Sixteen brokers who worked for the now-defunct Brookstreet Securities Corp. in Irvine, Calif., have been charged with defrauding hundreds of customers by selling them collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs) without revealing their risks.

Both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) have filed similar complaints against different brokers who had worked for the firm.

The SEC charged 10 former Brookstreet brokers in its civil complaint filed in West Palm Beach last week. The SEC's complaint alleges that the defendants portrayed particularly risky types of CMOs as secure investments to defraud more than 750 customers, ultimately costing them more than $36 million in losses. Meanwhile, the 10 brokers received $18 million in commissions and salaries related to their customers' investments in CMOs.

The SEC's complaint charges Florida residents William Betta, Jr., James J. Caprio, Troy L. Gagliardi, Barry M. Kornfeld, Clifford A. Popper, Alfred B. Rubin, and Steven I. Shrago as well as Travis A. Branch of Kailua, Hawaii, Russell M. Kautz of Medford, Ore., and Shane A. McCann of Florence, Mont.

"These brokers disguised the risks of investing in these derivatives of mortgage-backed securities, exposing their customers to substantial losses as the subprime crisis emerged," said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement. "They disregarded their customers' needs and used deceptive and misleading tactics to enrich themselves at their clients' expense."

The SEC is seeking permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, and financial penalties against those who are named in its complaint.

Meanwhile, FINRA charged six different brokers in a complaint that alleges that from June 2004 through May 2007, the brokers sold CMOs to retail customers when the brokers themselves lacked a basic understanding of these complex and illiquid securities. The complaint alleges that these brokers led their customers to believe that the CMOs were safe, government-backed securities. Customers were also told that they could achieve consistently high annual returns, in some cases up to 15%, regardless of market conditions. In fact, the complaint alleges that the CMOs purchased for the respondents' customers were generally not guaranteed by the government and were subject to uncertain cash flows and maturities, based on changes in interest rates.

The former Brookstreet brokers named in FINRA's complaint are Thomas J. Brough, who worked in Chicago; Kevin M. Browne, who worked in northern California; Eric R. Elliott and Robert N. Gest Jr., both of whom worked in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Brian J. Falabella, who worked in Long Island; and Jonathan J. Sheinkop, who worked in Chicago.

Under FINRA rules, a firm or individual named in a complaint can file a response and request a hearing before a FINRA disciplinary panel. Possible remedies include a fine, censure, suspension or bar from the securities industry, disgorgement of gains associated with the violations, and payment of restitution.