Reprimanded financial adviser faces new lawsuit

New complaints have been leveled in court against Ken Muzik, a Winnipeg financial adviser who was previously reprimanded for unsuitable investing.
New complaints have been leveled in court against Ken Muzik, a Winnipeg financial adviser who was previously reprimanded for unsuitable investing, the CBC's I-Team has found. 2:59

New complaints have been leveled in court against Ken Muzik, a Winnipeg financial adviser who was previously reprimanded for unsuitable investing.

Larry Kowalchuk, a retired Via Rail worker, withdrew his pension and invested more than $900,000 with Muzik.

Kowalchuk is now suing Muzik, Manulife Securities, National Bank Financial and another agent for more than $386,000. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants "ignored [Kowalchuk's] risk tolerance, investment knowledge [and] objectives."

The claims contained in the suit have not been proven in court.

Meanwhile, Muzik is speaking out about the allegations and says he plans to sue his former employers for his dismissal, which he describes as "petty."

According to Kowalchuk's statement of claim, Muzik approached him about removing his Via Rail pension from the company fund and investing it privately.

Kowalchuk's goal was to retire early and live off the proceeds of his investments without chipping away at the principal.

The claim describes Kowalchuk as an "inexperienced and unsophisticated investor" who trusted Muzik to invest his savings with care.

Kowalchuk said more than a third of his savings was gone before he removed the funds from the defendants' control. About $200,000 were placed in "flow-through shares" by a colleague of Muzik's who was licensed to make the trades.

Flow-through shares are a high-risk financial product associated with resource exploration. They can be used to offset federal and, in some cases, provincial taxes.

Kowalchuk's financial situation was so damaged he moved from Dauphin, Man., to Alberta for work, leaving his family behind, according to his statement of claim.

Muzik says others to blame

Muzik told CBC News he feels sorry for his former clients who suffered losses. He blames the financial institutions and his former colleague for what he calls "significant" losses.  

"I believe that the greatest percentage of the losses that they suffered were from those investments while they were not under my care, and I do feel bad about that," Muzik said in an interview.

When asked who should take responsibility, Muzik replied, "The adviser who sold the investments and, I would suggest, the compliance department of the company that he worked for to ensure that those investments were suitable when those accounts were opened.

"I hope that at the end of these investigations that all of the truth will come out, and if individuals were harmed and any rules were broken that the companies and individuals responsible will have to come to the table and settle with these individuals," he added.

Muzik said he is "an honest and ethical individual that has always looked out for [his] clients' best interests."

Muzik said he recommended that clients explore flow-through shares, among other options, as a way to lessen the tax burden associated with withdrawing a pension.

He stressed that he was not authorized to sell flow-through shares, and he referred interested clients to a B.C.-based colleague who is named in Kowalchuk's lawsuit.

In cases where Muzik's referral resulted in a sale of flow-through shares, he and his colleague shared the commissions. 

Former clients speak out

Some of Muzik's other former clients are speaking out for the first time.

Lester Painter said he made the decision to move his pension to Muzik after attending an investment seminar held for railway employees in 2006.

Painter said his retirement savings dropped so significantly that he and his wife had to sell everything they owned in Manitoba and move to Newfoundland, a more affordable place to live. They have taken up jobs at a nearby crab plant.

"It just got too expensive for us to stay in Manitoba with my dwindling pension," said Painter.

"My pension money continued to fade away until it reached a point where I have to go to work. We both have to go to work. There's no more options."

Painter also invested in flow-through shares with Muzik's colleague. The National Bank offered Painter a $20,000 settlement, but he turned it down because it was a fraction of what he has lost.

"After everything that's happened to us, for [National Bank] to offer a $20,000 settlement … was just another insult," he said.

Ongoing investigation

The Painters' complaint is one of at least three cases actively under investigation by the Mutual Fund Dealers Association (MFDA).

Each of the current complainants received advice from Muzik at a time when he was already under investigation by another regulator, the Manitoba Securities Commission.

The commission conducted a seven-year investigation between 2004 and 2011.

In December 2011, Muzik signed a settlement agreement with the regulator and agreed to a statement of facts.

Documents outline four cases from the 1990s and early 2000s in which clients claimed Muzik made high-risk investments that were beyond their risk tolerance.

Muzik was reprimanded for acting "contrary to the public interest" and he agreed to make a "voluntary payment to the Minister of Finance in the amount of $15,000," along with $5,000 in costs.

Muzik admits that "some of the investments were possibly outside of their tolerance of risk."

Regarding the new complaints, Muzik said, "Both myself and my insurers are defending these vigorously. We do not feel that the complaints have any merit.

"I would hope that when all of the investigations are complete that I would be exonerated on all of these complaints against me," he said.

CBC News contacted the MFDA about concluded or ongoing investigations relating to Muzik.

Shaun Devlin, the MFDA's vice-president of enforcement, said the association does not comment on investigations.