The Securities and Exchange Commission took emergency action Wednesday to charge Nashville, Tenn.-based investment advisor Gordon B. Grigg, 46, and his firm, ProTrust Management, Inc., with securities fraud, and the agency obtained a court order freezing their assets.
“The Complaint alleges that ProTrust, a Tennessee corporation with offices in Nashville, is engaged in ongoing securities fraud,” according to the posted on the SEC’s website earlier today. “The Complaint further alleges that Grigg is a purported financial planner and an investment adviser who controls ProTrust.”
The SEC alleges that Grigg and ProTrust defrauded at least 27 clients out of at least $6.5 million and misrepresented that their money was invested in the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and other securities that, in reality, do not exist. The SEC alleges that Grigg bilked investors by selling them private placements and then fabricated account statements for the non-existent U.S. Government-guaranteed commercial paper and bank debt.
Grigg and ProTrust consented to the emergency relief sought by the SEC. William J. Haynes, Jr., a U.S. District Court Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, issued a temporary restraining order to prevent Grigg and his firm from further violations and froze their assets. While the ProTrust website is no longer online, the image to the right obtained by from WayBack Machine was previously on the firm's home page.
Grigg's scheme begain in 2003, according to the SEC complaint. In August 2007, the says charges, Grigg recommended that a client in North Carolina and a client in California, each of whom was a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, invest in “Private Placements.” Grigg “falsely and fraudulently” told the two piltos that the Private Placements were not available to individual investors but were available to his clients through the pooling of their funds. One client wired $237,000 and the sent $100,000 in cash.
Grigg, from approximately January 2008 through December 2008, faked monthly account statements to the North Carolina client, reporting positions in a $100,000 “Jumbo Corporate Debenture” with an 8.15% fixed annual return and a $132,000 “Kohlberg Kravis Roberts” investment product with a 14% fixed annual return. “In fact, no such investment products had been purchased by the Defendant,” says the SEC complaint, and no such KKR investment product exists.
Last month, the scheme took a new turn when, according to the SEC, Grigg mailed correspondence to the two pilots saying his firm “had access to debt guaranteed by the U.S. government through the government’s TARP program.”
“ProTrust Management has been a very small participant in a partnership that is headed up by Berkshire Hathaway and Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts, or KKR,” Griggs reportedly wrote in a letter to both of pilots. “Via the partnership, ProTrust has purchased over eight million dollars worth of banking debt and commercial bank paper over the last five years with interest rates from 7.5% to14%. ProTrust was offered to participate in the latest offerings with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sacks [sic] through investments and loans.”
Added Griggs, “I agreed with the partnerships and committed to over $5 million dollars of commercial paper offering 12.5% in government-guaranteed commercial paper and bank debt. Griggs, in the portion of the letter provided by the SEC, declared: “This is an amazing opportunity as we now have a U.S. government guaranteed 12.5% bank debt. If you do not want to participate in the 12.5% government guaranteed fund please send me the enclosed liquidation form.” An additional 25 clients were told a very similar story by Griggs, the SEC alleges.
Perhaps most disturbing is that Grigg was terminated as a registered representative of a broker-dealer on April 25, 2002 for multiple compliance violations. In addition, on June 28, 2006 Grigg and ProTrust were the subjects of an administrative cease-and-desist order issued by the North Dakota Securities Department. North Dakota ordered them to pay restitution and a civil penalty of $570,000 for falsely representing to a client that her funds had been invested in certificates of deposit and other securities. The state authorities found that Griggs and ProTrust had violated registration and anti-fraud provisions of the state’s securities laws.
The 2002 and 2006 charges raise questions about why regulators at FINRA and the SEC did not discover Grigg’s alleged scheme earlier. If the SEC charges are true, Grigg brashly continued his fraudulent ways two and a half years after the North Dakota securities regulators identified him as a repeat securities offender.
Grigg’s case is the latest in a series of frauds that have unraveled after the market fallout, when nervous investors began trying to redeem their money only to learn that it was gone. None of the recent fraud cases compare to the $50 billion Ponzi scheme allegedly perpetrated by broker-dealer Madoff Securities and its disgraced founder Bernard Madoff, but the number fraud cases involving investment advisors in recent weeks has suddenly escalated to what appears to be an unprecedented level.
On Monday, Nicholas Cosmo, a Long Island, N.Y. investment-firm owner, surrendered to federal authorities. Mr. Cosmo allegedly raised more than $370 million between 2006 and 2008 by promising investors 48% annual returns from funding commercial loans, according to a federal affidavit in support of his arrest. On Tuesday, authorities arrested Arthur Nadel, the missing Florida hedge-fund adviser, who was accused by federal authorities of defrauding clients of millions of dollars. Less than two weeks ago, A Hamilton County Indiana Superior Court judge froze financial advisor Marcus Schrenker's assets and those of his wife after Schrenker reportedly parachuted out of his company-owned plane over Alabama Sunday while the plane continued flying on autopilot before crashing into Florida swampland two hours later. After a manhunt, Schrenker was apprehended and is now in custody.
As of today, Advisor Products, a leading developer of websites for for financial advisors, is recommending that all Registered Investment Advisers it serves post a Form ADV on their website, or a link to the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website where consumers can view the Form ADV. In both the Cosmo and Grigg cases, prosecutors allege the advisory firms were unregistered. So a Form ADV provides assurance to clients and prospects that you are properly registered and subject to SEC inspections.
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