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The Pendulum Swings

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The Pendulum Swings


Pendulum animation The Pendulum SwingsBack in college, where the combination of free time and that university mojo so often lend themselves to this sort of thing, a friend and I challenged each other to cram the most undeniable truth into complete sentences of the fewest possible words.

In the end, we settled on the following:

“Entropy increases” and “The pendulum swings.”

The first sentence is a reference to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The second sentence is a reference to the fact that cultural trends will always increase in pervasiveness and acceptance until some limit is broached, at which time opposing forces will be applied that cause society to respond with increasing negativity toward that trend. And, as with an actual pendulum, the higher the upswing, the more forceful the push back will be.

How true both are.

I first encountered the market reform movement near the end of 2005. Over the months that followed, I witnessed the following:

  1. An SEC staffer in San Francisco subpoenaed the communications of Jim Cramer, Herb Greenberg, Bethany McLean, Carol Remond and a handful of other “journalists” suspected of colluding with Gradient Analytics and short selling hedge fund Rocker Partners, only to have SEC Chairman Chris Cox personally sabotage the effort. This was followed up almost immediately by the SEC vindictively subpoenaing Patrick Byrne.
  2. FOIA requests filed with the SEC intended to give some sense of the scope of the delivery failure problem were regularly denied or spitefully filled with minimal accompanying explanation.
  3. Numerous brutal articles were published attacking opponents of naked short selling – Byrne primarily among them – under the bylines of (surprise) Jim Cramer, Herb Greenberg, Bethany McLean, Carol Remond, Joe Nocera, and Roddy Boyd.
  4. Audio tape captured by a market reform operative who covertly accessed a panel discussion featuring Herb Greenberg, Joe Nocera and Dan Colarusso (then Roddy Boyd’s editor) hosted by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. The theme of the discussion was essentially “How do we deal with these lying anti-naked short selling bloggers who are so critical of us?” Among other things, the tape caught Joe Nocera saying (to loud applause) he felt life was too short to bother understanding whether naked shorting is actually a problem, and Dan Colarusso saying he and his newspaper had the capacity to “crush” Patrick Byrne.
  5. An all-out PR offensive launched by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) attacking opponents of naked short selling.
  6. The emergence of Gary Weiss, an ostensibly credible former business journalist and blogger, bursting onto the scene, proclaiming naked short selling beneficial and its opponents crazy.
  7. The hijacking and distortion of the Wikipedia article on naked short selling by whom we would soon learn was none other than Gary Weiss. Given journalists’ well-documented over-reliance on Wikipedia, this was undoubtedly a key factor in our difficulty getting them to provide more balanced coverage of the issue.
  8. A special session of the Utah Legislature which, catching the banks flat-footed, resulted in passage of a law requiring brokerages with operations in Utah to promptly disclose stock delivery failures. But before it could go into effect, and after the prime brokers managed to rally their armies of lobbyists, the law was handily repealed.
  9. Unprecedented growth of companies on the Reg SHO Threshold Securities list, indicating that, contrary to the intended aim of Regulation SHO, naked shorting was becoming increasingly prevalent.

On balance, it was a very dark time for the market reform movement, as every charge was followed by a blistering counter-charge, and every lunge answered by a quick parry. More than once, I recall hearing even the staunchest market reformers openly question the capacity of a rag-tag band of revolutionaries to counter the enormous influence and resources brought to bear by the hedge funds and prime brokers who were getting rich from the practice of manipulative naked short selling, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’d picked the wrong battle.

That’s not to say I ever doubted the correctness of the cause – only the correctness of my decision to join a fight that sometimes seemed impossible to win and certain to result in damage to my reputation as it had to Patrick Byrne’s and so many others’.

But in those moments of doubt, I’d remind myself of an eternal truth: the pendulum swings.

In other words, as dark as those days were, there would invariably be restraining forces applied to help slow – and eventually stall and even reverse – the momentum built up by decades of Wall Street villainy and the deep regulatory capture of the institutions intended to counter it.

What we could not have realized – as such perspective only comes with time – is that we (meaning, you, me, and everybody else who’s taken steps to do something about illegal naked short selling) were in fact the very restraining forces so many of us were expecting to arrive, cavalry-like, from some unknown quarter, and that as dark as those days seemed, they appeared quite bright to those who had endured the 1990s and early part of the current decade, when the practice persisted, without restraint, like a drunken orgy.

Of course, the event that finally brought the pendulum to a decisive halt and reversal was the current economic crisis, which saw the term “naked short selling” dragged into the popular lexicon (as determined by Yahoo! listing it as one of its five most popular search terms in September of 2008).

Since then, as the link between naked short selling and the beginning of the crisis itself has been solidly established, valiant members of Congress – most notably Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman – have dragged the issue of naked short selling into the political lexicon, as well.

Where are we today?

  1. The SEC recently enacted permanent restrictions on illegal naked short selling, which include greatly enhanced disclosure of delivery failures and shorting activity.
  2. Today, the SEC brought its first enforcement cases against illegal naked short selling.
  3. Also today, FINRA expelled a member firm for engaging in illegal short selling.
  4. Jim Cramer has been deeply and publicly shamed. Herb Greenberg is now a ‘consultant’. Bethany McLean has left business journalism. Dan Colarusso continues looking for steady employment. Roddy Boyd, Carol Remond and Joe Nocera all retain their former positions, but seem to steer clear of anything resembling the issue of naked shorting.
  5. The DTCC is mum on the issue as well.
  6. Gary Weiss – since abashed and banned from Wikipedia – sinks ever deeper into obscure irrelevance while the Wikipedia article on naked short selling that he once controlled has been liberated and made to read nearly as it should.
  7. Substantive legislation with the capacity to end illegal naked short selling and other short-side market abuses once and for all is currently working its way through Congress.
  8. As of today, the Reg SHO Threshold Securities list is 23% shorter than it was on the day I met Patrick Byrne (and 90% smaller than it was at its height in July of 2008), and is nearly devoid of the kinds of promising, well-capitalized companies whose inclusion used to be a sure sign of an impending bear raid.

These are all developments that seemed impossible in the dark days of 2006.

But here we are.

Yes, the pendulum is now unambiguously swinging in our direction, but the job is not done. Indeed, we can only be assured of progress to the extent that we each recognize our responsibility to continue pushing.

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 6 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 6 of 15)



What follows is PART 6 of a 15-PART series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture in the coming days, after which point the story will be published in its entirety.

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Where we left off, we had learned that CNBC’s Jim Cramer had declared Dendreon to be a “battleground stock.” And we had learned that Dendreon subsequently came under attack by criminal naked short sellers, right at the time that its promising treatment for prostate cancer had been endorsed by an FDA expert advisory panel, and right before that treatment was to be derailed by some strange occurrences.

While it is impossible to know who was responsible for the illegal naked short selling (the SEC keeps that a big secret), we know that the people who orchestrated those strange occurrences (which I will describe in due course) and at least seven of the ten hedge fund managers who held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company) are tied to Michael Milken, the famous criminal who is now considered to be a “prominent philanthropist” with a special focus on prostate cancer.

Now we learn a bit more about this network and the attack on Dendreon, a company with a promising treatment for prostate cancer…

* * * * * * * *

When the FDA’s advisory panel voted in favor of Provenge, most Wall Street research analysts were predicting a bright future for Dendreon. But as naked short sellers piled on with ever increasing gusto, hedge fund managers continued to whisper in reporters’ ears. And two Wall Street analysts did more than whisper – they shouted, day after day, that Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer was doomed.

One of these analysts is named Jonathan Aschoff, and he works for a financial research outfit called Brean Murray Carret & Co.  The day after the advisory panel vote, in an interview with Reuters, Aschoff made the long-shot prediction that the FDA would not approve Provenge, but would instead ask Dendreon to supply additional data showing that the treatment was safe and effective–a process that could take years. Soon after, Aschoff told other media outlets that the FDA would set a “dangerous double standard” by approving Provenge because the treatment “did not meet its primary goal in two Phase III trials.”

During the first days of April 2007, Aschoff was everywhere, continuously repeating this notion that the FDA would set a “dangerous double standard” by approving Provenge.  On April 9, Aschoff reiterated his “sell” rating for Dendreon, setting a target for the stock at a mere $1.50, which implied that the stock would lose more than 90 percent of its value by the end of the year. Reuters, Associated Press, CNBC and other media dutifully reported Aschoff’s comments as though they shed  light on the merits of Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment.

Aschoff’s performance raises a few basic questions. The first is, how did a Wall Street analyst know that it would be “dangerous” to approve a medical treatment? It is an odd day, indeed, when the media turns to Wall Street for wisdom on matters of science and health.

The second question is, why was Aschoff so confident that the FDA would not approve Provenge? Given that the FDA had followed its advisory panels’ decisions in 97% of cases, and in 100% of cases involving drugs for dying patients, Aschoff’s prediction seemed rather far out. What did he know that the rest of the world did not know?

The third question is, who is Jonathan Aschoff?

* * * * * * * *

In 2003 – back when journalists still occasionally investigated stories, rather than parroting whatever hedge funds and Wall Street analysts whispered in their ears – The Wall Street Journal won a Pulitzer Prize for a story that nailed Jonathan Aschoff for being a fraud.

According to the Journal, Aschoff often impersonated doctors in order to acquire inside information on the status of drug trials underway at his target companies. A certain Dr. Cunningham, who worked at a cancer center in Dallas, told the Journal that he initially believed that Aschoff was a doctor. But he discovered that he was dealing with a fraud when he mentioned to Aschoff that an experimental treatment had caused some reduction of the “lymphadenopathy.”

“What’s that?” asked Aschoff.  He didn’t have a clue, even though “lymphadenopathy” is a  common medical term. It means, “swollen lymph nodes.”

Nonetheless, some years later, the Associated Press, Reuters, and other media outfits were willing to believe that Aschoff knew enough about medicine to be quoted as a reliable source – a source who had, for some reason, concluded that Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer was “dangerous.”

What reason did Aschoff have for reaching that conclusion?

* * * * * * * *

One more question: Which hedge funds were paying Aschoff’s bills?

There is one particular network of hedge fund managers that is known to pay “independent” financial research shops to publish biased or false negative reports on companies that they are selling short.

Former employees of “independent” financial research firm Gradient Analytics have provided sworn affidavits that hedge fund manager David Rocker–once the largest outside shareholder of TheStreet.com; former employee of  Milken-Boesky crony Michael Steinhardt (who is the son of “the biggest Mafia fence in America) and Steve Cohen–now “the most powerful trader on Wall Street;” reportedly once investigated by the SEC for trading on inside information provided to him by Milken’s shop Drexel Burnham–heavily influenced, edited, dictated, and in some cases actually wrote Gradient’s false, negative research about public companies. That means, of course, that Cohen and Rocker had copies of “Gradient’s” research before it was published, which is also highly improper.

And emails acquired by Deep Capture show that Cohen and hedge fund manager Jim Chanos, among others in their network, received and traded ahead of biased reports published by a research outfit called Morgan Keegan. After Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley broke this story, the SEC began (but will probably never conclude) an investigation into the matter.

Were hedge funds in this network dictating Aschoff’s research, too? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is worth noting that after the SEC sanctioned Aschoff for impersonating doctors, he went to work for an outfit called Sturza’s Institutional Research, which was owned by a fellow named Evan Sturza.

The SEC has launched (but of course never completed) multiple investigations of Sturza’s companies, which catered to a particular network of short sellers by publishing negative commentary on biotech companies. For example, in 1996, the SEC began (but has never completed) an investigation into whether Sturza conspired with the above-mentioned Michael Steinhardt and a firm called Gilford Securities to take down the stock of a biotech company called Organogenesis.

In the 1980s, Gilford Securities employed Jim Chanos (the above-mentioned fellow who is now under SEC investigation for trading ahead of biased research reports). Chanos manages a few hedge funds, the most famous of which is called Kynikos Associates. He is also the head of the short seller lobby in Washington, and a much favored source of information for the New York financial press.

In 1985 – back when Chanos was still at Gilford; back when journalists did investigations rather than parrot whatever Jim Chanos whispered in their ears – way back then is when The Wall Street Journal published a front page story about a “network” of short sellers said to include Jim Chanos and Michael Steinhardt. The story suggested that this network destroyed public companies for profit and described some of the more egregious tactics – espionage; impersonating journalists to get inside information; conspiring to cut off companies’ access to credit; spreading dubious information – that were employed by Chanos and others in his network.

At the time, Chanos made some effort to publicly distance himself from Michael Milken. And he recently told one reporter that lawyers threatened him in the 1980s because he was selling short companies that had been financed by Milken’s junk bonds. However, the truth is that Chanos’s short selling in the 1980s tended to support Milken’s machinations, and in later years Chanos remained very much a part of the old Milken network.

Chanos got his big break in the 1980s by short selling and ultimately destroying a company called Baldwin United. As part of this effort, Chanos and his colleagues at Gilford Securities went so far as to meet with Baldwin United’s bankers, and (through all manner of horror stories) convinced the bankers to cut off Baldwin’s access to credit. Soon enough, the company went bankrupt, and Michael Milken quickly got himself hired as advisor to the bankruptcy.

According to a well-known businessman who was involved in the bankruptcy proceedings, Milken abused his advisory position, handing out confidential information to his network, which ended up owning much of Baldwin’s assets.

As the story goes, Chanos’s take down of Baldwin impressed Michael Steinhardt (the short-seller whose father was the “biggest Mafia fence in America”) and Steinhardt introduced Chanos to his key limited partners – including Ivan Boesky (later indicted for manipulating stocks with Milken) and Marty Peretz (a Milken and Boesky crony who would later co-found TheStreet.com, along with Boesky crony Jim Cramer and a few hedge funds in this network).

Peretz, an aristocrat who has long been a part-time professor at Harvard, introduced Chanos to one of his former students, Dirk Ziff, who manages a hedge fund called Ziff Brothers Investments. The emails cited above show that Ziff Brothers, like Chanos and Steve Cohen, was receiving advance copies of those Morgan Keegan reports.

Dirk Ziff is part of the network of which I write. Indeed, Chanos launched his first hedge fund out of Dirk Ziff’s offices. This was a few years after Chanos left his position at Gilford Securities, which had a few key clients, one of whom was Michael Steinhardt, son of “the biggest Mafia fence in America.”

In the 1990s, five Gilford Securities traders–Chester Chicosky, Todd M. Nejaime, Lawrence Choiniere, Kevin P. Radigan, and William P. Burke – were arrested as part of Operation Uptick, the biggest Mafia bust in FBI history. Although some of these traders had left Gilford by the time they were indicted, they were charged with crimes allegedly committed while they were still working for Gilford. Specifically, the Gilford traders were charged with accepting bribes from a Mob-run brokerage called DMN Capital, and for helping to manipulate stocks with a cast of characters that included ten Mafia soldiers and a former New York police detective.

I asked H. Robert Holmes, who was Chanos’s boss at Gilford, whether he had any comment on the  Mafia’s infiltration of his firm. He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about? This is bullshit.” He also said he was completely unaware that any Gilford traders had been arrested for accepting bribes and manipulating stocks with a large cast of Mafia goons and Mafia associates. That is, he claimed to be unaware of an event in his company that had been vigorously publicized by the FBI and the SEC.

By the time of Operation Uptick, of course, Chanos was no longer with Gilford. He was then a “prominent investor” – a member of the world’s most powerful network of financial operators, a network whose members are portrayed by the press as geniuses and heroes, never mind that this is the very network that has been destroying companies since 1980s – the very network that is (as should by now be apparent) comprised of the criminal mastermind Michael Milken and his Mafia-connected cronies.

As a member of this network, Chanos is, of course, on close terms with Jim Cramer, the CNBC personality who once planned to run his hedge fund out of Milken co-conspirator Ivan Boesky’s offices. It was owing to Cramer that Chanos became the largest donor to the political campaigns of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was Cramer’s best friend and former college roommate. When Spitzer was caught with a hooker and forced to resign, it emerged that the hooker, “Ashlee Dupre”, had been living rent-free in Chanos’s beachside villa. Ashlee called Chanos “Uncle Jim.”

I tell you all this only to show the relationships that bind some particularly destructive short sellers and miscreants. It is this network that attacked the big banks last year, helping trigger the collapse of the financial system. And members of this network are the most “prominent” players in the biotech space.

One of those players is Jonathan Aschoff, the doctor-impersonating fraud who was, in the Spring of 2007, making the long-shot prediction that the FDA would not approve Dendreon’s “dangerous” treatment for prostate cancer. As we know, Aschoff previously worked for Sturza’s Institutional Research, run by a fellow who faced multiple SEC investigations (none of which led to any action) for allegedly publishing false information to help short sellers (such as Michael Steinhardt) manipulate stocks.

Under the strain of those investigations, Sturza shut his operation down. Now Sturza helps manage a hedge fund called Ursus. Ursus is owned by Jim Chanos, the Steinhardt protégé who housed the hooker of Cramer’s former college roommate, Eliot Spitzer.

Ursus specializes in shorting biotech stocks. There are Wall Street brokers who say that Ursus was short selling Dendreon while Sturza’s disciple, Jonathan Aschoff, was bashing the company and others in this network were looking to cash in.

But it is difficult to know for sure whether Ursus was selling short. It is difficult to know who was responsible for flooding the market with at least 9 million (and maybe tens of millions of) phantom Dendreon shares. It is difficult to know because the SEC does not require hedge funds to disclose their short positions, and does not release information on who is selling stock and failing to deliver it.

As far as the SEC is concerned, it’s all a big secret.

But we do know that Aschoff was predicting that Dendreon’s stock would sink to $1.50 right after Dendreon received an overwhelmingly positive vote from the FDA’s advisory panel, and right before Dendreon was derailed by some singularly strange occurrences. In addition, we know that at this time only ten hedge funds on the planet held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), and that at least seven of those hedge funds can be tied to the famous criminal Michael Milken or his close associates.

Michael Milken, of course, is not just a criminal, but also a “prominent philanthropist” whose Prostate Cancer Foundation has received much acclaim from the world at large. But, as we will see, it was not just those seven hedge funds, but Michael Milken himself, who stood to earn a tidy profit from the strange occurrences that were to derail Dendreon, a company with a promising treatment for prostate cancer.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 7.

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2) go here for additional suggestions: “So You Say You Want a Revolution?

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SEC Enforcement Chief Linda Thomsen Joins Davis Polk. Somebody Call Kreskin.

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SEC Enforcement Chief Linda Thomsen Joins Davis Polk. Somebody Call Kreskin.


As a rule, I avoid criticizing individual public servants. Elected officials are fair game, in my view, but not public servants. They do not wake up and go into work wanting to do a bad job, I know, and I have had too many tailwinds in life to criticize wantonly people who devote themselves to public service of any kind, simply as a matter of principle.

For recently retired SEC Enforcement Director Linda Thomsen, however, I’ll make an exception. (As Mr. Buffett says, “There are times when a man has to rise above his principles.”)

The first story I would like to tell about this Enforcement Director concerns an investigation that the SEC’s San Francisco office was conducting a few years into collusion among short-sellers and crooked journalists who shilled for them using ammunition provided by “research shops” which were fed their material by those same hedge funds, in a kind of “serpent-eating-its-tail” of financial hooliganism. It was a hard scheme to miss: any company shorted by Stevie Cohen (SAC), David Einhorn (Greenlight), Dan Loeb (Third Point), David Rocker, or a handful of others, could count on coming under the “where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire” journalistic scrutiny of such worthies as Jim Cramer and Dave Kansas, Gary “Scaramouche” Weiss, BethanyLong, Slow ThingMcLean and Roddy Boyd (both of Fortune Magazine), Carol Remond and Karen Richardson (both of DowJones), Floyd Norris and Joe Nocera, (both of the New York Times), and Herb Greenberg (MarketWatch), that “smoke” often being supplied by research shops of which those same hedge funds were clients. Invariably they’d be naked shorted as well, and show up on the Reg SHO Threshold List, and anyone noticing this constellation of facts occurring over and over with complete regularity could be counted on to be declared “wacky” by these same journalists.

I learned about this investigation because I was invited to a meeting by the SEC investigators conducting it. I’m pretty sure that “invitation” came in the form of a federal subpoena, but I am not completely clear on that, having over the last few years received enough such paperwork to wallpaper my bedroom. In any case, I arrived at the appointed hour, and was sworn in. My deposition was conducted by a man named “Mark” and overseen by his boss, Tracy, both of whose last names I see no reason to reveal. They both were the kind of federal employees that make one swell with pride: They displayed neither favor nor enmity, but simply, white collar professionalism such as has largely been lost in Corporate America. They were prompt, prepared, and business-like, and, without being rude, challenged me fairly aggressively while revealing to me as little as they could.

That said, try as they did, it was impossible for them to be as blank to me as they wished. After all, if someone asks, “What do you know about the possibility that Colonel  Mustard killed his victim in the library with a rope?”, then it is resonable to infor that the utterer suspects that Colonel Mustard may have indeed killed someone in the library with a rope. In this fashion, I became reasonably confident that while the New York financial press was bleating about how wacky I must be to notice patterns that many sane observers had noticed, those same patterns had been noticed by others better placed to do something about them than I. (Incidentally, normally I would be loathe to reveal the contents of such a deposition, but given that this is all moot now, yet tied to today’s news, and the bad guys are using FOIA requests to get this stuff anyway, it seems like the right thing to do.)

Somewhere around this time, Jim Cramer and others of the journalists mentioned above  received their own subpoenas. All hell broke loose, because they made it break loose (see for example “Herb Greenberg, The Worst Business Journalist in America, on the Conspiracy“). Of course, in a world where editors still had integrity, it would have been considered somewhat unseamly to have journalists reporting on an investigation of which they, themselves, had become the targets (I’m not sure why I mention that: I suppose it seems like it should be germane or something). But as a result, that investigation was promptly shit-canned. There’s no other way to describe it: the investigators were summoned to Washington, publicly crapped upon from a great height by SEC Chairman Chris Cox, the Enforcement Director who signed those subpoenas stood by idly while this happened to her staff, and we returned to our regularly scheduled programming of Muzak and bromide business reporting interrupted occasionally by B-list actors pitching Grandmother-Safe financial products and narcissistic hustlers promising that this time they really wanted to make you money, Mad Money!

Interestingly, not all the press backed up their brethren: editorials by Loren Steffy of the Houston Chronicle spring to mind in this regard. But by and large, the profession of business journalism stood mute while the reporting on a federal investigation was dominated by folks who were themselves the targets of that investigation.

The second story I would like to tell about this SEC Enforcement Director concerns some comments she made in 2008 in a keynote address before the United States Chamber of Commerce. In a pattern that observers of this issue have seen before, when asked about naked short selling, the Enforcement Director avoided the question by simply talking about the virtues of short selling, an issue which is not in contention. This pattern of avoiding the subject of naked short selling has been used time and time again by apologists for the practice (imagine someone being asked about sexual harassment, and answering with a response about the virtues of sex). Unfortunately for the Enforcement Director, her interlocutor, who was standing in the front row, directly in front of her podium, using a microphone that broadcast his voice loudly to the whole room (and you will see in a moment why that is relevant) pressed her on the distinction in a way that we would never see happen in any of the captured business media such as CNBC, New York Times, or Fortune.  The Enforcement Director’s subsequent answer (she blamed the victim companies and excused the crime) is instructive because it confirmed, as though further confirmation were necessary, that there are in fact two and only two plays in the apologists’ playbook: first, conflate naked short selling with short selling and discuss the benefits of short selling; second, blame the victim companies and excuse the crime.

3:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Regulatory Keynote Address: A View from the Division of Enforcement: Perspectives and Priorities
Linda C. Thomsen, Director of the Division of Enforcement, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Introduced and moderated by: Michael J. Ryan, Senior Vice President and Executive Director, Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “You spent a lot of time talking about insider trading and penny stock fraud, but you failed to mention an issue that’s of great concern to the Chamber, and that is naked short selling and the unsettled trades that can result from that. How can the Commission claim that it is serious about enforcement when millions of trades fail to settle every day and companies remain on Reg SHO Threshold Lists for years and years? And, second part of the question, why is the new rule 10b-21 necessary when, as Commissioner Casey pointed out, it makes illegal activity that is already illegal?;

SEC ENFORCEMENT DIRECTOR: “Um… I didn’t hear all of it, unfortunately, but as to the issue of short selling, we recognize that short selling is -”

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “My question was not about short selling. We all know that short selling is legal, and a necessary and efficient part of the market process. I’m talking about naked short selling-the selling of shares one does not have in inventory and probably has no intention of locating or borrowing.”

SEC ENFORCEMENT DIRECTOR: “As to naked short selling, and more generally market manipulation generally (sic), it is an area we are focused on. We have seen fewer cases in that arena because, often times, this is not necessarily with respect to naked shorts, but shorting or market manipulation more generally, because often the components of something that might look to be manipulative are all legal trades as you point out. So it’s a hard case to bring, which is not to say that it isn’t something that we don’t investigate, because we do. So I .. hear and understand the frustration of many on the subject of short selling generally. When we hear complaints about short selling-and, frankly, it is both short and naked short, it is a combination of both-we routinely hear from companies who’ve come in, who worry that they’re being shorted in an illegal way. We routinely take all that information in and look into it. And often times, as I think many defense counsel would be happy to tell you, when we dig in, what we find is that some of the information that has caused people to be shorting is actually true as to the company, and we may very well be confronted with two issues, one on the company and its disclosure side as well as on the trading side. But they’re very difficult cases, which is not to say that we aren’t focused on them and interested in them and indeed this new focus that we have on some smaller companies and smaller issuers will wrap some of those concerns into their focus as well.”

As you may have gathered, that SEC Enforcement Director was Linda Thomsen.

That would be the same Linda Thomsen who, for the entire 14 year duration of her service in the Enforcement Division of the SEC (the last four as Director), missed the $67-billion-and-counting walking Ponzi scheme/human brown stain known as Bernie Madoff, though concerned citizen Harry Markopolis not only did the work for the Enforcement Division, he all but spray-painted his findings on the lovely Italian marble of the SEC’s posh new DC headquarters.

That would also be the Linda Thomsen who, regarding Mr. Markopolis, acquitted herself so handily in this now-famous exchange with New York Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman.

That would be the same Linda Thomsen against whom the SEC’s Office of the Inspector General recommended disciplanary action for her role in hanging out to dry SEC Senior Investigator Gary Aguirre, due to his impertinence in trying to subpoena Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack simply because a trail of clues in “the most important insider trading case in 30 years” led directly to him.  Aguirre had failed to regonize that the law of the land does not apply to Mr. Mack because he has too much “juice“, as Aguirre’s boss Robert Hanson put it while shutting down the investigation. According to a subsequent report of the United State Senate Judiciary Comittee, by “juice” Hanson meant, “meaning they could directly contact the Director or an Associate Director of Enforcement. That Director was, again, Linda Thomsen, and the Associate Director was Paul Berger, who was, at the time of these events, negotiating for a job with Mr. Mack’s law firm, Debevoise Plimpton, a job which Mr. Berger ultimately took. That report by the US Senate Judiciary Committee summarized the culture of Enforcement Division under Director Linda Thomsen:

Staff Attorney Gary Aguirre said that his supervisor warned him that it would be difficult to obtain approval for a subpoena of John Mack due to his ‘very powerful political connections.’ Aguirre’s claim is corroborated by internal SEC emails, including one from his supervisor, Robert Hanson. Hanson also told Aguirre that Mack’s counsel would have ‘juice,’ meaning they could directly contact the Director or an Associate Director of Enforcement.

SEC management delayed Mack’s testimony for over a year, until days after the statute of limitations expired. After Aguirre complained about his supervisor’s reference to Mack’s ‘political clout,’ SEC management offered conflicting and shifting explanations.

The SEC fired Gary Aguirre after he reported his supervisor’s comments about Mack’s ‘political connections,’ despite positive performance reviews and a merit pay raise.

After being contacted by a friend in early September 2005, Associate Director Paul Berger authorized the friend to mention his interest in a job with Debevoise & Plimpton. Although that was the same firm that contacted the SEC for information about John Mack’s exposure in the Pequot investigation, Berger did not immediately recuse himself from the Pequot probe. Berger ultimately left the SEC to join Debevoise & Plimpton. When initially questioned, Berger’s answers concerning his employment search were less than forthcoming.

“The SEC’s Office of Inspector General failed to conduct a serious, credible investigation of Aguirre’s claims.”

That would be the same Enforcement Director to whom the SEC’s new Inspector General was obliquely referring, in page after page, for 55 pages, in a report explaining how three well-organized  6th graders could have handled the nation’s naked shorting complaints better than did the SEC Director Linda Thomsen’s Enforcement Division.

That Linda Thomsen is the same one whose resumption of employment with white-shoe law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell (I say “resumption” because Ms. Thomsen worked at Davis Polk until she joined the SEC in 1995) was announced today in this gem (“SEC Enforcement Chief Joins Davis Polk“) from the Blog of Legal Times (“Law and Lobbying in the Nation’s Capital”).

The announcement reads, with no detectable irony:

Linda Thomsen, who headed the SEC’s enforcement division until February, is starting as a partner in the firm’s white-collar defense and government investigations and enforcement practices in June. She will be joining former SEC commissioner Annette Nazareth, who started at Davis Polk last year, and Robert Colby, who joined the D.C. office this year after serving as deputy director of the SEC’s trading and markets division…

Thomsen practiced in Davis Polk’s New York office before joining the SEC in 1995. She started at the commission as assistant chief litigation counsel and went on to become head of enforcement in 2005. After leaving the SEC earlier this year, Thomsen says, “I had no preconceived ideas about where I was going to go, or what I was going to do.”Translation: “I swear, it never occurred to me to go work for the law firm defending wealthy clients against whom I was overseeing cases until weeks ago.”

At the firm, Thomsen will advise clients on internal investigations and defend them against SEC probes.Comment: Probes such as those ones she was overseeing weeks ago.

After serving at the agency for 14 years, Thomsen says she understands the kind of questions clients should be asking themselves to stay out of trouble with the commission. “I think I know and can see the kind of issues that get people into trouble, and the kinds of processes that cause them to, perhaps, ignore warning signs,” says Thomsen. - Comment: Yes, I am sure Ms. Thomsen is one of the world’s most recognized experts on the subject of processes that cause people to ignore warning signs.

Thomsen headed the enforcement division as it came under fire for failing to catch Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, as well as problems that contributed to the meltdown on Wall Street. In response to critics, Thomsen vehemently defends her former division. “I think the professionalism in the division of enforcement is really unparalleled,” she says. ‘If you look at the totality of the enforcement efforts…it’s really a record that I know I’m proud of.”

Considering the world-historic implosion of the US capital market occurring to vamp-til-ready accompaniment of Ms. Thomsen’s blind-piano-player-in-the-cathouse Enforcement Division,  I’m at something of a loss for words with which to comment upon Ms. Thomsen’s “pride”.

But it is nice she landed on her feet.

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Email Exposes Short Seller Plot to Destroy a Public Company


This is Part 3 of an ongoing series.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

A few years ago, a clique of influential journalists went to extraordinary lengths to cover up the problem of illegal short selling. In the face of indisputable data and evidence, the journalists insisted, over and over, that “naked” short selling (hedge funds manipulating stock prices by flooding the market with phantom stock) rarely occurred. And they said short sellers (who profit from falling stock prices) don’t set out to destroy public companies.

Moreover, if a person were to criticize illegal short selling, the reporters would smear that person’s reputation with a savagery that was almost without parallel in contemporary journalism.

At the time, these journalists were working at major news organizations like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and CNBC, but most shared a common history: they had been founding editors or top employees of TheStreet.com, a financial news website. The few who had not worked for TheStreet.com were close colleagues of TheStreet.com’s owner, Jim Cramer, who is best known as the eccentric host of CNBC’s “Mad Money” program.

Having studied more than 1,000 stories by these journalists, I can assure the reader that nearly every one of them was sourced from a tight network of hedge fund managers, and that a great many of the stories were false or misleading. Moreover, most of the people in this network (including Jim Cramer himself) are tied in important ways to two famous criminals from the 1980s – Ivan Boesky and “junk bond king” Michael Milken.

And though I realize that is hard for some people to absorb this, I will continue to provide evidence that a surprising number of the “prominent investors” in this network have had dealings with associates of organized crime – the Mafia.

* * * * * * * *

Last spring, we published “The Story of Deep Capture,” which sought to explain the origins of the Deep Capture website (mission: “to bypass the ‘captured’ institutions mediating our nation’s discourse”) by way of exposing the machinations of the Cramer clique of journalists and their short selling sources.

One day after we published our story, Cramer had some kind of awakening. Whereas he had previously sought to whitewash short seller crimes, he now suddenly repeated our assertion that illegal short selling was a big problem – the same problem that precipitated the great stock market crash of 1929.

A few months later, abusive short selling was implicated by U.S. Senators, CEOs of major banks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, respected academics, prominent law firms, current and past chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in the near total collapse of our financial system.

Nowadays, Cramer is even more adamant. He says he knows a lot of short sellers. He says that short sellers are destroying public companies. He says they crushed the markets and they’re going to crush America too.

These short sellers, Cramer hollers, are downright “diabolical.”

* * * * * * * *

If you have not done so, please read Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne’s primer on naked short selling. Please read “The Story of Deep Capture.”

Think about what Cramer has said.

And then have a look at the following email.

= = = = =Begin Message= = = = =

Message # : 727

Message Sent: 02/22/2006 08:57:48

From: AHELLER3@bloomberg.net|ANDY HELLER|EXIS CAPITAL MANAGEM

To: JONKALIKOW@bloomberg.net|JONATHAN KALIKOW|STANFIELD CAPITAL

Subject: CNBC – FAIRFAX

Reply:

He did this one time before, and the stock went down 3 on the open, then closed up 1. the way to get this thing down is to get them where they eat, like the credit analysts and holders. we’re taking this baby down for the count. ads and I are going to toronto in 2 weeks for a group lunch. J

= = = = =End Message= = = = =

* * * * * * * *

That email was authored by a top employee of Exis Capital, which is an offshoot of SAC Capital — said by some to be the most powerful hedge fund on Wall Street. We can’t be certain who, aside from the email’s author and “ads” (Adam D. Sender, head of Exis), attended that “group lunch.” But from other emails we know that a particular “group” of hedge fund managers did, indeed, intend to take “this baby down for the count.”

The “baby” was Fairfax Financial, a major, publicly listed insurance and financial firm.

The above email (acquired through discovery in Fairfax’s lawsuit against some members of the “group”) makes reference in the first line to journalist Herb Greenberg, who bashed Fairfax on CNBC, apparently causing the stock to go “down 3 on the open.” Other emails in our collection (we’ll publish a couple more of them) suggest that Herb’s reporting involved nothing more than contacting the “group” to find out what he was supposed to say.

* * * * * * * *

Herb took Fairfax “down 3 at the open” in February 2006, right at the time that Herb, a founding editor of TheStreet.com, received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission. TheStreet.com also got a subpoena. So did Jim Cramer, the owner of TheStreet.com. Short seller David Rocker, a member of the “group” and then the largest outside shareholder of TheStreet.com, got a subpoena too.

At the time, the commission had opened a formal investigation into Gradient Analytics, a financial research firm that stood accused by multiple former employees of manufacturing false “independent” research reports in cahoots with short sellers (namely, the “group”) and letting the short sellers trade ahead of the reports’ publication.

The “group” – which also included “prominent investor” Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates – had a similar scam going with “independent research” firm Morgan Keegan. Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley broke that story more than a month ago. Bloomberg News, which seems to be the only major media outfit willing to write critically about these “prominent investors,” picked the story up last week.

The Wall Street Journal published a major, front-page article that exposed the dubious tactics that Jim Chanos and affiliated short sellers used to demolish public companies.

But that article was published more than twenty years ago — in 1985.

Since then, the Journal has not published a single negative story about Chanos and his friends. It has not published a single investigative story about abusive short selling.

When David Kansas, a founding editor of TheStreet.com, was running The Wall Street Journal “Money & Investing” section, that part of the paper served as little more than a mouthpiece for Rocker, Cohen, Chanos and affiliated “prominent investors.”

But last week, even The Wall Street Journal had to acknowledge that Chanos is now the target of an SEC investigation.

* * * * * * * *

When the SEC issued subpoenas in the Gradient investigation, one former Gradient employee provided a sworn affidavit stating that Herb Greenberg held his negative stories so that David Rocker could establish short positions that would make money when Herb’s stories caused stocks to do such things as go “down 3 at the open.”

At the time, Jon Markman, a founding editor of TheStreet.com and later managing editor of MSN Money was running a hedge fund out of Gradient’s back office. Former Gradient employees said that Markman was also trading ahead of Herb’s negative stories and Gradient’s false negative information. If true, this would likely be illegal.

But SEC officials say that the investigation in February 2006 was aimed at bigger prey than just Gradient and a few journalists. The commission was aware that some “prominent investors” were, in the words of our email author, taking companies “down for the count.” Good people at the SEC (the rank and file) hoped to put a stop to this.

But when the subpoenas were issued, Herb, Cramer and others in their media clique went berserk. They said journalists don’t have special relationships with short sellers. They said short sellers don’t destroy companies. Cramer famously vandalized his government subpoena – live on CNBC.

Under this “media” pressure, the SEC chairman announced that it would not enforce the subpoenas. Later, the SEC dropped its investigation altogether.

In an interview with Bloomberg News about the decision not to enforce the subpoenas, SEC attorney Kathleen Bisaccia said this: “To have the chairman publicly slap us in the face for doing our jobs – that really crushed the spirit of a lot of people for a long time.”

Indeed, former SEC officials say that this was a pivotal moment in SEC history. With morale sapped, the commission all but ceased to function.

Certainly, it did not stop the short sellers who would soon begin efforts to take some of Wall Street’s biggest financial institutions “down for the count.”

* * * * * * * *

Herb Greenberg, the journalist who took Fairfax “down 3 at the open,” and who was alleged to have allowed at least one short seller in the “group” to trade ahead of his stories, now runs an “independent” financial research firm that advertises itself as “bridging financial journalism and forensic analysis.”

We believe that Herb receives the bulk of his income from the above-mentioned “group” and affiliated “prominent investors.”

* * * * * * * *

From the above email it is evident that in addition to working with corrupt journalists, the “group” sought to destroy Fairfax Financial by getting “them where they eat.” That is, the hedge funds sought to “take this baby down for the count” by cutting off the company’s access to capital.

Sometimes “prominent investors” will merely dish dirt to a company’s lenders. Other times, the schemes are more complicated, with investors in their network actually financing the company. This gives them access to inside information and (in the case of convertible debentures) to stock that can be lent to affiliated short sellers.

In other cases, “prominent investors” will buy the company’s debt, package it into “collateralized debt obligations” (financial weapons of mass destruction that were pioneered by Michael Milken’s team at Drexel Burnham Lambert), and then trade it in such a way as to make it seem as if the company is in trouble.

When the time is right, the “prominent investors” fob off the debt to some witless or compliant pension fund. Then they tell people that they’re no longer financing the company – the company’s been “cut off.”

Meanwhile, the company will be subjected to unbridled “naked” short selling – hedge funds illegally selling stock that they do not actually possess (phantom stock) to manipulate down the share price. (By way of example: when the above email was written, SEC data showed that millions of phantom Fairfax shares had been “failing to deliver” on a daily basis.

What usually happens is that legitimate lenders see the plummeting stock price. They see a supposed “financial partner” yanking credit. They see the negative media. They see the debt trading at disturbing prices. They have short sellers feeding them horrible news about the company.

The legitimate lenders know the news is false. They know the company is credit worthy. But the negativity itself becomes a liability. The falling stock price is a liability. The legitimate lenders get worried. They raise their cost of capital, or cut if off altogether.

And so the “baby” goes “down for the count.”

* * * * * * * *

Fairfax survived this onslaught. Other companies were not so lucky.

Last year, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and dozens of other companies all went bust in a similar pattern — waves of naked short selling slightly preceding false stories planted in the media and then, suddenly, a financial “partner” cutting off a source of capital.

That is, short sellers got these companies “where they eat.”

Did the short sellers “cause” these companies to collapse? If a sniper shoots at a man who is swimming in a dangerous ocean current, and the man drowns, we cannot say for sure that the sniper “caused” the man’s death. But we can say that shooting at struggling swimmers is a crime.

Which short sellers committed the crimes? Only the SEC and the FBI can tell us for sure.

But we know which “group” attacked Fairfax Financial. We know that this same “group” and affiliated “prominent investors” attacked the big financial companies that collapsed last year. And we know that the people in this “group” are not passive investors.

Rather, when they attack a “baby,” they seek to take it “down for the count.”

Given that the collapse of the financial companies caused an economic catastrophe that will wipe out the jobs and savings accounts of millions of Americans, it seems that the “group” and affiliated “prominent investors” warrant further attention.

* * * * * * * *

One “prominent investor” is Adam Sender, proprietor of Exis Capital, the hedge fund that employs the author of the above email. As you will recall, Exis is an offshoot of SAC Capital, which is managed by Steve Cohen – described by BusinessWeek magazine as “the most powerful trader on the Street.”

As I noted in my previous piece, a former Mafia soldier turned private investigator offered to have one of Sender’s business partners buried in the Nevada desert. Sender claims to have declined this offer, but an FBI recording (hear it again here) suggests that Sender paid more than $200,000 to that former Mafia soldier and that Sender intended to “fix” his business partner and somehow bring about a “doomsday.”

Sender also hired a thug named Spyro Contogouris to harass and threaten executives of Fairfax Financial – part of the “group” effort to take that “baby down for the count.” In upcoming stories, I will publish some of Spyro’s shocking emails. In one, he told an FBI agent that somebody was threatening his life. He claimed that it was lawyers working for Fairfax Financial.

But that claim seems somewhat absurd. Fairfax Financial is a Canadian insurance company run by a mild-mannered immigrant from India named Prem Watsa, who is known as “the Warren Buffett of Canada.”

Given that Spyro wrote his email shortly before he was arrested by the FBI agent, and given that this FBI agent was investigating the “group,” it is possible that Spyro either made up the story to solicit sympathy, or the “group” was threatening Spyro’s life to prevent him from testifying.

Either way, it says something about the state of the American media that this intrigue, involving a major financial firm and some of the nation’s most “prominent investors,” is not front page news.

* * * * * * * *

The recipient of the email promising to take Fairfax “down for the count” was Jonathan Kalikow of Stanfield Capital, a hedge fund specialized in the trading of collateralized debt obligations.

Jonathan is a member of the mighty Kalikow family. The patriarch of this family is “prominent investor” Peter Kalikow, who was one of the largest financial backers of the stock manipulation firm run by Ivan Boesky, the famous criminal from the 1980s.

But Peter Kalikow is perhaps best known as the former owner of The New York Post.

When Kalikow owned the Post, the newspaper’s fleet of delivery trucks was handed over to members of New York’s five organized crime families. With Bonanno Mafia soldier Richard “Shellack-head” Cantarella presiding over the delivery bay, guns and drugs were loaded into the Post’s newspaper trucks and transported throughout the city.

Indeed, the New York Post became one of La Cosa Nostra’s principal smuggling operations.

* * * * * * * *

The other members of the “group” — David Rocker, Steve Cohen of SAC Capital, Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates, and Dan Loeb of Third Point – have been discussed at length on this website. In upcoming installments, I will tell you more about them and others in their network.

They are all “prominent investors.”

To be continued…

* * * * * * * *

Mark Mitchell is a reporter for DeepCapture.com. He previously worked as an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal in Europe, a business correspondent for Time magazine in Asia, and as an assistant managing editor responsible for the Columbia Journalism Review’s online critique of business journalism. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Email: mitch0033@gmail.com

If this article concerns you, and you wish to help, then:

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The word on TheStreet.com


One of the central theses of The Story of Deep Capture, Mark Mitchell’s epic work of media criticism, is that the staff of TheStreet.com is overwhelmingly beholden to the interests of a few criminal, short-selling hedge funds.

Herb Greenberg, Dan Calorusso, Dave Kansas, Jesse Eisenger: all launched their careers at TheStreet.com.

Such an ignominious list of alumni is matched only by the institution’s co-founder: Jim Cramer, and early investor: David Rocker (founder of Rocker Partners hedge fund).

There’s little doubt that TheStreet.com has been home to more than its fair share of captured journalists. What’s less clear is the matter of cause and effect: does the organization excel at breeding, or merely attracting such people?

Based on the example of former TheStreet.com writer Peter Eavis — contrasting what can be learned about him in the many documents recently made public in the lawsuit pitting Fairfax Financial against SAC Capital and several other hedge funds, with what he’s accomplished since — I’m inclined to believe that the dysfunction at TheStreet.com is a product of the toxic culture of the place, and that well-intended writers with talent who leave early enough have the capacity to redeem themselves.

Peter Eavis features prominently in several documents acquired through discovery in the Fairfax case. The earliest mention of him appears in an email dated July 10, 2002, in which John Hempton told Rocker employee Monty Montgomery “I have Peter interested” in his belief that Fairfax Financial was a fraud.

Later, short selling hedge fund manager Jim Chanos refers to Eavis as John Hempton’s “guy”.

On January 15, 2003, Eavis published his first column on Fairfax: Unsure times for insurer Fairfax Financial, making a special effort to attack the integrity and business acumen of Fairfax CEO Prem Watsa.

While the tone of that piece implies plenty about Eavis’s state of mind when he wrote it, somewhat more telling is the comment he uses to preface the article when sending it, just 20 minutes after publication, to Rocker hedge fund employees Marc Cohodes and Monty Montgomery:

“Watsa good old Canadian insurer to do?”

One month later, Eavis publishes Fairfax Tirade Can’t Obscure Sea of Red, comparing Prem Watsa to, among other things, a wounded animal.

Less than 20 minutes later, Eavis sends the column to Montgomery and Cohodes, prefaced by:

“Prem gets nasty.”

Exactly one month later, it was Eavis again, with Fairfax’s Buffett Pose Falls Short, which he again promptly sent to Montgomery and Cohodes, this time commenting:

“Imitation gives way to evisceration.”

On April 3, 2003, Eavis is back on the attack, with Fairfax Walks the High Wire on Rates, which he also wastes no time in sending Montgomery and Cohodes, noting:

Prem in the bunker.”

One month and two days later, Eavis writes Fairfax Fog Only Thickens, calling the company “beleaguered” despite its having just announced first quarter earnings of $10.60 per share. Eavis claims he offered Fairfax an opportunity to respond, but that the company “didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.”

The lack of a prompt return call might have been a result of the fact that Eavis filed his column at 7:10am EDT.

While Fairfax employees likely were not in the office at that early hour, we know Eavis was, as he emailed the column to Montgomery and Cohodes within six minutes, prefaced by:

“More on the anti-Buffett.”

Finally, on May 15, 2003, we see the most telling email exchange of all, this time following Eavis’s column Fairfax Is Banking on the Luck of the Irish.

In stark contrast with the victorious tone of the emails alerting Montgomery and Cohodes to his four earlier columns, Eavis is sheepish when announcing this latest, saying:

“Two numerical errors in the first version, so I’m re-sending this. The mistakes made Fairfax look better than it should. A link to the corrections can be found at the bottom of the piece. Apologies.”

Apologies?

Apologies!

Hey, Peter…even the best reporters make mistakes. That’s why pencils have erasers, as they say, and why publications have “Corrections and Clarifications” sections. If you owe anybody an apology, it’s your readers, which was taken care of in the body of the correction itself.

And yet, Eavis apparently felt apologies were also due Rocker Partners hedge fund, where an anticipated payday depended upon Fairfax looking as bad as possible.

Why on earth would Eavis feel such a debt to Rocker?

A little less than an hour later, Monty Montgomery replied, writing:

“…….boy, hard to believe, but i think it’s very true…..this ends up with Hempton summoned to toronto to tell the authorities/regulators how he figured it out when no one else could……toronto’s just across the lake from the farm, that will be a good excuse for us all to get together there and throw back a couple of cold beers…….”

To which Eavis responded:

“sounds very tempting — both the farm and the ringside seat for watsa’s comeuppance.”

I’d be hard pressed to list all the standards of ethical journalism Peter Eavis violated in just his first five months of covering Fairfax Financial.

But if I were to try, I’d start by pointing out the deep conflict of interest inherent to obviously using his column as a tool to make David Rocker, one of his employer’s largest investors, rich.

Interestingly, in the months to follow, Eavis seemed to lose interest in Fairfax, his frequency of coverage plummeting from over one column a month to less than one per quarter. About that time, he also seems to have quit seeking the approval of anybody at Rocker Partners.

Then, in 2006, Eavis left TheStreet.com for the Wall Street Journal, where he has evolved into a quite prolific and skilled contributor, whose broad body of work appears not to include anything relating to Fairfax.

Is Peter Eavis corrupt? I’d have to say that no, I don’t think so. At least not corrupt after the tradition of Bethany McLean.

Instead, I suspect the culture at TheStreet.com to be very corrupting, though the condition does not have to be a terminal one.

Finally, I wish to point out that in seeking his comment, I did establish contact with Peter Eavis, and at his request provided copies of the above-referenced emails. I was disappointed when he failed to offer a response two days ago, as promised. Should Peter change his mind at any time, I will gladly append his comments below.

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5,000 Words About An Obscure Bad Newswire Reporter


The ever cuddly Carol Remond (“I’m going to shred this guy to bits,” she said of Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne) has published yet another defense of criminal naked short sellers. In a recent column for Dow Jones Newswires, Carol writes that the SEC should think twice about cracking down on the criminals because some of the people (she names four) who have complained about illegal naked short selling have run into legal problems of their own.

Maybe I have too much faith in the press, but I suspect that this sort of intellectual dishonesty – this deliberate illogicality and mischief-making – could appear only on the financial pages. Certainly, editors of Metro sections don’t permit their columnists to write that cops should let gang-bangers clean out every convenience store in town just because some Quicky Marts have been caught cheating on their taxes.

Yes, it must be that different standards apply to financial columnists. Probably, it’s because finance is so complicated. Robbing a convenience store – an editor can understand that’s bad. But criminal hedge funds selling something they don’t have – apparently that’s pretty technical. If the columnist says that illegal naked short sellers (hedge funds offloading phantom stock to drive down prices) are good folk…well, she’s been studying this “complex” and “controversial” issue for a long time – let her run with it.

But now the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the SEC, and all the other people (except hedge fund managers) who have seriously studied this issue agree that it is bad for markets when people sell things that don’t exist. That this was ever a matter of “debate” will astound historians for generations to come, but the surreal intellectual “battle” is over, and it is time for Dow Jones to decommission Carol Remond. She’s become the Joan Rivers of the newswires – her gruff exterior failing to compensate for a tired act.

Carol devoted 17 of her 36 columns this year to ridiculing or discrediting critics of illegal short-selling. The other 19 columns carefully omitted mention of naked short selling, even though most of the columns were sourced from short-sellers and focused on companies that had been hit by massive levels of phantom stock. In a number of her columns, Carol alluded favorably to one particular clique of short-sellers while deliberately censoring information about their most egregious shenanigans.

Of course, Carol’s reporting was always a bit off-kilter. There was, for example, her famous April, 2004 column about the NASD’s decision to close a loophole that was allowing criminals to sell phantom stock through Canada. Carol wrote that the move wasn’t fair because “market participants” had told her it was too hard to find real stock. If editors at Dow Jones didn’t wonder why their reporter was advocating for the freedom of criminals to sell unlimited amounts of fake stock, they might have thought it a bit odd that the only “market participant” named in Carol’s story was Pacific International, a notorious Canadian brokerage whose most celebrated employee was funneling cash to the Genovese organized crime family.

Also strange was Carol’s long-standing, close relationship with Anthony Elgindy, a Mafia-connected short-seller who liked to flash his .380 Colt handgun in business meetings. For years, the Dow Jones reporter used Elgindy’s information in numerous stories about the companies he shorted, but she never mentioned that her pal was extorting and blackmailing the companies’ CEOs, bribing FBI agents, and churning out heaps of phantom stock.

Elgindy was convicted in 2005 for racketeering and stock manipulation. Still, Carol might have stayed faithful to her old friend. But it emerged from prosecutors’ evidence that Elgindy had used unflattering terms to describe Carol’s posterior. She became incensed and wrote columns detailing his crimes (but portraying him as an anomaly – the rare short who violated the law). When the judge handed down an 11-year prison sentence, Elgindy broke down in tears, and there in the court gallery was Carol, laughing with glee.

I’m no psychologist, but Carol seems to have a vindictive streak. It was only after Patrick Byrne criticized her reporting that she vowed to “shred this guy to bits,” and proceeded with considerable vigor to tell people that Patrick was running some kind of criminal enterprise out of a gay bathhouse in San Francisco. (He wasn’t.) When she was criticized by the anonymous blogger and redoubtable crusader against phantom stock who calls himself the Easter Bunny, Carol went on a similar rampage, trying to unmask her critic and prove that he was illegally pumping stocks out of a Las Vegas strip club (The Bunny was doing no such thing, though he did register his blog’s domain name to a nudie bar as a joke.).

It is indeed possible that Carol goes to extreme lengths to whitewash illegal naked short selling, not because she fails to see that it is wrong, but simply because the crusaders against the crime have been so critical of her reporting. Carol probably even thought the crusaders had something to do with the SEC issuing her with a subpoena in 2006, when the commission began an investigation into alleged short-seller crimes. Yes, that must have been the final straw. Carol was provoked. She got angry. She became obsessed. And now…it’s war! Vendetta Journalism.

The only other possibility is that Carol is cool-headed and calculating – that a particular clique of short-sellers have fed her nearly every column she has ever written (including those that won her a Loeb Award, the Pulizer of business journalism), and now she is settling debts and currying favor with her benefactors by deliberating covering-up one of the biggest financial crimes of our lifetimes.

That would be something—eeevil!

Whatever the case, I liked her column that was all about an outfit called Institutional Credit Partners accusing Fairfax Financial, a reputable company in Canada, of misrepresenting an off-balance sheet transaction. Carol gave credence to these accusations, though no reputable investigator had ever done so. She also suggested that Institutional Credit Partners was working alone – that it’s “independent” analysis had just revealed this supposedly shocking news about an off-balance sheet transaction.

The truth, which Carol omits, is that the same bogus information was previously circulated by a thug named Spyro Contogouris, who had been hired by a short-selling hedge fund to harass and threaten Fairfax executives. One of Spyro’s many feats was to write an anonymous letter to the pastor of Fairfax’s CEO suggesting that the CEO was a sado-masochistic group sex aficionado who once scammed the Catholic Church out of millions of dollars.

When Carol published her column, the FBI had arrested Spyro for ripping off a Greek shipping magnate. Carol left that part out. She also forgot to mention that Spyro had been bailed out of jail by the manager of the eminently respectable and completely “independent”…Institutional Credit Partners.

But Carol was no doubt keen to attack Fairfax because the company had sued a clique of short sellers, including Steve Cohen of SAC Capital (a subsidiary of which hired the charming Spyro) and David Rocker, formerly of Rocker Partners. These are Carol’s friends and allies.

Which is why Carol received a government subpoena in 2006. The SEC was investigating relationships among a few journalists, David Rocker, and Gradient Analytics – yet another seedy outfit that claims to be “independent,” though its former employees have given sworn affidavits that short-sellers including Rocker dictated much the information in its falsehood-laden financial research reports.

SEC officials continue to believe that Carol has information that could help them understand Gradient and Rocker’s methods. But to the great chagrin of these officials, the SEC leadership shut down its investigation after the Media Mob went ballistic. Apparently, the SEC was violating the right to free speech by issuing subpoenas to journalists and “independent” research shops.

Never mind that one journalist – Herb Greenberg, first at TheStreet.com, then at MarketWatch.com and CNBC – was accused (in a sworn affidavit from a former Gradient employee) of timing his negative stories, premised on Gradient’s false research, so that Rocker could profit from their deleterious effect on stock prices. Never mind that Jon Markman, a one-time managing editor of MSN Money and formerly Herb Greenberg’s co-editor at TheStreet.com, was named as running a dodgy hedge fund out of Gradient’s back office (“independent” research shops aren’t supposed to run hedge funds, especially if they’re trading on their “independent” research).

Never mind, too, that one of Gradient’s managers acquired multiple aliases and fake IDs to conceal his activities. You won’t hear this from certain quarters of the financial media. You certainly won’t hear it from Carol Remond Rocker, Gradient, Spryo the Goon – these are Carol’s bros. Fairfax messed with them. So Carol went to Fairfax’s house for a drive-by shooting. Hidden in the trunk was a heaping pile of phantom stock. (Fairfax has spent most of the last three years on the SEC’s list of companies whose stock is “failing to deliver” in excessive quantities – clear evidence of a sustained, criminal attack by naked short-sellers, covered-up by Carol.).

Here’s another good one: In April, Carol published a column praising a “reclusive financier” named David Gelbaum for “doing his part to try to stave off recession.” A few months earlier, Carol had raved in another column that the same “reclusive financier” was practicing “a new form of philanthropy.” Carol explained that Gelbaum’s “philanthropy” and recession-fighting involved nothing more than financing a number of alternative energy companies through “private placements in public equity” – or PIPEs.

Now, with these two columns, Carol is having a little fun – thumbing her nose at her critics, seeing what she can get away with, no doubt cackling with diabolical delight. For she knows full well, but pointedly ignores the fact that PIPEs, commonly referred to as “toxic financing,” are the single most notorious weapon of criminal naked short sellers. Crusaders like the Easter Bunny (see his blog, TheSanityCheck.com) have been screaming about this for years, and the SEC agrees that illegal short-selling in the PIPE industry is rife.

In a typical PIPE scam, a hedge fund invests in a cash-strapped, thinly traded public company. In return, the hedge fund receives securities that can be converted to stock, typically at a discount of around 15% to the market rate. The hedge fund manager presents himself as a serious investor, all geared up to build a great company, but then turns around and naked shorts the company, hoping it will go out of business.

With help from a complicit broker, the hedge fund proceeds to shift his discounted shares back and forth among accounts, making it appear that he is delivering real stock to cover his naked shorts. The high volume of trading in discounted shares, coupled with another wave of naked short selling, can send the stock into a “death spiral.” By cracking the stock, the PIPE provider positions himself to earn a big profit by failing to deliver the huge amounts of phantom stock he has sold.

Nathan Vardi of Forbes Magazine describes the proliferation of these scams in an article titled, “Sewer Pipes,” and notes that some of them have been perpetrated by criminals connected to the Mafia – specifically the Genovese organized crime family.

Carol’s columns point out that Mr. Gelbaum, her “reclusive” PIPEs financier, spent much of his career with a hedge fund called Princeton-Newport Partners, which was run by Edward Thorp, a “mathematician” who once authored a book about how to win at blackjack. She doesn’t reveal that Thorp actually developed a system for cheating Las Vegas casinos in cahoots with Manny Kimmel, a mobster from the Genovese organized crime family.

Princeton-Newport derived a significant portion of its revenue from parking stock and colluding in other illegal schemes with Michael Milken, the famous 1980s criminal who has since reinvented himself as a philanthropist, hedge fund collaborator, and media-revered mastermind of miscellaneous investment schemes. A government investigation into Princeton-Newport’s activities produced the key evidence (even more important than the insider trading information provided by Ivan Boesky) leading to Milken’s 1989 conviction on multiple counts of securities fraud.

Neither Gelbaum nor Thorp were charged, but it is perhaps worth noting that the Thorp family worked closely with Anthony Elgindy, the felonious Mob-connected gun-toting short-seller who was Carol’s close friend until he said uncharitable things about her butt. In 2006, the SEC fined Thorp’s son, Jeffrey, $8 million for masterminding a massive fraud that involved (what else?)…toxic PIPEs and naked short-selling.

Carol is aware of this case because she wrote a column about it, noting that the government’s investigation into Elgindy had led agents to his con-conspirator, Jeffrey Thorp. Of course, Carol is incapable of writing anything negative about short-selling, so her column failed to mention that Thorp was a naked short-seller — a strange omission considering the SEC had said that Thorp’s PIPE financing was fraudulent precisely because he had naked shorted into oblivion the 22 companies that he had financed.

The other thing strange about Carol’s column was that it disappeared. It was yanked from the Dow Jones web site. It was removed from media databases, such as Lexus-Nexus and Factiva. It was completely scrubbed from the Internet, though a snippet of it can be found on a blog called Wall Street Folly.

Maybe Carol’s mind was scrubbed, too. Maybe she has no idea that PIPEs and naked short selling go hand in hand. Maybe she completely forgot that a guy working with her old Mob-connected friend, Anthony Elgindy, masterminded the biggest short-selling PIPE fraud of all time. It could even be totally normal that Carol, a reporter who’s life is covering short-sellers, never wrote a story about PIPEs until along came a “reclusive financier”– the former partner of the Mob-connected father of the Mob-connected fraudster who colluded with Carol’s Mob-connected friend while orchestrating the biggest short selling PIPE fraud in history – and only then it was time for Carol to publish two columns about PIPEs and refer to them as a “new form of philanthropy.”

Actually, the “reclusive financier” is probably a decent fellow. He’s never lied to me – that makes him ok in my book. I’m not saying that he’s a fraud. I’m saying that Carol is a fraud. Brainwash, vengeful rage, cold-calculation, lunkheadedness – it’s all the same: she’s a fraud. She lied to us in nearly every one of the 36 columns she wrote this year. There’s an industry infested with mobsters and scalawags and she tracks down the one reclusive PIPE financier who’s a decent fellow. She says he “is doing his part to try to stave off recession.” Carol is lying. The “reclusive financier” is honest – he’d never say something so ridiculous.

Consider the condition of the companies that Mr. Gelbaum has reclusively financed. Carol mentions six of them –Beacon Power Corp., Worldwater & Power Corp., Emcore Corp, Octillion Corp., Bluefire Ethanol Fuels Inc, and Open Energy Corp. When Carol was writing, all of these companies had spent a good deal of time on the SEC’s list of companies likely to have been victimized by illegal naked short selling. Unsurprisingly, the companies’ stock prices have all been on trajectories that look a lot like “death spirals.” Worldwater is now worth a few cents. It was at around $3.00 when it received its reclusive PIPE. Open Energy is trading for less than a penny. Carol reveals none of this.

Oh, my. What other wonderments has Carol conjured? Let’s see — last September, she wrote a column assuring us that the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC) is an upstanding institution. What other “journalist” would dare attempt such a feat? I can think of only one: Gary Weiss, a former BusinessWeek reporter who runs black-ops public relations efforts for the DTCC, anonymously attacking the organization’s critics on stock message boards and even wangling special editing privileges of the DTCC’s Wikipedia entry, all the while flat-out lying about his activities.

The DTCC’s job is to “clear and settle” all securities transactions, but it doesn’t do that very well, which is a big reason why there is so much phantom stock (i.e. stock that doesn’t “settle”). The DTCC knows who is naked short selling and it has a lot of data showing how much phantom stock is in the system. But it says it won’t release this information because it’s against DTCC rules. Which isn’t surprising, since the rules are written by the DTCC’s owners, who are the very same Wall Street firms that engage in naked short selling.

The SEC technically regulates the DTCC, but SEC officials admit they have neither a clue how the place operates, nor the power to force it to turn over complete data. So the DTCC is an essentially unregulated, criminal-protecting, black box institution – which happens to handle more than $1.5 quadrillion – or 30 times the total gross product of the entire planet – every year. There should be a pack of journalists outside its machine-gun fortified doors, cameras flashing, questions hurled.

Instead, there is Carol. Her column gloats that a court dismissed a legal case brought against the DTCC by a company called Nanotech, which was attacked by naked short sellers. Carol says it is bad for companies to sue the DTCC. It is bad because the SEC (whose officials say they have no idea what the DTCC does) filed an amicus brief saying that it had signed off on the DTTC’s rules (which are written by naked short-sellers). Listen to the SEC and trust the DTCC, says Carol, who claims to like short-sellers because they are the market’s “skeptics.”

The head of the DTCC’s PR department is named Stuart Z. Goldstein. He’s a real master of whirly logic and circuitous denials. He’s a mean guy, too — nasty as hell. Question the DTCC’s rectitude, and Stuart Z. will threaten to get you fired and unleash the lawyers.

But Carol loves Stuart Z. And Stuart Z. loves Carol. Ask about the DTCC, and get no answer from Stuart Z. Instead, says he, “Read Carol, and you will see, she’s the best there is. Nobody understands the DTCC” – only Carol and Stuart Z.

Stuart Z. and a clique of short-sellers – these are Carol’s friends. That is why Carol goes to such lengths to bash a company called Biovail, which had sued Gradient Analytics, the company that was managed by at least one guy with multiple aliases while it allegedly let short-seller David Rocker ghost write its “independent” research. Carol received a government subpoena when the government investigated Gradient, and she’s keen to show that her creepy friends are swell, so she devotes no less than six of her 36 columns this year to bashing Biovail (NYSE:BVF), her readers no doubt waiting with tongues hanging for just one more column – one last scrap of arcane negativity about a minor drug company in Canada.

The SEC charged Biovail with finagling its finances, so it seems its executives were not entirely wholesome. But six out of 36 columns to show that Gradient was right? That seems a lot considering the many perfectly innocent companies that Gradient has slimed. Gradient was not right about Biovail, either. In fact, it published a lot of blatantly false information about the company, suggesting at one point that its revenues had nosedived at a time when they were in fact soaring.

Meanwhile, shorts working with Gradient paid off a bunch of doctors to get them to testify (to the media and government investigators) that they had been “bribed” by Biovail to prescribe one of its drugs. The company maintained that it only paid the doctors a small hourly fee to participate in a marketing program (which is a standard sleazy practice of most pharmaceutical companies) but the government leveled charges, citing the doctors’ testimony, though not the fact that the doctors had been paid-off by short-sellers. Biovail settled out of court rather than accept even the small risk of a conviction that would have shut it out of the U.S. market and destroyed its business.

It is quite common for miscreant short-sellers to pay for phony testimony. There is, in fact, a company called Gerson Lehrman, run by former hedge fund employees, that specializes in locating, training and paying-off experts of dubious veracity – largely on behalf of short-selling clients.

When Carol’s friend David Rocker and Gradient Analytics began short-selling Taser, the stun-gun company, there was no strong evidence that a Taser gun had ever killed anyone. This was clearly unacceptable, so Rocker found an expert. His name was James Ruggieri and he was an unemployed high school dropout who’d never touched a stun-gun and didn’t know anything about electricity—but Ruggieri had a plan, and that was to get himself a bunch of chickens and plug them into an electrical socket.

This worked well. Some of the chickens caught on fire, half of them died, and from this, the high school dropout deduced that stun-guns could kill half of all people – a conclusion that he submitted to the American Academy of Forensic Science.

Soon a gaggle of Rocker’s media friends were reporting that a renowned expert from the American Academy of Forensic Science had concluded that stun guns kill. No doubt with help from short-sellers, dozens of people filed lawsuits claiming that their relatives had died after getting Tasered. How did they know? The American Academy of Forensic Science said so.

All but one lawsuit was dismissed, but in the meantime, Taser’s executives had to spend much of three years touring the country, publicly zapping themselves at every opportunity to demonstrate that Tasers don’t kill. (It is possible that Tasers have killed some people, but there is no science to support this, only anecdotal evidence of Taser incidents followed by deaths, most of which might have been caused by cocaine overdoses and other factors).

While the high school dropout was electrocuting chickens, Rocker allegedly busied himself writing Gradient Analytic’s “independent” research reports and submitted them to his friends at the SEC, which dutifully launched an investigation into Taser. The investigation sapped Taser’s resources and distracted its executives–who now had to spend half their time answering to government investigators, and the other half firing Tasers into their chests – for several years until, finally, the SEC announced that Taser’s books were clean – Gradient’s “independent” research, dictated by Rocker, was utterly false.

Of course, Taser has spent most of the past three years on the SEC’s list of companies whose stock is failing to deliver in excessive quantities. That’s undisputable evidence that it is the victim of a sustained attack by hedge funds selling phantom stock.

But you won’t hear about this from Carol Remond. You won’t hear about any of the dozens of companies similarly trampled by short-sellers – only to be cleared of wrong-doing by government investigators. Carol says only bad companies criticize her short selling and “independent” research-writing friends. And she’s got just 36 columns a year to tell us about all of those bad companies. Six of them are called Biovail.

Another four columns focus on a company called RemoteMDX, which makes GPS tracking bracelets used by prisons. RemoteMDX might be a bad company. It might not. Carol provides no good evidence either way. Instead, she merely notes that short-sellers are all over it. She names only one—Citron Research, whose principal, Andrew Left, was once caught double-cashing checks and was also banned for three years from the commodities and futures business after the National Futures Association found that he “made false and misleading statements to cheat, defraud or deceive a customer…”

Mr. Left has been accused of naked short-selling by a company called BIDZ.com, but he assures me in an email that he has never sold phantom stock. “I believe naked short selling is dangerous to the financial system,” he says.

He’s right. Mr. Left is honest. Carol is the fraud.

According to Carol, the most suspicious thing about RemoteMDX is that a German brokerage claims that an investor ordered a bunch of the company’s stock and never paid for it. So now the brokerage is stuck with the stock. Carol seems to think that this is RemoteMDX’s fault. I don’t know why.

The more likely culprit is the brokerage, Norddeutsche Landesbank (NordLB). As Carol notes, NordLB claims to have purchased 14.75 million shares on February 25. But a total of only 3.2 million shares traded that day. Could it be that NordLB took possession of around 11 million phantom shares in service to a naked short selling client or broker? Would NordLB’s announcement that it was looking to offload 14.75 million unwanted shares put downward pressure on the stock price, to the great benefit of naked short sellers?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But it’s certain Carol wouldn’t ask them. Carol’s sources say RemoteMDX is suspicious. Are the sources suspicious? The sources are short-sellers and if you’re a journalist in “the game,” you don’t ask that question.

That is why Carol’s readers do not know that RemoteMDX has spent 128 days this year on the SEC’s list of phantom stock victims. And that is why Carol neglects to reveal that while nobody other than Carol and her shadowy sources have accused RemoteMDX of wrongdoing, the German authorities have begun to investigate the brokerage, NordLB, for “irregular trading” in RemoteMDX’s stock.

Meanwhile, another column by Carol. Headline: “Autopsy of a Naked Shorting Poster Child: USXP.” That’s Universal Express. Somebody needs to tell the colorful tale of this company—Carol doesn’t do it justice. But for now, it suffices to say that USXP’s CEO has been charged with some heinous crimes – cooking the books, stealing corporate money, selling unauthorized shares, churning out outlandishly false press releases, and being married to the Imelda Marcos of Boca Raton.

USXP’s shareholders – highly organized, devotional, and ever-ebullient–say (in emails to just about every journalist, lawyer, professor and government official in the country) that the jury is still out and the judge has been bought. They say the SEC’s charges were designed to silence the CEO, who had given a speech about naked short selling. Then the government put him in a jail usually reserved for brutal killers. Then they stuck him in solitary confinement. All to silence his views on naked short-selling. It’s a cover-up! A massive conspiracy!

Gee, I wonder why Carol wants people to believe that this company is the “poster child” for crusaders against naked short selling. I don’t know enough about USXP to have an opinion. But to Carol, it looks bad. It sounds crazy. It suits her propaganda.

A company called Allied Capital is no poster child, but it’s been plenty shafted by naked short sellers. It has spent months on the SEC’s victim list, with up to 3.5 million of its shares failing to deliver. Meanwhile, David Einhorn, who is part of Carol’s short-seller clique, has spent much of the past three years insinuating that Allied is something like Enron (which titillates journalists looking to break the next big corporate scandal). Einhorn has even written a book about his attack on Allied, which Carol must read, and I must review, because it’s a pretty good description of the short-and-distort game.

People like Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne began exposing Einhorn a couple of years ago, and the short-seller seems to have calculated that it was time to take the PR offensive. His strategy is clear: reveal all his tactics, and hope that his openness lends an aura of innocence – as if he really believes the tactics are legit. Then spin the story to make it seem like Einhorn is some kind of folk hero – a concerned citizen fighting an epic battle against an evil corporation, a corrupt government, and a dysfunctional status quo.

Einhorn even suggests that he lost his battle against Allied – he’s a victim, which is a more sympathetic thing to be than a rich short-seller. He says if he ever makes any profits from shorting Allied, he’s going to donate it all to charity! (He’s made a lot of profits, but so far there’s no evidence of any donations).

Anyone who disagrees with Einhorn’s analysis, or begins to investigate him for stock manipulation, is lambasted as a corporate shill and part of the broken establishment, which no journalist wants to be.

Brilliant public relations, actually. It seems to have worked. Journalists follow this guy like he’s the Jerry Garcia of finance. But all you have to do is read his book and see that he was lying about Allied all along. One of his partners had “influence” at the SEC, he says, so the commission, along with other agencies, launched a multi-year investigation that cost Allied upwards of $50 million. But, as Einhorn notes, everybody – investment banks, the SEC, court judges – concludes that he’s full of it. Allied is no Enron.

The only crime at Allied involved the Michigan office of an Allied subsidiary called BLX. The office gave out some fraudulent loans to friends. In other words, it scammed Allied. Some members of Congress have asked the Small Business Administration to explain in more detail its oversight of BLX. So Carol wrote a column about that, her suggestion being that David Einhorn—friend of Carol’s friends, enemy of Carol’s critics—must be right about Allied. It’s the next Enron.

In a similar vein, Carol wrote a column that noted in a tone of sheer giddiness that her friend David Rocker had countersued Overstock, the company run by Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne. This was significant, Carol suggested, because Rocker had once countersued some company in Belgium that turned out to be a fraud. Get it? Crooks in Belgium sued Rocker. Patrick Byrne sued Rocker. Therefore, Patrick Byrne is a crook.

Right, and exploding chickens in your backyard is science. Rocker no doubt delivered Carol’s brilliant deduction to the SEC, which was still investigating Overstock at Rocker’s behest. Keeping things weird, Sam Antar, a convicted felon who orchestrated the swindle at Crazy Eddie appliances, which was once the world’s biggest corporate fraud, had begun to help Rocker run the SEC’s investigation of Overstock while posting on the Internet his own “independent” research, which looked a lot like the “independent” research that Gradient and Rocker made together.

Shortly after Carol’s column was published, the SEC announced that it would take no action against Overstock, but Carol didn’t write about that. Patrick is the founder of Deep Capture, and I’m writing for Deep Capture, so call me biased, but it seems to me that Carol ought to apologize for insinuating that Patrick was a crook.

But Overstock was never Carol’s real concern. Rather, she was intent on discrediting Patrick’s crusade against illegal naked short selling. Last August, when the NYSE busted somebody for this crime, Carol wrote a column that said, “Turns out that one guy did, in fact, illegally trade shares in [Overstock]” But, of course, it “doesn’t come close to amount to [sic] the massive conspiracy alleged by Overstock.”

Actually, Carol, Overstock alleged that several million phantom Overstock shares have been floating around the market for the past few years. Patrick Byrne and many others (including myself) are crusading against the crime because hundreds of companies have been similarly affected and it threatens the stability of our financial system.

At this point, every expert unattached to your clique of short-sellers agrees with this assessment. The Chairman of the SEC agrees with it. And you, out of vindictiveness or allegiance to some pretty dirty players, are one of the only people still calling it a “conspiracy” theory.

That’s why I just wrote 5,000 words about you.

(Click here for a compendium of Carol Remond stories)

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Michael Steinhardt – “When the Bad Guys Came to Town”


I feel the same strange admiration for Michael Steinhardt as one would for an old mobster sitting in a Tucson retirement home playing canasta. Steinhardt slipped through minefields that destroyed others, and for that alone he should be beyond cheap shots now. However, without telling Steinhardt’s story there is no way for me to make the connections that I wish to make, so I will relate the Steinhardt Tale, in four acts, with none of the shots being cheap ones.

Some years ago, I asked a Wall Street old-timer to summarize how Michael Steinhardt would be remembered. The old-timer was unusually pensive. A faraway look came into his eyes as he seemed to recall how the Street had once been, and how it had changed.

At last he replied, “Steinhardt? That’s when the bad guys came to town.”

Prelude

The central character of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather was “Vito Corleone” (played in the movie by Marlon Brando). Don Corleone was modeled after real-life Mob boss Vito Genovese, who headed the Genovese Crime Family. Other figures from this family include Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Frank Costello, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky (“Hyman Roth” in Godfather II), and Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo.

The Genovese Crime Family had a fence named Sol Frank “Red” Steinhardt, who was arrested in 1958 on charges of buying and selling stolen jewelry. The prosecutor at Red Steinhardt’s trial, Frank Hogan, described Red Steinhardt as “the biggest Mafia fence in America.” Red was sentenced to 5-10 years on each of two charges of fencing, and served several years at Sing Sing, a prison just north of New York City.

While in prison, Red Steinhardt put his son Michael through the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. When Michael Steinhardt finished Wharton in 1967 he started an early hedge fund, “Steinhardt, Fine, Berkowitz & Co.” As Michael later revealed in his book, cash from Steinhardt’s father and his “associates” funded his hedge fund. Thus, it was a conduit by which Mob cash passed into Wall Street (one former prosecutor shared with me an elegant phrase a Mafia suspect used under interrogation: “Yeah, in da 70′s weeze went from concrete to Wall Street”).

Michael Steinhardt Act I

Steinhardt’s first act was notable in three ways:

a) In the early 1970′s Steinhardt was a close financial associate of an international oil trader and general bon vivant named Marc Rich.

b) From his start in the early 1970′s, Steinhardt’s reputation was that of a hater, an in-your-face profanity-laced screamer of unprecedented proportions. Nothing I have ever seen from Hollywood captures the way I have seen it occur in reality on Wall Street, yet in that environment, Steinhardt’s verbal brutality towards others, including towards his subordinates, became the stuff of legend. For example, there is a story that may be true, or it may be apocryphal, but whichever it is, it is widely repeated around Wall Street: in the early 1990′s Steinhardt had a partner, Peter Toczek of the New York and Foreign Securities Corporation, who handled Steinhardt’s overnight trading. They were considered close (I even heard that Peter and Michael were “godfather” to each other’s children, but cannot verify that). As the story goes, Peter was paid a bonus that was smaller than he (Peter) expected, and he confronted Steinhardt over it. Steinhardt screamed at Toczek so abusively that all conversation in the office ceased, then continued berating and humiliating Toczek so badly that Toczek was reduced to tears. Toczek left for the day, went home, and keeled over, dead. Steinhardt showed no regret. (Whenever I hear this I think of the Eddie Murphy/Dan Akroyd movie Trading Places, where an essentially similar event transpires between Mortimer and Randolph Duke). Be this incident true or not (and in fairness to Steinhardt, Toczek is said to have topped out at 300 pounds), what is undeniable is that from the early 1970′s on Steinhardt was well-known for being absolutely brutal in his interactions with others.

c) The other technique Steinhardt pioneered in the 1970′s was an extremely aggressive trading style centering upon, “The Edge.” What “The Edge” means is “information asymmetry.” One person who worked at a major brokerage covering Steinhardt described to me their first encounter, decades ago: “We came out with a downgrade on a stock, I think it was GM. Minutes later I got a call from Steinhardt. ‘You fucking asshole,’ he said. ‘Why didn’t I know about this thirty minutes ago?’” (In other words, Steinhardt was demanding to know why he had not been tipped off to the coming downgrade.) “I told him, ‘Come on Mr. Steinhardt. You know that would be illegal. You know I can’t do that.’ Steinhardt told me, ‘You dumb fucking kid, you know the way the game is played. You look at how much vig I pay your firm each month and you tell me that.’” (Another Wall Street money manager who worked in these circles tells me, “Steinhardt always liked to get what he called, ‘fancy information.’ You know, analysts’ upgrades and downgrades, before the market got them. Steinhardt would tell them, “You want my business? You gotta get me some fancy information. That’s how you win my business.” )

Together, the screaming and “the edge” explain Steinhardt’s success: bullying people to get them to cough up “fancy information” minutes before the rest of the market has it (which makes it “fancy” no more), placing gigantic bets on that information, making tiny percentages from each, and rewarding providers of information with trading commissions while starving those who don’t play ball. That, anyway, is how Steinhardt is remembered (compare this with, say, Warren Buffett, whose “edge” is that he removed himself to Omaha to stay away from such Wall Street chatter, and who instead relies on business acumen and economic insight).

In fairness to Steinhardt, I do not mean to suggest that he was alone in seeking “The Edge”. He may have sought it more aggressively than those who came before him, but his methods pale in comparison with those of certain current money managers who will themselves be the subjects of later pieces.

Steinhardt Act II

Steinhardt’s second act also contained three scenes.

a) In the early 1980′s Steinhardt’s buddy Marc Rich turned out to be a traitor who was secretly doing oil business with Libya and Iran in violation of a number of US laws. This was a felony, as were the tax evasion schemes by which he hid his profits (Time: “The Marc Rich Case: A Primer“). Marc Rich the Traitor fled the United States with his associate “Pinky” Green for Zug, Switzerland, where he would become the most notorious fugitive financier since Nixon’s friend Robert Vesco (Slate: “Know Your Fugitive Financiers“). His present net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion (it is also uncertain as to whether he is or is not a US citizen, as for years he has neither paid US taxes nor renounced his citizenship).

b) Steinhardt morphed his hedge fund into a solo act: “Steinhardt Partners.” He also morphed politically: originally a Goldwater Republican, in the 1980′s Steinhardt played a leading role in the development of the new “Democrat Leadership Council,” and became its chairman in 1985. The DLC is the centrist Democrat group out of which Bill Clinton emerged onto the national stage. This brought him into close proximity with Marty Peretz, who parlayed his skill in marrying a Singer Sewing Machine heiress into becoming publisher of The New Republic (which I believe he has since sold, though he retains editorial control).

c) Another notable thing Michael Steinhardt did, at least according to the SEC and US Department of Justice, was in April and May, 1991 collude with another hedge fund, “Caxton”, to organize a scheme to manipulate the market in US Tresury Securities, a scheme which netted him tens of millions of dollars (Forbes put the number at $600 million). As a FOB (Friend of Bill) he is said to have been irked when President Clinton would not intervene on his behalf with the Department of Justice. However, Steinhardt’s pique may have been mollified when, in December, 1994, the DOJ settled the case for a $70 million fine and a lifetime promise to keep such crooked schemes out of the United States Treasury market (permanent consent decrees are a way of saying, “I may not have done it but I promise not to do again that thing I didn’t do”: when I see them, I think of the financial equivalent of Hannibal Lecter in a straight-jacket and mask, someone who can never be trusted around civilized peoples’ money).

Interestingly, accounts of this episode that I find in the press rarely fail to mention the tens (if not hundreds) of millions that Steinhardt made from the act. It appears to me that Steinhardt’s sense of shame is more developed than his sense of guilt, and hence, by making sure that the story is told in such a way that he appears to have had the last laugh on the DOJ, Steinhardt’s sense of shame is appeased. No sense of guilt, of course, can be invoked in such people (i.e., “sociopaths”).

Steinhardt Act III

After skating through his SEC and DOJ issues, Michael Steinhardt got busy reinventing himself as a friend to all mankind and general Great American. His first act as a Great American was to approach then-President Bill Clinton seeking a pardon for his good friend Marc Rich the Traitor (the billionaire who made his fortune doing deals with Iran and Libya while they were taking Americans hostage and killing GI’s in Berlin nightclubs).  Steinhardt’s December 7, 2000 letter to Bill Clinton seeking a presidential pardon for Marc Rich the Traitor is remarkable to me in numerous ways. I respectfully suggest you read it here because I am going to spend some time on it, as I think it reveals a great deal about Great American Michael Steinhardt.

Steinhardt’s letter opens, “Dear Mr. President, I think you may remember me…” Given that Steinhardt was Chairman of both the DLC and Progressive Policy Institute, which were Bill Clinton’s left and right skates through the Democratic Party in his rise to power, such coyness is scarcely credible.

“I became involved in the political world in the mid 80′s primarily because of my interest in ‘ideas’…” It is interesting to me that he put the word “ideas” in quotes. Whether they were intended as scare-quotes, or as some subtle nudge in a code known only to them, I do not know.

“Invariably, life is filled with conflictual judgments and none of us escapes unscathed,” opines Steinhardt before coming, in the second sentence of the second paragraph, to his request: “I am writing this letter, Mr. President, to appeal to you on behalf of my friend, Mr. Marc Rich, who, I think, has been punished enough.” At the risk of being schoolmarmish, I draw attention to the numerous infelicities of grammar and style, and note how odd it seems to find them in a letter to a sitting US president from a well-educated Wall Street tycoon. I hazard a guess that this was composed in some haste and not reviewed by a lawyer (who generally write competently). Again, this fact is mildly interesting.

At the crux of Steinhardt’s letter, where we would expect to find a semblance of argument, we find instead this odd collection of statements:

“While there remains controversy as to the facts surrounding Marc Rich’s indictment in the early 1980′s, there’s no doubt he was a successful person both, before and after, (sic) that horrific experience.” The “controversy” about Rich is that after breaking US law by trading with Iran and Libya he became a fugitive hiding out in Zug, Switzerland rather than face legal consequences for his actions. Steinhardt leaves unstated why a person’s “success” should generally make him a good candidate for a pardon. It is also interesting because in the case of Marc Rich, “success” meant “making money breaking US laws by doing business with nations which were kidnapping and killing Americans.” Steinhardt’s statement is also interesting in that it recasts Marc Rich’s actions from traitorous felonies into “a horrific experience” for Marc Rich (“playing the victim” scarcely describes this). Lastly, again I note the childish grammatical errors.

“It would not be possible to recreate the circumstances surrounding a highly complicated series of facts occurring over a long period in the early 1980′s.” That much is correct. It’s what happens when one flees the country for two decades. Why the difficulties created by this additional felony should count in Marc Rich’s favor, as opposed to counting against him, Steinhardt leaves unstated.

“For Marc Rich, whose personal life has already been burdened by the profound constraints imposed by the circumstances of this case punishment (sic), have been in some ways severe. He could not properly mourn his daughter. He could not live with his children or grandchildren. He has suffered more than most. As in his (sic) mid 60′s, there would be nothing more important to him than to return to the United States of America and to live in peace.” Steinhardt’s letter, which is a compilation of intellectual gibberish, reaches a crescendo in this description of the hardships that Marc Rich the Traitor has endured. Marc Rich made a fortune committing numerous felonies, fled the country with his fortune, and has lived as a fugitive ever since: this has imposed a hardship on Rich and his fortune because his family remained in the country he betrayed, but now he wants to return to that country with his fortune without facing legal consequences for his acts, and therefore he should be allowed to do so. As an old professor of mine used to say, “I understand everything but the ‘therefore’.”

“I have known Marc Rich for more than twenty-five years. I assure you that Marc Rich’s moral and ethical standards amply justify your consideration of his pardon, so that in his remaining years he could fulfill his highest aspirations (sic), which will make all of us, as Americans, proud.” What can we learn from this bizarre claim? We learn that Marc Rich the Traitor, indicted felon and fugitive financier, has “moral and ethical standards” to which Michael Steinhardt looks up: I suspect that much is true. We also learn that Marc Rich has aspirations to return to this country, and he should be allowed to do so because…. he has aspirations to do so. Why the aspirations of billionaire fugitive felon traitors should be accommodated is something Steinhardt considers so obvious as to need no defense.

As far as I can see, Steinhardt’s sole argument in this letter is that Marc Rich should be accommodated because he is “successful.” And we should be proud of successful men and their aspirations because we – are — Americans. And we should be proud of that, too, dammit. Unless we get a good deal on some Libyan Light Crude.

This lack of argument notwithstanding, on his last morning in the White House, Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich. Bill was unusually close-mouthed about his reasons, saying only that he had become “impressed” with the case for pardoning Marc Rich. How that “case” was presented (or on what size check) is something that Clinton archivists refused to release to the press just last week, seven years after the events in question. Marc Rich’s attractive socialite wife Denise Rich also played a role in convincing Bill Clinton of the merits of this case, though precisely how she posed her “case” remains similarly unknown.

Another interesting event from Michael Steinhardt’s third act is that he got involved in the creation of an elite private school in New York City, the plans for which were scrapped from fear it might tolerate miscegenation (that is, the creation of mixed ethnicity couples). I am not writing of some half-educated redneck preacher’s college, I am writing about a proposed elite private school in Manhattan. I tend to be a “whatever makes you happy” kind of guy, but there are lines for me, and they exist this side of philanthropy that takes as a paramount concern the possible co-mingling of races.

Michael Steinhardt, Act IV

How is Michael Steinhardt currently regarded? A man who got his start with and became a conduit for Mafia cash on Wall Street? A man whose personal brutality became the stuff of Wall Street lore (e.g., dressing down a longtime partner to the point of cardiac arrest)? A man who joined that personal brutality to a system of high fees paid to knowledgeable insiders to develop “the edge” with which he could rob “the dumb money” not privy to that information? A man who made tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars tampering with the market for United States Treasury securities, then bought his way out of trouble with a $70 million payment and a lifetime promise to wear the financial equivalent of a Hannibal Lecter mask around the US Government’s money? A man who was financier to a fugitive felon trading with our nation’s enemies, then obtained a presidential pardon for that traitorous crony? A man who lets his philanthropy be constrained by bigotry?

Thanks to the wonders of a PR agency known as, “the New York press corps,” the man is now considered a deep-thinking financial statesman, philanthropist, and yes, Great American.

Dénouement

Steinhardt Partner’s head trader was Karen Backfisch, also known as “The Trading Goddess,” who has often been described as “Steinhardt’s protégé.”

Jim Cramer, the television personality, publicly emphasizes his career at Goldman Sachs followed by his time spent running his own hedge fund. In truth, however, as soon as he left Goldman Sachs, Jim Cramer spent 1-2 years ensconced in Steinhardt’s offices at the Burroughs Building in Manhattan. Cramer housed in Steinhardt Partners and his office was three doors down from Michael Steinhardt’s.

Karen Backfisch met Jim Cramer there in Steinhardt’s offices, and they married. As will be discussed shortly, Jim has publicly acknowledged that what he knows about trading he gleaned from Karen Backfisch, which knowledge she had gained as Steinhardt’s head trader.

Before Karen Backfisch, Steinhardt had another protégé, in the early 1970′s, fresh out of Harvard’s MBA program. His name is “David Rocker,” and I will have something to say about him soon as well.

And so ends the tale of when the bad guys came to Wall Street.

Posted in The PlayersComments (1)

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