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‘Mini-Madoff’ pleads guilty

April 8, 2010

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This week, a Kirkland, Washington based financial broker pleaded guilty to mail fraud in a case that was dubbed a mini-Madoff scheme by local attorneys. Rhonda Breard (47) admitted she stole 9.4 million dollars from her clients through Rhonda Breard & Associates, her financial advisory firm that was fully licensed under ING Financial Partners, the global financial institution of Dutch origin.

Breard became a celebrity in the local investment community by buying ad space on TV and airing her ‘Help me Rhonda’ commercials. She won clients through her “vibrant, fun and knowledgeable personality” and recommended that they sell assets and transfer the money to her advisory firm so she could purchase other investments on their behalf.

Clients even received – what now turn out to be false – account statements when in reality Breard deposited large chunks of their money to her personal account. With the stolen money she supported a lavish lifestyle, including two multi million dollar homes, an impressive fleet of cars, five motorcycles, three jetskis and five snowmobiles. Breard also treated her friends to luxurious vacations, flying them to Vegas and paying for airfare, clothing and nightclubs.

The similarities between Rhonda Breard and Bernie Madoff are evident, be it on a micro scale. Both satisfied their own greed by intentionally misleading and stealing from clients, breaching their loyalty when some trusted them with no less then their life savings. But unlike Madoff, who has not been very articulate in expressing his feelings of remorse, if any, Rhonda Breard appears to have a heavy conscience. On February 10 – the same day that her advisory firm was shuttered after she lost her broker agreement with ING Financial Partners – she allegedly attempted to commit suicide.

According to her attorney, “[Rhonda Breard] can’t undo what she has done, but she has been as constructive as possible in cooperating with authorities.” Breard also handed over all her property as compensation to her clients. On March 31st the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) permanently barred Breard from the securities industry. She is scheduled to be sentenced on July 9 and will likely face time in prison.

Moreover, we have probably not heard the last word about ING’s responsibility in this matter. Investment fraud attorneys argue that as their FINRA registered broker, ING Financial Partners should have adequately supervised Rhonda Breard as it is required to do with all of its licensed representatives. Even more so because Breard’s reputation had already been blemished: in 1991 she was fired at then employer, brokerage firm Smith Barney due to irregularities and was ordered to pay a 100.000 dollar fine.

ING Financial Partners “is exploring whether an equitable resolution can be reached with […] individuals” affected by Breard,” a company spokesman said.

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