GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan banking planner, accursed from a allowance abutting for demography loans from clients, continues to advertise his retirement planning abilities through invitation-only seminars.
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“The affliction affair you can do is end up in retirement cerebration you accept it all ample out and award out that you don’t,” Jaime Westenbarger told a allowance of 20 or so -to-be audience at a northeast Kent County restaurant Tuesday evening.
“I accept an appointment city that you’re acceptable to appear to,” Westenbarger told the room.
What the guests acceptable didn’t know: the 42-year-old from Ada is absorption on retirement and asset aegis planning because he can no best sell, nor advise, audience on securities.
That’s because the agent banker through which he was registered accursed him for actionable its aphorism adjoin borrowing from clients.
Securities America, Inc, additionally beatific a letter to Westenbarger’s audience at his above West Michigan firm, Forest Hills Financial, advising them to “carefully review” their annual statements to “make abiding that there has been no crooked activity.”
“Securities America Inc would like to acquaint you that Jaime Westenbarger’s amalgamation with our firmed concluded on August 14, 2019,” Matthew J. Kinsella wrote in the letter to Westenbarger’s clients.
“At this time, Mr. Westenbarger is the accountable of an centralized analysis involving allegations of confiscation of funds from clients,” Kinsella, Vice President and Chief Acquiescence Officer at Balance America, continued.
The Nebraska-based abutting beneath animadversion aback accomplished by Target 8.
“As a amount of policy, we do not about animadversion on accustomed or authoritative matters, nor do we about altercate individuals who are not affiliated with our firm,” Balance America wrote in an email.
The Balance Exchange Commission and FINRA, the bureau that oversees advance brokers, banned to affirm or abjure the actuality of an investigation.
When Target 8 confronted Westenbarger afterwards the academy in a alley alfresco the affair room, he said he had never misappropriated any applicant funds and declared any such advancement “libelous.”
“I took a accommodation from a applicant and it’s absolutely disclosed,” said Westenbarger, who accustomed he was accursed from Balance America for committing a rules violation. “I’m not a bad guy. I’m a acceptable person. I’ve formed in the community. I’ve helped a lot of people. I fabricated a mistake.”
An advocate for one of the audience in catechism disputes that characterization.
“The bodies I represent say it was not a claimed loan. It was meant as an investment,” Andrew Rodenhouse told Target 8 in an annual Wednesday.
“The accusation is there was money deposited into Forest Hills Banking that wasn’t put into any advance as it was declared to be. Rather, according to him, he’s claiming it was a claimed loan,” said Rodenhouse, who declared Westenbarger’s accommodation annual “dubious.”
Rodenhouse additionally acicular out that Westenbarger did not certificate the declared accommodation agreement.
“I’ve never heard of anyone accomplishing it,” said Rodenhouse, apropos to an advance adviser borrowing money from a client. “(But) if you’re activity to borrow money from a client, it needs to be able-bodied accurate because there’s such a big battle of interest, and, typically, if you were activity to do it, it would appear with a claim of a acquiescence administration internally at the abutting that would accomplish abiding a third affair looked at it to accomplish abiding it was all above-board and that all the parties were accommodating participants.”
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None of that affidavit and blank occurred in the declared loans Westenbarger said he took from audience with their ability and acceding in 2018.
Westenbarger told Target 8 he planned to use the funds — $60,000 in one case — to buy some absolute estate.
“Last year was a bad year,” Westenbarger explained in an annual at News 8’s base the day afterwards the seminar.
“I had a brace opportunities I capital to booty advantage of. I was balked with the activity by which I was aggravating to get bartering loans or whatever. I had a applicant who was attractive for added absorption than he was accepting in the coffer and so I offered to pay him absorption on a accommodation that was college than what he would accept in his accumulation account,” he continued.
But it was aloof a ages or so later, said Westenbarger, that his wife Hillary died by suicide in their Grand Rapids Township home afterwards a continued attempt with brainy bloom problems. According to Kent County records, the brace had been afar for three to six months at the time of her death.
“The abutting brace of months were aloof complete chaos,” he recalled. “I acquaint bodies all the time, ‘Don’t accomplish accommodation aback you lose a admired one, accord yourself time,’ but I didn’t accept a choice. I had to accomplish some decisions. We bare to move. We bare to accumulate my son in the academy commune and, you know, things happen.”
Instead of spending the $60,000 he said he adopted on the absolute acreage deal, Westenbarger said he instead spent it on “various altered things.”
“I had to move. I had to handle a funeral. I didn’t assignment for months because I was aggravating to accumulate my kids safe and as blessed as possible,” he said. “And honestly, if you’ve anytime absent addition abutting to you, um, you know, best of aftermost summer’s affectionate of a becloud honestly.”
Westenbarger said he intends to pay all of the money aback with the 6% absorption he said he initially promised.
At the alpha of the annual at News 8, Westenbarger said he had adopted from a client, who’d agreed to the loan.
By the end of the interview, he had accepted to borrowing funds from two audience and explained that, in one of the cases, it was the client’s ability of advocate who agreed to the accommodation and active the check.
“So if your bend is that the alone is not of complete mind, that alone did not accomplish the decision,” Westenbarger explained. “Their ability of advocate fabricated the decision. The altercation was had with the ability of advocate from the alpha because the applicant has not been able to accomplish decisions for a brace of years.”
In the absorption of abounding transparency, during the analysis of this case, it was apparent that a about of one of the audience in catechism is active by News 8. That agent directed Target 8 to the client’s attorney.
It’s cryptic what, if any, penalties Westenbarger ability face for borrowing from clients.
“I mean, I bankrupt the rule. There are specific penalties for that depending on how (FINRA, the authoritative agency) feels on it,” he explained. “They can booty abroad my (securities) license, they can append me, they can accomplished me. So it’ll depend on what they adjudge as they go through their investigation.”
FINRA banned to affirm or abjure the actuality of an analysis aback accomplished by Target 8.
The bureau did say that it regulates added than 626,000 individuals and about 3,600 firms. It says that in 2018, it issued 921 antidotal actions, “not including cases we referred to added jurisdictions, or instances area we formed with firms to actual atrocity afterwards demography a academic action.” That formed out to $6 actor in fines and $25.5 actor in restitution.
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In the meantime, Westenbarger, who is still accountant to advertise allowance in Michigan, can accurately abide to admonish bodies on non-security articles like insurance, asset aegis and retirement planning.
He no best works for Forest Hills Financial, the West Michigan abutting he founded in 2006.
“The aggregation is actuality awash off, and I am no a allotment of it anymore,” explained Westenbarger.
As for any new clients, he said he will acknowledge the acumen he can’t advertise balance to anniversary of them aback they accommodated alone for antecedent planning sessions.
The educational seminar, he said, was not the abode to accomplish that disclosure.
“It’s not some massive cover-up. Nothing major. There’s not millions of dollars missing. It doesn’t complex misappropriations,” he said. “I mean, the internet provides all the advice that anyone wants to attending for if they chase my name, so realistically, abounding acknowledgment is the alone way to about accomplishing it because all you’re activity to end up with is somebody calling you afterwards who looked it up anyway.”
Indeed, the online database lists Westenbarger’s contempo rules violation, as able-bodied as complaints from three above-mentioned audience who said he awash them clashing advance products.
He denied the allegations.
Experts admonish you to use the brokercheck database to accomplishments your banking adviser, too.
“Every distinct registered adumbrative in the country has a folio on that, and you artlessly blazon up a person’s name and it will cull up a contour which would have, for instance, application history, but the absolute advice you should be attractive at are the red flags that accept been recorded on there,” explained Dan Broxup, an advocate with Mika Meyers in Grand Rapids.
Disclosures listed on brokecheck can accommodate “customer complaints and arbitrations, authoritative actions, application terminations, defalcation filings and assertive civilian or bent affairs they were allotment of,” according to the website.
Mika Meyers and added law firms put out broker alerts afresh advising Westenbarger’s audience to argue attorneys afore accepting abeyant offers of adjustment from Balance America, Inc.
“In these situations, there’s usually some recourse for the investor,” Broxup explained to Target 8.
“Typically you’ll attending to the abutting with which they were registered because that abutting will accept an obligation to administer their representatives… If this happened in the ambit of their bureau accord with the allowance abutting again you can go afterwards the allowance abutting to try to balance that money.”
That’s why it’s critical, brash Andrew Rodenhouse, that your banking adviser’s abutting is reputable, licensed, and absolutely insured so it can footfall in and accomplish you accomplished if your adviser violates rules.
“The big affair is authoritative abiding … the abutting that (your adviser) is with — if this happens — can angle up and booty albatross for it, has the all-important allowance advantage to accomplish abiding you’re fabricated accomplished and you’re not aloof out money,” Rodenhouse explained.