Brokers

Broker contends videos accidentally downloaded in child exploitation case

A North Carolina broker and financial advisor facing charges of sexual exploitation of a minor and the possible loss of his Certified Financial Planner credential blames a file he mistakenly downloaded years ago.

Gary B. Gross, the founder of Focused Financial — an affiliate of Principal Securities in Boone, North Carolina — thinks the videos at the heart of the felony allegations about him are either the result of his clicking on something by mistake or some sort of “cruel joke.” 

Gross was charged on Nov. 4 with nine counts of second degree exploitation of a minor, a Class E felony. Gross maintains his innocence and said he’s working with forensic experts and lawyers to prove he did not knowingly download any illicit files.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m the victim,” he said.

Gross’s Certified Financial Planner certification, which he has held since the 1990s, was placed under an interim suspension by the CFP Board’s disciplinary and ethics commission on Jan. 13. Gross said he brought the criminal charges to the CFP Board’s attention himself and that he hopes to regain the use of planner certification following his exoneration in his criminal case.

The CFP Board bans certified planners from using their CFP credential while an interim suspension is in place. A suspension order can be vacated if a criminal conviction is overturned or reversed.

The CFP Board decided to place Gross on an interim suspension after finding that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that his “conduct poses a significant threat to the public or significantly impinges upon the reputation of the profession or the CFP certification marks.”

Gross said the nine videos at the heart of his criminal case were on a Google drive account he hadn’t used for years. He speculated they must have been downloaded before 2017, when he was using an Android cellphone instead of his current Apple iPhone. 

He said everything he was doing online when he had his old phone was apparently being backed up on his Google Drive account. He speculated that he downloaded the videos in the first place when he clicked either on something on a chatboard or in an email without knowing exactly what it was.

Gross said he was recently going through his old Google Drive to clean it up and apparently clicked on the files containing the illicit videos. Google flagged them and reported him to authorities.

“Someone was flashing their boyfriend,” Gross said. “And somehow it’s now on my Google cloud.”

According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck database, Gross has worked at 13 firms since 1994. Besides the criminal charges, the only mark on his record is a customer complaint from 2013 in which he was alleged to not have informed a client that removing money from an insurance policy would reduce her death benefits. The complaint was denied by Gross, and no further action was taken.

“All of a sudden, I’m persona non grata, even though I had virtually no client complaints before,” Gross said. “This had nothing to do with business. Now I got my life screwed over by this.”

The CFP Board also recently announced an interim suspension for John N. Matson of Manhattan Beach, California, a former advisor with LPL Financial. The CFP suspended his certification after learning that he was barred from the industry by FINRA in December 2022 over allegations that he had ceased making interest payments on a promissory note he had encouraged a client to invest in. 

Matson has two previous disclosures in his BrokerCheck record. In April 2010, he agreed to a $137,500 settlement for allegations of unsuitable investment recommendations, negligence, breach of contract and other violations. In 2017, he was accused of lapsing in his management of various client accounts, leading to significant losses between 2013 and 2015. Those charges were denied by FINRA arbitrators.

Before joining LPL, Matson was with Ameriprise Financial Services between 2015 and 2017. He also had a previous stint at LPL from 2007 to 2015. Before that, he was at Citigroup Global Markets from 2004 to 2007 and Merrill Lynch from 1996 to 2004. Maston couldn’t be reached for comment.

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