The SEC has sanctioned three investment advisory firms and their officers for repeatedly ignoring problems with their compliance programs, the agency announced Wednesday.
The firms – Modern Portfolio Management Inc. of Holland, Ohio; Equitas Capital Advisors LLC and Equitas Partners LLC, both in New Orleans – have agreed to settlements in which they will pay financial penalties and hire compliance consultants.
The SEC says the firms had been warned of problems but failed to correct them.
The SEC order against Modern Portfolio Management and its owners, G. Thomas Damasco II and Bryan Ohm, says they failed to complete annual compliance reviews in 2006 and 2009 and made misleading statements on Modern Portfolio’s Web site and investor brochure. For instance, the Web site said the firm had $600 million in AUM when it was really $359 million.
The firm, Damasco and Ohm agreed to be censured and pay a total of $175,000 in penalties. Damasco and Ohm must complete 30 hours of compliance training, and MPM has agreed to designate someone other than Damasco or Ohm to be its chief compliance officer. The firm must retain a compliance consultant for three years, the SEC says.
The SEC also sanctioned Equitas Capital Advisors and Equitas Partners, as well as owner David S. Thomas Jr., chief compliance officer Susan Christina and former owner and chief compliance officer Stephen Derby Gisclair.
The SEC says they failed to adopt and implement written compliance policies and procedures and conduct annual compliance reviews. The Equitas firms made false and misleading disclosures about historical performance, compensation, and conflicts of interest, and they inadvertently yet repeatedly overbilled and under billed their clients.
Gisclair also caused compliance rule violations and the incorrect billing of clients at Crescent Capital Consulting LLC, an investment advisory firm that he opened in late 2010. Gisclair also removed personal client information when he left Equitas.
Equitas Capital Advisors and Crescent have reimbursed all overcharged clients, the SEC says. Equitas Capital Advisors, Thomas and Gisclair agreed to pay a total of $225,000 in additional penalties. The Equitas firms have agreed to censures, the Equitas firms and Crescent have hired independent compliance consultants, and the Equitas firms and Gisclair must give clients notice of the SEC enforcement actions, according to the SEC order.
The sanctions are part of the SEC’s Compliance Program Initiative, which is designed to address repeated compliance failures that may lead to bigger problems, says Andrew J. Ceresney, co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.