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FORMER MERRILL LYNCH BROKER GOES FROM DOT-COM BUST TO PONZI SCHEME

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Dallas-based broker Brion Randall pleaded guilty Tuesday to a fraudulent Ponzi schemeinvolving $6 million of investor money.

The Securities and Exchange Commission had originally charged the broker last August with defrauding 30 customers with phony investments from 2004 through 2009. According to the Dallas Morning News, Randall told investors their money was going towards high-return loans and that their investments were safe and liquid.

But instead, he pocketed the money and client never created accounts for his clients, the SEC said.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Randall has a long and troubling disciplinary history as a broker. Eight years ago he was terminated from his position at Merrill Lynch for trading on customer accounts without permission during the dot-com bust, and he was later suspended for four months by FINRA.

But somehow Randall recovered, and despite the regulatory attention was able to attract several new clients. Along with his father, he founded 2Randall Consulting Group.

Tragically, many brokers who are suspended for egregious broker misconduct continue their careers in the securities industry almost as if nothing happened. Brion Randall epitomes this, and it meant more investors had to be harmed.

Those who invested in Mr. Randall should hardly be embarrassed. In addition to ripping off individual investors, Randall reportedly defrauded on $875,000 in bank loans, meaning he had the ability to deceive financial professionals. He also had the willingness to coldly lie to 30 investors.

The Journal told the story of Sandra Stagnone, a nurse who met Randall nearly a decade ago in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and was persuaded to invest her savings:

Ms. Stagnone, 48 years old, said she never balanced a checkbook, and when her divorce settlement came through in 2007 she turned to Mr. Randall. They both attended the “Gucci AA meeting,” frequented by a well-dressed crowd who parked their pricey cars outside the Dallas building, she said.

He persuaded her to transfer her $1.3 million in retirement and other funds to him to manage, said Ms. Stagnone. She filed a lawsuit against Mr. Randall in state court in Dallas that was stayed after the receiver was put in place in the SEC case.

Mr. Randall and his family stayed at her Santa Fe, N.M., home, which she received in the divorce, and she attended holiday parties at his house, she said. His father’s stature in the community and Brion Randall’s generosity toward other AA members gave her comfort, she and other alleged victims said.

Last summer, Ms. Stagnone went with Ms. Whitfield to AllianceBernstein to check on her account. They learned the firm didn’t have any accounts connected to Mr. Randall, they said.

“I started calling all of the people that I knew to tell them that it was fraudulent. I was crying my eyes out,” Ms. Stagnone recalled. Ms. Stagnone said she hasn’t gotten her $1.3 million back.

Investors everywhere should be wary of their broker, especially when your financial future is at stake. Unfortunately, regulatory laws allow for bad brokers’ careers to rise from the ashes.

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