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Clouds gathering over independent B-D owner Belesis

New report indicates FBI, SEC and Finra are all taking a look

Feb 7, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

By Bruce Kelly

The future of independent broker-dealer owner and media darling Anastasios “Tommy” Belesis appears extremely cloudy.

His firm, John Thomas Financial, is being investigated by the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc., according to a report in Thursday's New York Post.

Mr. Belesis did not return calls Thursday to answer questions about the reported probe of his firm, which is headquartered on Wall Street and overlooks the New York Stock Exchange.

The scope of the alleged inquiry into John Thomas Financial is not clear. One allegation is that FBI agents have asked whether the firm's brokers told prospective buyers of penny stock Grandparents.com that celebrity television host Regis Philbin had ties to the company, according to the Post.

Finra spokeswoman Nancy Condon, SEC spokeswoman Florence Harmon and FBI spokesman Martin Feely all declined to comment.

What is certain is that Mr. Belesis has had an unusual Wall Street career and would like the public to believe that JTF's executives and brokers are cast more in the mold of Warren Buffett than if Gordon Gekko.

And while he enjoys celebrity and the limelight, his television prospects are in doubt. Fox Business News spokesman Brian Lewis did not respond to calls and emails Thursday about Mr. Belesis' potential appearances on the channel, where he is a frequent guest of Neil Cavuto.

Along with his regular appearances on cable business-news shows, he did a walk-on in Oliver Stone's 2010 movie, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” and held a rally at John Thomas' Wall Street offices earlier that year to attempt to return pride and respect to Wall Street. In 2009, Mr. Belesis was given the Bronx GOP Man of the Year Award by Rudy Giuliani.

His past has also proved controversial. According to a New York Post article last April, Mr. Belesis testified in 2011 as a government witness in a case in which a childhood friend had been charged in a triple homicide. During the trial, Mr. Belesis told the jury he had been involved with marijuana and stealing cars when he was a teenager — almost 20 years earlier, according to the Post.

Mr. Belesis also has a scuff-marked history in the securities industry.

S.W. Bach & Co. fired him in 2005 because of an “inaccurate representation of identity to customer,” according to Mr. Belesis' record on Finra's BrokerCheck system. In 2001, a client sued him and a firm where he had worked for $750,000 for churning. A Finra arbitration panel later awarded the client $259,000. Mr. Belesis and other firms he's worked for have settled two other Finra arbitration claims totaling nearly $100,000, Finra records show. He paid $46,000 as his share of the settlements.

In an interview with InvestmentNews in 2010, Mr. Belesis brushed aside the S.W. Bach firing, saying that the firm was essentially making a grab for the office of brokers he controlled. Like other brokers of that era, he blamed fallout from the tech market crash as provoking frivolous client lawsuits.

Since then, John Thomas' Finra record has sprouted blemishes stemming from failures to disclose fees to clients about transaction charges.

The Arkansas Securities Department fined John Thomas $25,000 last year for allegedly not properly disclosing to clients handling fees for stock orders. The Connecticut Banking Department fined the firm $20,000 over similar failures on fee disclosures, and Finra fined it $275,000 for “postage and handling” violations.

It is also clear that John Thomas is connected with GunnAllen Financial Inc., the independent broker-dealer whose sales of fraudulent private placements preceded its spectacular failure in 2010.

John Thomas' head of investment banking, Avi Mirman, and compliance consultant, Rick Nummi, both worked at GunnAllen. The former, who joined the firm last month, worked for GunnAllen in 2005 and 2006. The latter joined this winter after being with GunnAllen from 2003 to 2005.

In 2006, Finra precursor NASD suspended Mr. Nummi for two months and fined him $45,000 for allegedly failing to maintain and enforce supervisory procedures to oversee unauthorized trading by the firm's reps.

Mr. Belesis seems to have some explaining to do. His next appearance on television or film should be a good one.

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