Former NFL star wins $1M FINRA award from Woodbury Financial

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A FINRA arbitration panel ordered Woodbury Financial Services to pay two customers more than $1 million in compensatory damages and interest for failing to supervise a former employee.

Clients Kris and Sandy Dielman say Woodbury breached fiduciary obligations regarding know-your-customer rules and misrepresented them as clients after failing to properly supervise former broker Robert Hayes Hoffmann, according to the FINRA arbitration award. Dielman played nine seasons in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers.

The misrepresentation related to real estate and coal investments, specifically the Hybrid Aircraft Company, Edgewood Property Group and an Indiana military building, in addition to variable annuities issued by Lincoln National and AIG Polaris and unspecified A-share mutual funds.

Since Hoffmann filed for bankruptcy in federal court in February, the panel stayed judgment and did not rule on claims against him. In September, FINRA suspended Hoffmann for three months for willfully failing to amend his Form U4 to disclose an IRS tax lien against him, per BrokerCheck.

FINRA barred Hoffmann in November for refusing to appear for requested on-the-record testimony about customer allegations concerning potential unsuitable recommendations, unauthorized transactions, excessive trading and private securities transactions, among other violations, per BrokerCheck. Hoffmann was also barred by the Indiana Securities Division in January, per BrokerCheck records. Hoffmann neither admitted nor denied the findings.

The total $1,091,575 award to the clients comprised of $970,107 in compensatory damages and $121,468 in pre-judgment interest, per the award.

Hoffmann forged a relationship with Dielman, a four-time Pro Bowler, that lasted 13 years, according to Dielman’s attorney Robert Traylor of the San Diego-based law firm Stratege Law.

“Over time he essentially remade Dielman’s investment by engaging in short-term trading, and in inappropriate switching of A-share mutual funds,” Traylor says. “Woodbury did nothing despite obvious presence of misconduct that violated the firm’s own procedural and supervisory rules.”

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In total, Hoffmann transferred millions of dollars of Dielman’s investments almost entirely into three variable annuities that were “wholly unsuitable” for an investor in his 30s, says Traylor. While Dielman did not lose the principal, he was charged commission and fees. “The performance was dismal in comparison to a standard, suitable portfolio,” Traylor says.

An attorney for Hoffmann, Adam Wentland, did not return a request for comment.

Another pending disclosure is requesting $3.2 million in damages citing unauthorized trades and churning, per BrokerCheck. Hoffmann began his career with Robert W. Baird in 1999, moving to Woodbury in 2006 and remaining with the firm until 2017, per BrokerCheck.

“Hoffmann was consistently in a bit of compliance trouble, especially with inefficiencies in records and operations and Woodbury just didn’t step up and oversee him in a way that was calculated to catch what was happening,” Traylor says.

Woodbury, along with Questar Capital, agreed to pay more than $3 million in restitution after a former advisor pleaded guilty to a 15-year Ponzi scheme involving bogus CDs and investment funds in March. The independent broker dealer absorbed 51 new advisors from Capital One Investing earlier this year.

A spokeswoman for Woodbury declined to comment citing a company policy regarding litigation.

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Arbitration Compliance Financial regulations Securities fraud Fraud prevention Litigation FINRA Woodbury Financial Services