Financial Advisor Julie Darrah Charged with Embezzlement
Financial Advisor Julie Darrah and Vivid Financial Management, the wealth management firm she co-founded, have been hit with civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The charges stem from allegations that they embezzled $2.25 million from at least nine elderly female advisory clients.
This SEC action comes approximately a month after Wealth Enhancement Group, an advisor aggregator that acquired Vivid in 2021, allegedly filed a lawsuit against Julie Darrah, a 50-year-old resident of Santa Maria, California. In their suit, they accuse Darrah of being involved in a theft operation targeting older clients. The SEC’s case aligns with many of the allegations presented in the Wealth Enhancement lawsuit. The SEC’s complaint states that Darrah, beginning in November 2016, and possibly earlier, victimized elderly female clients, many of whom depended on Darrah for their financial well-being. This includes one client living in a memory care facility.
According to the SEC complaint, Darrah reportedly gained control of her victims’ assets by becoming a trustee for her clients’ trusts, allegedly serving as the signatory on their bank accounts, or obtaining power of attorney over their assets and accounts. Over the course of 2016 to 2023, clients incurred losses totaling approximately $2.25 million due to these allegedly fraudulent schemes.
Among the victims were two elderly sisters, a 75-year-old widow from whom Darrah allegedly stole over $1 million, and a 78-year-old widow who lost around $578,000 due to Darrah’s purported deceit, according to the SEC complaint. The younger sister now allegedly has a little over $87,000 remaining in her accounts and relies on monthly Social Security payments of about $1,631. The complaint further notes that she has been allegedly residing in a memory care facility since April 2022, with monthly expenses of $7,845.
Darrah’s alleged embezzlement scheme mainly involved liquidating the securities of her clients, with the proceeds being transferred to her personal bank accounts. She reportedly commingled these funds with her own resources, which she purportedly used to acquire and enhance real properties, cover personal expenses, purchase luxury vehicles, and operate restaurant businesses at a loss.
Darrah is facing multiple violations of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The complaint seeks disgorgement of allegedly ill-gotten gains, prejudgment interest, monetary penalties, and permanent and conduct-based injunctions.
Additionally, the SEC complaint names a relief defendant, PC&J, a firm in Orcutt, California, of which Darrah owns 33.4%. According to the SEC, Darrah allegedly diverted client funds to the company, which operates two restaurants in Santa Maria and Orcutt. Local reports have indicated that several businesses connected to Darrah and PC&J, including Cups & Crumbs, a coffee shop, and The Homestead, a deli, have suddenly closed.
The SEC has also secured a preliminary injunction against Darrah, which includes an asset freeze, an accounting requirement, a ban on document destruction, and expedited discovery.
Darrah allegedly attempted to conceal her fraudulent activities by changing client account mailing addresses to her own address and falsely declaring that she was not acting as the trustee for any clients. Furthermore, she purportedly had a client initial two backdated promissory notes in response to SEC subpoenas.
In the SEC’s complaint, it is noted that Julie Darrah and other owners of Vivid sold the advisory business in 2022 (referring to the Wealth Enhancement deal, without naming the Minnesota firm specifically). She continued her association with the aggregator as a senior vice president until July 2023 when she was placed on administrative leave, and the firm terminated its relationship with her in September, according to reports.
According to her FINRA BrokerCheck report, Darrah was registered with Mutual Securities in Orcutt, California from June 2013 until January 2022. She has one disclosure on her record, a termination from Wealth Enhancement stating “The reported individual was terminated during an internal review for fraud, wrongful/unauthorized taking of client property, and for violations of investment-related securities law (including those related to custody of client assets), firm policies and expected industry and professional standards, including failure to cooperate with the firm’s internal review.”
Protecting yourself against Broker Embezzlement
To mitigate the risk of broker embezzlement, financial institutions and investors can implement several preventive measures to avoid these financial devastations. Remember that while these precautions can reduce your risk, no strategy can provide absolute protection against broker embezzlement or financial fraud. Being vigilant, informed, and proactive in managing your investments is key to safeguarding your assets in the financial market.
Enhanced Due Diligence: Conducting thorough background checks and exercising due diligence when hiring brokers or financial advisors gives companies or investors a better understanding of the candidates character and their views on ethical practices. Verifying credentials and employment history is a smart decision as well. Searching their history on sources such as FINRA BrokerCheck is also a useful tool as it provides a more in-depth analysis of a broker’s history. This information can help to determine whether they’re the right choice for your firm as an employee or as a financial advisor.
Choose Reputable Brokerage Firms: Research and select well-established, reputable brokerage firms with a track record of integrity and regulatory compliance. Look for firms that are members of relevant regulatory bodies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Review Disclosures and Agreements: Carefully review all account agreements, disclosure documents, and contracts before signing. Pay attention to fee structures, withdrawal policies, and any clauses related to the broker’s authority over your assets. It’s also important to monitor your accounts regularly to ensure that your funds are proceeding in a positive manner, and not being manipulated by your broker.
Set Clear Investment Objectives: Clearly communicate your investment objectives and risk tolerance to your broker. Ensure they understand your financial goals, and don’t hesitate to ask questions if something seems unclear or inconsistent with your objectives.
Diversify Your Portfolio: Diversifying your investments across different asset classes and industries is a preventative measure as well. Diversification can help reduce the impact of potential losses caused by the misconduct of a single broker or investment. Through this process, investors are also able to achieve the proper balance between growth and risk for their financial situation.
How to Recover your Investment Losses
FINRA Dispute Resolution is an arbitration venue for investors with claims against their brokerage firm or financial professional. It provides investors with an opportunity to attempt to recoup their investment losses and is an alternative to filing such claims in court.
If you have suffered losses investing with Julie Darrah, the securities attorneys at the White Law Group may be able to help you. For a free consultation with a securities attorney, please call (888) 637-5510.
The White Law Group, LLC is a national securities fraud, securities arbitration, investor protection, and securities regulation/compliance law firm dedicated to helping investors in claims in all 50 states against their financial professional or brokerage firm. Since the firm launched in 2010, it has handled over 700 FINRA arbitration cases.
Our firm represents investors in all types of securities related claims, including claims involving stock fraud, broker misrepresentation, churning, unsuitable investments, selling away, and unauthorized trading, among many others.
With over 30 years of securities law experience, The White Law Group has the expertise to help investors to recover their fraud losses. For more information, please visit our website, www.whitesecuritieslaw.com.