Tue, Jul 9 2013
By Suzanne Barlyn
(Reuters) – A securities regulator ordered Wells Fargo Advisors LLC to pay $2.8 million to an investor who said the firm failed to detect fraudulent transactions and theft in its account, according to a securities arbitration ruling.
College Health and Investment Ltd, a family limited partnership, filed the case in Boca Raton, Florida against the Wells Fargo & Co unit in 2010, according to a ruling posted on Tuesday on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s securities arbitration database.
The case stemmed from Wells’ failure to detect alleged theft and unauthorized transactions by an employee of the partnership between 2006 and early 2008, according to Robert Wayne Pearce, a lawyer in Boca Raton, Florida, who represented the partnership. A family limited partnership is an estate planning tool used mainly by wealthy families to preserve their assets and minimize certain tax liabilities.
The three-person FINRA securities arbitration panel found Wells liable on July 3 and ordered it to pay $2.3 million in damages and interest to the partnership, College Health and Investment Ltd. Wells must also pay $419,000 in margin interest and $35,000 in costs. College Health had sought $4.4 million, according to the FINRA panel ruling.
“We’re disappointed in the panel’s decision and don’t believe it was warranted by the facts presented during the hearing,” a Wells Fargo spokeswoman said in a statement. “We are looking into next steps,” she said.
A 2010 lawsuit filed by College Health against a former secretary, Esther Spero, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida sheds light on the Miami-based partnership’s troubles. It said Spero forged names of College Health employees who were authorized to transfer funds from its accounts, but transferred the funds for her personal use.
In October, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida, entered a $21 million judgment against Spero, who did not respond to the partnership’s complaint. Spero allegedly operated the scheme through Wells Fargo and other entities, according to the complaint.
Spero could not be reached for comment.
Wells tried to seek damages from Spero and another College Health employee in the FINRA arbitration case, but the panel ruled it lacked jurisdiction over them because they were not FINRA-licensed securities brokers.
(Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)