South Miami securities litigator Michael E. Criden filed a class action lawsuit against a Chicago-based commodities trader whose funds reportedly lost 80 percent of their value in three days.
Criden represents lead plaintiff Leonard Sokolow in the suit pending in Illinois against LJM Funds Management Ltd. and its affiliates. His firm filed the complaint along with Scott + Scott litigator Thomas Laughlin in New York alleging violation of federal securities laws. Their client is the president and CEO of Boca Raton-based financial advisory and brokerage Newbridge Financial Inc., who claimed a $90,000 investment with LJM Funds whittled to about $18,000 from Feb. 5 to 7.
If certified, the class would represent investors who purchased shares of the LJM Preservation and Growth Fund, or LJMIX, from Feb. 28, 2015, to Feb. 7, 2018.
Sokolow invested in options — derivative securities linked to contracts that give investors the choice, or option, to buy or sell underlying assets at a set price by a predetermined date. His lawsuit alleges LJM portfolio managers assured they had hedged the investments to protect against extreme market volatility, but that claim proved unfounded when the leading indicator of U.S. equities, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, plunged nearly 5 percent Feb. 5.
LJM’s website invites potential clients to “harness volatility with liquid alternatives.” Sokolow’s lawsuit claims the company promoted the investments as conservative offerings until the market rout exposed a vulnerability as the LJMIX mutual fund share price tumbled to $1.94 on Feb. 7, down from $9.82 days earlier.
“Had they been hedged appropriately, even with severe market correction … they wouldn’t have lost so much,” Criden said. “These investments were not represented to be inherently risky. That was the attraction.”
The Morningstar Analyst Rating, which measures funds’ risk-adjusted returns, downgraded LJMIX from neutral to negative, citing “steep losses, poor risk controls and inadequate oversight.”
LJM Funds did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and no attorney has entered an appearance on its behalf in the case filed Feb. 9 and pending before U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. in Chicago.
But the company’s parent, LJM Partners Inc., posted a pop-up on its website requiring users to acknowledge a disclaimer about investment risks before entering.
“The risk of loss in trading commodities can be substantial. You should therefore carefully consider whether such trading is suitable for you in light of your financial condition,” the notice reads. “The high degree of leverage that is often obtainable in commodity trading can work against you as well as for you. The use of leverage can lead to large losses as well as gains. In some cases, managed commodity accounts are subject to substantial charges for management and advisory fees. It may be necessary for those accounts that are subject to these charges to make substantial trading profits to avoid depletion or exhaustion of their assets.”
Law firm advertisements suggest LJM could face multiple suits.
New York-based Bronstein Gewirtz & Grossman issued a Feb. 12 alert to participants interested in its class action. Meanwhile, an ad on Google from Girard Gibbs invites potential plaintiffs to “talk to a securities lawyer” at the firm’s California or New York offices.
“Our attorneys are investigating claims on behalf of investors of LJM Preservation and Growth Fund (LJMIX) for possible violations of federal securities laws,” according to a posting on the firm’s website.
“The world realized … the protection that was supposed to be in place in the fund just didn’t exist,” Criden said. “It’s obvious that they didn’t adhere to the investment strategy. Otherwise these losses could never have happened — not to this extent.”
Sokolow’s suit names as defendants investment adviser LJM Funds, parent company LJM Partners Inc., chairman Anthony Caine, chief portfolio manager Anish Parvataneni, underwriter and national distributor Northern Lights Distributors LLC, registrant Two Roads Shared Trust, its chairman Mark Gertsen, president Andrew Rogers, treasurer James Colatino and trustees Anita Krug, Neil Kaufman and Mark Garbin. The three-count complaint alleges violations of Sections 11, 12 and 15 of the Securities Act of 1933.