Wednesday, February 5, 2020

No. 353: The Massachusetts Securities Division Files a Complaint Against the Promoter of Free Lunch Workshops

On December 17, 2019, the Enforcement Section of the Securities Division in the Office of the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth filed an administrative complaint against an insurance agent and two companies. The individual respondent is Ryan Patrick Skinner. The other respondents are Summit Financial Partners and Summit Financial Ptrs Inc. (collectively, "Summit"). (See In the Matter of Ryan Patrick Skinner, Massachusetts Securities Division, Docket No. E-2019-0055.)

The Complaint
The complaint alleges that Skinner "acted as an unregistered investment adviser and unregistered investor adviser representative," and that Summit "acted as an unregistered investment adviser that employed an unregistered investment adviser representative." Here is one paragraph in the "Summary" section of the complaint (the full compliant is in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post):
Respondents' modus operandi is to entice residents of the Commonwealth, especially seniors, to attend "free lunch" workshops where Skinner convinces the attendees that he can provide advice to help them maximize their Social Security and retirement income. He then holds individual meetings with the attendees, often at their homes, and uses these meetings as an opportunity to make his pitch. Skinner repeatedly recommends that prospective clients liquidate securities from their retirement investment accounts to purchase fixed indexed annuities. In many instances, Skinner recommends that prospective clients surrender existing annuities thereby incurring significant penalties. In some cases Skinner recommends that an investor's entire life savings consist of annuities sold through him.
The Answer
On January 7, 2020, the respondents' attorney filed an answer to the complaint. The answer includes the usual "admit," "deny," and "insufficient knowledge" responses. It also lists eight affirmative defenses, one of which reads as follows (the full answer is in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post):
The claims are barred because the Respondents lie within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Division of Insurance in accordance with Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 155 section 9 and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 175 section 162G et. seq.
Further Filings
On January 16, the respondents' attorney filed a letter with the Securities Division. The letter consists of one paragraph:
As you know, Ryan Skinner ("Skinner") and Summit Financial Partners Inc. ("Summit") hold licenses in good standing with the Massachusetts Division of Insurance ("DOI"), and both remain subject to supervision and enforcement by DOI. It has come to my clients' attention that the Enforcement Section has contacted Athene Life and Annuity Co. and other carriers with whom Skinner and Summit hold appointments. If true, please identify the authority upon which the Enforcement Section relies in doing so. Please be advised that Skinner and Summit do hereby reserve all rights, including the right to seek injunctive relief in Superior Court, to protect its appointments and licenses, and to enjoin any unlawful interference with its contractual relations.
On the same day, the respondents' attorney filed a "Stipulation Relative to Scheduling" that suggested eleven deadlines ending with a hearing on October 16, 2020. He also filed a "Respondents' First Request for Production of Documents."

On January 23, the Enforcement Section filed a motion for a scheduling conference. The next day, the Presiding Officer, on behalf of William F. Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth, issued an order setting a pre-hearing conference for February 13, 2020.

A report on Skinner (CRD# 4574898) may be viewed through Broker Check on the website of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ( He is currently not registered, but was registered with four firms from 2002 through 2008. The report reveals three "disclosure events," the details of which are shown in the report.

One of the disclosure events was initiated by the Massachusetts Division of Insurance (DOI) on February 5, 2016. The matter was resolved on March 17, 2016, when Skinner paid a civil and administrative penalty of $2,500. 

Division of Insurance
I have been in contact with the Massachusetts Division of Insurance (DOI). It is aware of the recent allegations by the Securities Division against Skinner, and has opened an investigation of its own. The spokesperson declined further comment on the matter.

On January 31, I requested from the DOI records access officer, pursuant to the Massachusetts statute governing access to public records, copies of the dockets relating to the 2016 investigation of Skinner and the current investigation of Skinner, as well as all documents listed on those dockets. I await a reply.

Insurance and Securities Regulation
I have long been interested in the relationship and overlap between insurance regulation and securities regulation. The reference in this post to Secretary of the Commonwealth Galvin, who has been in that position for many years, reminded me of an incident more than 20 years ago, when Boston-based John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company adopted a demutualization plan. Boston newspapers reported that a huge number of notification letters to Hancock policyholders were returned by the postal service as undeliverable. Galvin intervened because the Massachusetts unclaimed property agency was part of the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and the amount of unclaimed funds was likely to be huge. Insurance regulators and other states' unclaimed property agencies tackled the issue of unpaid benefits later, but it was Galvin who led the way.

General Observations
Free-lunch seminars have been a serious problem for many years. I remember attending a couple of such seminars, and coming away from them appalled by the extent of the deceptive information presented to the attendees, most of whom were gullible seniors. I plan to report further on the Skinner case and other possible future developments.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 24-page PDF consisting of the complaint filed by the Securities Division (18 pages) and the answer filed by the respondents' attorney (6 pages). Send an email to and ask for the February 2020 package about the Massachusetts complaint against Skinner.