisory on Widespread Public Corruption in Venezuela

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released an advisory on September 20, 2017, to alert financial institutions of widespread public corruption in Venezuela and the methods Venezuelan senior political figures may use to move and hide corruption proceeds.1

The advisory also identified red flags that may assist financial institutions in identifying suspicious activity that may be indicative of Venezuelan corruption, including the abuse of Venezuelan government contracts, wire transfers from shell corporations, and real estate purchases in the South Florida and Houston, Texas regions. The FinCEN advisory also reminds financial institutions of their obligations to monitor, detect, and report such conduct.

Background

Venezuela has been in political and economic turmoil due to the deterioration of its democratic and constitutional order. FinCEN warns that widespread corruption may further destabilize its economic growth and stability. In recent years, financial institutions have reported to FinCEN suspicions that transactions may be linked to Venezuelan public corruption, including government contracts. As a result of these reports and other relevant information, FinCEN considers all Venezuelan government agencies and bodies, including state owned enterprises (SOEs), vulnerable to public corruption and money laundering. According to FinCEN, the Venezuelan government appears to use its control over large parts of the economy to enrich government officials and SOE executives, their families, and associates. FinCEN, therefore, believes that there exists a high risk of corruption involving Venezuelan government officials and employees at all levels, including those managing or working at Venezuelan SOEs.2

FinCEN warns that transactions involving Venezuelan government agencies and SOEs, particularly those involving government contracts, can potentially be used as vehicles to move, launder, and conceal embezzled corruption proceeds. SOEs and their officials may also try to use the U.S. financial system to move or hide proceeds of public corruption. In an effort to thwart the movement of these proceeds, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has recently designated as persons engaged in, or materially assisting, sponsoring, or supporting, public corruption various Venezuelan SOEs, including: National Center for Foreign Commerce (CENCOEX), Suministros Venezolanos Industriales, CA (SUVINCA), the Foreign Trade Bank (BANCOEX), the National Telephone Company (CANTV), the National Electric Corporation (CORPELEC), and the Venezuelan Economic and Social Bank (BANDES). As scrutiny of these enterprises increases, FinCEN warns financial institutions that corrupt officials may try to channel illicit proceeds through lesser-known or newly-created SOEs.

FinCEN also identified red flags that may help financial institutions identify corrupt schemes:

  • Transactions involving Venezuelan government contracts that are directed to personal accounts;
  • Transactions involving Venezuelan government contracts that are directed to companies that operate in an unrelated line of business (e.g., payments for construction projects directed to textile merchants);
  • Transactions involving Venezuelan government contracts that originate with, or are directed to, entities that are shell corporations, general “trading companies,” or companies that lack a general business purpose;
  • Documentation corroborating transactions involving Venezuelan government contracts (e.g., invoices) that include charges at substantially higher prices than market rates or that include overly simple documentation or lack traditional details (e.g., valuations for goods and services). Venezuelan officials who receive preferential access to U.S. dollars at the more favorable, official exchange rate may exploit this multi-tier exchange rate system for profit;
  • Payments involving Venezuelan government contracts that originate from non-official Venezuelan accounts, particularly accounts located in jurisdictions outside of Venezuela (e.g., Panama or the Caribbean);
  • Payments involving Venezuelan government contracts that originate from third parties that are not official Venezuelan government entities;
  • Cash deposits instead of wire transfers into the accounts of companies with Venezuelan government contracts;
  • Transactions for the purchase of real estate—primarily in the South Florida and Houston, Texas regions—involving current or former Venezuelan government officials, family members or associates that are not commensurate with their official salaries; and
  • Corrupt Venezuelan government officials seeking to abuse a U.S. or foreign bank’s wealth management units by using complex financial transactions to move and hide corruption proceeds.

Impact and Regulatory Obligations

The recent FinCEN advisory also reminds U.S. financial institutions that in order to meet their due diligence obligations that would apply to activity involving certain Venezuelan persons, they should generally be aware of public reports of high-level corruption associated with senior Venezuelan foreign political figures and those associated with them; they should assess the risk of laundering the proceeds of public corruption associated with specific particular customers and transactions; and they should be aware of OFAC designations related to Venezuela.

FinCEN also recommends that financial institutions take reasonable, risk-based steps to identify and limit any exposure they may have to funds and other assets associated with Venezuelan public corruption, taking care not to put into question a financial institution’s ability to maintain or continue otherwise appropriate relationships with customers or other financial institutions. FinCEN warns, however, that such steps should not be used as the basis to engage in wholesale or indiscriminate de-risking of any class of customers or financial institutions.

The FinCEN advisory also reminds financial institutions of the applicable regulatory obligations that are intended to facilitate the discovery and disclosure of attempts to move and hide corruption proceeds from Venezuela:

  • Enhanced Due Diligence Obligations for Private Bank Accounts: Covered financial institutions maintaining private banking accounts for senior foreign political figures are required to apply enhanced scrutiny of such accounts to detect and report transactions that may involve the proceeds of foreign corruption, consistent with obligations under Section 312 of the USA PATRIOT Act (31 U.S.C. § 5318(i)) and FinCEN’s regulations implementing that Section.
  • General Obligations for Correspondent Account Due Diligence Money Laundering (AML) Programs: U.S. financial institutions must comply with their general due diligence and AML obligations,3 ensuring that their due diligence programs, which address correspondent accounts maintained for foreign financial institutions, include appropriate, specific, risk-based, and, where necessary, enhanced policies, procedures, and controls that are reasonably designed to detect and report known or suspected money laundering activity involving accounts in the United States.
  • Suspicious Activity Reporting: A financial institution is required to file a suspicious activity report (SAR) if it knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect a transaction involves funds derived from illegal activity, or attempts to disguise funds derived from illegal activity; is designed to evade regulations promulgated under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA); lacks a business or apparent lawful purpose; or involves the use of the financial institution to facilitate criminal activity, including foreign corruption.

Conclusion

FinCEN emphasizes that reports and information from financial institutions are critical to stopping, deterring, and preventing the proceeds tied to suspected Venezuelan public corruption from moving through the U.S. financial system. Accordingly, companies should remain vigilant of these risks and ensure their due diligence and monitoring programs are up-to-date and comply with all relevant regulatory obligations.

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=1b0f91d1-43b9-4031-83e7-fbf2ed5768ab

Three Orlando area lawyers suspended, including former Cay Clubs attorney

Three Orlando area lawyers have been suspended in the most recent action by the Florida Bar, including one that provided legal advice to the Cay Clubs Ponzi scheme in the Florida Keys.

The following details were provided by the Florida Bar and court records:

William Scott Callahan, Winter Park, was suspended for one year, retroactive to April 20. Callahan was subpoenaed and agreed to cooperate in a federal fraud investigation involving the Cay Clubs vacation rental scheme. He had been a partner at a law firm that handled closings for the company. In the course of his duties supervising the closing agents, Callahan violated Bar rules.

According to court records, Callahan made misleading statements, and when he learned the principals of the company were omitting pertinent information from the closing documents, he failed to warn them, failed to obtain additional legal opinions and failed to withdraw from further representation. Callahan received immunity from prosecution in return for providing information. (Florida Supreme Court Case No. SC17-539)

Michael Kevin Rathel, Orlando, suspended for one year. According to the Florida Bar and court records, Rathel bought a house after persuading the seller to hold a second mortgage for $100,000 needed by Rathel to pay the purchase price. Rathel promised to repay the seller and pledged his current home as security for the mortgage. Rathel sold his current home without telling the seller or repaying the seller’s second mortgage. Commencing in or about 2010, Rathel failed to file and pay his personal federal and corporate tax returns in a timely manner. In another matter, Rathel failed to timely respond to an inquiry about a Bar complaint. Suspension is effective 30 days from a March 23 court order. (FSC Case No. SC16-1024)

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-bz-florida-bar-suspensions-20170530-story.html

Photo: Florida Bar

 

South L.A. charter school founder charged with embezzlement, money laundering

The head of a now-defunct South L.A. charter school has been charged with embezzlement and money laundering, accused of funneling roughly $200,000 from the school to a company she owned, prosecutors said Thursday.

Kendra Okonkwo, 51, was charged with misappropriation of public funds, grand theft by embezzlement, money laundering and keeping a false account, according to a news release issued by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Her son, 29-year-old Jason Okonkwo, is accused of approving fake invoices to further the plot and faces the same charges, prosecutors said.

Kendra Okonkwo founded the Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists near the Watts neighborhood in 2006, but the school quickly became a target of regulators and lost its charter in 2016. She and her son were arrested in Los Angeles on Thursday morning and remain jailed in lieu of $145,000 bail, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Dana Aratani, who is prosecuting the case.

From January 2012 to March 2014, approximately $201,000 was transferred from the school to an unnamed business run by Okonkwo, according to the district attorney’s office. The money was then transferred to her personal bank account, prosecutors said.

Her son approved a number of fake invoices, purportedly for the purchase of school supplies and food from his mother’s “shell company,” that documented the transfer of money, prosecutors said.

Okonkwo did not immediately return a call seeking comment, and it was not immediately clear if she or her son have retained attorneys.

Both face up to six years in prison if convicted. A court date has yet to be scheduled.

The school operated under the authority of the Los Angeles Unified School District until 2011, when the district declined to renew the school’s charter, citing violations of education code and conflicts of interest.

Okonkwo agreed to step down as the school’s director as part of an agreement with the county to stay in operation, but she named several relatives and associates to key positions at the school.

That move, according to the findings of a 2014 state audit, allowed her to retain control and benefit from transactions at the academy.

According to the audit’s findings, Okonkwo, her family members and close associates received about $2.6 million in payments from the school. None of the employees in question indicated any financial interest in school affairs on required conflict-of-interest statements, the audit said.

Among the audit’s findings, the organization leased two properties owned by Okonkwo’s holding company, paying more than $1 million in rent over six years. The school also paid Okonkwo $228,665 in severance, unused vacation and a vehicle lease despite a lack of documents to support the amount.

The audit also found the school had paid more than $158,800 to a company owned by a relative of Okonkwo. The payments were supposedly for school supplies, but state auditors could not confirm that the school received any of the materials for which it paid.

Aratani said prosecutors began reviewing Okonkwo’s conduct and business dealings after the audit results were released. An arraignment could take place as early as Friday, he said.

Last year, Okonkwo agreed to pay $16,000 in fines as part of a settlement with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission after she was found to have established leases for the school at buildings she owned and used public funds to renovate those properties.

“In this matter, Okonkwo engaged in a pattern of violations in which she made, used or attempted to use her official position to influence governmental decisions involving real property in which she had a significant financial interest,” the commission said last year.

When the county began the process of revoking the school’s charter in 2014, Okonkwo claimed she was being “slandered.”

“I’m not a soldier; I’m not a politician. I’m just an educator,” she said at the time.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-charter-school-founder-charged-20170518-story.html

Photo: My News LA 

Russia probe: Senate requests Trump documents from agency that monitors money laundering

The Senate panel has requested information about President Donald Trump and his top aides from a financial intelligence unit in the Treasury Department that imposed a $10 million civil penalty on Trump Taj Mahal in 2015 for multiple violations of money-laundering laws.

The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to see any information relevant to its Russia investigation the Treasury agency has gathered, including evidence that might include possible money laundering, according to a committee aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. Also at issue: to what extent, if at all, people close to Vladimir Putin have invested in Trump’s real estate empire.

The request, made in recent weeks, comes as part of the Senate’s investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian meddling in the U.S. election. The FBI is also investigating that issue, but that probe is now under a cloud after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

 White House spokesman Michael Short said the president is confident the investigation will exonerate his campaign.

“There’s a process, and that process is moving forward, and we’re confident that once it’s complete everyone will again see that there is no `there,’ there when it comes to alleged collusion.”

Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has assisted in the ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump administration ties with Russia, multiple U.S. officials have said. A former senior Treasury official said that agency would have the authority to demand from any bank with a U.S. branch, including foreign banks, relevant records of transactions by Trump, his family members or his associates. FinCEN also maintains databases of reports of suspicious and cash transactions.

Trump’s ownership in the Taj Mahal was sharply reduced in 2009 when he resigned as chairman of the company owning the Atlantic City casino after it was reorganized in a bankruptcy. His remaining stake was wiped out when the company was acquired in 2014 by billionaire financier and Trump advisor Carl Icahn, who shut down the casino in October.

FinCEN imposed a $10 million civil penalty in 2015 against Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort for “willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act,” and ordered the casino to conduct “periodic external audits to examine its anti-money laundering” compliance program and “provide those audit reports to FinCEN,” according to a Treasury Department statement announcing the penalty.

FinCEN “collects and analyzes information about financial transactions in order to combat domestic and international money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes,” the agency says on its website.

The Senate committee’s request covers any potentially relevant information about Trump, his family, his businesses and his associates, the aide said. Such a request presumably would cover copies of the Taj Mahal audits.

In a consent order, Trump Taj Mahal admitted to having “willfully violated” reporting and record-keeping requirements under the federal Bank Secrecy Act from 2010 to 2012.

FinCEN’s complaint said violations had been revealed by the Internal Revenue Service as far back as 2003. In 1998, FinCEN assessed a $477,700 civil penalty against Trump Taj Mahal for currency transaction reporting violations.

“Trump Taj Mahal received many warnings about its deficiencies,” then-FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery said in the 2015 statement. “Poor compliance practices, over many years, left the casino and our financial system unacceptably exposed.”

The penalty became an unsecured claim in Trump Taj Mahal’s bankruptcy proceeding, which was originally filed in September 2014.

Under the Bank Secrecy Act, casinos are required to report suspicious transactions of $5,000 or more. Trump Taj Mahal failed to file about half of the required suspicious activity reports during periods covered by two reviews by the Internal Revenue Service, according to the consent order.

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/10/russia-probe-senate-requests-documents-from-money-laundering-watchdog-agency.html