Former Merrill Lynch broker banned for stealing $1M from clients

Banned from industry for stealing funds to invest in company, buy condo and pickup

By Trevor Hunnicutt

Nov 6, 2013 @ 2:51 pm (Updated 3:47 pm) EST

The Securities and Exchange Commission has banned a former Bank of America Merrill Lynch broker from the securities industry for stealing from clients.

Federal prosecutors said James R. Lanier of Tallahassee, Fla., forged his clients' signatures on letters authorizing wire transfers from their accounts to his.

Authorities said Mr. Lanier illegally used nearly $1 million in client funds to invest in a cellular telecommunications business, as well as to buy a condominium and pickup truck, among other uses.

“Lanier's unlawful conduct was recurring and egregious,” SEC Administrative Law Judge Carol Fox Foelak wrote in a decision filed on Tuesday that was not contested by Mr. Lanier. “Extending over a period of several years, it involved hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Mr. Lanier pleaded guilty to 22 counts of fraud and related charges last November. He was sentenced to 8 years and 10 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $887,931 in restitution.

William P. Halldin, a spokesman for Bank of America Corp., which owns Merrill, said the company has already reimbursed the victims and that the bank is owed the restitution amount. Bank of America learned that the money was misappropriated in March 2010 and notified authorities, Mr. Halldin said.

Mr. Lanier was employed by Merrill between September 2008 and March 2010, authorities said.

Efforts to reach Mr. Lanier or a lawyer working on his behalf were unsuccessful.