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Bernard Madoff, the Mafia, and the Friends of Michael Milken


In 2005, Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com and future Deep Capture investigative reporter, began a public crusade against illegal naked short selling (hedge funds and brokers creating phantom stock to manipulate stock prices down). He said, over and over, that the crime was destroying public companies and had the potential to trigger a systemic meltdown of our financial markets.

Soon after, I began to investigate a network of short sellers, journalists, and miscreants. I concluded that many of the people in this network were connected to two famous criminals – “junk bond king” Michael Milken and his associate, Ivan Boesky. I also began taking a close look at the Mafia’s involvement in naked short selling.

In my last installment (click here to read), I described some of the strange occurrences that attended this investigation. Where the story left off, I’d recently been threatened in a bookstore, and then ambushed by three thugs who told me to stay away from this story. My unwitting employer had been bribed by short sellers, Patrick had been told by a U.S. Senator that his life was in danger, and a Russian matryoshka doll had appeared on the desk of an offshore businessman.

Inside this matryoshka doll was a slip of paper marked with the letter “F”…

* * * * * * * *

Soon after receiving the matryoshka doll, the offshore businessman invited Patrick Byrne to a greasy spoon diner in Long Island. Over the previous year, the businessman had provided Patrick with some information about the naked short selling scam, and the hope was that he might have something more to say.

But that day at the diner, all he had was a message.

“I’ll make this quick,” the businessman said, with two other witnesses present. “I have a message for you from Russia. The message is, ‘We are about to kill you. We are about to kill you.’ Patrick, they are going to kill you. If you do not stop this crusade [against naked short selling], they will kill you. Normally they’d have already hurt someone close to you as a warning, but you’re so weird, they don’t know how you’d react.”

In a later conversation with a colleague of Patrick’s the businessman said [verbatim]: “These things don’t happen to me anymore. I mean, I’ve been out of that world [the world of Mafia stock manipulation] for a dozen years or more. These…there are defined signals here that lead me to believe that they [the Mafia] have been disturbed. The only way they coulda been disturbed is if they own Rocker or if he is using them for leverage.”

Rocker. That’s David Rocker.

At the time, David Rocker was a “prominent” hedge fund manager specialized in short selling (betting that stock prices will fall). It was also the case that Rocker had spent the last couple decades insinuating to people on Wall Street that he was somehow tied to the Mob.

But Rocker was probably full of it. He didn’t have ties to the Mob. Perhaps he merely believed that his insinuations lent him a certain cachet.

* * * * * * * *

From 1973 to 1981, Rocker was a general partner in a short selling hedge fund managed by Michael Steinhardt, who is one of Wall Street’s most “prominent” investors, regularly hailed by The Wall Street Journal and CNBC as a genius and a font of wisdom.

Some years ago, Steinhardt belatedly acknowledged that he is the son of Sol “Red” Steinhardt, who was once a major player in the Genovese Mafia organization. Steinhardt, Sr. spent several years in Sing-Sing prison after a New York City prosecutor described him as the “biggest Mafia fence in America.”

Incidentally, experts concur that the Genovese Mafia family brought the Russian Mob to America.

* * * * * * * *

The largest investors in Steinhardt Jr.’s first hedge fund were associates of the Genovese Mafia (whose investments came in large sacks of cash), Marty Peretz (future founder, with Jim Cramer, of TheStreet.com), Marc Rich (future fugitive charged with tax evasion and illegal trading with Iran and Libya), and Ivan Boesky (later imprisoned on multiple counts, most of them involving stock manipulation schemes orchestrated with “junk bond king” Michael Milken).

By 1991, Steinhardt owned another hedge fund — JGM Management – with a “prominent investor” named James Marquez. The star employee at JGM was “prominent investor” Samuel Israel III.

A few years later, Israel and Marquez founded the Bayou Group, one of the biggest hedge fund frauds in history. A significant part of the Bayou fraud involved Israel “feeding” his investors’ money into a Ponzi scheme run by Robert Booth Nichols, who has been targeted by authorities as a business associate of the Genovese Mafia family.

When Israel was sentenced to prison last year, he briefly disappeared. His car was found on a bridge. Scrawled in the dust on the hood was a note: “Suicide is Painless.”

Authorities arrested Israel’s girlfriend, whom they suspected of harboring a fugitive. Shortly after, Israel rode a red motor scooter to a Boston police station and turned himself in. Apparently, he was not dead. He had tried to fool us.

Meanwhile, Israel had filed a lawsuit against Nichols, alleging that Nichols had ripped him off. Apparently, Israel (who could not be reached for this article) would like us to believe that he is not tied to Nichols or the Genovese Mafia.

Nonetheless, Israel has a certain cachet. So do Steinhardt and James Marquez.

* * * * * * * *

In the 1990s, Steinhardt founded another hedge fund, Steinhardt Partners. The co-founder and head trader of Steinhardt Partners was a “prominent investor” named John Lattanzio.

The limited public information about Lattanzio concerns a Russian prostitute.

Apparently, Lattanzio proposed marriage to the prostitute and gave her a diamond ring. Alas, the couple separated, and Lattanzio asked for his ring back. After all, it had cost him $289,275.00.

But the prostitute seemed to believe that the ring was payment for services rendered. The dispute ended up in court, where the prostitute testified that Lattanzio had told her that he had ties to the Mafia.

Yes, said the prostitute, Lattanzio (Steinhardt Partners’ co-founder and head trader) had big-time Mafia connections, and he “would not hesitate to use them to harm me.”

From what I know of Russian strumpets, there is at least one area where they cannot be trusted – and that is where it concerns their love life. So perhaps Lattanzio had his heart broken. Perhaps, in the heat of passion, he said some crazy stuff about the Mafia to make himself seem dangerous. If that is the case, I send Mr. Lattanzio my condolences.

Indeed, I would enjoy meeting him. He has a certain cachet.

* * * * * * * *

Rocker left Steinhardt’s hedge fund in 1981 and went to work for an investment management firm called Century Capital Associates.

Information on this firm is limited, but it seems to have been largely owned in the 1980s by the Belzberg brothers — William, Sam and Hymie.

The Belzbergs were among Michael Milken’s closest cronies (family member Mark Belzberg was in fact implicated by the SEC in Milken’s stock manipulation schemes). They were at the inner core of the Milken machine – buying and selling the junk bonds of other Milken cronies. Often, the Belzbergs collaborated with Milken to blackmail, seize, or destroy public companies. .

In the late 1980s, the Belzbergs announced that they were going to take over Crazy Eddie, which was then a famous home electronics retail chain. The Belzbergs joined forces with Crazy Eddie’s founder, Eddie Antar, and the company’s chief financial officer, Sam Antar, in a supposed effort to take the company private.

This is a story for another time, but for now it suffices to say that Crazy Eddie was a massive fraud, the Belzbergs (and Milken) likely knew this already, and when the company was raided by the FBI a few months later, it emerged that Sam Antar had been feeding information to both the FBI and a lawyer, Howard Sirota, who was preparing to sue the company.

The Belzberg’s did not buy Crazy Eddie. Instead, just before the FBI arrived, the company was sold to another investor, Victor Palmieri. Robert A. Marmon, who was hired by Palmieri to run Crazy Eddie, told me that he arrived to find that the company’s top employees – the only people who had had direct access to the Antars – were all burly, armed thugs who claimed to be former employees of the Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence agency.

It was Marmon’s job to fire the Antars’ corporate goons. “I’ve never been so scared in my life,” he said. “There weren’t any explicit death threats. They just stared you down, so you got the message.”

* * * * * * * *

Sam Antar is a convicted felon, but he never went to prison because he testified against his cousin, Eddie Antar, in return for house arrest. Now he is paid by short sellers with ties to David Rocker and associates of Michael Milken. The assignment to which he devotes the majority of his time is to use the Internet to harass and smear the reputations of Deep Capture founder Patrick Byrne and his colleagues.

At one point, Antar threatened the young children of Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley, posting their names, ages, and address on the Internet. As I described in my last installment, Antar has made what I can only interpret to be veiled references to two seminal events in my life – the time I was ambushed and punched in the eye by three thugs, and the day that a goon in a bookstore threatened my close relative.

When he is not harassing us, Antar helps Howard Sirota (the attorney who sued Crazy Eddie) file bogus class action lawsuits against companies targeted by short sellers. A recent court case also describes Antar delivering $250,000 in cash to a man named Barry Minkow

In the 1980s, Minkow built a carpet cleaning and insurance restoration company called ZZZZ Best, with the bulk of his finance coming from Michael Milken, and other funds coming from associates of the Genovese organized crime family.

ZZZZ Best was a massive fraud that manufactured false restoration claims – some of them on Las Vegas casinos that had been financed by Michael Milken and investors tied to the Genovese organized crime family.

Minkow spent some time in prison. Now he runs an outfit called the Fraud Discovery Institute out of the Community Bible Church in San Diego, where he is a preacher. The Fraud Discovery Unit is in the business of publishing negative information about public companies targeted by Howard Sirota and short sellers tied to David Rocker, Michael Steinhardt, and associates of Michael Milken.

In one of Sam Antar’s famous Internet messages (he signs them, “Sam Antar, Convicted Felon”), he warned that we at Deep Capture were taking chances by writing about the Mafia connections of Barry Minkow, whom Antar described as his “friend.”

“You have awakened a sleeping giant,” Antar wrote.

* * * * * * * *

In addition to their involvement with Crazy Eddie and David Rocker’s operation, the Belzberg brothers – William, Sam, and Hymie – also tried in the 1980s to take over a investment services concern called the Bache Group. But executives of the Bache Group did not want the Belzbergs to seize their company.

According to the executives, the Belzbergs had ties to the Mafia. The executives went public with their allegations, citing, among other things, a U.S. Customs report that described the Belzbergs cavorting with some Genovese mafiosi in Acapulco.

Fortune magazine reported that these allegations were “unsubstantiated.”

But the Belzbergs have a certain cachet

* * * * * * * *

The Belzbergs were also the largest providers of capital to John Mulheren, a “prominent investor” who was famous in the 1980s for the arbitrage operation that he ran out of Spear Leeds & Kellogg, a broker-dealer and notorious naked short seller that was later merged into Goldman Sachs Execution and Clearing (which currently employs Elliot Faivinov, a Russian man who in 2006 was, for reasons of his own, receiving copies of the phone records of a woman who was then Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne’s girlfriend).

The Department of Justice alleged that Mulheren routinely engaged in stock manipulation schemes with Ivan Boesky, targeting companies financed by Milken. In 1987, when Boesky was indicted, and the government began to investigate Milken, Mulheren announced that he was going to murder Boesky.

Depending on the story, Mulheren either forgot to take his psychiatric medication, or he was worried that Boesky was going to squeal. Either way, he was arrested on the way to Boesky’s house. In Mulheren’s car, police found a 9-millimeter pistol, a .357 Magnum, a 12-gauge pistol-grip shotgun, a .233-caliber Israeli Galil assault rifle, and 300 rounds of ammunition.

It is a common misperception that Boesky’s testimony led to the 98-count indictment of Michael Milken. Considering the scope of business the two criminals did together, Boesky actually provided very little information to the government. He told prosecutors that he was afraid that he might be killed. On several occasions he told prosecutors that he might be killed by Milken’s “friends in Vegas.”

* * * * * * * *

Far more important to the government’s case against Milken was evidence that it obtained when 50 armed troopers stormed the offices of a hedge fund called Princeton-Newport. The founder of this hedge fund, Edward Thorp, once partnered with the Genovese organized crime family to develop a system for cheating Las Vegas casinos. He wrote a seminal book on counting cards in black jack, and soon after, he was a critical – perhaps the most critical – figure in the Milken operation.

The base of Milken’s operation was the high-yield debt department of Drexel Burnham Lambert in Beverly Hills. From there, he underwrote and sold billions upon billions of dollars worth of junk bonds. Hence the moniker, “the junk bond king.”

But most observers believe that Milken derived a greater part of his fortune from a web of private partnerships and personal brokerages that traded, and often manipulated, not just the debt, but also the stock of public companies. Most profitable of all Milken’s businesses were two Chicago-based brokerages – Belvedere Securities and EGM partners – that he co-owned with the Genovese Mafia card-counter Edward Thorp.

In 2006, Thorp’s son, Jeffrey, was charged by the SEC with destroying more than 20 companies in a scheme that involved unbridled naked short selling (millions upon millions of phantom shares sold into the market). Jeffrey Thorp also collaborated closely in short selling schemes with Anthony Elgindy, a notorious phantom stock peddler who is now serving an 11 year prison sentence for stock manipulation, extortion, and bribing FBI agents.

Elgindy, like Thorp’s father, is tied to the Genovese organized crime family.

When Elgindy appeared in court for sentencing, the judge noticed that Elgindy was missing the tip of one finger. Elgindy could not provide a straight answer as to what had happened, but a source close to the Elgindy investigation claims that Elgindy was forced by Russian mobsters to saw off his own finger as a warning not to squeal on his partners in crime.

* * * * * * * *

When delivering the death threat to Patrick Byrne, the offshore businessman mentioned David Rocker, and as we now know, Rocker was a general partner in Michael Steinhardt’s first hedge fund — largely capitalized by the Genovese Mafia and Ivan Boesky. We also know that Rocker later worked for Century Capital, largely owned by the Belzbergs – William, Sam, and Hymie – who might or might not have been cavorting with Genovese mafiosi in Acapulco, but were certainly the largest funders of John Mulheren.

After getting caught on his way to murder Ivan Boesky, Mulheren went to jail, where he spent most of his time in consultation with Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, a Genovese Mafia capo who had recently begun a 100 year prison sentence.

Upon his release, Mulheren (whose convictions were later reversed on appeal) went into business with a “prominent investor” named Israel Englander. Soon after that, Mulheren died (apparently of a heart attack), but Englander continued to manage Millennium Partners, a “prominent” short selling hedge fund whose major investors are the Belzbergs – William, Sam, and Hymie.

By this time, David Rocker had left the Belzberg’s Century Capital to start his own hedge fund – Rocker Partners.

* * * * * * * *

Here I must skip ahead more than a decade: In 2004, Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne (pursuant to his day job of being CEO of Overstock.com) was on a Lehman Brothers-sponsored road show seeing dozens of hedge funds, attempting to sell a $120 million convertible bond in Overstock. When he sat down in Millennium’s offices, a man entered. His opening words were, “Millennium wants to take the entire $120 million of this offering. Of course, we’ll need a board seat to go with that.”

This would have given the hedge fund access to inside information about Overstock. And it would have given Millennium the ability to sell the company short without borrowing shares in the open market.

This is a common strategy employed by short sellers tied to Michael Milken or his associates. As I will show in future stories, many companies that agree to this arrangement are eventually destroyed or seriously wounded by naked short selling – hedge funds offloading phantom stock.

Overstock board member Gordon Macklin, the former chairman of Hambrecht & Quist, a straight-shooting investment bank, warned Patrick not to do the deal with Millennium.

Millennium, after all, had a certain cachet.

Patrick declined Millennium’s offer, and went ahead with the offering to a number of hedge funds.

A few months after Millennium’s offer to acquire the bonds, affiliated hedge fund managers, including David Rocker, began a short selling attack on Overstock.

* * * * * * * *

One hedge fund closely affiliated with David Rocker is SAC Capital, which is managed by Steven Cohen, and is said to account for more than 3 percent of all the trading on the New York Stock Exchange. BusinessWeek magazine has described Cohen as “The Most Powerful Trader on Wall Street.”

Some years ago, there was an article by Fortune magazine called “The Shabby Side of the Street.” This article did not mention Steve Cohen. It did not mention him because, by this time, Cohen was a “prominent investor.”

But while “The Shabby Side of the Street” does not mention Cohen, it is all about Gruntal & Co., which is where Cohen spent his formative years. Cohen was a proprietary trader for Gruntal in the 1980s and early 1990s – up until the day when he founded SAC Capital.

Gruntal, we can assume, is where Cohen developed his network and learned the tricks that made him the “most powerful trader on Wall Street.”

Fortune magazine interviewed a former Gruntal employee, who described the ambience there: “Gruntal was the Island of the Misfit Toys. But they didn’t care what was going on in our sick, dysfunctional office as long as we were making money. We had no manager, and it’s illegal not to supervise brokers. I remember doing cartwheels down the hall, drinking beer at my desk, smoking pot, having sex in the stairwell. Whatever!”

* * * * * * * *

The Fortune magazine article about Gruntal also failed to mention Michael Milken. It did not mention Milken because Milken was, by then, a “prominent philanthropist.” But Milken had been intimately involved with Gruntal, whose parent company, a financial services and insurance conglomerate called the Home Group, had been central to the Michael Milken empire.

As nearly every account of Michael Milken’s schemes will tell you, Milken worked with a select group of cronies (many of whom controlled large insurance and financial services conglomerates) to operate what amounted to a Ponzi scheme.

The cronies would sell junk bonds through Milken to raise finance. Then the cronies would use much of this finance to buy (from Milken) the junk bonds of other cronies in the group. The cronies and Milken would then trade the junk bonds among themselves, raising their prices incrementally as they passed them on to the next crony (a process known as “daisy-chaining”), before fobbing them off to little old ladies and dimwitted pension fund managers.

Until the scheme collapsed, Milken’s junk-bond merry-go-round generated enormous profits and seemingly unlimited finance for his select cronies. So the cronies could not only buy more junk bonds from Milken, but they could also use their billions to harass, destroy, or initiate hostile takeovers of public companies.

Meanwhile, Milken presided over a nationwide network of private partnerships (such as those he had with the Mafia card-counter Edward Thorp), arbitrage and short selling partnerships (such as Ivan Boesky’s criminal operation), short selling hedge funds (such as Michael Steinhardt’s Mafia-funded outfit), and brokerages that could help put public companies on the defensive.

Home Insurance was a key buyer and issuer of Milken junk bonds. It was the second largest unsecured creditor to Milken’s operation at Drexel. It also owned about $15 million worth of Ivan Boesky’s short selling and arbitrage outfit. Meanwhile, Home’s subsidiary, Gruntal & Co., employed traders who were on quite friendly terms with Milken and others in his network.

* * * * * * * *

Gruntal’s options department was founded by a man named Carl Icahn. After leaving Gruntal, Icahn formed Icahn & Co., receiving most of his finance from Michael Milken, but also a significant chunk of capital from a “prominent investor” named Zen Wolfson.

Since then, Wolfson has been involved with a number of Wall Street brokerages that are tied to the Genovese Mafia. One such brokerage is Pond Securities, which, in 2001, was implicated by the SEC in a massive naked short selling (phantom stock) fraud. Among the victims of Pond Securities were companies that had employed the services of Ladenburg Thalmann, an investment bank largely controlled by Carl Icahn.

In an upcoming story, I will tell you more about Ladenburg Thalmann’s role in the naked short selling scandal. I will tell you more about Pond Securities and its relationship with a man who remains a fugitive in Austria. And I will tell you more about Carl Icahn, who is not only one of the most “prominent investors” in America, but also a man with a certain cachet.

* * * * * * * *

Another employee of Gruntal – a fellow who sat next to Steve Cohen (later known as “the most powerful trader on the Street”) – was Stephen Feinberg, who had moved to Gruntal from Michael Milken’s operation at Drexel Burnham Lambert. Feinberg had been one of Milken’s most favored employees. Most likely, he moved to Gruntal (“the “shabby side of the Street,” as Fortune magazine described it) to reinforce the relationship between Gruntal and Milken’s nation-wide stock manipulation network.

Nowadays, Feinberg runs Cerberus Capital, one of the most powerful private equity firms in America. In an upcoming story, I will tell you how Cerberus loots the companies it seizes.

Its techniques have a certain cachet.

* * * * * * * *

Yet another “prominent investor” who sat on Steve Cohen’s trading floor at Gruntal was Samuel Israel III.

Israel left Gruntal to work for a hedge fund owned by Steinhardt (the son of the “biggest Mafia fence in America”). As you will recall, Israel later wrote “Suicide is Painless” on his car and briefly disappeared after being sentenced for masterminding one of the largest hedge fund frauds in history – a fraud that Israel ran with help from a co-founder of Steinhardt’s hedge fund and another fellow connected to the Genovese Mafia.

Also on Steve Cohen’s trading floor at Gruntal was Maurice A. Gross, whose biggest client was Thomas Gambino, a prominent member of the Gambino Mafia family. This was in the days when the Gambinos and the Genovese still collaborated on Wall Street.

Gross later left Gruntal, and in 1997, he and a Pakistani fellow named Mohammad Ali Khan tried to steal the Gambinos’ money.

Fortunately, Elliot Spitzer intervened. At the time, Spitzer was New York’s attorney general. Throughout his political career, Spitzer received by far the greatest percentage of his campaign funding from short sellers (such as Jim Chanos, who provided a rent-free beach house to the hooker who later forced Spitzer to resign as governor) who are closely tied to Steve Cohen and SAC Capital.

Spitzer forced the former Gruntal broker to give the Gambinos their money back. There is no evidence, however, that Spitzer was concerned that New York’s second largest organized crime family was running money through a brokerage owned by cronies of Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky.

In 1996, Gruntal was charged with embezzling millions of dollars. By then, Steve Cohen had left to begin his career as the “most powerful trader on the Street.”

* * * * * * * *

So in 2006, I was investigating Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital, David Rocker, Michael Steinhardt and their network of miscreants. I was also investigating “prominent” journalists (at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNBC and other major news organizations) who had unusual relationships with this network and who were going to extraordinary lengths to cover up the naked short selling (phantom stock) scandal.

That’s when three guys in Armani suits saddled up to me in a quiet bar. As you will recall from my last installment, one of the Armanis introduced himself to me as a former Boesky employee, and told me a story about a fellow who got his brains blown out after “peeking” into the ladies underwear department at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital is known colloquially as “Sak.” I do not know for certain that Armani was telling me I shouldn’t be “peeking” at Cohen’s dirty underwear. It was a strange encounter, to say the least.

But if you doubt that journalists sometimes receive such threats, consider the case of Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch. One day after work, Busch found, in the front seat of her car, a dead fish and a rose. In the windshield of her car, there was bullet hole and a note that said, simply, “Stop!”

Later, the LA Times reporter was nearly killed when two men in a black Mercedes tried to run her over.

All of this was the handiwork of Anthony Pellicano, a former soldier in the Genovese Mafia organization who had found employment as a hired-thug and private investigator. Most of Pellicano’s clients had been Hollywood actors like Steven Seagal (who has been reported by some news organizations to have ties to the Mob, though I have not confirmed those reports) and various billionaires, a significant number of whom had ties to Michael Milken.

When Pellicano put the dead fish and the bullet hole in the reporter’s car, he was working for Michael Ovitz, the Hollywood mogul. Busch and the LA Times were investigating the business dealings of Ovitz, and Ovitz apparently hired the former Genovese Mafia soldier to stop the story in its tracks.

Ovitz, as you may know, is one of Michael Milken’s closest friends. They were high school classmates. In later years, Milken and Ovitz did a lot of business together.

While Pellicano was threatening an L.A. Times reporter, he was also employed by Adam Sender, who runs a hedge fund called Exis Capital. Sender is a former employee of Steve Cohen at SAC Capital. Steve Cohen — the “most powerful trader on the Street” — provided Sender with most of his start-up capital. Exis and Sender are considered by most everyone on Wall Street to be essentially subsidiaries of SAC (a.k.a. “Sak”).

Apparently, Sender had some kind of dispute with a business partner, so he called Pellicano, the former Genovese Mafia soldier. In a conversation that was recorded by the FBI, Sender said to Pellicano: “You have 100% free reign to do whatever you feel will make this cocksucker as unhappy as possible…I’d like to make the fucking asshole as uncomfortable as possible…I’m going to continue the lawsuit until doomsday… when the time is right I’m going to fix him.”

You can listen to the full conversation here.

In a later conversation, Pellicano allegedly offered to have Sender’s business partner disappear. The former Genovese soldier said he’d make his move while the business partner was driving to Los Angeles from Las Vegas. He’d force the business partner off the road. Then Pellicano would kill the business partner and bury him in the Nevada desert. Nobody would know a thing.

In court, Sender testified that he turned down Pellicano’s murder-for-hire offer. But Pellicano was convicted for multiple crimes – such as offering to have a man buried in the Nevada desert and putting a dead fish, a rose, and bullet hole in the car of a journalist investigating Michael Milken’s best friend from high school.

* * * * * * * *

I do not know whether any merit can be given to the offshore businessman’s speculation that Rocker might be “owned” by the Mafia. I do not know whether Rocker had anything to do with the message that the Russian Mafia was going to kill Patrick Byrne.

I do know, however, that in a later phone conversation, the offshore businessman explained how the death threat had been conveyed to him. He said he returned home one night and his wife told him there was a package on his desk. “And there was a beautiful little box, and inside was a matryoshka.”

“And I opened up the…matryoshka, and inside is an `F’ with a cross on it — which is from Felix.”

The businessman said he contacted Felix. And Felix said, “tell [Patrick]….we’re going to fucking take it private.”

* * * * * * * *

In 1998, Felix – that’s Felix Sater – forgot to pay the rent on a locker at the Manhattan Mini Storage in Soho. As a result, police found inside this locker two pistols, a shotgun, and a gym bag stuffed with documents outlining various money laundering and stock manipulation schemes orchestrated by Felix Sater and his partners.

Felix is a Russian immigrant said by authorities to have ties to both the Russian Mafia and the Genovese organized crime family.

In 1991, Felix stabbed a stock broker in the face with a broken stem of a wine glass.

* * * * * * * *

After reviewing the contents of Felix’s locker, the FBI launched a sweeping investigation that culminated, in the summer of 2000, with the bureau’s famous “Operation Uptick” – sometimes referred to as the “Mob on Wall Street” operation. More than 100 stock brokers and investors allegedly tied to the Mafia were arrested – the biggest securities bust in FBI history.

Among those arrested in the “Mob on Wall Street” operation were a number of people tied to Michael Milken or his closest cronies. One of them was Gene Phillips.

In the 1980s, Phillips ran a company called Southmark, which was at the center of the Milken Ponzi. Southmark was, in fact, the single largest real estate conglomerate ever financed by Milken. But it didn’t just buy real estate. In only one of many transactions, Milken delivered over $400 million in junk bond finance to Phillips, and Phillips used every penny of that finance to buy (from Milken) the junk bonds of other Milken cronies.

The “Mob on Wall Street” case alleged that Phillips engaged in stock manipulation schemes with a coterie of miscreants who were tied to the Genovese organized crime family. Ultimately, Phillips was acquitted.

But even before he was arrested, Phillips had a certain cachet.

* * * * * * * *

Felix Sater (the man who allegedly sent the matryoshka doll) was ultimately named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a Mafia-run stock fraud. One of his friends co-authored a book, “The Scorpion and the Frog,” which suggests that Sater (whom the author of the book gives a pseudonym, “Lex Tersa”) cut a deal allowing him to avoid prosecution if he helped the CIA set up a phony arms deal with Osama Bin Laden. Anything is possible, I suppose.

At any rate, Sater is now the (silent) proprietor of the Bayrock Group, a real estate investment company. The Bayrock Group has eleven partners. All are of interest, but let’s focus on two of them.

One is The Sapir Organization, which is an organization run by a Russian immigrant named Tamir Sapir. A lawyer for The Sapir Organization said the organization would answer no questions because the organization is “very, very private.” So information about Sapir’s background is spotty.

Sapir has stated publicly that he once owned a home electronics store that catered to Russian KGB officials living in New York. The name of the store remains a mystery. All Sapir has said is that he was “the Crazy Eddie of Russia” – a playful reference to Sam Antar’s electronics company (i.e., the massive fraud that the Antars were going to take private with those Milken cronies, the Belzbergs – Walter, Sam, and Hymie).

After electronics, Sapir began trading oil. Then he struck it big in real estate. Now, he is believed to be a billionaire.

He might also be a Russian Mafia boss. Journalists have danced around this issue. Sapir himself has stated to The New York Times that “I am not Mob.” But he once had Genovese Mafia associates running his real estate empire. So if Sapir is not a Russian Mafia boss, he is at least a Russian boss of Mafia employees.

By way of example: The man who formerly ran The Sapir Organization’s real estate portfolio is named Frederick J. Contini. In addition to being associated with the Genovese Mafia clan, Contini once entered a secret plea to racketeering.

Also, Contini once stabbed a man in the face with the broken stem of a wine glass.

He said it was just a bar fight.

This was some months after Felix Sater stabbed a man in the face with the broken stem of a wine glass.

Felix said it was just a bar fight, too.

* * * * * * * *

The second important partner of Felix Sater’s Bayrock Group is Apollo Real Estate Advisors, which is part of the empire controlled by a famous billionaire – Leon Black.

If Michael Milken were to name the ten people who are closest to him, Leon Black would surely be one of them. The two men have known each other since at least 1975, when “prominent investor” Carl Lindner, who was one of Milken’s key junk bond cronies, was acquiring shares in United Brands, formerly known as United Fruit, a company that has been accused of everything from bribing heads of state to funneling money to Latin American drug gangs.

Lindner eventually gained control over the company, but not before Eli Black — United Brands’ CEO and the father of Leon Black — crashed through a thick plate-glass window on the 44th floor of the Pan Am building, and plunged to his death.

They said Black broke through the plate glass window with his briefcase.

They said it was suicide.

* * * * * * * *

Some years after his father crashed through the window, Leon Black was heading up mergers and acquisitions at Drexel Burnham Lambert, home base of Milken’s junk bond operation. Black was Milken’s most ardent ally at Drexel. After Milken was indicted, Black rallied to Milken’s defense. It was Black, more than anyone, who prevented Drexel from firing Milken. And Black has remained obstinately loyal to the criminal Milken ever since.

After Milken went to prison, Black founded the Apollo Group, an investment partnership that received most of its initial funding from a French aristocrat named Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet.

Among Black’s first moves as an independent “prominent investor” was to launch a takeover bid for Executive Life, a bankrupt insurance and financial services conglomerate.

The Black group won the bid after a fierce battle with a group of competing bidders, led by Jack Byrne, who was then the chairman of Fireman’s Fund, a major insurance company.

Later, though, it emerged that Black’s takeover of Executive Life had been illegal because he had secretly been fronting for certain French investors, including Monsieur Rene Thierry de La Villehuchet. Some of the French investors had illegally parked stock with Black to hide their involvement (“parking stock” being one of the favorite techniques of the Milken-Boesky-Thorp crew, and a recurrent theme in the 98-count indictment that sent Milken to jail).

There were indictments (though, somehow, not of Black or Monsieur Rene Thierry de La Villehuchet). After the indictments, Jack Byrne, recognizing that he’d been cheated out of a deal, sued Black and won an $80 million dollar judgment, some $30 million of which was ultimately paid to Jack Byrne’s company.

Jack Byrne, of course, is the father of Patrick Byrne, who a few years later received a vicious death threat, allegedly by way of a Russian matryoshka doll delivered by Leon Black’s Mafia business partner Felix Sater.

* * * * * * * *

None of which is to suggest that Black or Michael Milken had anything to do with the matryoshka doll or the death threat. Milken is now a “prominent philanthropist,” and Black is a “prominent investor.” But if anybody sees Mr. Black, please ask him if he thinks his Mafia friends could help us get to the bottom of this.

(Neither Black nor Felix nor Milken return my calls).

* * * * * * * *

Executive Life, the company that Black’s group illegally purchased, was in bankruptcy because it had been transformed into a Ponzi scheme by Fred Carr, who is widely regarded to have been Michael Milken’s single most important junk bond crony.

Milken delivered billions of dollars in junk bond finance to Carr, and Carr used much of his Milken finance to buy (from Milken) junk bonds that had been issued by Gene Phillips, the Belzbergs, Carl Lindner, and few others in Milken’s close circle of cronies.

Prior to destroying Executive Life, Carr was tied to a mutual fund company called Investors Overseas Services. Carr was a “feeder” (somebody who raised money) for Investors Overseas Services, and at one point he announced that he was a major shareholder in the company and planned to take it over.

Another “feeder” to Investor Overseas Services (OIS) was John Pullman, a reputed associate of the Genovese organized crime family. At one point, Canadian police taped a conversation in which Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno (the fellow whom John Mulheren befriended in prison after failing to assassinate Ivan Boesky) suggested that Pullman owed him money.

There was also Sylvain Ferdman. He couriered cash to IOS from clients in South America. Ferdman testified before a grand jury in New York that he had also been a courier for the Genovese organized crime family.

* * * * * * * *

No story about Michael Milken is complete without reference to a “prominent investor” named Meshulum Riklis. By most every account, Riklis was Milken’s first big client and his most important mentor – the man who taught Milken the art of junk bond Ponzis and stock manipulation.

Riklis, who was also known as the husband of Hollywood starlet Pia Zadora, began working with Milken not long after Riklis bought Schenley Distributors, a distillery, in a deal that was clouded by accusations of pay-offs to organized crime. Schenley retained as its major distributors one Joseph Fusco, reputed to be a former member of Al Capone’s gang in Chicago, and Joseph Linsey, a colleague of the Genovese family mobster Meyer Lansky (who worked closely with Michael Steinhardt’s father).

Riklis’s next move was to buy the Riviera casino in Las Vegas. Reportedly, he was hand-picked for this deal by the sellers, a group of Mafia-affiliated characters led by Morris Shenker, who was the personal attorney, close confidant, and business partner of Jimmy Hoffa, the Mafia-connected president of the Teamsters.

One day, Hoffa had a meeting scheduled with Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone and Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, two capos of the Genovese organized crime family. Hoffa disappeared on the way to the meeting and was never seen again.

By then, though, the Teamsters had become one of Milken’s most important customers –dependable buyers of junk bonds that Milken issued for select cronies – Riklis, Carr, Gene Phillips, Carl Lindner (who was acquiring United Brands when Leon Black’s father fell through a thick plate glass window), and just a few others.

* * * * * * * *

Through Riklis and the Teamsters, Milken built a solid clientele of Las Vegas casino operators, such as Carl Icahn, and related enterprises (such as the Genovese-financed ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning outfit).

One of Milken’s biggest clients was Steve Wynn, a “prominent investor” who received lots of Milken finance to open casinos and buy (from Milken) junk bonds issued by other Milken cronies – Lindner, Riklis, Gene Phillips, Icahn, and a just a few others (all of whom had a certain cachet – more on the others in upcoming stories).

Wynn is now widely credited with transforming Las Vegas into the kind of place where you can go with the kids.

Meanwhile, Milken describes Wynn as one of his closest friends.

In 1983, which is right around the time that Milken and Wynn began doing business together, the Criminal Investigation Department of London’s Scotland Yard produced a report stating that “the strong inference which can be drawn from the new intelligence is that Stephen Wynn…has been operating under the aegis of the Genovese [Mafia] family since he first went to Las Vegas in the 1960s…”

Scotland Yard determined that there was an especially strong relationship between Wynn’s father, Mike, and Genovese mobster Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno. Around this time, the FBI caught “Fat Tony” on tape, in a conversation that suggested that the mobster had ties to the younger Wynn as well. Among other things, “Fat Tony” told his colleagues that they should try to get the younger Wynn to reign back his activities in Las Vegas. Wynn had become too conspicuous.

This was before “Fat Tony” entered into jail-cell consultations with John Mulheren, the Milken crony who had sought to murder Ivan Boesky. It was after “Fat Tony” was caught on tape describing his relationship with the “feeder” who worked with Milken crony Fred Carr on the Investors Overseas Services.

Wynn vigorously denies any connection to “Fat Tony” and the Mafia.

By the way, “Fat Tony” wore a fedora and usually had big Cuban cigar in his mouth. These people really do exist.

They have a certain cachet.

* * * * * * * *

Meshulum Riklis also denies having any connection to the Mafia.

But he does not deny that he at one point tried to buy Investors Overseas Services. This was right about the time that Milken-crony Fred Carr began buying up shares in IOS. It was also right about the time that Investors Overseas Services was found to be the biggest Ponzi fraud in history.

Soon after, Investors Overseas Services was handed over to a “prominent investor” named Robert Vesco, who looted it dry, and fled to Cuba.

* * * * * * * *

Investors Overseas Services was the biggest Ponzi scheme in history until last month, when Bernard Madoff’s Mafia-affiliated operation was revealed to be the new all-time biggest Ponzi scheme.

Investors Overseas Services was a straight-forward swindle. Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi was more complicated, involving not just his fund management business, but also his brokerages.

Madoff’s brokerages engaged in naked short selling (offloading stock that had not been borrowed or purchased—phantom stock), likely on behalf of miscreant hedge funds looking to drive down prices. In fact, Madoff successfully lobbied the SEC to enact a rule that allowed market makers such as himself to engage in naked short selling. At the SEC, this rule was called “The Madoff Exception.”

Moreover, a source who has seen some of Madoff’s trading records says that Madoff filled buy orders for stock by naked short selling the stock to his customers’ accounts. So, perversely, significant buying volume through Madoff’s brokerages in a firm’s stock would generate yet more phantom shares, putting downward pressure on the price of that stock.

All of this naked short selling created massive liabilities (probably accounted for as “stock sold, and not yet delivered”). Those liabilities, plus the money that Madoff simply pocketed instead of buying or borrowing real stock, surely accounted for a large chunk of that $50 billion figure.

Last summer, naked short selling (phantom stock) burst into public view as an integral factor in the implosion of the U.S. financial system. In November 2008, former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt, echoing the words of many other experts and officials, said, “Naked short selling is what’s causing a lot of the problems in the market.”

In other words, Madoff’s operation was not just the largest known swindle in history. It was also a phantom stock machine. And that makes it but one participant in a much bigger scandal — a crime that might have brought us to the brink of a second Great Depression.

* * * * * * * *

At any rate, historic achievements tend to have overlapping protagonists. So it was no surprise to learn that one of Madoff’s most important “feeders” was Fairfield Greenwich Group, part-owned by a “prominent investor” named Philip Taub. Philip’s father, Said Taub, a “prominent investor” from Europe, had been an important “feeder,” along with Michael Milken’s cronies and other people affiliated with the Genovese Mafia, for the Investors Overseas Services Ponzi.

Another Madoff “feeder” (and a partner with Madoff in a brokerage called Cohmad) was a “prominent investor” named Robert Jaffe. Previously, while working for E.F. Hutton, Jaffe ran money for the Anguilo brothers, the Boston dons of the Genovese organized crime family.

There was also Sonja Kohn, who was a “prominent” member of the Wall Street investment community before moving to Austria to set up Bank Medici, the primary purpose of which seems to have been to find Russian oligarchs and mafiosi (often one and the same) to participate in Madoff’s schemes.

According to The New York Times, Kohn has disappeared. She apparently told people that she feared that somebody would have her killed.

* * * * * * * *

And, finally, there is the sad story of the French aristocrat Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet.

As you will recall, this aristocrat almost single-handedly funded Leon Black’s Apollo Group. And you will remember that this aristocrat also played a key role in Black’s bid for Executive Life – a bid that turned out to be illegal, resulting in Black losing an $80 million lawsuit to the father of Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne.

In later years, this French aristocrat remained one of Leon Black’s most important business associates. He was a loyal friend – a committed member of the Michael Milken network – even after Black’s Mafia business partner Felix Sater threatened to murder Patrick Byrne (This according to the courier of that threat, who quoted Felix as saying, “we’re going to fucking take it private” if Patrick continued his crusade against illegal naked short selling.).

All of which makes it interesting to know that this French aristocrat also raised billions of dollars for the greatest Ponzi scheme the world has ever known – a Ponzi scheme that entailed illegal naked short selling that probably helped topple the American financial system.

That’s right, Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet not only provided most of the initial funding to Milken-crony Leon Black’s Apollo Group. He was also one of the most devoted “feeders” to the Bernard Madoff $50 billion phantom stock Mafia swindle.

And one day last month, police entered a luxurious office in a New York skyscraper. On the desk, there were pills (what kind of pills has not yet been revealed). On the floor, there was a box cutter. There was no note.

But there he was — Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet.

He was dead.

They said it was suicide.

* * * * * * * *

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, chief 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.

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Strange Occurrences, and a Story about Naked Short Selling


Evidence suggests that Bernard Madoff, the “prominent” Wall Street operator and former chairman of the NASDAQ stock market, had ties to the Russian Mafia, Moscow-based oligarchs, and the Genovese organized crime family.

And, as reported by Deep Capture and Reuters, Madoff did not just orchestrate a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. He was also the principal architect of SEC rules that made it easier for “naked” short sellers to manufacture phantom stock and destroy public companies – a factor in the near total collapse of the American financial system.

* * * * * * * *

I don’t know why, but this seems like a good time to tell you a little about my personal history. Along the way, I’ll mention a murder, two suicides (or “suicides”), a punch in the face, a generous bribe, three Armani suits in bar, and a “prominent” billionaire who might know something about a death threat and a Russian matryoshka doll.

But actually, this story isn’t about me. It’s about Patrick Byrne, the fellow who got me into this mess.

* * * * * * * *

The story, like so many others, begins on August 12, 2005 – the day that Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com and future reporter for Deep Capture (a leading investigative news outfit), delivered a famous conference call presentation entitled, “The Miscreants Ball.”

To the 500 Wall Street honchos who listened in to this conference call, Patrick said that a network of miscreants was using a variety of tactics – including naked short selling (phantom stock) – to destroy public companies for profit. He said this scheme had the potential to crash the financial markets, but that the SEC did nothing because the SEC had been compromised – or “captured” – by unsavory operators on Wall Street.

Patrick added that he believed the scheme’s mastermind — “just call him the Sith Lord” — was a “famous criminal from the 1980s.”

In January 2006, I was working as an editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, a well-respected ( if somewhat dowdy) magazine devoted to media criticism. Patrick had claimed that some prominent journalists were “corrupt” and were working with prominent hedge funds to cover up the naked short selling scandal, so I called to discuss.

Patrick picked up the phone and said: “Chasing this story will take you down a rabbit hole with no end.” He said that the story had it all – diabolical billionaires, phantom stock, dishonest journalists, crooked lawyers, black box organizations on Wall Street, and a crime that could very well cause a meltdown of our financial system.

Not only that, Patrick said, but “the Mafia is involved, too.”

Well, Patrick seemed basically sane. I decided to write a story about the basically sane CEO who was fighting the media on an important financial issue while harboring some eccentric notions about the Mafia.

I figured it would take a week.

* * * * * * * *

Months later, my desk was buried under evidence of short seller miscreancy, I had done nothing but investigate this story since the day I first called Patrick, and I had just gone to a topless club to meet a self-professed mobster who told me all about a stockbroker who had peddled phantom shares for the Russian Mafia and the Genovese organized crime family.

The stockbroker had taken a bullet to the head – execution-style. And the mobster said he knew who did it.

* * * * * * * *

By this time, Patrick had long-since amended his “Sith Lord” analogy to say that the short selling schemes probably had multiple masterminds with a shared ideology – “like Al Queda.”

Be that as it may, my investigation now had two areas of focus. The first was the Mafia. The second was a network of crooked journalists, investors, short sellers, and scoundrels – a great many of whom were connected in important ways to two famous criminals or their associates.

The famous criminals were Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky.

In the 1980s, Milken and Boesky were among the most “prominent” investors in America. They were also the main protagonists in what James B. Stewart, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for The Wall Street Journal, later called “the greatest criminal conspiracy the financial world has ever known.”

In 1989, Milken was indicted on 98 counts of securities fraud and racketeering. He did some time in prison. Upon his release, he revved up a public relations machine that was as effective as it was ruthless (Milken’s detractors had their reputations torn to shreds).

Nowadays, the press generally refers to Milken as a “prominent philanthropist.” Often, he is hailed as the “junk bond king” – a financial “genius” who “fueled economic growth” and “built great companies” by “revolutionizing” the market for high-yield debt (junk bonds).

Boesky, who helped Milken destroy great companies, was indicted on several counts of securities fraud and stock manipulation. After his release from prison, in the early 1990s, he reportedly went to Moscow to build relationships with the Russian oligarchs who were then looting the former Soviet Union.

After that, nobody heard much from Boesky.

* * * * * * * *

In the spring of 2006, I doubted that Milken or Boesky had committed any wrong-doing since the 1980s. But it was clear that many of the people in their network were up to their same old tricks – destroying public companies for profit.

I did not think that Milken or Boesky worked for the Mafia – that would be crazy. But it was clear that the Mafia was destroying public companies for profit. And it was clear that a surprising number of people in the Milken-Boesky network did have ties to the Mafia.

At any rate, the “prominent investors” in this network seemed to have many schemes.

Sometimes they seized a public company, fattened it with debt, stripped out its assets, pocketed its cash, and then killed the company off. This is what mobsters used to call a “bust-out.” In the old days, it was neighborhood wiseguys taking over local restaurants. In the 1980s, Milken and his crowd introduced the technique to the world of high-finance.

Other times, the “prominent investor” thugs acquired large stakes in a company. Then the thugs suggested to the company that they would go away only if the company were to buy back its shares at a hefty premium. In the 1980s, the Milken crowd referred to this as “greenmail.” Mobsters called it “blackmail” or “protection money.”

In still other cases, the “prominent investors” attacked the companies from the outside, employing tactics – threats, harassment, extortion – that seem straight from the Mafia playbook.

Whatever the specifics of the scheme, it was often the case that “prominent” short sellers who were tied to the “prominent investors” would eventually converged on the target companies and use a variety of equally abusive tactics either to destroy the companies or put them on the defensive.

While I do not have SEC data going back to the 1980s, the data for more recent years shows that most of the companies attacked by this network were also victimized by abusive naked short selling.

That is, somebody sold massive amounts of the companies’ stock and “failed to deliver” it for days, weeks, months – or even years – at a time.

* * * * * * * *

So back in 2006, I had begun to ask a lot of questions.

That’s when I had a strange encounter with three dudes in Armani suits.

The encounter occurred on a Thursday evening in a quiet, neighborhood dive bar, around the corner from my apartment, near Columbia University in New York – a neighborhood that does not often attract men in Armani suits. I was alone, having a beer and reading a book about Wall Street.

The Armani suits entered the bar and sat down next to me.

“Whatcha reading?” one said.

When I told him, he asked: “Anything in there about Ivan Boesky?”

“Yes,” I said, “he’s mentioned”

“Haven’t read it,” the man said.

He was silent for a few minutes. Then he laughed and announced that, by the way, he used to work for Ivan Boesky’s family. He said Boesky “is a real asshole – thinks he has so much money he can do what he wants. Hell, he might have killed people, for all I know…Heh.”

Armani shook his head. Then he said, “Hey, I got to tell you a funny story.”

This turned out to be a long and convoluted tale, the gist being that a fellow had wandered into the ladies underwear department at Saks Fifth Avenue. Apparently, this fellow thought it would be a good idea to peek into a dressing room where a lady was trying on a new pair of panties. But the lady’s husband caught the fellow and the husband happened to be packing some high-caliber weaponry, so he blew the fellow’s brains out, and now there was a big mess in the ladies underwear department.

“The guy was a pervert,” said Armani. “You know what I mean? There are some things you keep your nose out of. I would have killed the guy, too.”

With that, Armani stood up and said he was pleased to have met me.

I asked for his name. He said, “It’s John — John from Saks Fifth Avenue.”

And then he and his friends were out the door. The other two guys hadn’t said a word. None of them had bought drinks or shown any other reason for having entered the bar.

This occurred shortly after I began asking my first serious questions about Boesky. I had just met with a CNBC public relations man and I had told him that I was conducting a full-scale investigation of Boesky, and was interested in knowing more about Boesky’s ties to CNBC reporter Jim Cramer. I had determined that most of the journalists who were deliberately blowing smoke over the naked short selling issue were connected to Cramer. These included four of the five founding editors of TheStreet.com, Cramer’s online financial news publication.

Cramer, a former hedge fund manager, had planned to work out of Boesky’s offices in the 1980s. When Boesky was indicted, Cramer worked instead with Michael Steinhardt, whose biggest initial investors were Boesky, Marc Rich (later charged with tax evasion and illegal trading with Iran), Marty Peretz (co-founder, with Cramer, of TheStreet.com) and the Genovese organized crime family.

Steinhardt’s father, Sol “Red” Steinhardt, spent several years in Sing-Sing prison after he was a convicted by a New York prosecutor who described him as “the biggest Mafia fence in America.”

Also at this time, a central target of my investigation was a hedge fund called SAC Capital, colloquially known as “Sak.” That, of course, is somewhat different from “Saks Fifth Avenue.” It seemed doubtful to me that either Boesky or SAC Capital had sent the Armani-suits to threaten me.

Possibly, I thought, Armani had misrepresented his relationship with Boesky and Saks Fifth Avenue. Perhaps Armani worked for people who were concerned that I had begun investigating that execution-style murder.

Either that, or this was just one of those weird coincidences and there really was a former Boesky employee who’d found work in the brain-splattered ladies underwear department at Saks Fifth Avenue.

* * * * * * * *

My investigation continued and sometime later – on Halloween, 2006 – a guy sat down next to me at a book store. He said he’d seen me with one of my closest relatives (he was specific, but I’d rather not name the relative) and he thought I needed to be more concerned about the safety of this relative.

He said he didn’t mean to be intrusive, but he knew how hard it was to take care of relatives and he just wanted everyone to be safe.

Then another guy sat down at a nearby table, and slammed down a book. On the front cover of this book, in big bold letters, it said: “MAFIA.”

I became paranoid enough to retreat to the back of the book store. I told one of the clerks about the two guys, and I called some colleagues, who offered to send the police.

As soon as I hung up, one of the guys came up to me, smiled, and said he hoped that he hadn’t upset me. Then he left.

I told my friends not to call the police. It was probably just a strange coincidence.

Two years later, as my investigation deepened, I began receiving Internet messages from Sam Antar, a convicted felon who orchestrated the famous fraud at Crazy Eddie, the electronics retailer. In an upcoming story, I will describe Antar’s relationship with Michael Milken. I will also tell you more about the $250,000 in cash that Antar delivered to a Milken-funded entrepreneur who orchestrated a massive fraud with the Genovese organized crime family.

For now, though, I’ll just say that Antar’s messages to me have not been friendly.

In one, he wrote, “Mitchell: Do you remember what happened last Halloween?”

I had spent the previous Halloween interviewing Rotarians in Oklahoma about their Halloween canned food drive. The Halloween before that, I was in a book store where there was either a strange coincidence or a veiled death threat.

I sent Antar an email, asking what he meant. He did not reply.

* * * * * * * *

In November 2006, one of the hedge fund managers I was investigating appeared in my office and announced that he had become the primary financial backer of my department at the Columbia Journalism Review. Traditionally, the Columbia Journalism Review (a not-for-profit magazine) had been funded by large philanthropic foundations – not by hedge fund managers who were under investigation by the Columbia Journalism Review.

But now my salary would depend entirely on the beneficence of this hedge fund.

The hedge fund was called Kingsford Capital, and in upcoming stories, I will tell you more about this hedge fund.

I’ll tell you about Kingsford’s ties to naked short sellers.

I will tell you about the large sums of money that were offered to other journalists who had been working the naked short selling story.

I will tell you why it is significant that one of Kingsford Capital’s managers was Cory Johnson – a founding editor, along with Jim Cramer and the other dishonest journalists I was investigating, of TheStreet.com.

I will publish emails that shed light on Kingsford’s relationship with hedge funds that are tied to both SAC Capital and Michael Steinhardt, Cramer’s former office-mate.

In still other stories, I’ll tell you more about Steinhardt and his partners’ ties to the Genovese Mafia, Ivan Boesky, an angry Russian hooker, and a man who wanted the world to believe that he was dead.

I will also tell you about the former Genovese Mafia soldier who told a former manager of SAC Capital that he could make one of the manager’s business associates disappear in the Nevada desert. And I’ll tell you that the man who volunteered to commit this murder had once been hired to put a dead fish and a bullet hole in the car of a journalist who was investigating one of Michael Milken’s closest friends.

I’ll tell you all about it in upcoming stories.

But let me stress that I have no idea who was responsible for the strange things that occurred in 2006. That is to say, I know that Kingsford bribed the Columbia Journalism Review.

But as for the other strange occurrences – all I can say is that they were strange.

* * * * * * * *

Two days after I learned that Kingsford Capital and its cronies would be paying my salary while I finished my exposé on Kingsford Capital and its cronies, I had dinner with an economist who was exploring the naked short selling problem.

On my way home, I stopped in a café around the corner from my apartment. As I was putting on my coat to leave the cafe, a man grabbed me from behind and forcefully escorted me to the sidewalk. Outside, there were two more guys – not big guys, just regular looking fellows. They grabbed me, and the first guy delivered a single powerful punch to my eye.

I was stunned. When I finally held up my fists, the three men laughed and embraced me in a bear hug. Then they virtually carried me to the front stoop of my apartment, which was a block away. It seemed as if they knew that I lived there.

After brushing off my lapel, they said they were very sorry. They said they hoped I wasn’t offended, it wouldn’t happen again, but they were there for my own good – and, please, just “stay away from your Irish Mafia friend.”

Then they were gone. It all happened in about three minutes.

It occurred to me that this might have been just a random act of violence. It also occurred to me that the thugs might have bungled the message – that they had meant to say, “Just stay away from the Mafia and your Irish friend.”

Patrick Byrne (full name: Patrick Michael Xavier Byrne), with whom I was working extensively on the naked short selling story, is Irish. In interviews I had conducted for the story, many people had commented on Patrick’s Irishness. (In some Wall Street circles, it seems to be common for people to refer to others’ ethnicity – “Byrne, he’s an Irish guy, right?” or “The stock loan business, that’s the Italians.”)

In any case, I went to work the next day with a black eye. I said it was “just a bar fight.”

A woman in my office told me she thought it was “really cool” that I had been in a bar fight.

Later, Sam Antar, the convicted felon, posted an Internet message asking whether I “had ever been forcefully escorted out of a public building.”

As this had happened only once, I sent Antar an email asking if he was referring to the thugs who’d ambushed me in a café.

Antar did not answer my question. Instead, he quickly proceeded to write a blog saying that he had just received information that I had been “forcefully escorted out of the Columbia Journalism Review.”

* * * * * * * *

During the fall of 2006, Patrick Byrne had some strange experiences as well.

Somebody broke into Patrick’s home, and soon after, somebody broke into the home of a woman who was Patrick’s girlfriend at the time. Then somebody threw a pair of metal gardening shears through the window of the girlfriend’s restaurant.

Around the same time, Patrick’s then-girlfriend discovered that for some mysterious reason, her phone records were being sent to the home of a Russian man working for Goldman Sachs Execution and Clearing (formerly Spear, Leeds, and Kellogg – in its day, one of the most egregious naked short selling outfits on the Street).

I asked Goldman Sachs about this. I was told that the bank had investigated thoroughly and found no reason to believe that the Russian man, Elliot Faivinov, had obtained the phone records. (For anyone interested, the phone company can confirm that he did receive the phone records.)

At any rate, I have since learned that Goldman Sachs became a large donor to the Columbia Journalism Review sometime not long after Kingsford Capital announced that it would be paying my salary. Wall Street has never been so devoted to the dowdy world of media criticism.

As if all of this were not enough, one day in the fall of 2006, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch invited Patrick to his home. As soon as Patrick entered the lobby of the apartment building, the Senator pulled him aside and said that he had credible information that Patrick’s life was in danger.

“You are up against some really nasty, vicious people,” the Senator said, “They will not hesitate to kill you.”

* * * * * * * *

Patrick kept on fighting.

As for me, I’d been investigating the Mafia, there’d been an execution-style murder, now there were these strange incidents, which might have been nothing, but getting beat up kind of freaked me out, and now I was staying up all night, squinting at my computer through my punched-in eye (which was black and blue, full of puss and swollen shut), trying to finish a story about a scandal involving the people who would now be directly paying my salary.

And so, maybe it isn’t all that surprising what happened next, which is that I snapped.

I couldn’t work anymore. I checked-out.

In the middle of November, a week or so after getting the Kingsford news, but still on perfectly good terms with my editors, I quit my job, and walked out the door.

Within a few days, I had shut down my New York apartment, and was on a plane to Chicago, where I planned to take some time off.

I had told my editor that I thought I might be killed. But I never specified, and I didn’t make an issue of the Kingsford Capital bribe until later. So I am hopeful that the good people at the Columbia Journalism Review never really knew that they were taking tainted money.

That said, my questions about this have gone unanswered.

* * * * * * * *

A few weeks later, Patrick accepted an invitation to meet an offshore investor in a greasy spoon diner in Long Island. They had never met, but over the previous year the man had fed Patrick bits and pieces of information about the workings of the phantom stock scam. The hope was that the man might have something more to say in person.

But that day at the diner, all he had was a message.

“I’ll make this quick,” the businessman said, with two other witnesses present. “I have a message for you from Russia. The message is, ‘We are about to kill you. We are about to kill you.’ Patrick, they are going to kill you. If you do not stop this crusade, they will kill you. Normally they’d have already hurt someone close to you as a warning, but you’re so weird, they don’t know how you’d react.”

In a later phone conversation with an associate of Patrick’s the man described how he received this message. He said he returned home one night and his wife told him there was a package on his desk. “And there was a beautiful little box, and inside was a matryoshka.”

Matryoshkas are those lacquered Russian dolls – the kind with multiple dolls of decreasing size inside of them.

“And I opened up the last matryoshka,” said the man, “and inside is an `F’ with a cross on it — which is from Felix…”

* * * * * * * *

A year later, I was working for a charitable service organization. Patrick called me to catch up. Pretty quickly, he was suggesting to me that I quit my job and return to the naked short selling story.

I thought about shopping the story around to magazines, but I never did. There was no way that the story could be told in a few magazine pages.

Moreover, the story represented the joint efforts of myself, Patrick, reporter Judd Bagley and many independent, volunteer researchers. This was an unprecedented collaboration, and it occurred to me that if this collaboration were to continue — as Deep Capture, the website — it could put the major news organizations to shame.

So I wrote the story – our story, filled with hard facts about a scandal.

The story that I wrote was not a magazine story. It was not a news story. It was 69 pages long, and it was “The Story of Deep Capture.”

But that was only half the story. There is much more.

For example, you do not yet know the name of the famous billionaire who might be able to tell us more about Felix, his matryoshka doll, the Russian Mafia, and the Genovese organized crime family.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….

* * * * * * * *

Mark Mitchell is a reporter for DeepCapture.com. He has previously held writing and editing positions with the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Time Magazine in Asia, the Far Eastern Economic Review, and the Columbia Journalism Review. Email: mitch0033@gmail.com

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

1) email it to a dozen friends;

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

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The Naked Short Selling That Toppled Wall Street


The Wall Street Journal stated in a lead editorial last week that the SEC was “reasonable” to “clamp down” on naked short selling. Well, that was progress of sorts, though one wonders how it could have taken all these years for the nation’s most important newspaper to suggest that it might be “reasonable” to put an end to criminal activity that has eviscerated hundreds of companies and destroyed countless lives.

And now that this criminal activity has been implicated in the Humpty Dumptying of our financial system, one grows wistful for the golden age of journalism when editorialists (people working for famous newspapers, not just cyber weirdos) would express a little outrage, demand that heads roll – muster something better than “reasonable” to describe the limpid “clamp down” of an SEC that bows in oily servitude to the very short-sellers who manhandled our markets.

Alas, The Wall Street Journal is not angry about the scandal of naked short selling. To the contrary, it devotes most of its editorial to tut-tutting the SEC for taking the mild step of requiring hedge funds to disclose their short positions. This, the Journal laments, means the government wants to “slap a scarlet letter on short sellers.” And (shed a tear) hedge funds will now have to “worry that their strategies will be put on display for the world to see.”

Might the world like to see which hedge funds are employing the strategy of illegal naked short selling – offloading huge chunks of stock that they do not possess – phantom stock – in order to drive down prices? No, nothing to see there, says the Journal. Having thoroughly investigated the matter, the editorialist reports that there is “no evidence of widespread naked shorting of financial stocks in this panic.” Indeed, the Journal assures us that there is no evidence that short sellers have engaged in any market manipulation whatsoever.

That is a mighty bold claim. As the Wall Street Journal itself reported, the SEC has ordered two dozen hedge funds to turn over trading records as part of its investigation into possible short-seller manipulation of six big financial institutions — American International Group, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Washington Mutual, and Merrill Lynch.

The SEC has never in history prosecuted a major case against a short seller, and there is no reason to believe that it is actually going to nail someone now. But it is not difficult to see why the SEC feels that is has no choice but to investigate.

It must investigate, or at least appear to investigate, because the data scream, “Investigate!”

Take the case of Washington Mutual, which met its demise on the same day that the Journal published its editorial. While the SEC has not yet released data covering the last couple weeks of turmoil, the data through June show that at one point that month “failures to deliver” of Washington Mutual’s stock reached an astounding 9 million shares. From June 5 to June 19 there were, on any given day, at least 1 million WaMu shares that had “failed to deliver.”

In other words, hedge funds and brokers sold as many as 9 million shares that they did not possess (which is why they “failed to deliver” them), and they kept the market saturated with at least 1 million phantom shares for more than two weeks. WaMu’s stock price dropped by more than 30% during this period. Similar attacks, with similar effects, occurred one after another in the months leading up to June.

That is very good evidence of illegal market manipulation.

Aside from Washington Mutual, Bank of America, Fannie Mae, MBIA, Ambac, and close to 50 smaller financial firms – not to mention a couple hundred non-financial companies – have appeared on the SEC-mandated “threshold” list of companies whose stock has “failed to deliver” in excessive quantities.

That, too, is very good evidence of illegal market manipulation.

A number of the big banks never appeared on the SEC’s “threshold” list. Perhaps that explains the Journal’s claim that there is “no evidence” that naked short selling contributed to our financial crisis. If so, the Journal does not understand the methods that naked short sellers use to manipulate the markets. The Journal also does not understand how powerful financial elites manipulate the government (and the media).

Peter Chepucavage, the former SEC official who authored Regulation SHO (the rules that governed short sales from 2005 until the SEC temporarily banned short-selling of financial stock last week) has told us that the rules were watered down under fierce pressure from the hedge fund lobby.

One result is that Regulation SHO did not force short sellers to borrow real shares before they sold them. They were given three days to produce stock before it was declared a “failure to deliver.” If they missed the three-day deadline, they were given another ten days, after which they were supposed to buy (not borrow) real shares and deliver them, or face penalties.

In practice, many hedge funds and brokers ignored the deadlines without repercussions. But even traders who met the deadlines were able to churn the markets. Since they were not required to possess real shares before they hit the sell button, they could offload a large block of phantom stock and let it dilute supply for three to 13 days. When the deadline arrived, they might borrow real shares and deliver them, and then sell another block of phantom stock, which would hammer prices for another three to thirteen days.

Or, rather than borrow real shares, the hedge fund might buy stock (the price having been knocked down during 13 days of diluted supply) from a friendly broker. Often, the brokers did not have any stock to sell the hedge fund, but they pushed the sale button anyway. The hedge funds then used the broker’s phantom stock to settle its initial sale of phantom stock, and when the broker’s deadline came, he bought an equal quantity of phantom stock from another broker, and so on.

A lot of journalists have portrayed this naked short selling as “legal.” In fact, it is grossly illegal assuming the goal is to manipulate markets. But the SEC until recently shied away from making that assumption. So long as the hedge funds met the delivery deadlines, they could distort and destroy at will.

Another result of the short-seller lobby’s intervention is that a company does not appear on the SEC’s “threshold” list unless there are failures to deliver of more than 10,000 of the company’s shares (and at least 0.5% of its total shares outstanding) for five consecutive days. So long as there are no failures on day six, there are no flashing red lights at the SEC. That is, threshold (excessive) levels of phantom shares can float around the system for a total of eight days (three days before they are registered as “failures to deliver,” plus five more) without a company being designated a victim of naked short selling.

An eight-day blast (or even just a one day blast) of, say, a couple-hundred thousand phantom shares can knock down a stock’s price very nicely. Blasts of a million-plus shares, which are common, can do even more damage.

If a company has weaknesses that can be blown out of proportion with help from the media, and if hedge funds blast the company with phantom stock, then pause, then blast again, then pause, then blast again — over and over — for a couple of months, then the company’s share price can soon be in the single digits. – without ever having appeared on the SEC’s threshold list.

Unsurprisingly, the data through June shows this blast-pause-blast pattern in the stocks of nearly ever major financial institution that has been wiped off the map, and quite a few that were in death spirals before the SEC temporarily banned short-selling. Very often, huge failures to deliver have occurred in stretches of precisely five days – just long enough to keep a stock off the threshold list.

The attack on Bear Stearns, for example, began on January 9, when hedge funds naked shorted more than 1.1 million shares. The shares “failed to deliver” at the end of Friday, January 11 (the three-day deadline). For the next four days, beginning Monday, January 14, there were massive failures to deliver, peaking at 1 million shares on January 17. That is, the attack lasted a total of eight days, with failures to deliver lasting precisely five days. On day six, there were few failures to deliver, so Bear did not appear on the threshold list.

Over the next few weeks, there were several more blasts – with failures to deliver ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 shares. Those were threshold levels, but the failures lasted less than five consecutive days, so no flashing red light at the SEC.

On February 28, 800,000 shares of Bear Stearns failed to deliver. For the next five business days, anywhere from 100,000 to 350,000 shares failed to deliver. On day six, there was a pause — few failures to deliver. So no threshold list – no flashing red light at the SEC.

A week later, just before CNBC’s David Faber reported the false information (given to him by a hedge fund “friend” whom he had “known for twenty years”) that Goldman Sachs had cut off Bear’s credit, somebody naked shorted more than a million shares of Bear’s stock.. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, there was a sustained effort to drive the stock to zero, with massive failures to deliver every day — peaking at 13 million shares.

This attack lasted long enough to put Bear Stearns on the threshold list, but by then, it was too late. The bank’s mangled remains had been swallowed by JP Morgan. Ultimately, at least 11 million shares of Bear Stearns were sold and never delivered.

Meanwhile, the naked short sellers began their attack on Lehman Brothers. On March 18, Lehman’s stock had begun to increase sharply, so somebody unleashed more than 1.5 million phantom shares. Those failed to deliver on March 20. For the next three days, there were failures to deliver of between 400.000 and 800.000 shares — far exceeding the daily “threshold.” That helped the share price to fall sharply, but on day five, there were no failures, so Lehman didn’t appear on the threshold list of companies victimized by naked short selling.

On April 1, another round of naked short selling commenced, coinciding with a wave of false rumors about Lehman’s liquidity. That continued until April 3, when SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, for the first time, told a Senate committee hearing that naked short selling was a big problem. Using the words “phantom stock,” he said many companies had been affected and vowed to crack down.

For a few weeks after that, there was not much new naked short selling.

Then, on May 21, short-seller David Einhorn gave his famous speech accusing Lehman’s executives of cooking their books. Though Lehman, like most banks, was guilty of participating in the dodgy business of securitized debt, it was not cooking its books. It had, however, failed to mark some of its assets down to levels prescribed by Einhorn, who waved the CMBX index as the proper barometer of commercial mortgages.

The CMBX comes from a company called Markit Group, which is owned by four hedge funds, the names of which the Markit Group will not disclose. I don’t know if the managers of those hedge funds are friends of David Einhorn, but the Wall Street Journal’s Lingling Wei published a story in February noting that the CMBX “doesn’t make sense.” It grossly undervalues commercial property, implying default rates, for example, that are four-times higher than they are in reality.

Nonetheless, the media, including the Wall Street Journal, trumpeted Einhorn’s analysis, which was distorted in many other ways – but that is a tale for a future blog.

For now, it is enough to know that coinciding with Einhorn’s speech, somebody naked shorted more than 200,000 shares (the settlement date for that sale was May 27, three business days after the speech, owing to a holiday weekend). Thus began a five day stretch of failures to deliver (ranging from 120,000 to 450,000 shares). On day six, as usual, there were few failures to deliver, so Lehman did not appear on the threshold list.

After a pause of a few days, somebody circulated the falsehood that Lehman had gone to the Fed for a handout. Coinciding with that rumor, hedge funds naked shorted close to 1.5 million shares. Those shares failed to deliver three days later, on June 9. The next day, there were 650,000 failures. The day after that, 263,000 failures. On day four, there were 510,000 failures. On day five, there were 623,000 failures. Time for Lehman to appear on the threshold list. But, on day six, of course, the failures to deliver stopped. No list – no flashing red light at the SEC.

Throughout this time, Einhorn continued to appear on CNBC and in the major newspapers, doing his best to make Lehman’s problems (which were real, but probably, at this stage, manageable) appear to be both catastrophic and criminal. From May 21, the day of Einhorn’s speech, to June 15, the stock lost almost half its value.

For reasons that I cannot fathom, Lehman then opted for a strategy of appeasement. Rather than challenge Einhorn’s assumptions, Lehman aimed to silence him and his media yahoos by doing what they asked. It “reduced its exposure” to mortgages, primarily by marking them down to levels dictated by Einhorn’s bogus index – the CMBX. This is the main reason why it booked a 2.8 billion loss in the second quarter.

When Lehman announced its quarterly results, on June 16, there was another blast of naked short selling, with failures to deliver at threshold levels from June 19 to June 24. Exactly five days. Then the failures stopped. No threshold list. No flashing red light.

I look forward to the day (in a few months) when the SEC will release data covering July to September. But I can tell you right now what happened next.

On June 30, somebody floated the false rumor that Barclays was going to buy Lehman at 15 dollars a share (it was then trading at 20). Simultaneously, hedge funds no doubt naked shorted large blocks of shares. It’s a safe bet that the data will show failures to deliver lasting precisely five days.

On July 10, somebody (SAC Capital?) circulated the false rumor that SAC Capital was pulling its money out of Lehman. Hours later, there was another false rumor — that PIMCO was pulling out its money. Quite certainly, these rumors were accompanied by naked short selling, with failures to deliver beginning three days later, and probably continuing at threshold levels for precisely five days. Lehman’s stock lost almost 50% of its value in the four weeks leading to July 15..

At this point, the SEC finally came to realize what was happening to Lehman. It realized that similar madness had destroyed Bear Stearns. It realized that AIG, Citigroup, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America and fifty other financial companies were getting clobbered in exactly the same fashion.

Clearly, naked short selling posed a real threat to the stability of the financial system. So the SEC issued an emergency order forcing hedge funds to borrow real stock before they sold it. No more saying “Yeah, my cousin Louie has the stock in a drawer somewhere.” No more naked short selling.

This order protected only 19 big financial institutions – which is as far as the SEC thought it could go and still retain friendly relations with its short-selling paramours – but it was something. During the three weeks that the emergency order was enforced, Lehman’s stock price increased by around 50 percent. The other companies that had been under attack enjoyed similar rebounds.

The short-sellers, of course, fumed. Some of those fumes wafted to The Wall Street Journal and other prestigious publications, which lambasted the SEC for issuing the emergency order. They published all manner of mumbo-jumbo about the emergency order wrecking “market efficiency” – though the only evidence of this was an utterly dubious report circulated by the short seller lobby (see here for the details), and it was hard to comprehend what could possibly have been “efficient” about a market getting smothered with false information and fake supply.

Of course, the SEC, captured by the short-sellers, and ever mindful of the media, decided to let its emergency order expire, and announced no new initiatives to stop naked short selling..

The day after the emergency order expired, Lehman’s stock nosedived. So did a lot of other stocks that had enjoyed a temporary reprieve.

Mark my words, the data for August and September will show that soon after the order was lifted, rampant naked short selling began anew.

It will show a sustained attack on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with failures to deliver exceeding one million shares, until the day the two companies were nationalized. It will show Lehman getting hammered (blast-pause-blast) until its stock was so low that there was no way it could raise capital. And it will show that in Lehman’s final days, hedge funds sold unprecedented amounts of phantom stock, knowing that the stock would never, ever have to be delivered.

Two days after Lehman was vaporized, AIG watched its stock fall to as low as one dollar. The data through June shows that AIG was repeatedly blasted with phantom stock, often in stretches of eight days (three + five), with peak failures to deliver reaching 2 million shares. It’s a safe bet that the data will show that these attacks continued, and grew in magnitude, until a price of one buck per share resulted in paralysis, and AIG had to be nationalized. But the company never appeared on the SEC’s threshold list.

After AIG, the rumor was that Citigroup would go down next. The data through June shows that Citigroup was bombarded – blast, pause, blast – with massive amounts of phantom stock. Failures to deliver peaked at 8 million shares. No doubt, the blasts continued and grew in magnitude in the days leading up to September 16, when Citigroup’s stock went into a death spiral.

On September 17, the SEC rushed out new rules governing naked short selling. The new rules seemed a lot like the old rules. Hedge funds would not have to actually possess stock before selling it. Instead, they would merely have to “locate” the stock. The SEC would have no way of knowing whether hedge funds had “located” stock, but if they lied and told their broker, “Yeah, I located the stock, I got it somewhere, push the sell button,” then that would be “fraud.” Presumably, the brokers, who depend on the hedge funds for most of their income, and are complicit in their naked short selling, would line up to inform the SEC that their clients were telling them lies.

Meanwhile, the hedge funds would still have three days to deliver stock, with no strong penalties for failing to do so, and no mechanism for determining whether a hedge fund had delivered real stock, as opposed to new phantom stock that it had received from a friendly broker. As for the “threshold” of five consecutive days before a company could get on the list that sets off the flashing red lights that the SEC ignores – that would remain the same.

When these rules were announced, the short-seller lobby cheered loudly. The media transcribed the lobby’s cheerful press releases, and then the naked short sellers eliminated Merrill Lynch. After that, they turned on Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, at which point both stocks went into death spirals and the companies’ CEOs treated us to the spectacle of calling the SEC to complain that Morgan and Goldman (ie., the companies that housed the brokerages that invented and profited the most from naked short selling) were now getting mauled by their own monstrous creations.

A week later, the Wall Street Journal stated in an editorial that there was “no evidence” of naked short selling or market manipulation during this financial crisis.

* * * * * * * *

P.S. I am a former employee of The Wall Street Journal editorial page. I think it is the finest editorial page in the world. I enjoyed my time at the Journal. They let me live in Europe. I got to write mean things about socialists.

But with genuine respect, I say to my former colleagues –you are like the boy in the bubble. You live and breath the “free markets” paradigm. This is healthy, but it is limiting. It is not the real world..

Please, get out of that bubble. Get dirty with the data. Behold the slop in our clearing and settlement system. Consider how this slop is affecting our market, and tell me what is free or efficient about it.

Please, do it quickly.

If you do not, this nation is screwed.

Mark Mitchell

Mitch0033@gmail.com

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Did a CNBC Reporter Help Destroy Bear Stearns?


Let’s pick up “The Story of Deep Capture where it left off – with the demise of Bear Stearns and the near collapse of the American financial system.

It’s April 2, 2008, and CNBC reporter Charlie Gasparino has just reported that Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld claims to have evidence that short-sellers, who profit from falling stock prices, actively colluded to bring down Bear Stearns.

Indeed, the SEC is already investigating precisely this possibility. The regulator has said that it would like to know whether short-sellers circulated false rumors about Bear Stearns’ liquidity and credit risk in order to spark a run on the bank. And it has announced that it is investigating allegations that hedge funds engaged in “naked short selling” to drive down Bear Stearns’ stock. This isn’t surprising considering that SEC numbers show, for example, that in the week of Bear Stearns’ destruction, up to 13 million of its shares were shorted naked – ie. sold and not yet delivered. That’s 13 million shares of phantom stock — and most experts assume there was much more of it, perhaps 100 millions fake shares, in parts of the system that the SEC doesn’t monitor.

Live on CNBC with Gasparino is reporter Herb Greenberg. Herb is a dishonest journalist. He has quite literally made a career out of taking dictation from a small group of closely affiliated short-selling hedge funds. Virtually every story he has ever written or broadcast has come from these people. He protects his hedge fund friends by repeatedly denying that phantom stock is a problem. And a former employee of a financial research shop called Gradient Analytics claims to have witnessed Herb conspiring with at least one short-seller, David Rocker, to hold his negative stories until Rocker could establish short positions. This is called front-running a jailable offense.

CNBC is not concerned about this. Nor is it concerned that, in addition to his duties as a “journalist,” Herb is now also running his own financial research shop that caters to short-sellers. Yes, after years of denying that he has too-cozy relationships with short-sellers, Herb is now seeking to profit from those very relationships. His new company’s slogan is “bridging financial journalism and forensic analysis.” Anybody who believes that media and money don’t mix should be appalled.

Anyway, it is unsurprising that Herb is live on CNBC reporting that short-sellers had nothing to do with the demise of Bear Stearns. Instead, Herb says, Bear Stearns was taken down by a “crisis of confidence.” Could short-sellers have caused the “crisis of confidence?” Herb thinks not.

Herb says, “….if you take a look at [fellow CNBC reporter] David Faber’s reporting which was very interesting…”

* * * * * * * *

Good idea, Herb. Let us take a look at David Faber’s reporting. It was not just interesting. It was jaw-dropping – an utterly grotesque display of journalistic malfeasance.

Indeed, Faber’s reporting probably contributed a great deal to the precipitous collapse of Bear Stearns – an event so potentially calamitous that the Federal Reserve had to meddle in the investment banking sector for the first time since the great stock market crash of 1929.

On Tuesday, March 11, rumors were circulating around Wall Street that Bear Stearns was out of cash and that other banks were no longer accepting its credit risk. If anybody were to think these rumors were true, there would be panic – a run on the bank. If the rumors were false, as they quite demonstrably were, it was the job of the media to quash them.

CNBC’s Charlie Gasparino did his job. On that afternoon, he noted that there were “serious doubts” about Bear Stearns business model. He said that Bear Stearns was a “mediocre bank.” But he also noted that the rumors on Wall Street were suggesting something far worse –imminent bankruptcy–and that there was not a scrap of evidence suggesting that these rumors were true.

Gasparino quoted Bear Stearns CFO Sam Malinaro as saying “Why is this happening? I don’t know how to characterize it. If I knew why this was happening I would do something to address it. I spent all day trying to track down the sources of the rumors, but they are false. There is no liquidity crisis, no margin calls. It’s all nonsense.”

Gasparino stressed that there was no reason to doubt Bear Stearns’ claims. “I know Sam Malinaro pretty well,” he said. “He’s one of the best straight shooters in the markets.”

If Gasparino had stayed on the case, the uncertainty surrounding Bear Stearns’ liquidity and credit risk might have subsided, and the bank might have survived. But the next day, for some reason, Gasparino was taken off the Bear Stearns story, and David Faber took over.

A few rumors – even doctored memos falsely claiming that big banks had refused to accept Bear’s credit — were still circulating around Wall Street. Early that morning — Wednesday, March 12 — Faber interviewed Bear Stearns’ CEO, Alan Schwartz.

Actually, it was more like a prison interrogation than an interview. Faber demanded that Schwartz explain the rumors. Schwartz said the rumors were not true. Quite in contrast to Gasparino, Faber made it clear from his tone that viewers shouldn’t trust Bear’s executives.

Then Faber delivered this whopper: “…I’m told by a hedge fund that I know well…I’m told that [last night] Goldman would not accept the counterparty risk of Bear Stearns.”

Bang! The beginning of the end.

Understand how important this is. Previously, most people assumed that the rumors about Bear’s access to leverage were nothing more than…rumors. No reporter had suggested otherwise.

Now, for the first time – live on CNBC, in the middle of a mission-critical interview with Bear’s CEO — a prominent journalist was reporting that the rumors were true. He stated — as if it were fact that Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest investment banks in the world, had refused to take Bear Stearns’ credit.

Faber was generous enough to note that this information came from a hedge fund “friend,” and it wouldn’t take a genius to see that this hedge fund “friend” was probably some skeezy short-seller of Bear Stearns’ stock – but still, Faber’s comment was nuclear explosive.

Soon after Faber’s comment, Schwartz is about to provide details proving that Bear Stearns is not at all illiquid – that it has ample cash (and is therefore hardly a credit risk). He says: “…none of the speculations are true, but….”

Just then, a woman’s voice interrupts: “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

What? Can this possibly be happening? The CEO of a giant investment bank is about to provide evidence that the bank is not insolvent – that the American financial system is therefore not on the brink of collapse. This is perhaps the most important financial news moment of the past ten years, and now CNBC has cut off the CEO in mid-sentence!

“I’m sorry,” the CNBC woman says. “David, I’m sorry breaking news, I just want you to know that we have New York state officials confirming that New York governor Elliot Spitzer will resign today. Formal resignation, we don’t have it, but it is now confirmed that the governor of New York will resign today.”

“Thanks for that not unexpected news,” says David Faber.

This was probably straight-forward idiocy – nothing more sinister than that. But you’d think CNBC could have waited a few minutes for this “not unexpected” news. And anybody with a healthy sense of irony might chuckle and point out that Jim Cramer, the former hedge fund manager who is now CNBC’s top-rated personality and basically runs the place, was Elliot Spitzer’s best friend and college roommate. The irony is all the richer when you consider that Elliot Spitzer’s career was built almost entirely on the funding and machinations of a small group of short selling hedge fund managers – including Dan Loeb, David Einhorn, and Jim Chanos (owner of the beach house where Spitzer’s favorite hooker lived rent free), and that these very same hedge fund managers are the ones who are quite aggressively attacking Bear Stearns.

Schwartz looked mighty pissed off. After the interruption, he tried to continue: “We put out a statement that our liquidity and balance sheet are strong. Maybe I should expand on that a little bit…”

“Well, yeah,” Faber interrupts. “Why don’t you.”

The reporter’s tone again suggests that the CEO is not to be trusted. Tone aside, Faber doesn’t let Schwartz answer. Instead, he launches into a long and completely irrelevant monologue about the markets generally being in bad shape.

“Well, the markets have certainly gotten worse,” says Schwartz, clearly baffled by all of this.

Then, finally, the CEO manages to provide the salient information – the information that Bear Stearns customers and traders around the world have been waiting to hear. He says, “Our balance sheet has not changed at all. So let me just talk about that for a second….When we finished the year we reported that we had $17 billion of cash sitting at the parent company as a liquidity cushion…Since year end, that liquidity cushion has virtually been unchanged. So we still have many many billions of excess cash…we don’t see any pressure on our liquidity let alone a liquidity crisis.”

That certainly should have calmed the waters. There was no evidence that Schwartz was being disingenuous about having that $17 billion. Bear Stearns might have been the crappiest bank on Wall Street, but as long as customers knew that Bear Stearns had that $17 billion in cash, there was unlikely to be a run on the bank.

Unless, that is, a “reputable” media source was to suggest that, say, Goldman Sachs, had cut off credit.

Astonishingly, in the ensuing 24 hours, CNBC never once repeats the news that Bear Stearns has $17 billion in cash. And though it repeatedly references the interview with Schwartz, the network does not once replay the CEO’s strongest comment: “We don’t see any pressure on our liquidity, let alone a liquidity crisis.”

But Faber does repeat the startling “news” about Goldman.

At 8:48 AM on Wednesday, he says, “There are a lot of concerns out there…about counterparty risk. Frankly, I’ve been hearing from people whom I trust that there are some firms out there unwilling to put on new – new — counterparty risk with Bear Stearns…You had it at Goldman…Goldman said no we’re not taking Bear’s counterparty risk – this was yesterday.”

The hedge fund manager whom Faber “trusts” was lying. Goldman was not turning down Bear’s credit. We know this because some minutes later in the broadcast, Faber says so. He says it very quickly, just as an aside, as if it doesn’t matter at all. He says, by the way, “I have heard that that trade did actually go through—Goldman did say alright, now we will accept Bear as a counterparty.”

So Faber has just admitted, in an off-handed kind of way, that he was lied to by the hedge fund he “trusts.” In other words, up until this point, there is no evidence at all that rumors being circulated by hedge funds have any merit whatsoever.

Despite this, Faber proceeds to unleash this gobbledygook: “At the end of the day, while they say over and over they have plenty of liquidity, and in fact they may, it all comes down to confidence. They need to have access to capital, access to leverage. Otherwise, they’re dead! And it can happen very quickly.”

With this, Faber looks at his computer, and says, “Let’s see where the stock is.” Then he declares with glee: “Oops! It’s down!”

So now Faber has just pronounced that Bear Stearns might be “dead!” Why might Bear Stearns be “dead?” Because, Faber says, Bear needs “access to capital” – this in the same sentence where he says “in fact they may” have plenty of liquidity (ie. access to capital). Perhaps by “may” he meant to suggest that Bear “may not” have access to capital. Either way, he carefully omits the fact that the bank has told him it has $17 billion in cash.

The other reason Bear is “dead” is because it needs “access to leverage.” Is there any evidence that it does not have access to leverage? So far, there is none other than the Goldman news, which Faber has just admitted to be a complete fabrication delivered to him by a hedge fund “friend” whom he “trusts.”

Meanwhile, in an effort to send Bear Stearns’ share price spiraling downward, hedge funds are selling tens of millions of dollars worth of phantom stock. SEC data shows that more than 1.2 million shares sold that Wednesday were not delivered on time.

It only gets worse. The next morning — Thursday, March 13 — there is still no evidence that anybody is turning away Bear’s credit or pulling out money. CNBC still has yet to repeat the all important $17 billion figure. And now, Faber is back on television, fanning the flames, and repeating the bogus Goldman news.

He says, “I talked [yesterday] about a particular trade I was aware of where Goldman Sachs did not want to stand up as a counterparty and face Bear on new counterparty risk.”

Yes, David, you did talk about Goldman – and you admitted that your information was false. Why are you repeating this?

In a stuttering attempt to explain himself, Faber says to his television audience, “Now ultimately that trade did take place [ie. Goldman did accept Bear’s credit] after my interview with Mr. Schwartz concluded, but the day prior, Goldman did not want to. I have incontrovertible proof of that.”

Right. Whatever. The SEC should subpoena Faber to find out which market-manipulating hedge fund fed him the false information about Goldman.

Of course, if the SEC were to do this, the Media Mob would go berserk and start waving the First Amendment right to protect hedge funds who take down public companies by feeding journalists false information. Remember that the SEC once tried to subpoena Herb Greenberg and Jim Cramer, only to back down after Cramer vandalized his government subpoena live on CNBC and a bunch of Herb and Cramer’s media pals rose up in their defense.

But enough of this, already. These journalists are not protecting whistleblowers or freedom of speech. These journalists cannot even properly be called “journalists.” They are, or at least aspire to be, market players. They are helping slippery hedge fund managers who are destroying public companies for profit, and putting the American financial system at risk. I’m all for real reporters standing up to federal agencies, but these “journalists” are special cases. The SEC should not allow itself to be intimidated by them.

Alas, it’s too late for Bear Stearns. On the morning of March 13, there was still no evidence that anybody had pulled money out of Bear Stearns or denied its credit, but after repeating the Goldman falsehood, Faber reported: “I remember when Drexel Burnham went down [the smarmy inference being that Bear Stearns is a crooked company similar to Drexel]…It happens fast, very fast. It happens because those who do business with a firm such as that [read: `a crooked firm’] lose confidence.”

“And when they lose confidence,” Faber continued, “they pull their lines, and that’s it. It’s done. Pack your bags. Go home. It can end in an hour.”

About an hour later, a hedge fund called Renaissance Technologies Corp., shifted $5 billion out of Bear Stearns. That was the first client to “pull its lines.” Many others followed suit.

With Faber blowing taps, panic ensued.

And by that evening, Bear was, indeed, “dead.”

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