On September 9, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that they were bringing fraud charges against a Maryland-based financial services firm and its founder/CEO. Dawn J. Bennett, personally, and as CEO of the Bennett Group Financial Services, allegedly made material misstatements and omissions between 2009–2011. In an effort to attract new clients to her fledgling investment advisory business, Bennett lured new clients with claims of industry success and impressive investment returns.
Bennett and her firm knowingly made misstatements about their managed assets to three media organizations. As a result, the media organizations ranked Bennett fifth in the category of “top 100 Women Financial Advisors” and second in its listing of the “2011 Top Advisor” in Washington DC. Bennett used these distinctions to publicize her success to existing and prospective clients. In 2010, the Bennett Group paid to appear in a weekly radio show on an AM radio station in the Washington D.C. area. Bennett hosted the radio show called Financial Myth Busting with Dawn Bennett. She also determined all of the show’s content. Bennett used this platform to falsely claim that she and the Bennett Group managed assets ranging from $1.5 billion to more than $2 billion. In reality Bennett and the Bennett Group did not provide any form of management for assets exceeding approximately $407 million. Additionally, Bennett touted the Bennett Group’s investment returns and performance during the radio show’s broadcast. However, she failed to disclose that the returns were calculated for a model portfolio, in which only a small portion of her customers participated. The same fraudulent claims were published on the radio show’s Facebook page.
During the SEC’s investigation, Bennett and her firm made additional false statements in an effort to substantiate their prior fraudulent claims about the amount of managed assets. Bennett and her firm falsely asserted that they gave advice about short term cash management to three corporate clients regarding more than $1.5 billion in corporate assets. In reality, they never provided such advice. The matter will be scheduled for a public hearing before an administrative law judge for proceedings to adjudicate the Enforcement Division’s allegations and determine what, if any, remedial actions are appropriate. The Director of the SEC’s Philadelphia Regional office said “The investing public is entitled to a level of confidence that information they receive about brokerage and advisory services is accurate, and this case shows that so-called financial experts on the radio are often merely advertisers who may not be doing so truthfully.”