Ex-broker must pay $1 million for US scheme to profit from terminally ill

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A New York broker who participated in a scheme to profit from the death of terminally ill patients through variable annuity sales must return US$768,000 in commissions (S$1.028 million), a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission judge ruled on Wednesday.

SEC chief administrative law judge Brenda Murray, however, stopped short of levying an additional civil fine or barring the broker, citing a 2013 US Supreme Court case that precludes such penalties for conduct that is more than five years old when the SEC launches an enforcement case.

While Ms Murray is unable to bar the broker, Moshe Marc Cohen, securities industry rules could ultimately disqualify him from holding a license because he was found to have engaged in securities fraud.

Cohen, a former Woodbury Financial Services broker, faced off against the SEC in a trial last August. The SEC had alleged that Mr Cohen, of Brooklyn, New York, deceived Woodbury to obtain approval to sell the annuities as part of a scheme designed by a former Los Angeles-based Morgan Stanley broker, Michael Horowitz.

Mr Horowitz reached a US$850,749 settlement in July in which he admitted wrongdoing.

A person who answered the phone at a number registered to Moshe Marc Cohen in Brooklyn, New York, twice hung up.

Variable annuities are investment vehicles designed to help retirees maintain a source of income.

Typically, insurance companies who sell the annuities will agree to make periodic payments to people who purchase the product. But another common practise is a death benefit, in which the insurer pays the policyholder's beneficiary under certain conditions.

Cohen falsified information on forms his brokerage used to review whether the annuity was a suitable investment for the customers, who were hospice patients. His efforts to cover up those actions "support the finding that he understood that what he was doing was wrong and that he acted with the clear intention of deceiving Woodbury," Murray wrote.

Cohen's misconduct occurred in 2008, six years before the SEC's complaint against him in 2014. Cohen has not worked in the brokerage industry since Woodbury terminated him in 2008, according to a regulatory filing.