FINRA barred former Merrill Lynch and RBC Capital broker Thomas Joseph Buck for misleading and overcharging clients from 2009-2015 while he was associated with Merrill Lynch, thus willfully committing fraud. Customers lodged 11 disputes and complaints against Buck from March 2015 through June, accusing him of unauthorized trading, misrepresentation, unsuitable recommendations, and excessive trading.
In its decision, FINRA characterized Buck's top-producing broker status as a reputation gained, at least in part, through "unethical and improper business practices," including Buck's decision to make 80% of his customers accounts commission- rather than fee-based, whereas the surrounding area's average percentage of commission-based accounts was less than 30%.
About one week before the flurry of complaints began arriving in March, Merrill Lynch terminated Buck's employment, noting that they discharged him for allegedly failing to discuss material information with a customer and providing inaccurate information, including telling a client a material fact that did not correspond to Merrill Lynch's own records.
After separating from Merrill Lynch, Buck wound up at RBC while customer complaints began to pile up, prompting FINRA in its investigation to deem Buck's behavior "unethical." Investigators noted that Buck intentionally pursued "improper business practices which generated increased commissions and revenues and enhanced his status as a top-producing broker."
The investigation states that in pursuing these unethical practices, Buck decided to use a commission-based platform for 80% of the accounts he managed when he knew that it would have been less expensive for his clients to maintain fee-based accounts. FINRA called the amount of overpayment for some customers "substantially more" while noting that Buck additionally misled clients about the advantages of fee-based accounts in order to keep them in higher-cost commission based accounts even while a great majority of comparable accounts not managed by Buck were fee-based.
In regards to the charge of unauthorized trading and use of discretion without authorization, FINRA found that Buck failed to obtain written authorization from his customers and Merrill Lynch, though the investigation also notes that in some instances, Buck placed trades "which he assumed the customers would want."
If you have invested with former Merrill Lynch broker Thomas Joseph Buck or with any broker or financial adviser whose unsuitable decision to establish a commission-based account when a fee-based alternative would have been less costly, or whose unauthorized or excessive trading has produced excessive costs, commissions or fees that have been harmful to your investments or interests, please call The Law Offices of Jonathan W. Evans & Associates at (800) 699-1881 for investigation and consultation.