A dismissed area Morgan Stanley broker found guilty of charges ranging from elder exploitation to unjust enrichment wants her reputation and compensation back.
Ami Forte, the former prominent financial adviser who handled hundreds of millions of dollars for Home Shopping Network co-founder Roy Speer, has filed a multimillion-dollar securities arbitration case against former employer Morgan Stanley. She says the company unjustly fired and penalized her. She says the basis for the arbitrator's decision was Morgan Stanley's conduct after she was no longer managing the Speer investment accounts.
Her claim was filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. FINRA is the same organization whose three-person arbitration panel ruled two months ago against Forte, Morgan Stanley and others working for the Wall Street brokerage in a claim brought by Roy Speer's widow, Lynnda Speer. That panel awarded Lynnda Speer $32.8 million, plus costs and legal fees, in a case that lasted from January 2015 to February 2016 and involved 142 hearing sessions spanning 70 days, 35 witnesses and boxes of evidentiary exhibits.
Forte was romantically involved with Roy Speer for most of the time she was handling the investment of his fortune. Speer died in 2012 at 80 after suffering years of diminishing mental capacity.
Forte and another broker who worked with her were fired by Morgan Stanley days after the March FINRA ruling. Forte had worked at Morgan Stanley for 16 years. She says her dismissal prevented her from receiving millions in deferred compensation and other benefits.
"It's just not right," Forte told the Associated Press in an interview. "I have been a loyal employee, I loved that company. I've done everything for them. When times were tough, I rallied the troops."
Forte also says in her claim that she had ended her intimate relationship with Roy Speer in 2007, five years before Speer's death and before his mental deterioration. She also says she was not handling his money in the latter years, having passed that responsibility on to Chuck Lawrence, another Morgan Stanley broker.
Those claims may be challenging to prove because they appear to differ from the voluminous evidence and thousands of pages of transcripts detailing the first FINRA case brought by Lynnda Speer. Further, the final award of $32.8 million plus legal fees has already been paid by Morgan Stanley, making it difficult at best for Forte and her lawyer now to contest the findings of that extended hearing.
Indeed, Morgan Stanley issued a statement Tuesday reinforcing that point.
"Ms. Forte's claims overlook the fact that she was already adjudicated as jointly liable for the award based on her conduct. Despite this, Ms. Forte has failed to contribute anything to the amount awarded, and has also failed to repay substantial sums loaned to her in connection with her employment," the Wall Street brokerage stated. "We categorically reject her claims against Morgan Stanley and look forward to addressing all these issues at a hearing on the merits."
Forte's own 26-page FINRA claim against Morgan Stanley states "this is a story of betrayal resulting from Morgan Stanley's dishonorable and unjust conduct in its disparate and reprehensible treatment" of Forte.
On many occasions, at Morgan's request, Forte's claim states, she willingly lectured to audiences "because Morgan told her 'we love you' and we know you're going to do great."
The claim states Morgan Stanley has made a "blatant grab" for compensation owed Forte while the brokerage also demands she pay for part of the $32.8 million award the company was required to make to Roy Speer's wife and his estate. Forte says Morgan Stanley's reasons for her being fired, now cited in an industry filing detailing her termination, are false.
"This has resulted in embarrassment," Forte's claim states, because she cannot find work in the securities industry and because she has been asked to step down from prominent boards and charities in Pinellas County, where she lives.
During the original FINRA arbitration involving Roy Speer's accounts, Forte says Morgan Stanley was reassuring and supportive, refusing "to believe she had engaged in any wrongdoing." But after the arbitration panel's decision and multimillion-dollar award to Speer's widow, Forte says her prompt termination by Morgan Stanley made it appear that she was guilty.
While the $32.8 million award to Lynnda Speer sounds large, it could have been significantly more. If punitive damages had been added, Morgan Stanley, Forte and others involved in the case could have faced an award approaching $400 million. The actual award is approximately what Morgan Stanley, Forte and others received in commissions from aggressive trading in Speer's accounts over the past several years.
Forte's claim states Morgan Stanley was pleased the award ended up on the small side. "Privately and in some cases publicly," Forte's claim states, "Morgan Stanley was exuberant about the result in the Speer arbitration" and had been prepared to offer more in settlement than the FINRA panel chose to award.
Morgan Stanley declined to comment.
Forte told the AP that she had looked up to Roy Speer. "He was my mentor. He was an absolutely brilliant man. We were dear friends until the end."
Forte's new FINRA claim may face an uphill struggle to regain what the former broker says is lost.
"Ms. Forte's stellar reputation in the investment community and the Tampa Bay area," her claim states, "has been severely compromised."
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.