About 30 Bronxites who believe they were defrauded out of their pensions, inheritances and life savings by Robert Henry Van Zandt of the Van Zandt Agency are now trying to get some of that money returned.
On Tuesday, December 6, law firm Malecki Law filed a group civil complaint with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against MetLife Securities, worth over $4 million. According to FINRA documents, Robert Henry Van Zandt was registered to sell securities through MetLife from December 2004 through February 2007.
The complaint alleges that MetLife Securities “failed to provide adequate and meaningful supervision over their branch office, allowing one of their registered representatives, Mr. Robert Henry Van Zandt, to solicit and sell unregistered securities to, defraud and steal from the Claimants in a Ponzi scheme through his position as the owner of the Van Zandt Agency, a branch office of the Respondent as prominently featured on business cards and elsewhere.”
Jenice Malecki, an attorney with Malecki Law, said the monetary claim could grow if more individuals join the group complaint.
In April, the New York State Attorney General’s Office also launched an investigation into Robert Henry Van Zandt, his late son Robert John Van Zandt, their tax prep business the Van Zandt Agency, as well as other family members and associates, for allegedly running a ponzi scheme. That investigation continues.
Robert John Van Zandt, who had previously served time in federal prison, was found dead of a gun shot wound to the head in a Yonkers swimming pool in September. Yonkers police believe the death was a suicide, but its investigation is ongoing.
All of the complainants live, or have lived in the Bronx, and most used the Van Zandt Agency for tax prep.
The complaint alleges that Robert Henry Van Zandt built up trust among his customers, and used brochures to solicit them to invest their nest eggs through him with assurances of annual returns starting at 9 percent. It alleges that, in actuality, they were putting their money into a Ponzi scheme and that MetLife Securities failed to exercise the necessary oversight to prevent that from taking place.
“They all feel very betrayed,” Malecki said of her clients. “Even if his business was legitimate, which is a question, what he was recommending to them was not suitable for them. [The investments] were aggressive and high risk.”
She said clients had invested proceeds from home sales, pensions and injury settlements with Van Zandt.
FINRA is a private entity that regulates the securities industry.
A spokesperson for MetLife Securities said the company was aware of the case but, as of Monday, December 12, could not comment since it had not yet been served with the complaint.
Bill Weisbrod can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 742-3394.