SEC Files Fraud Charges Against Former Brokers Targeting Federal Retirees
The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged four former Atlanta-area brokers with fraudulently inducing federal employees to roll over holdings from their federal Thrift Savings Plan retirement accounts into higher-fee, variable annuity products.
The four former brokers charged in the complaint are Christopher S. Laws, Jonathan D. Cooke, Danny S. Hood, and Brandon P. Long.
The SEC’s complaint charges Federal Employee Benefits Counselors through which the brokers targeted federal employees nearing retirement with sizable funds invested in the TSP. The complaint alleges that the brokers misled investors on the details of the variable annuity investment, including the associated fees and guaranteed investment returns.
The brokers allegedly fostered the misleading impression that they were affiliated with or approved by the federal government. In some instances, investors were led to believe that their funds would be invested in a product that was offered, vetted, or specifically selected by the TSP.
According to the SEC’s complaint, the brokers sent investors incomplete or modified transaction forms as well as written materials they devised that obscured that the investment was a privately issued variable annuity with no connection to the TSP and would be processed through a private brokerage firm with which the brokers were associated.
The brokers sold approximately 200 variable annuities with a total face value of approximately $40 million to federal employees, who used monies rolled over from their TSP accounts to fund their purchases. The brokers collectively earned approximately $1.7 million in commissions on these sales.
“As alleged in our complaint, these brokers were motivated by the prospects of higher commissions as they targeted federal employees age 59½ and over and intentionally obscured important details when recommending variable annuity purchases,” said Aaron Lipson, associate director of the SEC’s Atlanta regional office. “They even allegedly excluded the words ‘variable annuity’ from some materials they shared with TSP account holders.”
The complaint charges the four brokers and Federal Employee Benefits Counselors with violating and aiding and abetting violations of some or all of the provisions of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5. The SEC seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus interest and penalties and permanent injunctions.