Dark clouds shadowing IBD owner

Media darling Anastasios “Tommy” Belesis and his firm are being investigated by the FBI, Finra and the SEC

Feb 10, 2013 @ 12:01 am

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 Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. and the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to a report in last Thursday's New York Post.

In addition, the firm promoted at least one “pump and dump” stock scheme and recently filed a complaint with the New York City Police Department against a group of brokers who left the firm in December, claiming that the brokers engaged in theft of property and fraud, according to court documents filed in response to a lawsuit John Thomas filed against the five ex-brokers.

Mr. Belesis didn't return calls seeking comment.

The scope of the reported inquiry into John Thomas Financial isn't clear.

One allegation is that FBI agents have asked whether the firm's brokers told pro-spective buyers of penny stock Grandparents.com Inc. that celebrity television host Regis Philbin had ties to the company, according to the Post.

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

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

And while Mr. Belesis enjoys celebrity and the limelight, his television prospects are in doubt.

Fox Business News spokes-man Brian Lewis didn't respond to calls and e-mails Thursday about Mr. Belesis' potential appearances on the channel, where he is a frequent guest on Neil Cavuto's programs.

Along with Mr. Belesis' regular appearances on cable business news shows, he did a walk-on in the 2010 movie “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and held a rally at John Thomas Financial's offices that year to attempt to return pride and respect to Wall Street.

In 2009, Mr. Belesis received the Bronx GOP Man of the Year Award from former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

BOILER ROOM CHARGES

In testimony by the ex-brokers sued by John Thomas for allegedly stealing proprietary information, Mr. Belesis is portrayed less favorably.

He “runs a boiler room operation like a tyrant,” screaming at reps during the day, according to testimony. “He tells registered reps to essentially ignore their client's investment objectives and tries to push securities on clients that are far from appropriate.”

The suit against the five ex-brokers was filed in January by John Thomas, which is named after Mr. Belesis' grandfathers. The brokers named in the suit, which was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, are Renos Gordos, Rodney Laveau, Anthony Mauiolo, Darren Himmelstein and Keith Williams. John Thomas alleged in the complaint that the five brokers used stolen information to lure away customers, costing John Thomas more than $10 million. The firm they joined, National Securities Corp., also was named.

Richard Roth, the brokers' attorney, said he was appalled at the brokers' treatment.

“John Thomas' aggressive action was astonishing,” Mr. Roth said. “I have never seen such venomous conduct in my career.”

According to the lawyer, John Thomas withdrew the case last week.

CHECKERED PAST

Other controversies have dogged Mr. Belesis in the past.

According to a New York Post article last April, he 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 that he had been involved with marijuana and stealing cars when he was a teenager almost 20 years earlier, according to the Post.

His history in the securities industry is scuffed, as well.

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 Mr. Belesis and a firm where he had worked for $750,000 for alleged churning. A Finra arbitration panel later awarded the client $259,000.

In an interview with InvestmentNews in 2010, Mr. Belesis brushed aside the S.W. Bach firing, saying the firm essentially made a grab for the office of brokers he controlled.

Like other brokers of that era, he blames fallout from the technology market crash as provoking frivolous client lawsuits.

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

bkelly@investmentnews.com Twitter: @bdnewsguy

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