Ami Forte, broker at heart of $34 million Finra award, hired by Pinnacle Investments

Former Morgan Stanley broker was accused of churning account held by late founder of Home Shopping Network

Mar 13, 2018 @ 2:32 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

A broker at the heart of a multimillion-dollar Finra arbitration award involving the founder of the Home Shopping Network was hired Tuesday by Pinnacle Investments to develop its operations in Florida.

Ami Forte joined the broker-dealer and investment advisory firm as chief development officer and a financial adviser. She is described in a Pinnacle news release as "one of the financial services industry's most successful women advisors."

But controversy has dogged Ms. Forte.

In March 2016, a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. arbitration panel awarded $34 million to the estate of Roy M. Speer, the late founder of the Home Shopping Network, in a case involving Ms. Forte, her former broker-dealer Morgan Stanley and branch manager Terry McCoy. The panel found they were jointly liable for unauthorized trading, breach of fiduciary duty/constructive fraud, negligence, negligent supervision and unjust enrichment. The arbitrators also found that Morgan Stanley violated a Florida law against exploitation of vulnerable adults.

Ms. Forte was Mr. Speer's broker, and was alleged to be in a relationship with him. Morgan Stanley fired Ms. Forte a few days after the arbitration award was announced.

Ms. Forte's current BrokerCheck profile and the Securities and Exchange Commission's Investment Adviser Public Disclosure database show that she was not registered with either regulator at the time of Pinnacle's announcement of her hiring Tuesday, which was first reported by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

"As with any new hire, Pinnacle is in the process of registering Ms. Forte with the appropriate regulators," Elizabeth Bartlett, chief business development officer at Pinnacle's parent company, Pinnacle Holding Co., wrote in an email. "Once completed, Ms. Forte will be able to fulfill her duties as a financial adviser."

Robert Pearl, an attorney who represents Ms. Forte, said she planned to file her Form U4 with Finra on Tuesday.

But Ms. Forte may have Finra disciplinary matters looming.

In January, the broker-dealer self-regulator opened an investigation of possible Finra rule violations by Ms. Forte.

"If there is an investigation, Pinnacle believes Ms. Forte will be fully vindicated," Ms. Bartlett said.

Mr. Pearl agreed: "There's no merit to any regulatory concern."

Finra declined to comment on the probe targeting Ms. Forte.

Pinnacle reviewed Ms. Forte's background before hiring her, Ms. Bartlett said.

"Throughout her career, Ami has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to her clients' best interests," Ms. Bartlett said in Pinnacle's news release. "As is our policy with any potential new hire, we conducted extensive due diligence and found that Ami's professional track record and dedication to clients and her community were a perfect match for Pinnacle's service-focused culture."

Ms. Forte, based in Tampa, praised Pinnacle for giving opportunities to women.

"It's refreshing to be part of a financial-services firm where women are represented throughout the organization, from support positions up to and including the boardroom, and where their voices and ideas are genuinely valued," Ms. Forte said in Pinnacle's news release.

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