Finra Bars Wells Broker Whose Client Helped Him Qualify for Designation
(Updated with comment from Wells Fargo.)
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred a broker in Tampa, Florida, from working in the securities industry after he failed to defend himself in an investigation of an alleged scheme to help him qualify as an “international financial advisor” at Wells Fargo Advisors.
The regulator quickly opened an investigation of Wilfred Rodriguez Jr. after Wells on August 1 filed a termination notice saying the 24-year brokerage industry veteran “had moved funds between [a] customer’s related accounts in order to place authorized bond orders for the purposes of generating qualifying revenue so that [he] could retain his international financial advisor status.”
Wells’ termination notice said the funds were moved with the customer’s permission.
Finra was also investigating allegations that Rodriguez converted funds of other foreign customers and gave them falsified account statements with inflated account values, according to a letter of acceptance, waiver and consent posted on Finra’s disciplinary action website on Tuesday. It did not say whether the customers were aware of his falsifications, his motives or whether they suffered any gains or losses as a result of his activities.
Joshua H. Lida, a lawyer in Plantation, Florida, who represented Rodriguez, declined to comment on his client’s decision to sign the consent order and what motivated his actions.
The former broker’s alleged efforts to preserve his status as an international broker occurred as Wells and other large U.S. brokerage firms have been tightening advisors’ ability to work with non-U.S. citizens as a result of anti-money-laundering and other crackdowns by regulators and prosecutors. Firms have dramatically raised account minimums, prohibited transactions with certain foreign nationals and, in the case of Merrill Lynch, required account holders to physically appear in a broker’s office annually to verify ownership of their accounts.
Wells Fargo Advisors several years ago added a requirement that brokers take online training courses and produce at least $100,000 from international accounts in order to qualify as an international broker and service such accounts, according to a branch manager at the firm.
A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, Jackie Knolhoff, noted in an emailed statement that Rodriguez is no longer with the firm.
“Wells Fargo Advisors holds our advisors to the highest professional standards for putting our clients’ interests first,” she wrote.
Rodriguez, who began his brokerage career at Biltmore Securities in 1994, is not currently registered with Finra, according to his BrokerCheck record. After short stints at Biltmore and three other firms, he joined UBS PaineWebber in 1999 and moved to Prudential Securities in 2002, shortly before it became part of Wachovia Securities. Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia Corp. and its related businesses in 2008.