Merrill Lifer Fired After Undisclosed Outside Business Allegations, Related Client Suit

July 9, 2021

Merrill Lynch fired a 26-year lifer in Miami, Florida, following allegations that the advisor participated “in a financial arrangement with a client and failed to disclose outside business activity,” according to a termination U5 form that the wirehouse filed with regulators this week.

The advisor, Jorge A. Sonville, had previously been singled out but not named as a defendant in a pending lawsuit filed by a former octogenarian client against Merrill.

That lawsuit, filed in 2020 by Eduardo Tarajano, Sr., alleges that Merrill failed to supervise Sonville, who persuaded them starting in 2015 to invest almost $5 million, much of it from a trust set for their retirement, in a Key Biscayne liquor store that ultimately sold in 2020 for $585,000.

The lawsuit also alleges that either Sonville or his spouse held an undisclosed interest in the liquor store, which resulted in payments to them of approximately $70,000. Sonville also allegedly worked closely with Tarajano’s son, who received an ownership stake in the store, to “pilfer the accounts Merrill Lynch was managing” and Sonville’s cousin received a commission for the liquor store sale, the lawsuit said.

In November 2020, a U.S. District Court in Miami granted Merrill’s motion to compel Tarajano to arbitrate his claims and stayed the litigation.

Sonville, who began as a full-time advisor at Merrill in 1995, is no longer registered to represent a broker-dealer, according to his BrokerCheck record. He did not immediately return a request for comment for this story sent through social media.

A Merrill Lynch spokesman declined to provide any comment beyond referring to the U5 language.

On his BrokerCheck record, Sonville has listed as a disclosure the 2020-filed Tarajano claim, which is described as based on “an unsuitable investment recommendation and engaging in an undisclosed outside business activity from 2015 until 2020,” with $4 million in requested damages.

He also has listed on the same record a 1998-filed claim by William H. and Geraldine Scherer based on allegations their requested trade was not made, triggering more than $10,000 in damages–a claim ultimately settled for $6,000. In Sonville’s comments about the disclosure, he denies receiving the order from the customers, who he alleged did not raise the claim in a timely manner, but said he agreed to offer the settlement amount “purely as a business decision.”

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