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Securities Watchdog Agency Awards Nearly $1 Million to Three Tampa Bay REIT Investors

TAMPA, FL--(Marketwired - January 24, 2014) - Two Tampa Bay companies that provide investment advice and services have been ordered to pay more than $900,000 to two trusts and an individual that invested in non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) offered by Inland American Real Estate Trust Inc.

The two local companies are Sterling Enterprises Group Inc. and Retirement Securities Inc. The single investor was Kristopher Brownlow.

The award was made by the Financial Investment Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a congressionally-authorized independent agency which seeks to protect investors by serving as a watchdog for the securities industry.

Attorney Jeffrey Coleman of Clearwater, who represented all three claimants, said the finding and the award should help to encourage confidence in the securities industry.

"People who invest their savings in securities have a right to expect the best professional service and advice," Coleman said. "Advisors must take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously, and must be prepared to pay penalties when they fall short."

In this case, two local trusts, the Derek Mason Trust and the Martha H. Mason Trust, and Kristopher Brownlow, brought complaints before FINRA, claiming that they lost money because of investments recommended by Sterling Enterprises Group Inc. and Retirement Securities Inc.

According to FINRA documents, the investments were made in two non-tradable REITS offered by American Real Estate Trust Inc.; Inland Western Real Estate Investment Trust and Inland American Real Estate Investment Trust.

At a FINRA dispute resolution hearing, the claimants claimed the investment advisors should pay damages because they were negligent; breached their fiduciary duty; engaged in common law fraud; breached contracts; and violated the Florida Securities and Investor Protection Act.

All of those allegations were dismissed except for the alleged violation of the Florida Securities and Investor Protection Act.

The claimants asked for damages in the amount of $1 million, as well as costs, filing fees and attorney fees.

With more than $11 billion in real estate assets, Inland Real Estate Trust Inc. is among the nation's largest non-traded REITs.

Investors found such non-traded REITs to be particularly attractive in early 2012, and they invested about $3.3 billion in such REITs in the first three months of that year. But many non-traded REITs have suspended distributions, something that has drawn the attention of securities regulators. Investors have found that they can't liquidate their REIT investments because they are not traded on any exchanges.

Many of those REIT products have been sold to retirees by retail brokerage firms such as Sterling Enterprises Group Inc. and Retirement Securities Inc., who promised dependable returns.

The Coleman Law Firm has provided knowledgeable advice and representation to the people of Florida for more than 15 years. The firm focuses on helping victims of misrepresentation and securities fraud seek retribution against the stockbrokers and financial institutions with whom they invested their hard-earned money. 

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