High-living broker Cliff Popper commits suicide in Florida

He was the center of the downfall of Brookstreet Securities in 2007

By Bruce Kelly

Jan 6, 2012 @ 3:41 pm (Updated 4:20 pm) EST

Cliff Popper, a broker notorious for high living and high commissions from sales of mortgage-backed securities, committed suicide Tuesday, according to a preliminary report from the Highland Beach (Fla.) Police Department.

His body was found at his condominium Tuesday.

Just last month, Mr. Popper defended himself at his federal civil fraud trial in West Palm Beach.

Mr. Popper, who had offices in Coral Springs and Boca Raton, Fla., was the broker at the center of the downfall of Brookstreet Securities Corp., which collapsed in 2007 after its clearing firm, National Financial Services LLC, made a margin call on accounts with collateralized mortgage obligations. His team at Brookstreet was instrumental in selling those CMOs, according to Securities and Exchange Commission complaints.

With 500 representatives at the time, Brookstreet was the first notable collapse in a string of failures of an independent broker-dealer from the sale of a specific high-risk product.

In May 2009, the SEC charged Mr. Popper and nine other brokers with misleading people into putting their life savings into investments that collapsed along with the real estate market. In all, 750 people bought the CMOs, according to the SEC, and clients who had margin accounts lost over $36 million.

Mr. Popper and his team made more than $18 million in salary and commissions on the mortgage-backed securities in just three years, according to the SEC.

He was well-known in the brokerage industry for his “rock star” tastes and lifestyle.

Mr. Popper drove a BMW Z8, entertained clients in a sky box at Sun Life Stadium and owned a $2.4 million condominium on South Beach, according to the Miami Herald.

In a story about stretch limousines from The New York Times in January 2005, he said that he had rented a stretch Bentley limousine to take clients to the Hawaiian Tropic model party the weekend of Super Bowl XXXIX. The limo cost $2,000.

“It makes a statement. It turns heads and it's equated with being successful,” Mr. Popper told the Times.

“It's the premier event in this country in terms of visibility, so you want to be in sync with that,” Mr. Popper told the publication.

According to the Herald, he represented himself in the SEC matter, arguing in court that he never should have been charged.

Mr. Popper began his career in the securities industry in 1983 with Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc., according to his profile on BrokerCheck. He worked for 20 firms, with the last being Workman Securities Corp. in 2008. He had not worked in the securities industry since.

Mr. Popper said that he “never made any intentional misrepresentations to anyone,” and his business was hit by the same market force that wiped out big firms such as The Bear Stearns Cos. Inc. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Jeffrey Kaplan, a former lawyer for Mr. Popper, didn't return a call Friday afternoon seeking comment.

But Mr. Kaplan told the Herald that Mr. Popper was recently “under a massive amount of personal stress.”