An ex-Edward Jones advisor defrauded clients of $1.2 million in a Ponzi-like scheme that lasted about six years, the SEC charges.
Authorities say that Bernard M. Parker lied to 22 clients, telling them that they were investing in tax liens when he was, in fact, using the funds to remodel his home, pay bills and make what he said were interest payments to other investors.
"Once he gained their trust, investors gave Parker thousands of dollars apiece for purported investments, and he swiftly stole their money," Sharon Binger, director of the SEC’s Philadelphia Regional Office, said in a statement.
Parker, 54, hatched his scheme in 2008, creating a company called Parker Financial Services, according to the SEC. Parker was the owner and only employee of this eponymously-named firm, which he kept hidden from his employer, the SEC says.
Edward Jones is not named in the complaint filed by the SEC. FINRA BrokerCheck records show that Parker was registered with Edward Jones from 2006 to 2014, and the firm confirmed that he was employed there during those dates.
"The firm has cooperated fully with the investigations conducted by the FBI and the SEC," a spokesman says. "Edward Jones clients are being compensated for their losses."
TAX LIEN SCHEME
Authorities say Parker primarily solicited his existing clients, telling them that they would purchase tax liens placed by municipalities in Florida, Colorado and Arizona. Clients gave Parker amounts ranging from $3,500 to $50,000.
By purchasing the tax liens, which local governments may sell at auction, the new lienholder has the right to collect tax payments or foreclose on the property.
Clients had the option to roll over their earnings into new investments – and most did, according to authorities. However, Parker used the client funds to pay personal expenses, such as his father-in-law's medical bills and to remodel his home in Indiana, Pa., the SEC says. He also misled some clients, saying that their investments in tax liens were tax free.
Parker could not be reached for comment; his attorney, Stephen Stallings, declined to comment.
Parker kept the scheme hidden, in part, by only providing clients with a one-page contract and computer printouts of vacant lots and homes; he ran no website or published any marketing materials for his side company, the SEC says. Clients also did not receive account statements.
While operating Parker Financial Services, he continued to be employed by Edward Jones. According to the SEC's complaint, in July, 2013, the firm questioned Parker about his outside business activities – which advisors are required to disclose. Parker told his employer that the business only started in 2012, and that he only collected $332.12 that year. The SEC says that Parker had in fact collected $300,000.
In November, 2014, Edward Jones terminated Parker's employment, according to a note in his BrokerCheck record.
"Mr. Parker admitted selling certificates that represented ownership in state tax liens away from the firm and misappropriating a portion of the funds that were to be invested in the state tax liens. Mr. Parker also admitted to providing false information to the firm concerning his outside business activity," Edward Jones said in the note.
Parker, when questioned by authorities that same month, "admitted his fraudulent conduct, including the use of investor funds for personal expenses," according to the SEC complaint.
In U.S. district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the SEC is asking for Parker to disgorge ill-gotten gains, to pay civil penalties and other relief.
A FINRA spokeswoman declined to comment when asked if Parker was also being investigated by the Wall Street regulator.