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Articles Posted in Morgan Stanley Puerto Rico Bond Funds

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Investment Center Broker Accused of Stealing $300K from Elderly Client on silverlaw.comLeon Vaccarelli allegedly defrauded a total of nine clients out of more than $1 million

In May, former financial advisor Leon Vaccarelli was charged with 12 counts of fraud and money laundering in a federal court in Connecticut. If convicted on all of them, he could receive a maximum penalty of 210 years in prison. After pleading not guilty, Vaccarelli was released on a $100,000 bond.

Vaccarelli is alleged to have stolen money from several clients between 2011 and 2017. During that time, he reportedly informed his clients that their money would be invested in different places, including money market accounts and retirement products. What Vaccarelli actually did, according to investigators, was put the money into his own account and use it to pay his own expenses. In addition, federal prosecutors also say that he also used client money to make interest payments to other investors.

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We recently wrote about securities arbitration claims our securities attorneys are handling involving former Morgan Stanley broker Angel Aquino, (CRD #2687333), while he was a stockbroker with Morgan Stanley. He resigned from the company in July of 2017 after multiple customer complaints and securities arbitration claims. Current customer disputes filed against Aquino currently add up to nearly $12 million. A new related complaint was filed on May 8, 2018 against Aquino and Morgan Stanley (CRD #149777.)  He is not currently registered as a broker, and no current employment information is available.  Morgan Stanley continues to be subject to multiple claims relating to its recommendation and sale of Puerto Rico bonds.

The complaints stem from Aquino’s heavy emphasis on investments in Puerto Rico Cofina bonds. These are backed by the island’s sales tax revenue, and have triple-tax-free status. They became a popular investment for Wall Street banks to sell to retirees and other investors, but when things changed, the bonds didn’t pay as much and many advisors allegedly failed to disclose the risks with the bonds. But Aquino continued to sell his customers heavily on Puerto Rico bonds, even while they lost money.

Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy in May of 2017 for relief of $70 billion in municipal debt. On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria swept through the island and destroyed crops, damaged aging infrastructure and flooded the cities. No clear path exists for Puerto Rico to meet its debt obligations.

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When Hurricane Maria landed in Puerto Rico, it caused devastation to the island’s infrastructure, crops, homes and power grid that will take many years to repair. But the damages to Puerto Rico include losses in municipal bonds and the mutual funds that hold them, which were close to default even before the storm.

While the island still struggles to recover, it wasn’t the first catastrophic event to hit the island territory. In 2014, Puerto Rico was already headed for a severe financial crisis, with bond sales from Morgan Stanley brokers as the catalysts.

Morgan Stanley and Barclay’s were responsible for underwriting the island’s $3.5 billion sale in March 2014. This sale was the last major issue by Puerto Rico before declaring bankruptcy on May 3, 2017, for a debt restructuring amounting to $3.8 trillion. The island’s debt stood at $70 million, and it needed to restructure pensions of $49 million. This municipal bankruptcy was even bigger than the city of Detroit’s 2013 restructuring of $18 billion.

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