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Adviser vows appeal of SEC bar and $4M penalties for 'overhyping' AUM

A particularly damning ruling from the SEC ordered financial planner and radio host Dawn Bennett permanently barred from the industry and penalized Bennett and her firm for more than $4 million.

Bennett — who chose to skip the SEC hearings — plans to launch an appeal of the ruling, according to her attorneys Greg Morvillo and Gene Ingoglia.

Regulators alleged that Bennett and her firm "overhyped the amount of assets they managed for customers and the actual returns on their investments."

Of particular concern to the SEC were claims made by Bennett on her Financial Myth Busting radio show, "that highly profitable investment returns generated by Bennett Group Financial Services placed it in the 'top 1%' of firms worldwide without disclosing that the returns were calculated for a model portfolio and not based on actual investor performance."

The SEC also noted Bennett and her firm also "repeatedly overstated their AUM by at least $1.5 billion in Barron's magazine, and in various other advertisements and communications with existing and prospective clients to create the impression [they] were larger and more successful players in the industry than was actually the case."

In the Monday ruling, Administrative Law Judge James Grimes wrote that Bennett and her firms' "conduct was particularly egregious in that they took advantage of investors, convincing them to invest large sums, in some circumstances their entire life savings, based on the false impression that [they] were responsible for over $1 billion in assets."

"Respondents showed no recognition of the wrongful nature of their conduct nor made any assurances against future violations," Administrative Law Judge James Grimes wrote in his ruling for the SEC.

The SEC noted that Bennett and her firm never provided proof that they managed assets beyond $407 million, and that several of her clients suffered major investment losses, "with two losing $1 million and $17.6 million."

In addition to permanently barring Bennett, Grimes' ruling handed her a $600,000 civil penalty, a $2.9 million fine to the Bennett Group and ordered her to disgorge $556,102 in prejudgment interest.

Bennett was noticeably absent from hearings by choice, stating in a press release she "declined on principle to attend or participate in the Securities and Exchange Commission's unconstitutional administrative proceeding against her."

Her attorneys say they expected the outcome from the beginning, and always intended to file an appeal.

"She now begins the next phase of the case, appealing the constitutionality of the ALJ appointment process, as was her plan all along. Ms. Bennett looks forward to presenting her side of the story in a process that does not violate her constitutional rights," Morvillo and Ingoglia said in a statement.

Grimes made a point to note Bennett's conduct.

"Respondents showed no recognition of the wrongful nature of their conduct nor made any assurances against future violations," he wrote. "When confronted with her lies during investigative testimony, instead of coming clean, she doubled down and continued to lie."

Bennett has 21 days to appeal the hearing.

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