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JPMorgan Wrote Client Complaints Against Whistleblower

December 7, 2015

According to one former JPMorgan broker, the wirehouse was so angry when he leaked that supervisors pressured him to favor proprietary mutual funds that it fabricated clients’ complaints against him and duped them into signing, the New York Times reports.

Carolyn Scott, one of the people who signed complaints against Johnny Burris in 2013, told the paper that she had signed some document on the vague promise of getting some money back, without ever understanding what the document was. She added that she’d had “no problems” with Burris. Another client, whose identity the Times did not reveal, could not have written the complaint because he was “essentially unable to read or write,” notes the paper.

The case goes back to 2012, when Burris, who earlier that year had been promoted into an “elite” private-client group, secretly recorded bank supervisors at his Arizona branch pressuring him to sell JPMorgan mutual funds over competitors’ offerings and shared it with the media and regulators, prompting an SEC investigation that contributed to the $100 million settlement the bank is making in relation to the marketing of its own products, people familiar with the negotiations tell the Times. The client complaints appeared on his publicly available records in 2013 after Burris’s concerns were reported in the media. This made it difficult for Burris to find work and ruined his case alleging wrongful termination, the paper writes. Burris has an outstanding whistleblower case against JPMorgan with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, says the paper. A spokeswoman for Finra says the organization is looking into the allegations about the client complaints.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman said that one of Burris’s former coworkers, Laya Gavin, did assist clients in writing the letters “as a courtesy,” typing up what the clients told her and reading it back to the clients. But the clients said Gavin had not read back the complaints prior to having them sign and that the complaints “did not reflect their sentiments,” the Times writes. Meanwhile, Leona Weakland, one of the clients who had signed the complaints but has since come to Burris’s defense, along with her husband, actually took their money out of JPMorgan to have Burris manage it, the paper reports.

Other brokers went public with their complaints about the pressure to sell JPMorgan’s mutual funds in managed accounts around the same time as Burris, but he was fired within months, according to the Times. JPMorgan supervisors also alleged that Burris made trades for two clients but recorded the transactions as initiated by them. However, those clients have since come forward to support his version of events, the paper points out.

By Alex Padalka
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