Arkansas Business reports that the Arkansas Securities Department is seeking to suspend or revoke the license of St. Bernard Financial, the Russellville-based securities firm that employed Steele Stephens during part of the time when he made $2.5 million in commissions from business with state Treasurer Martha Shoffner. The firm contends it has no culpability for Stephens’ actions.
Robert Keenan, CEO of St. Bernard, has told me since I first began writing about Stephens’ extraordinary share of state business in 2011 that his firm was guilty of no wrongdoing. Before Shoffner was arrested, he argued that the firm offered lower-cost commissions than competitors. After Shoffner’s arrest and the publication of allegations that Stephens had been giving Shoffner cash as his share of business grew, Keenan said that he was unaware of improprieties. Stephens quit the firm after Shoffner was arrested. She’s on trial for taking money for business in federal court and that case could wrap up today.
The Securities Department, in a filing Feb. 11, says that St. Bernard failed to properly supervise Stephens. The Securities Department has also suspended the broker-dealer and investment adviser registrations of W. David Crain, a CPA who worked at St. Bernard, for failing to cooperate with the investigation. (UPDATE: Keenan sent a note in which he said Crain resigned Jan. 26 and, “His deal with the Ark Securities Dept. is unrelated to the Shoffner mess.”)
Keenan has also filed an ethics complaint against Abshure. He complains that Abshure had contacted customers to attempt to get them to make complaints against St. Bernard. Keenan said he believed Abshure was trying to generate fines.
The Securities Department documents show that it gave notice to Keenan of a possible complaint Jan. 3. It cited unsuitable trading — no real benefits from the trades for the treasurer. The trades also caused losses for the state, but profits for St. Bernard. The trades were not made for state liquidity reasons, the letter noted. It said, too, that the firm had mischaracterized trades as generating large profits.
UPDATE: Keenan wrote further about the suspension of Crain.
He is a CPA in the middle of tax season. He is a very low producer. He was very upset that the ASD was writing and calling our clients asking them to file complaints against me. His clients got several of the letters and calls. The ASD decided to inspect his branch office on very short notice. He said they needed to wait until after tax season, after all they had never inspected his office in the 10 years it has been registered. They said no! – now!
He said to hell with it and resigned.
Notice that he isn’t being accused of anything other than failing to go along with a branch inspection on very short notice. Also notice that someone tipped you off to this, probably in an effort to make me look bad – after all, this isn’t on the ASD website or in a press release.
Keenan didn’t respond to my request for comment on the investigative issues, beyond this:
I found out in the Shoffner trial that the FBI tapped my emails and some or all of my phones last year to keep up with Steele Stephens. Now I know why they never called me – they knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.