FINRA Charges David Lerner & Associates With Soliciting Investors to Purchase REITs Without Fully Investigating Suitability; Lerner Marketed REITs on its Website With Misleading Returns
WASHINGTON — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has filed a complaint against David Lerner & Associates, Inc. (DLA), of Syosset, NY, charging the firm with soliciting investors to purchase shares in Apple REIT Ten, a non-traded $2 billion Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), without conducting a reasonable investigation to determine whether it was suitable for investors, and with providing misleading information on its website regarding Apple REIT Ten distributions. DLA has sold and continues to sell Apple REIT Ten targeting unsophisticated and elderly customers with unsuitable sales of the illiquid security.
Since January 2011, as sole underwriter for Apple REIT Ten, DLA has sold over $300 million of an open $2 billion offering of the REIT's shares. Apple REIT Ten invests in the same extended stay hotel properties as a series of other Apple REITs closed to investors. Apple REIT Ten and the closed Apple REITs were founded by the same individual, and are all under common management. DLA has been the sole underwriter for Apple REITs since 1992, selling nearly $6.8 billion of the securities into approximately 122,600 DLA customer accounts. DLA earns 10 percent of all offerings of Apple REIT securities as well as other fees. Apple REIT sales have generated $600 million for DLA, accounting for 60 to 70 percent of DLA's business annually since 1996.
The complaint against DLA alleges that since at least 2004, the closed Apple REITs have unreasonably valued their shares at a constant price of $11 notwithstanding market fluctuations, performance declines and increased leverage, while maintaining outsized distributions of 7 to 8 percent by leveraging the REITs through borrowings and returning capital to investors. As sole distributor, DLA did not question the Apple REITs' unchanging valuations despite the economic downturn for commercial real estate.
FINRA alleges that DLA failed to sufficiently investigate the valuation and distribution irregularities of the closed Apple REITs prior to selling Apple REIT Ten. As the sole underwriter of all of the Apple REITs, DLA was aware of the Apple REITs' valuation and distribution practices. Rather than conduct due diligence into those valuations and distribution irregularities to determine that they were reasonable and that the Apple REITs were suitable, DLA accepted the valuations and continued to record them on customer account statements.
In its solicitation of customers to purchase Apple REIT Ten, DLA's website provided distribution rates for all of the previous Apple REITs. These distribution figures were misleading and omitted material information because they did not disclose recent distribution rate reductions or that distributions far exceeded income from operations and were funded by debt that further leveraged the REITs.
The issuance of a disciplinary complaint represents the initiation of a formal proceeding by FINRA in which findings as to the allegations in the complaint have not been made, and does not represent a decision as to any of the allegations contained in the complaint. 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.
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 2010, members of the public used this service to conduct 17.2 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 complaint, 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.