Broker Background Check

Here is a resource you can use to check the employment history of your broker: FINRA.

FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) is an independent regulator of securities firms in the US. If you click on the link above, you’ll be directed to the FINRA BrokerCheck where you can search the name of your broker or broker agency for professional background information.

Note that this is just ONE part of the research you should do when deciding whether or not to work with a specific broker or agency. In the case of Kenneth C. Waters (“Pinetown”) his report lists a “Customer Dispute” and “Termination.” That should be enough reason to inquire further.




For whatever reason…this post did not publish to the web last night. Here’s a bit more about Pinetown:

You’ve probably heard Ken Waters’ commercials here on WECT or maybe his show on The Big Talker F.M.. Ken Waters was a familiar and trusted face here in Wilmington. In fact, that’s how all of the investor’s I spoke with described…. “a friend”… “a buddy.” Some of the Pinetown investor’s had worked with him for years. Because of those longstanding relationships, many deals made with Ken were made on a handshake.

From what I understand, these clients were represented through his company, “Heritage Investments.” Heritage was formed in 1997 but dissolved by the state in 2003 for failure to file annual reports. The company was never reinstated with the State, but continued to do work out of an office complex near Landfall (and later inside Ken’s home). Jim Springer told me that his office set-up was somewhat peculiar. He never met Jim inside an actual office…only in a board room that was used by the entire complex.

If you look at the documentation from some of the investors…it looks like Heritage had a couple identities: Heritage Investments, Heritage Investment Advisors, LLC; and Heritage Investment Services, LLC. Attorney Martin Ramey says that when companies start to mix and mingle names like this, it can remove the protection provided to them as a limited liability company.

Ken Waters also seems to have had a varied past. According to public records, he’s been affiliated with IFG Network Securities, Merrill Lynch, Multi-Financial Securities Corporation, FSC Securities Corporation of Wilmington and H. Beck, Inc.. People change jobs all the time, so these switches might not be relevant EXCEPT that some of the investors that have now filed claims say that when Ken jumped companies, their money was moved around and they often lost the ability to track historical transactions and financial performance.

Jim Springer says he first heard about Pinetown last winter. “There was a special deal that only his closest buddies had opportunities to,” Jim says. Ken sold him on exclusivity and on the high return – 20%. Ken also pitched it as a guaranteed money making opportunity. If the deal crumbled, the investors would have rights to the property so no matter what, they’d all walk away with something. Of the investors I’ve talked to, all were promised a similar deal although the rate of return varied from about 6.5% to 20%.

Some of the investors had been in Pinetown for years before Jim came into the picture. According to documents from the Secretary of State, Pinetown was formed by David A. Sneed and Kenneth C. Waters in May of 1997 for “investing in real estate and securities.” Pinetown did not file annual reports in 1999 and 2000. In 2003, the State dissolved Pinetown for failure to file appropriate paperwork. The last formal filing I found was in August of 2009, Rick E. Graves, the registered agent for Pinetown resigned from the company. I contacted Rick about Pinetown but he denied my request for an interview.

During the years that Pinetown was in operation, Ken Waters was actively signing up investors and some of them even saw a return on their money. One of Martin Ramey’s clients had been with Ken for years and were relying on his expertise to get them into retirement. They had suffered severe financial setbacks but Ken told them that Pinetown was their answer for recovery. The couple agreed and gave Ken $50,00. Months later Ken wrote them a check for $10,000…a 20% return on their investment. Ken then suggested they put in ANOTHER $50,000 and were then promised a July 31st payout date. Attorney Martin Ramey: “Naturally if you receive money back from your investments you’ve got to be thinking, ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with this, this is a good idea let’s do it again’…That strategy invites people to trust.”

Jim Springer says he trusted Ken fully, but there was just something about the Pinetown deal that didn’t sit right….too good to be true? He started asking Ken questions…would there ever be any paperwork to sign? Where was this land? Who ARE these people? Ken delayed and finally Jim just asked him to pull the plug on his investment. As you heard in the story, Ken wired Jim about $183,000 to Puerto Rico where he was on vacation (principal plus interest). Jim took the money right out of his account and closed on a new home there.

While he was on vacation, he got the news that Ken had committed suicide. It seems that everyone was under the impression that it was because of personal reasons. In fact, I’m told that many of the investors went to Ken’s funeral, thinking that days later on July 31st, the payout day would still come. Jim says that he was sad to hear about his friend, but relieved that the Pinetown fiasco was over. EXCEPT…when he came back to Wilmington there was a letter from Multi-Financial that said that his “wire” was actually a loan against his own assets. The financial terminology for this is putting someone’s account “on margin.” So not only did Jim lose $150,000 in Pinetown…he now owes this “loan” for the same amount.

Jim has challenged Multi-Financial (an ING company). The company sent him a letter dissociating themselves from Ken, who at one time represented them. Jim says he wants people to read the fine print of their investment paperwork.  Jim says the case with many of these national firms, is that you cannot arbitrate against them. Martin Ramey is representing 5 of the claims against Ken Waters’ estate and he will also be in arbitration with Multi-Financial. Martin Ramey says there should be accountability with these firms. If Ken was a “Representative” of Multi-Financial someone should have been monitoring his business.  Pinetown was a deal constructed outside of Heritage. Who was supervising his projects and if they were done outside the framework…is that even allowed?

That piece of property known as “Pinetown” was indeed owned by Ken at one time. The land has nothing on it but a dilapidated house. Its believed that Ken had made money on a timbering deal in the past and that was the inspiration behind Pinetown. There is no evidence of any “group of land owners” that needed money for timbering. On June 11th 2009 he sold that property to 3-B Farms Inc which his uncle owns. None of the investors (from my understanding) were aware of this. The selling price: $65,280.

Ken’s ending is what takes this story to a most unusual place. The detective who investigated Ken’s suicide said that Ken had reserved a condo at in Atlantic Beach from Realty World. The first condo they put him in did not have a garage and Ken asked to be moved to one that did. Police came to the condo on July 17th, 2009 when Ken failed to check out. They found the grill inside of a tent in the garage.  Ken and the book “Suicide” were laying just outside of it. Also found on site: a firearm, drugs, alcohol and a note that mentioned his money troubles.

The book “Suicide” by Geo Stone is basically a manual on suicide. It describes every possible way to end it. I obviously wanted to get the book so I could have video of it but its over $200 online! I was surprised to find it for check-out at New Hanover County library.

Ken departed along with all the details about Pinetown. His estate lawyer would not go on camera but you saw the letter she sent to Jim Springer…they can’t find any money of evidence that proves Pinetown was a viable company.

Also not wanting to go on camera…the other investors I spoke with. They are being represented by another law firm here in town and they told me their attorney specifically told them to NOT talk to the media.

If you are an investor…you only have a small window of opportunity to file a claim against Ken’s estate…November 1st. It seems that people are coming out of the woodwork from all over the country now.

Jim Springer would also like to speak with any investors. He asks that you contact him at:

Pay Your Dues…Now Pay Up

Last week a man called me, rather adamant about doing a local story on the ‘evils of socialized medicine.’ He says he’s fighting for his life because of what he went through while fighting for this country. Now he’s *also* fighting our health insurance system to get the care he needs.

He now lives in Wilmington but spent his younger years in Vietnam where he was exposed to Agent Orange. He says it’s because of that exposure that he developed a particularly deadly and aggressive form of cancer that requires intensive oncology treatments to fight.

When he was first diagnosed, he ran his health insurance claims through the Veterans Health Administration. They denied his claim and he spent years appealing it. During that time, he used his Blue Cross Blue Shield benefits to cover the cost of his cancer treatments. With all of the co-pays, he says he’s racked up about $70,000. All of those treatments have been through Hanover Medical Specialists in Wilmington.

He recently was told by the VA that they *would* pay his claims…in FULL. Thrilled…he called his oncologist at Hanover Medical Specialists who told him that they would not accept the VA plan. Of note, they do except other forms of government-funded health coverage (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid).

He was livid. He couldn’t believe that he had risked his life fighting for our freedom…and now he couldn’t get the help *HE* needed.

I called Hanover Medical Specialists who told me that the VA is slow to pay and its their choice as to what plans they would take. From what I’ve now read…the VA has a history of health care headaches. While it is certainly the right of any private facility to choose who they receive their income, this veteran felt it unfair that they would accept some government funded programs and not others. He also didn’t think “slow pay” was an acceptable reason for not helping a patient out. His exact response: “They HAVE a choice…because of the war WE fought for them.”

Hanover Medical Specialists did not want to do an interview…I wasn’t surprised. They repeated that they would get in touch with this man and “work something out.”

The next day, when I was getting ready to head out the door to interview this veteran…he called and said that Hanover Medical Specialists had had a change of heart. They WOULD take his VA coverage. He was happy that he wouldn’t have to leave his oncologist and that he now wouldn’t be saddled with astronomical health insurance bills.

He THEN said that he ALSO had had a change of heart…and didn’t want to go on camera anymore. While I’m glad those phone calls I made seem to have lit a fire under this guy’s case and helped get things moving…I’m very disappointed that he took that help and then bailed.

Still…I wanted to share what happened simply to make that point that with enough pressure and persistance…you CAN get the coverage you deserve and have paid for. Ask questions, know your plan and put them on the spot…it gets things done (obviously). Just please dont do it by confusing your local reporter with a patient advocate….

Superfund Site….Continued.

I now have the documentation from the School Board that outlines the testing they did on the Holly Shelter Middle School land. My oh my…its a real page turner! About 115 pages.  I will try to read through this as soon as I can and then I’m going to send it off to a soil expert I know for review.

More to come…

In the meantime, for the parents…its impossible for me to be at every meeting and there are a bunch of other projects on my desk…so get in touch with me with any updates or any information that you think is valuable.

If You Live In The Ogden Area…This Is For You.

I had put together a story about the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in the Ogden area…and then our entire computer system here at WECT crashed and every ounce of video I have shot over the past year…was erased. Since we are short staffed right now (that’s putting it mildly) I dont have time to re-shoot so I’ll try to put as much information on here as I can. If you have friends in that area…pass it on.

Many homes in that area still use water softeners…and still shell out about $40 per bag of salt and > $400 when the softener needs to be replaced. Having soft water is a matter of preference. I grew up with hard water, there’s nothing wrong with it, except for that minerals tend to build up in your hair, your clothes are a little harder to whiten and its tough to get soap to ‘sud.’

I got a call from a young couple in Ogden whose softener recently broke. They called the CFPUA with a question about it and were surprised when the technician told them they didn’t actually need one anymore. Why? Because soon the new nanofiltration water treatment plant was coming online for that area and it would make water softening obsolete.

That would be great news…except this couple had *just* shelled out $450 for a brand new softener and were irritated that they were given no notice (according to them) by the CFPUA that the softener wasn’t necessary. Furthermore, if you continue to use a softener (double softening) you may erode your piping if you have older metal plumbing.

Of course, I called the CFPUA about this…they did not want to do an interview. They said they had done their due dilegence in getting the word out and they sent me the media press releases to prove it. Indeed, we had run a little blurb about it on WECT. However, when I drove around some of the area neighborhoods knocking on doors, I couldn’t find anyone who had gotten the message.

So hear me now…if you have metal plumbing you probably do NOT want to be double softening your water. No matter WHERE you live…get in touch with your utility provider to find out if they are already softening your water. You can also buy a kit at most local hardwear stores to test the “softness” yourself.

Remember, soft water is a preference. If you find you have heard water, you dont *need* to soften it.

I had heard a rumor that double softening causes bacteria growth in pipes. According to a UNCW biologist…it really is…just a rumor. If you have bacteria in your pipes its probably coming from somewhere in your plumbing and not from the treated water that runs in from the utility company.

Look into this before you pay hundreds for another softener!

Superfund Site

A “superfund site” is a hazardous waste site that has been placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (E.P.A.) National Priority List (NPL). This is done based on a scoring process  that rates a site’s current or potential health impact. The “Superfund” was created by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liabilities Act of 1980 to clean up abandoned hazardous waste site.

In so many words…its an area of property that contains hazardous materials…and needs to be cleaned.

Here’s some background on Reasor Chemical Company. The site is located at 5100 North College Road in Castle Hayne. There is no sign for the plant and from the road, you can’t see any buildings (or remnants of…). The property is approximately 25 acres….700ft south of Holly Shelter.

Reasor operated from 1959 to 1972 as a stump rendering facility that produced pine products. Plant products and bi-products included turpentine, resin, pine oil and other compounds. By 1969 most operations had ceased and the buildings were demolished. The land was later owned by Cameron Company. It’s completely vacant now and receives no routine maintenance.

From 1997 to 1999 the EPA conducted a Remedial Investiation (RI) where 130 samples were taken from the soil, ponds and drainage ditches. The list of hazardous substances found included volatile organic solvents, metals (arsenic, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, iron and zinc), semivolatile organic compounds and dioxins. Iron levels in the surface water samples (13,000 ug/L) exceeded the Ambient Water Quality Criteria/Ambient Aquatic Life Advisory Concentration level (wow…that’s a mouthful!).

The site became a “superfund site” in 2002. Excavation, off-site disposal of contaminated soil, on-site treatment and disposal of contaminated surface water and annual groundwater monitoring began.

Those activities finished in July of 2007. On June 24th, 2008 the EPA and then-property owners inspected the site and noted that wildlife and vegetation was returning to the area. More samples were taken and the site was given the “OK” for human exposure levels.

New Hanover County School Board says that the land was re-zoned from industrial to residential. In 2008 they purchased the land in a public session. The parents I spoke with expressed concern that they were not aware of the purchase or if any other alternative sites had been on the table. Valita Quattlebalm (NHCS) says that there WAS a public meeting back in 2008 when the issue was discussed and decided.

Holly Shelter Middle School did not just *appear*…the building is nearly finished. So why are people just finding out NOW about its proximity to the superfund site? Parents I spoke with say they were completely unaware until a Parent Teacher Association meeting last week. Apparently someone brought the issue to light after a discussion about redistricting. It sent shock waves through the meeting and has ignited concern over the site’s proximity to the school…and over what they say, is a lack of communication (some call it ‘secrecy’) by the school board.

I shared that with the school board who says that there is a lot of fictitious information being spread by people who are opposed to the redistricting. The board says that some people may be using the superfund issue (which the board says is NOT new information…) as fodder against redistricting plans.

The school board says they have done their OWN tests on the area and everything has checked out. Of note…the EPA has NOT done tests at Holly Shelter Middle School. Their tests were specific to the Reasor site. Valita wanted to make clear, “New Hanover County Schools would NOT put the children in danger.” I asked today to see those tests…she said that they are available upon request at the school board office (note that you need to pay $0.15 per copy). I was not able to get down there in time to make deadline today.

So why did the school board choose THAT site versus others? Valita says they DID consider other land but based on the roads, water supply and population growth…that specific area was deemed the best. Not every parent I spoke with seems to believe that…they say that it was purchased because once a nearby site is labeled a “superfund”…the surrounding property probably becomes less expensive. I spoke with a hazardous waste expert who confirmed that that was likely true…but I have not been able to track property values for the plots of land in that area (yet).

Valita says that the property cost $45,000 per acre…the market rate for the land. I asked how it compared to other school property they’ve purchased but to be fair…that might be comparing two different things….land in Castle Hayne won’t cost what it does in Carolina Beach, for example.

One parent expressed concern over where the school would be getting their water. On-site, you can see a new water tower that’s been installed behind the school. The school is hooked up to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and will not be receiving water drafted from any underground aquifers.

This issue is sure to come up tonight at the school board meeting (6:30pm, Spencer Building 15th street). Reporter Claire Simms will be there.

Of note, it’s not unheard of for land to be redeveloped on a superfund site (we have another one near the air port). Its also not unheard of for people to suffer heath consequences after hazardous compounds are discovered near a place where people live, work and play. The E.P.A. has labeled the nearby Reasor site “safe”…the NHCSB says the school site is ALSO safe…be that as it may, for a parent, there is still that concern and unease about their  child playing in an area of such close proximity.

Sharon Keane’s response to the school board’s testing was simply, ” I think if they had to go there everyday…they might feel differently.”

Denise Is Home!

The last time I saw Denise she was barely conscious at Chapel Hill’s Children’s Hospital. As you saw, I was there for her bone marrow transplant. After the transplant, there was a 10 day weighting period to see if Janaya’s cells would “take” to her body. Luckily, they did! It was then a few more weeks in the hospital, isolated to a germ-free room…then off to the Ronald McDonald House until the beginning of October.

This has been a very stressful stint for the entire family. On top of big sis being very sick, Denise has 5 other brothers and sisters. Her mother has been trying to manage caring for them at home in Wilmington with driving back and forth to Chapel Hill to be with Denise.

Denise’s homecoming was a big event for EVERYONE. Her mom said on Friday that the “puzzle is complete…everyone is home together.”

I had asked Denise back in May what the 1st thing she wanted to do when she got home was. As you heard in Friday’s story, she said, “I’m gonna go to the pool!” That has always been in the back of mind over the months. When I got the go-ahead to do a story on her on Friday…I couldn’t think of how to come through on her wish seeing as how so many pools are closed down.

The YMCA on Market Street came to the rescue! It was a highly coordinated effort on behalf of the Y, Denise’s mom Valeria and myself. I didn’t know if she’d be healthy enough yet to go into a chlorine drenched environment but Valeria gave the O.K..

The funniest part was not seeing Denise’s face as she came up for air…it was seeing the LIFEGUARD’S face after we jumped in with all of our clothes! Apparently the staff at the front had not alerted the poor lifeguard that I would be throwing her in. She came barreling down the pool side and yelled, “WAS THAT PLANNED!!!???” Trying not to suck down pool water while keeping my head up (a business suit is HEAVY when wet!) I had to shoo her away to keep her from running into my shot!

Quite an event….

It was great to see Denise’s hair coming back in. She had refused to cut it while it was falling out…she’s one tough cookie. She said that a man recently mistook her for a boy…you’d think that would crush an 11 year old girl…but not Denise! She gave it right back to him…thadda girl!

Denise is on Facebook (Denise Hale, Wilmington) and I know some of you have sent ‘get well’ notes and words of encouragement. Please continue to do so!