Belesis under Finra microscope

Regulator alleges that John Thomas CEO orchestrated pump and dump

Feb 17, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Bruce Kelly

Finra is investigating Anastasios “Tommy” Belesis, owner and chief executive of John Thomas Financial, for his role in an alleged pump-and-dump stock scheme.

Last month, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. sent Mr. Belesis a Wells notice, according to his profile on BrokerCheck. A Wells notice from Finra signifies that the self-regulator may commence disciplinary proceedings.

Finra alleges that Mr. Belesis, a regular guest on the Fox Business Network, employed manipulative and potentially fraudulent means to buy and sell stock, the earmarks of a pump-and-dump scheme.

Mr. Belesis “willfully or recklessly sold a substantial portion of a firm proprietary position while failing to execute customer orders to sell shares of the same stock at prices that would have satisfied the unexecuted orders,” according to Broker-Check.

He also allegedly “failed to follow instructions by the customers to sell the shares.”

In addition, Finra claims that Mr. Belesis artificially inflated the price of stock.

“Finra staff has advised that it intends to recommend that a proceeding be brought making allegations along the lines set forth in the notification,” John Thomas Financial spokes-man David Pitts said.

“It is the policy of John Thomas Financial not to comment on pending regulatory matters. If a proceeding is brought, JTF intends to vigorously contest and defend the matter.”

This month, the New York Post reported that Mr. Belesis is under investigation by the FBI, Finra and the Securities and Exchange -Commission.

InvestmentNews also reported that several ex-brokers of John Thomas Financial had filed court affidavits stating that Mr. Belesis ran a pump-and-dump stock scheme.

The alleged scheme involved Liberty Silver Corp., a penny stock that the SEC ordered to stop trading for two weeks in October.

Those court filings were part of a response to a lawsuit filed against the brokers by John Thomas Financial.

Meanwhile, the firm's management thinks that “there is not a stitch of evidence that any sort of Justice Department inquiry is ongoing. No one at JTF has been contacted,” Mr. Pitts said.

“We doubt the Justice Department is in the habit of leaking inquiries, and if an inquiry was going to be leaked, that it would be to the New York Post. Notably, the Post does not state that its source is anyone in the Justice Department,” Mr. Pitts said.

“JTF has reason to believe that a disgruntled former employee, who was terminated for cause at JTF's request for improper conduct, is at the root of this rumor,” he said. “JTF is taking appropriate legal action against him.”

Finra also alleges that Mr. Belesis made “material misrepresentations to customers, registered reps and Finra about the reasons why the customer orders had not been executed.”

The industry regulator also accused the firm of falsifying or failing to keep pertinent records of the stock orders in question.

ANOTHER FIRM

Meanwhile, some members of the firm's investment banking team have left to work under the aegis of another small New York brokerage firm, Corinthian Partners LLC.

Avi Mirman, the former managing director of investment banking at the now-defunct GunnAllen Financial Inc., joined Corinthian on Feb. 8.

John Thomas has strong connections to Corinthian. Mr. Belesis' brother, George, is president of John Thomas Financial but also a minority owner of Corinthian through an outside holding company.

Tommy Belesis has no stake in Corinthian.

Corinthian occupies space in John Thomas' Wall Street offices.

“I think they're trying to slither away to Corinthian,” said Richard Roth, an attorney who represented the former John Thomas Financial brokers in the suit.

Mr. Roth said that the suit was dropped, but Mr. Pitts said that wasn't the case.

John Thomas' problems likely will drag on, Mr. Roth said.

“I don't think the Wells notice is the end of the investigation,” he said.

bkelly@investmentnews.com Twitter: @bdnewsguy

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