A Redlands, Calif., investment broker has admitted to stealing from funds controlled by his elderly mother and an Alzheimer’s patient to help friends buy luxury goods and pay off gambling debts, according to the SEC.
John T. Thornes, the former owner of Redlands-based Thornes & Associates, has been barred from associating with financial professionals as part of an administrative order from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that imposes remedial sanctions in the case.
Thornes allegedly misappropriated approximately $4.4 million from two brokerage accounts: The Schultz Trust account, on which he was the trustee, and the Harbison Scholarship Trust account, on which he was the investment advisor to the trustee and his mother, Doreen Thornes.
The Harbison Trust was established to provide academic merit-based scholarships to up to 15 high school graduates in the will of a Thornes family friend who had died in the early 1990s. According to the SEC, Thornes asked her son to manage the account because she had no financial experience. He then allegedly altered its profile to allow the trust to take bigger risks, including using margin loans, and periodically asked his mother to sign blank checks, which were subsequently used in the scheme.
At the time of the misappropriation, the Schultz Trust had been established to care for Belva Jeanne Shultz, a 77-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, by her deceased husband. The SEC alleges that Thornes converted the Schultz trust to a margin account and conducted transactions producing $49,000 in margin-interest charges and $11,400 in brokerage commissions for his firm.
The SEC alleges that after Thornes exercised control over both accounts, he diverted $4.4 million from them by transferring funds to friends under the guise of loans which were never repaid. The funds were allegedly spent on a vacation home, on a luxury vehicle, for the charter of private jets and to pay for gambling or gambling debts.
Between 2010 and 2013, the scheme drained $1.7 million from the $2 million Schultz trust, and $2.5 million from the $3 million Harbison Trust.
Because of Thornes alleged actions, the clients lost money, incurred unnecessary margin interest and brokerage fees, and paid unauthorized and excessive trustee fees, according to the SEC.
As part of the settlement, the SEC has barred Thornes from associating with any broker, dealer, advisor, securities dealer, transfer agent or nationally recognized statistical rating organization. Thornes is also barred from promoting, finding, trading, purchasing, issuing, consulting on or otherwise participating in the offering of any penny stuck.
In 2014, the SEC imposed $9 million in penalties, including $4.37 million in disgorgement, $280,000 in prejudgment interest and $4.37 million in civil penalties in the case.