|Atlas One Financial Group, LLC Action|
Firstrade Securities, Inc. Action
World Trade Financial Corporation Action
WASHINGTON — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has fined three firms a total of $900,000 for failing to establish and implement adequate anti-money laundering (AML) programs and other supervisory systems to detect suspicious transactions. FINRA also fined and suspended four executives involved. FINRA imposed the following sanctions.
Brad Bennett, FINRA Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, said, "Today's actions reinforce FINRA's continued focus on firms' ability to identify and respond to potential misuse and abuse of the markets. Firms must have adequate AML and supervisory systems in place to detect and report suspicious transactions."
FINRA found that between February 2007 through May 2011, Atlas One failed to identify suspicious account activity or did not adequately investigate numerous AML "red flags." For example, in 2007, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) froze six Atlas One accounts that were all controlled by one customer in connection with a money laundering scheme. Even though the accounts listed the same mailing address in San Jose, Costa Rica, and an email address for another Atlas One customer as contact information for the account and the other customer's information had been utilized as contact information for the frozen accounts, Atlas One failed to perform any additional scrutiny of the accounts that had not been part of DOJ's action. FINRA also found that certain customers' accounts engaged in a pattern of activity consisting of moving millions of dollars through the accounts while conducting minimal-to-no securities transactions. Atlas One's AML program required Aponte to monitor for potentially suspicious activity and AML red flags, investigate suspicious activity and report suspicious activity by filing a suspicious activity report (SAR), when necessary, which he failed to do.
In a separate case, FINRA found that Firstrade, an online trading firm catering to the Chinese community, failed to implement an adequate AML program to detect and report suspicious transactions, including potential manipulative trading. Many of the suspicious transactions involved Chinese issuer stocks and some of the most suspicious activity in customer accounts was apparent pre-arranged trades of Chinese issuer stock done in related accounts. (See FINRA Investor Alert regarding China stocks.)
In the third case, FINRA found that WTF, Brickell, Michel, and Adams failed to create and enforce a supervisory system and written supervisory procedures to monitor for unlawful transactions in unregistered penny stocks. Between March 2009 and August 2011, WTF bought and sold more than 27.5 billion shares of 12 penny stock issues on behalf of one customer, Justin Keener, generating approximately $61 million in investor proceeds. In October 2012, FINRA barred Keener following a disciplinary hearing for his failure to provide FINRA with documents and information after he purchased an interest in a FINRA member clearing firm. Despite the fact that the securities traded were not properly registered and were not eligible for an exemption to registration, WTF and Brickell executed the transactions. The business generated by Keener's transactions represented the majority of WTF's business and revenue. WTF and Michel failed to supervise Brickell, who was acting as a producing manager when making the stock liquidations at issue. Also, WTF, acting through Brickell, failed to have a program reasonably designed to monitor for and detect and report suspicious activity, as required by the Bank Secrecy Act.
In concluding these settlements, Atlas One, Firstrade, WTF, Aponte, Michel, Brickell and Adams neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.
Investors can obtain more information about, and the disciplinary record of, any FINRA-registered broker or brokerage firm by using FINRA's BrokerCheck. FINRA makes BrokerCheck available at no charge. In 2012, members of the public used this service to conduct 14.6 million reviews of broker or firm records. Investors can access BrokerCheck at www.finra.org/brokercheck or by calling (800) 289-9999. Investors may find copies of this disciplinary action as well as other disciplinary documents in FINRA's Disciplinary Actions Online database.
FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation and complementary compliance and technology-based services. FINRA touches virtually every aspect of the securities business – from registering and educating all industry participants to examining securities firms, writing rules, enforcing those rules and the federal securities laws, informing and educating the investing public, providing trade reporting and other industry utilities, and administering the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and firms. For more information, please visit www.finra.org.