Ex-Cetera Official Sues, Says Top Execs Slandered Him and Pushed Him Out
As if Cetera Financial Group didn’t have enough legal issues to deal with, its president and the chief executive of one of its ten broker-dealers are being accused of “willful and wanton age discrimination” and disparagement in a lawsuit filed last week in Florida.
Mark Spinello, the former chief executive officer of the Legend Group, alleges that Cetera President Adam Antoniades and Cetera Financial Specialists CEO Enrique Vasquez “began a steady campaign of age discrimination” against him in 2014, culminating in his being laid off in March 2015.
“At the [Legend] National Sales meeting (in 2015) held at Amelia Island, Florida, Defendant Antoniades and Defendant Vasquez made defamatory and disparaging remarks about Mr. Spinello,” the suit alleges. “Vasquez called Mr. Spinello a liar, a thief, a scoundrel and told various people that he is someone that should not be trusted. The defamatory and disparaging remarks were also made by Defendant Antoniades. Some of his statements related to his efforts to prevent a transaction between a private equity firm and the Legend Group.”
The allegations are “without legal merit,” Joseph Kuo, a spokesman for First Allied and the Legend Group wrote in an e-mail, and the firms will “vigorously contest” them..
Cetera Financial Group operates ten independent broker-dealer firms and is owned by RCS Capital Corp, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January and was formerly affiliated with disgraced private real estate investment czar Nicholas Schorsch.
Cetera has argued in public statements and court papers that it will emerge from the prepackaged bankruptcy with substantial capital and a laser-like focus on retail brokerage, but on Thursday filed a lawsuit claiming that a rival is raiding its top officials and threatening its viability.
Spinello’s discrimination suit seeks compensatory damages that his lawyer said may well exceed $15,000 and the right to seek punitive damages against Legend Group Holdings, First Allied Holdings, Antoniades and Vasquez.
RCS/Cetera bought First Allied in 2013, one year after First Allied bought Legend Group—which specializes in selling retirement investments to public-sector employees—from Waddell & Reed.
Spinello was 62 at the end of 2012 when he signed an employment agreement with Legend and First Allied, but his position as CEO was complicated when Antoniades hired Vasquez in 2014 as “a second CEO,” according to the lawsuit. Vasquez subsequently was also appointed to run another Cetera broker-dealer.
Vasquez, who is 13 years younger than Spinello, and Antoniades “began a steady campaign of age discrimination” against Spinello directly and through associates, the lawsuit says. When Spinello complained about the treatment to Antoniades, who was then CEO of First Allied, he was told to “just go along…and it would be fine,” the complaint said.
It also claims that on several occasions after Spinello’s termination he was defamed. Antoniades allegedly told about “20 top advisors” affiliated with Legend at a meeting in Buffalo New York, last November, that Spinello “was running a ‘pigsty’,” that “‘anything he touches turns to sh**’” and that he attracted “many sexual harassment claims when he was CEO, the complaint alleges.
Spinello, who joined the Legend Group in 1989 and is still listed on a website as president and CEO of an affiliate, did not respond to a call seeking comment.