FINRA has ousted a former bank rep from the industry for allegedly making unsuitable recommendations in unit investment trusts that cost customers more than $1 million in losses.
David Michael Miller, a broker with Huntington National Bank in Columbus, Ohio, was also ordered to pay more than $800,000 in restitution and disgorgement.
Miller allegedly recommended 140 unit investment trust purchases totaling more than $5.3 million in 129 customer accounts without having done the reasonable diligence to ascertain whether the investments were suitable, FINRA claimed in a filing. The regulator scolded Miller for not having educated himself about the features and risks of the products, saying that he did no more than talk to his team leader and product wholesalers and listen to a 10-minute sales presentation on how another team leader sold unit investment trusts.
"Miller never read a UIT prospectus before making his recommendations and did not understand features of the UITS, including how they were valued at maturity, risks, volatility, and use of leverage," FINRA wrote in the document.
As a result of his recommendations, customers lost a total of 1,019,657, according to FINRA.
FINRA also berated Miller for mispresenting the investments and failing to disclose material facts to seven customers, who collectively invested $964,000. He told them erroneously, for example, that while the net asset value of the UITs could fluctuate, their principal would be returned when they matured provided the municipalities did not go into default and bond rates did not increase.
In fact, the net asset value could indeed decline for reasons unrelated to rising bond rates and municipalities defaulting and the losses could exceed the interest payments on the UITs, as was the case for the seven customers.
The regulator blasted Miller in particular for misrepresentations made to an eighth customer who invested $150,000 in a UIT based on the recommendation of another Huntington rep. Miller told the customer in a voicemail not to worry about the value of his investment dropping to $148,000. The UIT he had invested in was "safe," Miller allegedly said, and that if the customer held it to termination he would receive his entire $150,000 principal investment and 5% interest during the life of the trust.
The UIT, in fact, was not a safe investment, as Miller allegedly claimed, and its value at the termination of the trust could be significantly lower than his principal investment, FINRA pointed out.
As a result of his misrepresentations and omissions, the eight customers suffered losses of $171,464, FINRA said. The alleged misconduct occurred between August 2012 and May 2013.
Miller could not be reached for comment. He did not appoint a lawyer to represent him in the disciplinary proceeding.
The former rep declined to participate with FINRA's investigation, ignoring the regulator's repeated notices of complaint.
Miller joined Huntington Investment Company, the brokerage arm of Huntington National Bank, in May 2008, according to his BrokerCheck report. He resigned in August 2013 when Huntington determined that he had violated industry standards of conduct following a meeting he and his team held with a client.
In addition to being barred, Miller was ordered to make restitution to his customers totaling $799,161, plus interest. He was also ordered to disgorge $15,162 as a fine, an amount reflecting the commissions that he earned from selling unit investment trusts.
Miller has 25 days to appeal FINRA’s decision. If he does not take any action, the decision will become final at the end of the 25-day period.
Miller's expulsion follows the suspension of another Huntington rep for UIT-related infractions. In December, Jeffrey Rittberger, a personal banker at a Huntington branch in Zanesville, Ohio, was suspended for 45 days and fined $10,000 for recommending unit investment trusts to bank customers without understanding their risks and rewards.
Seth Seymour, a spokesman for Huntington National Bank, declined to comment on the matter.