WASHNGTON — A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) hearing officer has expelled Pinnacle Partners Financial, Corp., a broker-dealer based in San Antonio, TX, and barred its President, Brian Alfaro, for fraudulent sales of oil and gas private placements and unregistered securities. In addition, Brian Alfaro was found to have used customer funds for personal and business expenses. As restitution, Pinnacle and Alfaro are ordered to offer rescission to investors who were sold fraudulent offerings and refund all sales commissions to those customers who do not request rescission.
On the day Alfaro and Pinnacle Partners were to appear before the hearing panel, Alfaro decided not to attend the hearing. As a result, the hearing officer issued a default decision.
The hearing officer found that from August 2008 to March 2011, Alfaro and Pinnacle operated a boiler room in which approximately 10 brokers placed thousands of cold calls on a weekly basis to solicit investments in oil and gas drilling joint ventures Alfaro owned or controlled. Alfaro and Pinnacle raised over $10 million from more than 100 investors, and that Alfaro diverted some of the customer funds for unrelated business and personal expenses.
The hearing officer also found that Pinnacle and Alfaro included numerous misrepresentations and omissions in the investment summaries for 11 private placement offerings, including grossly inflated natural gas prices, projected natural gas reserves, estimated gross returns and estimated monthly cash flows. Pinnacle and Alfaro deliberately attempted to mislead investors by deleting material, unfavorable information from well operator reports and providing investors with maps that omitted numerous dry, plugged and abandoned wells near their projected drilling sites. In addition, Pinnacle and Alfaro distributed an offering document claiming that a previous venture had distributed more than $14 million to its investors when the actual distribution was less than $1.5 million.
The hearing officer decision also notes that from January 2009 to March 2011, Alfaro misused customer funds entrusted to him with the belief that the funds would be used for drilling and production in the wells in which their ventures invested. The funds were used for Alfaro's personal expenditures and for business purposes that were not related to the purposes of the customers' investments. When projects failed or were failing, Alfaro concealed his misuse of customers' funds by persuading them to transfer their investment to his other oil and gas ventures. In one instance, Alfaro collected more than $500,000 in subscription costs for a well that was never drilled, and used those funds for unrelated personal and business expenses.
In April 2011, FINRA had suspended indefinitely Pinnacle and Alfaro for failure to comply with a FINRA Temporary Cease and Desist Order prohibiting their fraudulent misrepresentations. The suspension resulted from FINRA's Notice of Suspension, which alleged that Pinnacle and Alfaro had continued to make fraudulent oral and written misrepresentations and omissions in connection with their offer and sale of certain oil and gas joint interests, and had otherwise failed to comply with the terms of the Temporary Order FINRA issued on January 21, 2011.
FINRA was represented at the hearing by Mark Dauer, Enforcement Deputy Chief Litigation Counsel, and Robert Long, Enforcement Senior Regional Counsel.
With a default decision, unless the hearing officer's decision is appealed to FINRA's National Adjudicatory Council (NAC) or is called for review by the NAC, the hearing officer's decision becomes final after 25 days.
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 2011, members of the public used this service to conduct 14.2 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 disciplinary action as well as other disciplinary documents in FINRA's Disciplinary Actions Online database.
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