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Everest Wealth Management challenges Maryland Insurance Administration order

Everest Wealth Management Inc., the Towson firm known for its "Money Guys" infomercials, is challenging an order by the Maryland Insurance Administration to strip owner Philip Rousseaux and others at the firm of their investment adviser licenses.

The order, issued last December, followed an investigation by the insurance administration that found Everest had used misleading information in its infomercials and blurred the line between the insurance company Everest Wealth Management and its related advisory services. The order also calls for Rousseaux and Everest to pay $62,400 in fines.

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Everest denied wrongdoing and challenged the order, launching what could be a weeklong administrative hearing to determine whether the penalties against Everest will be enforced.

If the hearing officer, Bob Morrow, an associate commissioner for hearings at the insurance administration, upholds the order, Everest has said it will appeal the decision to the Circuit Court.

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During the proceedings, which started this week, Everest is expected to make a case that the allegations and penalties levied against the company are unfairly harsh and part of a broader effort to by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to take down Everest and Rousseaux. Everest faces separate but related actions from the securities division of the attorney general's office.

"Nothing about this case makes the insurance marketplace better for customers," said Alex J. Brown, an attorney with Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler who is representing Everest, during the hearing. "I think this case has turned into a battle of wills."

In opening statements Tuesday, Brandy Gray, the assistant attorney general for the Maryland Insurance Administration, defended the agency's findings and actions against the company as straightforward evidence of wrongdoing by Everest.

In June 2015, Frosh accused the company of fraudulently misrepresenting the risks of its investment strategy, and said he wanted to shut down the business and permanently ban Rousseaux from offering investment services in the state.

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Everest fired back with a lawsuit against Frosh, but the case was dismissed.

Earlier this year, an administrative judge recommended a $250,000 fine for Rousseaux, revoking his license and permanently barring Everest Wealth Management from operating as an advisory company.

Everest is awaiting a final decision from Assistant Attorney General Lucy Cardwell. If not in the company's favor, Everest will appeal the decision to the Circuit Court, Rousseaux said.

Rousseaux said he thinks he and his company are being targeted by Frosh and said he does not know why. Other advisers whose licenses have been revoked were being punished for Ponzi schemes or defrauding clients out of their life savings, while none of Everest's clients have been harmed by the company, Rousseaux said.

The attorney general has not alleged that client funds were misappropriated.

"My problem is the punishment doesn't fit the crime," Rousseaux said in an interview following Tuesday's proceedings. "They're trying to give me the death penalty for speeding and parking tickets."

When asked to respond to Rousseaux's accusations, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office said the security division's order against Everest speaks for itself.

In addition to its infomercials touting the firm as "the Money Guys," Everest has sponsored Orioles radio broadcasts on WJZ-FM and has advertised in The Baltimore Sun.

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