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Tampa’s James Cordier sued over ‘catastrophic loss’ in options trading

Three Texans were among 300 clients who lost all of their investments.
James Cordier, the founder of OptionSellers.com, apologized in an emotional YouTube video in November 2018 that losses from bad bets on energy prices would likely lead to the demise of his firm. [YOUTUBE]
James Cordier, the founder of OptionSellers.com, apologized in an emotional YouTube video in November 2018 that losses from bad bets on energy prices would likely lead to the demise of his firm. [YOUTUBE]
Published Dec. 24, 2019

Three Texas men have sued James Cordier and his Tampa-based company, alleging that his “grossly speculative” strategy for trading options cost them more than $2.2 million.

In a recent lawsuit filed in federal court in Texas, the men said Cordier told them he had developed a "time tested method'' for trading options that minimized risk through diversification. But, the suit said, he departed from that approach so drastically that clients’ accounts were wiped out in November 2018 when he bet wrong on the prices of just two related commodities, natural gas and crude oil.

Cordier made headlines a few days later when, in a surreal video posted on YouTube, he apologized for being unable to navigate "the rogue wave (that) capsized our boat.'' Among the 300 clients who lost a total of more than $200 million was Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

How Tampa’s James Cordier went from high roller to YouTube apology after losing $150 million

Cordier founded OptionSellers, named for the financial tool that gives investors the right to buy or sell stocks or commodities at a fixed price. In 2017, the suit says, the Texans received solicitations from the company with Cordier touting his "submarine'' approach to trading. It called for investing in five or six unrelated commodities; if one commodity experienced adverse price movements, the other commodities would buoy the "submarine'' (a client’s account) and keep it from sinking.

One of the plaintiffs, Anthony Tristani, authorized Cordier to trade $1 million in his account while Radford Tarry and Mark Marshall each authorized trading of up to $500,000.

Using an approach “diametrically opposite'' of the diversification strategy he touted, Cordier had "over concentrated'' the men’s accounts in crude oil and natural gas futures by the end of October 2018, the suit says. At that time, natural gas prices began to rise based on reports that parts of the country would have a colder than expected winter.

Cordier, on his clients’ behalf, bet that natural gas prices would drop. But between Nov. 13 and 15, the price shot up another 25 percent, wiping out all of the clients’ investments. Worsening their predicament, many also had borrowed from a New York brokerage to try to stem their options losses and would have to pay back the brokerage.

"The investor losses were completely avoidable,'' the suit says. "(Cordier) implemented and then failed to react to a dangerously escalating concentration of risk in natural gas call options over a period of almost two weeks ... and failed to monitor the sharp increase'’ in the borrowed amounts.

The suit, which seeks more than $2 million plus damages, also alleges that Cordier failed to disclose that he had been the subject of consumer complaints, regulatory investigations and lawsuits regarding his investment management and advice. Cordier, who lives in a waterfront home in Apollo Beach, closed his offices in a downtown Tampa tower after the debacle. Neither he nor his wife could be reached via phone numbers linked to their names, Cordier did not respond to an email seeking comment and an attorney representing Cordier did not return a call.

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