Broker Ami Forte out at Morgan Stanley after $34 million award to widow of HSN founder Roy Speer

The $34M award in her elder exploitation of HSN's late co-founder leads to her exit from Morgan Stanley.
Published March 24 2016
Updated March 25 2016

Morgan Stanley no longer employs Palm Harbor broker Ami Forte, a once top-producing and high-profile money adviser. Forte's exit come just days after an arbitration panel ordered the Wall Street investment firm to pay more than $34 million to the estate of deceased Home Shopping Network (today known as HSN Inc.) co-founder Roy M. Speer and his foundation.

"I can confirm she is no longer employed," Morgan Stanley spokeswoman Christine Jockle responded Thursday by email.

Speer's widow, Lynnda Speer, had alleged there was excessive and unauthorized trading in her husband's accounts by Forte, Roy Speer's broker since the late 1990s, and his former mistress, even after the HSN executive suffered from diminished capacity. Speer died at age 80 in 2012.

The arbitration panel of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, ruled that Morgan Stanley, Forte and branch manager Terry McCoy were jointly guilty of elder exploitation, breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud, unauthorized trading and churning, along with negligence, negligent supervision and unjust enrichment.

The arbitrators denied Forte and McCoy's requests for expungement of the violations from their Finra records. As is typical of such arbitration findings, the three-person panel did not explain its decision. Members had presided over 142 hearing sessions on this case running since January 2015 to February of this year.

The Finra panel awarded Speer's estate $32.8 million in damages plus interest, along with $1.5 million in other costs, as well as attorneys' fees, according to the award document. The complainants had asked for $118 million in compensatory damages and close to triple that amount in punitive damages, which they said were required by Florida statutes relating to elder abuse. The panel denied those punitive damage claims.

McCoy remains employed at Morgan Stanley. Forte, 58, could not be reached for comment but earlier this week had declined to speak about the Finra ruling.

"I am very pleased the arbitrators realized Ms. Forte and her colleagues at Morgan Stanley breached their fiduciary duties to Roy and his foundation, and exploited him during a time of his continuing mental and physical decline," Lynnda Speer said in a prepared statement earlier this week.

Forte entered the brokerage business in 1994 as a telemarketer, making cold calls to strangers, trying to persuade them to buy municipal bonds. She turned out to be good at it. By 2008, the Tampa Bay Times reported at the time, she was managing about $1 billion for clients, had a $5 million minimum for new accounts and was the only Tampa Bay broker to make repeated appearances on either of Barron's two annual lists of the country's top financial advisers.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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