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High-profile broker Buck faces rash of complaints

June 9, 2015

Several investors have filed complaints against veteran money manager Thomas J. Buck in the wake of his high-profile termination from Merrill Lynch in March, presenting possible problems for the investment broker in his new job at RBC Wealth Management.

According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, investors filed five complaints against Buck between March 23 and May 4, alleging unauthorized trading, misrepresentation and other improprieties dating back to 2006.

Merrill Lynch terminated Buck, 61, on March 4 citing its "loss of confidence" in him after 34 years with the firm. The Indianapolis office of RBC hired him in early April.

One of the complaints alleges that Buck engaged in "excessive trading and unsuitable investment recommendations from January 2006 to March 2015," the filing said. The investor behind that filing is seeking $125,000 in damages.

So far, regulators have denied one of the complaints waged against Buck. The four others are pending.

Mark Maddox, a former Indiana securities commissioner, said the complaints may have been sparked by Merrill's investigation or news stories about Buck's firing, but his biggest problem "is potentially going to be with FINRA."

"There has to be a FINRA investigation triggered by his termination," Maddox said, "and as FINRA conducts that investigation, it will undoubtedly look into these customer complaints, too."

Reached by phone, Buck said he was not allowed to comment on the complaints due to company policy. Merrill Lynch declined to comment.

A spokeswoman with RBC wouldn't directly comment on the complaints, but said in a written statement: "Mr. Buck has a long history in this industry and solid reputation of providing excellent client service. We are pleased to welcome him and his team to RBC Wealth Management-U.S."

Buck was regarded as one of Merrill's heavyweight brokers. At one point he had $1.5 billion in client assets under management, according to Barron's, and his roughly 500 clients had a typical net worth of $10 million. The news organization named him the top financial adviser in Indiana in every year from 2009 to 2013.

But Merrill abruptly fired him in March. It later cited several compliance lapses, including misrepresenting information on a bond trade between clients.

Hugh Berkson, a Cleveland-based attorney and executive vice president of the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association, said Merrill will likely be involved in any litigation that stems from the recent complaints.

He suspects RBC will keep a close watch on him going forward. "And, if these complaints result in large settlements or arbitration awards, you would expect that RBC revisit the employment situation," he said.

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