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Pa. financial adviser accused of bilking investors

August 05, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

Adviser spoke at Marine's funeral

WARFORDSBURG, Pa. -- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has been granted an injunction against a Warfordsburg, Pa., financial adviser who is accused of bilking investors -- including a memorial fund for a local Marine killed in Iraq -- out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The injunction request was filed July 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg against Robert G. Bard, an investment adviser, and his firm, Warfordsburg-based Vision Specialist Group LLC.

U.S. District Judge William W. Caldwell on Wednesday signed an order extending the injunction until Aug. 13, when another hearing is to be held.

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The order followed a Tuesday hearing at which both parties agreed to the extension.

The injunction prevents Bard from acting as a financial adviser and freezes his and Vision Specialist's assets, the SEC said in information posted on its Web site at www.sec.gov.

The company's assets under management were described by the SEC as being between $4.4 million and $6 million.

"From at least 2005 to the present, Bard and Vision Specialist have targeted unsophisticated investors with promises of high yields and safety of principal, telling clients they had invested in safe investments such as bonds, certificates of deposits and money market funds, and showing as proof, consistently rising or stable account values," the SEC alleges in court documents.

"In reality," the SEC alleges in the documents, "Bard squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars or more of client funds by making risky (and losing) investments in penny stocks and other securities and borrowing on margin."

A telephone message left for Bard on Wednesday afternoon was returned by a woman who directed inquiries to Robert Welsh, Bard's Philadelphia-based attorney.

Welsh said in a telephone interview the defense consented to a continuation of the injunction during the Tuesday court hearing in Harrisburg.

"We expect we'll defend it," Welsh said. "That's all we can say at this point."

Among Bard's clients whose funds the SEC alleges he mismanaged were retirees, a local volunteer fire company and the Semper Fi Memorial Fund, which was established in 2006 by Warfordsburg resident Nancy Szwydek, whose son Steven Szwydek was killed in 2005 while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq.

Nancy Szwydek said the fund was set up, in part, to raise money to teach high school students about the price of freedom by taking them on field trips to places like Arlington National Cemetery.

The Semper Fi Memorial Fund initially was funded with "$3,500 from (Szwydek), who then solicited donations for the Memorial Fund," the SEC said in court documents. Under Bard's management, however, the fund "had suffered net realized losses of $11,400" by April 2009.

The SEC court filing said that "many clients hired Bard and Vision Specialist as their investment advisers because ... Bard presented himself as someone with strong moral values and religious beliefs and because they knew of him and his family in the small community."

The SEC documents said the Vision Specialist Web site home page "begins with a Bible 'Verse of the Week' as well as 'Quote of the Week.'"

SEC documents said the company Web site describes Bard as "born and raised in Fulton County, Pa.," and said he was "committed first to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," and then to his family.

"Based on some or all of the above reasons, Bard developed the deep trust and confidence of his advisory clients," the SEC alleges in court documents.

"Bard advised clients that they need not maintain paperwork regarding their account because Vision Specialist keeps copies of all account related documents at its office" ... clients further were advised "to discard carefully (shred or burn) their monthly statements as soon as the new statement arrives," the documents allege.

SEC court documents say Bard also promised levels of return on investments "from more than 6.5 percent to 17 percent."

SEC attorney G. Jeffrey Boujoukos said the case against Bard is a civil matter and that the SEC does not pursue criminal cases.

The SEC is seeking judgment to prevent Bard from working as an investment adviser and to pay back alleged "ill-gotten gains," according to court documents.

SEC alleges eight clients
were victims of financial adviser



Following are eight clients the SEC alleges in court documents have been victims of financial adviser Robert G. Bard of Warfordsburg, Pa., through his Vision Specialist Group LLC.

In documents filed by the SEC in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, his clients are listed by letters of the alphabet, not by name.

o Client A and his wife, of Needmore, Pa., opened an account managed by Bard in November 2005. After he retired in June 2006, after 39 years of working for the same company, he hired Bard and Vision Specialist to manage all his retirement savings, worth about $750,000 when he hired Bard.

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