Gary Len Wells, a Tacoma, Washington-based advisor of Wells Fargo Advisors has been suspended by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). This is in addition to the imposition of a $20,000 fine.
The disciplinary action has been taken against Wells for violating the policies of Wells Fargo as well as industry rules that govern potential customer conflicts. In this case, the conflict stems from his acceptance of a $600,000 gift by a long-time client.
About Gary Len Wells
Wells has over 37 years of experience in the industry and began his career with Dean Witter Reynolds in Purchase, New York in 1983. In 1996 he moved to A.G. Edwards & Sons in Tacoma, Washington in 1996, according to BrokerCheck. A.G. Edwards is a predecessor of Wells Fargo.
Wells worked with the private client group of Wells Fargo till he became an independent broker with Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network in 2015. He shifted to FiNet in 2015 and remained there until his termination.
Wells was fired in 2019 for “accessing a client’s safe and taking custody of cash contained therein before depositing the cash into the customer’s account” and “accepting a bequest from the estate of a client serviced at a prior firm.”
It is not clear from the settlement how this transaction was identified. However, it does seem that the enforcement action “originated from a review conducted in connection with information received by FINRA’s Senior Helpline.”
Wells joined the Tacoma office of Atlanta-based American Wealth Management in March of 2020. He was listed there as a registered representative until the 16th of April.
Gary Wells Complaint
The fact of Wells being named in the will had come to the notice of Wells Fargo when the brother of the deceased had complained to them about it, in 2012. That had resulted in a warning to the broker.
When the customer died at the age of 92, in 2014, Wells Fargo reversed the credit that had been given to Wells’ account for his share of the estate. However, Wells proceeded to accept three cheques from the estate of the deceased and banked them in a personal account not connected with Wells Fargo.
On an annual compliance questionnaire, however, he affirmed that he had not received any money.
FINRA noted the circumvention of the employer in accepting the bequest as violative of the ’high standards’ as specified in FINRA’s rule 2010.
Now ex-broker Wells has accepted the sanctions without denying or admitting the findings. Neither he nor his lawyer Leila Shave was available for comments. A Wells Fargo spokesperson has also refused to comment on the case. It is also not known if the estate is seeking a return of the funds.
An implication for Wells is that he must pay the fine if he seeks to re-enter the brokerage industry.
Department of Financial Institutions’ Securities Divisions initiates action
Washington State’s Department of Financial Institutions’ Securities Divisions has also jumped into the fray. Firstly, they have issued their own statement of charges in December 2020 that pertain to the allegations for which FINRA has already taken action. Secondly, they have also found another suspicious case involving Wells. Here, it appears that in 2014, Wells moved the assets of a 93-year old client into fee-based advisory products that are more costly, without the presence of any reasonable grounds for doing so. The annual fees paid by the widow almost doubled as a result of this move.
The statement of charges declares their intention to deny Wells’ the opportunity to represent either American Wealth or another broker-dealer in the next 5 years.
Wells has sought a hearing about their charges. Proceedings are likely to be scheduled soon.