Ex-LPL broker ordered to pay $1.9 million in U.S. SEC fraud suit

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission logo adorns an office door at the SEC headquarters in Washington, June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

(Reuters) - A former broker for a unit of LPL Financial LLC accused of diverting clients’ funds for his personal expenses has been ordered by a federal judge to pay more than $1.9 million in civil sanctions.

In announcing the ruling against Blake Richards, of Buford, Georgia, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Thursday the sum largely represents the amount that Richards pocketed during a four-year-long scam that involved luring clients into writing checks for fictitious investments. Richards told clients to make the checks out to his businesses outside of LPL, a unit of LPL Financial Holdings Inc.

Judge Willis Hunt, Jr. of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia entered the ruling against Richards on Tuesday, the SEC said. The sanctions include $1.83 million to be returned to clients, including interest, plus an $80,000 fine.

A phone number for Richards was in non-working order on Thursday. Richards agreed to a court order last year that prohibited him from engaging in further securities law violations, the SEC said. He neither admitted to nor denied the SEC’s allegations.

Richards defrauded at least seven investors, who typically handed over their retirement savings or life insurance proceeds from deceased spouses, the SEC said in its civil suit last year.

Richards told the investors he would put their funds in fixed-income assets, variable annuities and other securities, but never did so, the SEC said. He then “siphoned off” their money for his personal use, the SEC said.

LPL had said at the time that another LPL adviser reported Richards’ alleged misconduct. The firm fired Richards and notified securities regulators and law enforcement authorities, a spokeswoman said at the time. The alleged wrongdoing did not occur through LPL accounts, she said.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which licenses securities brokers, barred Richards from the industry in September 2013, according to a regulatory filing.

Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by Leslie Adler and Tom Brown