Five independent brokerage firms have agreed to pay more than $9.5 million in fines for improperly selling nontraded REITs, the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth announced today.
Under the settlements, the firms will make restitution to investors of $8,601,090 and pay fines totaling $975,000, Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin says.
The firms that settled are Ameriprise Financial Services Inc., which will make $2,592,890 in restitution and pay a $400,000 fine; Commonwealth Financial Network, $2,074,710 in restitution and a $300,000 fine; Royal Alliance Associates, $59,000 in restitution and a $25,000 fine; Securities America, $778,400 in restitution and a $150,000 fine, and Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., $503,940 in restitution and a $100,000 fine.
In December, the secretary’s office reached a similar settlement with LPL financial for a total of $2,592,150 in restitutions and fines for the improper sale of nontraded REITs.
“Our investigation into the sales of REITs, triggered by investor complaints, showed a pattern of impropriety in the sales of these popular but risky investments on the part of independent brokerage firms where supervision has historically been difficult to maintain,” Galvin says.
REITs, which own and manage income producing property or are involved in real estate financing, present risks to investors that have led Massachusetts to impose the rule that an investor’s purchase of these instruments can be no more than 10 percent of the investor’s liquid net worth, the secretary says.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s enforcement section’s investigation revealed significant and widespread problems with the firms’ compliance with their own policies, practices and procedures and adherence with Massachusetts prospectus requirements, often leaving investors trapped in illiquid and underperforming financial products, according to Galvin.
“The independent firms must spend as much manpower and resources on compliance and supervision as they do on growth and revenue if regulators are to consider this model a truly viable option for investors,” Galvin says. “The willingness of the five firms to correct this problem is a small step in the right direction.”