On August 26, 2014, a federal district court in Atlanta ordered Blake Richards of Buford, Georgia to pay approximately $1.7 million of money that he obtained from investors by fraudulent means, plus interest of nearly $50,000 and a civil penalty of $80,000. The money is to be paid to and held by the district court until further order. Unfortunately, Richards claims to be indigent, and the investors he defrauded are unlikely to recover any money from Richards, although they may have claims against LPL Financial. At least two of the investors defrauded by Richard were elderly and most of the misappropriated funds were from retirement savings and life insurance proceeds.
Richard was associated with LPL Financial, which is a brokerage and investment advisory firm headquartered in Boston. Richards’ financial advisory firm, Lanier Wealth Management, LLC, which operated like a branch office of LPL Financial, is located in Buford, Georgia.
When the investor victims had money to invest, Richards would have them write checks to entities he controlled. The entities were named Blake Richards Investments and BMO Investments. Richards told his victims that he would cause the money to be invested, but he actually siphoned off the money and used it for his personal benefit.
One of Richards’ victims was a woman he had dated. Her father became another victim. Still another victim was a woman who received over $200,000 in life insurance proceeds when her husband had died of pancreatic cancer. Richards cultivated a relationship of seeming trust, going so far as to deliver pain medication to her husband during a snowstorm in his 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
Richards provided fictitious account statements detailing non-existent investments. At least one of the statements purported to be on LPL Financial letterhead. When Richards was questioned or challenged by a victim, he always had an answer. When one victim asked Richards why she had not received statements from LPL Financial, he told her that her accounts had not been “linked” properly. When another questioned him about the status of her supposed investments, Richards showed her a phony statement generated by an internet-based software program.
In addition to losing the money entrusted to Richards, one victim’s social security check was subjected to garnishment by the IRS, because of an improper IRA distribution that was caused by Richards, and which he promised to correct, but did not.
There are some lessons to be learned from this awful story. Investors should never give custody of their money to an individual or a business they do not have good reason to believe is legitimate and reputable. If you do not have the time and/or expertise to invest the money wisely yourself, you are probably better off obtaining advice from a fee-only financial planner (i.e., one who does not act as a broker or invest the money for you) and implementing the plan by investing in well-diversified stock and bond index funds, keeping an appropriate amount (a “rainy day fund”) in relatively safe and liquid investment like a certificate of deposit or money market fund. Money that you may need to access sooner in the next three years should never be invested in stocks or other volatile investments. To learn more, read books on investing by John C. Bogle, the founder of Vanguard mutual funds and the person widely credited with inventing index funds.
Any time you have a question about your investments – either proposed or already made – we would be happy to share our experience. Brokers and investment advisors have certain duties to investors that, when breached, give rise to legal rights to recoup investment losses caused by the breach. For many years now, we have represented investors in securities arbitrations against brokerage firms and financial advisers, helping them to recover losses in unsuitable investments. It is certainly possible to recover such investment losses in securities arbitration. However, we would prefer to help you avoid bad investments in the first place.
Jason Doss is the owner of The Doss Firm, LLC, an Atlanta-based law firm devoted to representing consumers across the country in a variety of areas including investment disputes and consumer class action litigation. Mr. Doss earned his J.D. from Florida State University in 2002 and his B.A. from the University of Florida in 1997.