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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 13 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 13 of 15)



What follows is PART 13 of a 15-PART series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture in the coming days, after which point the story will be published in its entirety.

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Click here to read PART 6

Click here to read PART 7

Click here to read PART 8

Click here to read PART 9

Click here to read PART 10

Click here to read PART 11

Click here to read PART 12

Where we left off, we had learned that on March 29, 2007, an FDA advisory panel overwhelmingly voted to approve Provenge, a vaccine Dendreon developed for prostate cancer. As a result, most financial analysts and investors believed that Dendreon had a promising future.  However, ten hedge funds (out of a universe of 11,500 hedge funds) held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), suggesting they had expected that Dendreon would be derailed. At least seven of those hedge funds can be tied to Michael Milken or his close associates.

We had also learned that Milken himself stood to profit if Dendreon were to experience unexpected problems receiving FDA approval. This is because Milken was the early financier and principal deal maker for ProQuest Investments, a fund that (along with an affiliate) controlled a company called Novacea, which was one of Dendreon’s competitors in the race to produce a new treatment for prostate cancer. Meanwhile, Lindsay Rosenwald (a Milken crony who once helped run a Mafia-linked brokerage called D.H. Blair, which specialized in pumping and dumping fake biotech companies) controlled Cougar Biotechnology, which was Dendreon’s second competitor in the race to develop a treatment for prostate cancer.

We had learned further that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which appears to act in concert with Milken’s investment fund, ProQuest, had supported Novacea and Cougar, neither of which had shown that their treatments were safe or effective, while turning its back on Dendreon.

In addition, we had learned that in April, 2007, Dr. Howard Scher, who was an executive and director of ProQuest, and the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Therapeutic Consortium”, spearheaded an unprecedented lobbying effort to convince the FDA to deny approval to Dendreon’s treatment – the first time in history that the FDA had gone against an advisory panel’s recommendation to approve a drug destined for dying patients.

In the days before and after the lobbying effort, Dendreon was subjected to a blistering attack by naked short sellers who illegally flooded the market with millions of phantom shares to help drive down the company’s stock price. This criminal naked short selling continued intermittently for much of the next two years, while other events conspired to hobble Dendreon, a company that had completed multiple clinical trials that strongly suggested that its product, Provenge, was capable of lengthening the lives of thousands of men with prostate cancer….

* * * * * * * *

In December 2007, three U.S. Congressmen — Mike Michaud (D-Maine), Dan Burton (R-Indiana) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) — called on the House Commerce Committee to investigate why the FDA failed to approve Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer. Referring to Dr. Scher and his ally, Dr. Hussain, the lawmakers said in a letter that “there are reasons to believe that serious ethics rules were violated by two FDA advisory panel members in their decision [to vote and lobby against Dendreon] and that these violations played a role in the subsequent FDA decision not to approve Provenge at this time.”

A bipartisan group of 12 additional Congressmen eventually signed on to the request for an investigation. And in February 2008, as outrage over this scandal spread through the medical community, a group of seven respected doctors, calling themselves “Physicians for Provenge” wrote a letter to the ranking members of the House Commerce Committee, suggesting that the investigation should urgently proceed.

“Please consider why our colleagues and we KNOW that Provenge works and why tens of thousands of men with late stage prostate cancer should be given access to it,” the physicians wrote. Noting the “egregious conflicts of interest” of Dr. Scher and Dr. Hussain, the “Physicians for Provenge” added that the “FDA should be carefully assessing risk versus reward for the treatment of terminally ill patients, rather than ‘gate keeping’ based on outdated statistics, reducing short-term health costs or backroom shenanigans.”

Nonetheless, Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell denied the requests for an investigation. To justify this decision, Dingell wrote in a letter to the committee that an “investigative hearing prior to an agency’s final decision runs the risk of interfering with the normal regulatory process.”

Apparently, it was fine if FDA-contracted doctors and government officials tied to Michael Milken corrupted the normal regulatory process by obfuscating approval standards (“substantial evidence” versus “proof”) and by drafting unsolicited post-vote letters with back-channel help from a government employee who was weeks away from taking a new job created by Michael Milken.  But investigating such improprieties would corrupt the regulatory process, in the eyes of Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell.

Dingell also pointed out that “a new law strengthening conflict of interest provisions now governs FDA panels.” Unfortunately, that law was passed in September 2007, some months after Milken’s conflicted allies derailed Dendreon’s application.

In any case, it is not clear that the old conflict of interest provisions were not violated in the Dendreon case. Dr. Scher received a conflict of interest waiver, but in his application for that waiver he did not mention his financial ties to Milken’s ProQuest Investments. There should have been an investigation into why that waiver was granted. And while he was at it, Representative Dingell should have investigated the illegal naked short selling of Dendreon and the “backroom shenanigans” of Milken’s captured officials at the FDA and the National Cancer Institute.

At any rate, while the congressional investigation was being stopped in its tracks, Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation was becoming more brazen.

In March 2008, for example, the Prostate Cancer Foundation sent out a peculiar mass mailing. Written by a cardiologist on Prostate Cancer Foundation letterhead, the mailing began, “I’ll never forget the day my 5-year-old son came home from school, worried. One of the other kids told him I was going to die.”

The letter went on to describe the horrors of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. So far, all kosher. But then came the strange part – the charity’s solicitation explicitly promoted a mostly untested experimental treatment that was being developed by a public company that was considered to be one of the few competitors to Dendreon. The treatment was called GVAX, and the company developing it was called Cell Genesys.

The author of the letter noted that during his treatment, he had “learned about some of the groundbreaking research projects supported by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, such as GVAX, a drug now in phase 3 clinical trials that boosts the immune system to fight off prostate cancer cells.”

Notice that the name of the drug – GVAX – was printed in boldface letters, so nobody could miss it. Notice, too, the underlining, which stressed that this treatment (as opposed to others, such as Dendreon’s) was endorsed and supported by the Prostate Cancer Foundation. And, finally, notice the unequivocal statement that GVAX works – that it “boosts the immune system” and is able to “fight off” cancer.

Lest there be any question that Milken was eager to promote GVAX, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, soon after, began distributing flyers at supermarkets and shopping malls with a similar message. “My 5-year-old didn’t want to lose his daddy,” read the flyers, which then proceeded to describe a “groundbreaking” new medicine – GVAX.

At the time, Cell Genesys was nowhere near bringing GVAX to market. It had just finished phase 2 clinical trials on a total of 65 patients. Lab results showed that GVAX might increase prostate cancer antibodies, but they did not show that the immune system was actually boosted in such a way as to better “fight off” cancer or improve survival. Phase 3 trials, which would determine whether GVAX actually improved the health of patients, had just begun.

But if you were an average Joe who read those flyers – or a wealthy Mary who received that solicitation in the mail – you’d be mighty convinced that Cell Genesys was the next big thing in cancer therapy. You might even be tempted to buy its stock.

* * * * * * * *

When Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation began distributing his fliers promoting GVAX, a number of hedge funds had accumulated large numbers of shares in Cell Genesys.

One of these was Millennium Management, the hedge fund that had been founded by the fellow who planned to murder Ivan Boesky when it seemed that Boesky might cooperate with the authorities in their case against Milken. Again, Millennium is one of those seven hedge funds that had the foresight to own put options in Dendreon back in March 2007, right before Dendreon’s treatment was unexpectedly scuttled by the FDA.

Another hedge fund with a big stake in Cell Genesys was Forest Investment Management, owned by Michael Boyd, the father of hedge fund shill Roddy Boyd, currently of Fortune Magazine.  Michael Boyd, remember, had previously been involved in two big ventures – one with a former Milken colleague from Drexel Burnham; the other with Santo Maggio, the convicted criminal CEO of Refco Securities.

Hedge fund Perceptive Advisors also held a moderately large stake in Cell Genesys. Recall that Perceptive was then run by Joseph Edelman, who was not only another one of those seven hedge fund managers who held put options in Dendreon, but was also simultaneously serving as a trader for Paramount Capital.

As you might recall, the vice president of Paramount Capital was a former employee of Milken crony Steve Cohen, who was also one of those seven hedge fund managers betting big against Dendreon. The owner of Paramount, of course, is Lindsay Rosenwald, who used to run the Mafia-controlled D.H. Blair with Milken’s former national sales manager, and controlled Cougar Biotechnology, another Dendreon competitor promoted by the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Another big buyer of Cell Genesys shares was Mazama Capital, a hedge fund based in California. In December 2006, Mazama also owned 2.1 million shares of Dendreon. It dumped more than a million of those shares sometime before or immediately after the March advisory panel meeting, when it seemed certain that Dendreon would receive FDA approval.

Only one other hedge fund dumped similar quantities of Dendreon shares at that time. It was JL Advisors, which is controlled by the above-mentioned Steve Cohen. This dumping of shares contributed to the selling volume that was amplified by whoever was selling massive amounts of phantom stock in Dendreon.

Then there was Renaissance Technologies, which held 800,000 shares in Cell Genesys when Milken’s “philanthropy” began promoting the company.  The CFO of Renaissance is James Rowen, who was previously the chief financial officer of SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by the above-mentioned Steve Cohen, who is known to be maniacal about making sure that his former employees remain satellites of his trading empire.

Meanwhile, hedge funds Balyasny Asset Management and Visium Capital held a combined 12 million shares of Cell Genesys. Balyasny and Visium have overlapping ownership (Dmitry Balyasny is a partner in both hedge funds) though they don’t generally disclose that in their SEC filings.

Dimitry Balysasny is a close associate of Steve Cohen. He has employed some of those former SAC Capital traders and managers with whom Cohen maniacally maintains relationships. And he and Cohen have attacked the same companies.

As I mentioned, Balyasny was one of our seven hedge fund managers with large numbers of put options in Dendreon. I will return to him, because this enigmatic Russian might have more surprises in store for Dendreon.

* * * * * * * *

Three weeks after Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation began publicly promoting Cell Genesys’s virtually untested prostate cancer treatment, Cell Genesys announced that it had signed a gargantuan $320 million deal to develop and commercialize GVAX with Takeda Pharmaceutical, the Japanese biotech giant.

The press reported this deal dutifully and uncritically, making it sound like GVAX was the next big thing. The stock price soared, earning large profits for the Milken-network hedge funds that had invested in Cell Genesys.

But just as there was something fishy about the Milken-invested Novacea and its $500 million deal with Schering Plough, so too did the “$320 million” Cell Genesys deal deserve a hearty dose of skepticism.

For starters, only days before Cell Genesys announced the Takeda deal, Takeda had bought a company called Millennium Pharmaceuticals. Millennium had been transformed into Takeda Pharmaceutical Capital Ventures. It was Takeda Capital Ventures, not the Takeda parent company, that signed the deal with Cell Genesys.  In other words, it was almost certain that Millennium’s management, most of whom had been retained by Takeda Capital, orchestrated the whopping $320 million deal.

That was rather strange because Millennium had been founded by a man named Mark Levin. It was Levin who orchestrated Millennium’s merger with LeukoSite, the biotech company that belonged to Marty Peretz, the Boesky-Milken crony who founded TheStreet.com. And more important to this particular episode,  it was Levin who had founded Cell Genesys. He founded the company basically by investing in himself (just as Domain Associates had created the Milken-invested Novacea out of thin air).

So, assuming Levin still had influence over Millennium/Takeda, and assuming he was still invested in Cell Genesys, he had just orchestrated a deal to use other people’s money to invest $300 million in himself.

Or, at least Cell Genesys’s press release said that Takeda (which was, in fact, Millennium) was going to “pay Cell Genesys an upfront payment of $50 million and additional milestone payments totaling up to $270 million…Takeda [actually Millennium, now known as Takeda Capital Ventures] will pay Cell Genesys tiered, double-digit royalties based on net sales of GVAX immunotherapy for prostate cancer…”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sounds like those “net sales” are imminent, right? In fact, just as the Milken-invested Novacea’s $500 million deal was dependent on clinical trials showing good results, so too was Cell Genesys’s big deal with itself dependent on the company producing some evidence that it’s drug actually worked. The operative phrase in that press release was “milestone payments totaling up to $270 million.”

Of course, just three months later, Cell Genesys announced that it had halted its trials of GVAX after its Independent Data Monitoring Committee, in a “routine safety review meeting,” observed “an imbalance of deaths…”  In other words, GVAX was not helping patients. It was killing them. And, of course, the $270 million worth of “milestone payments” announced with so much fanfare were unceremoniously canceled.

Either before this announcement, or immediately after, the big investors in Cell Genesys – Mazama, Balyasny, Millennium, Perceptive Advisors – all dumped their shares. Given the big boost those shares got from Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation promotions and the giddy announcement that Cell Genesys would receive $330 million, we can assume that those investors made a nice profit on their sales, just as Milken’s ProQuest and affiliated funds made nice profits on their sales of Novacea.

It seems to me that Cell Genesys, like Novacea, was a sophisticated pump and dump scam, aided by Michael Milken’s  “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Which brings us to Cougar Biotechnology, the third Dendreon “competitor” promoted by Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation.  Cougar Biotechnology, as we know, was controlled by Lindsay Rosenwald, who used to help run D.H. Blair, the Mafia-linked pump-and-dump shop whose two vice chairman pled guilty to securities crimes, and whose president was Milken’s former national sales manager.

D.H. Blair was indicted on 173 counts of securities fraud, and it was notorious for pumping and dumping biotech companies with no real medicine. But who knows? Maybe Cougar has a genuine product. It is hard to say at the moment, and will remain that way for years to come, because its prostate cancer treatment remains virtually untested.

In any case, just last month, Cougar, no doubt aided by the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s vigorous endorsements, wangled a $1 billion deal to merge with Johnson & Johnson, so Rosenwald and friends did quite well on their investments.

Remember that while Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation was using unwitting donors’ money to promote Novacea, Cougar Biotechnology, and Cell Genesys, its top officials, and perhaps Milken himself, were actively seeking to derail Dendreon, the one company that actually had a promising treatment for prostate cancer. This was certainly to the benefit of the short sellers (some of whom were illegally naked short selling) and the buyers of put options who were betting big against Dendreon

Meanwhile, it should be noted that Cougar Biotechnology experienced almost no naked short selling, according to SEC “failures to deliver” data. The Milken-invested Novacea also experienced virtually zero naked short selling, even after it announced that its treatment was killing people. The same goes for Cell Genesys — relatively little naked short selling, even when its treatment flopped.

The miscreant party line is that hedge funds do not engage in naked short selling to manufacture phantom stock. The party line is that most “failures to deliver” are the result of mechanical “errors.” It’s funny how those “errors” tend to occur when miscreants in a certain network are short a company. It’s also funny that those “errors” don’t happen to companies in which Milken and his cronies are invested.

If only there were a pattern.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 14.

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

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



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

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

The third question is, who is Jonathan Aschoff?

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

What reason did Aschoff have for reaching that conclusion?

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 7.

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 5 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 5 of 15)



What follows is PART 5 of a 15-PART series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture in the coming days, after which point the story will be published in its entirety.

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Where we left off, we had learned that CNBC’s Jim Cramer had declared Dendreon to be a “battleground stock.” We had also learned that Dendreon was later attacked by naked short sellers who illegally flooded the market with phantom stock, right at the time when the FDA’s advisory panel delivered the fantastic news that it had voted in favor of approving Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment.

We had learned further that at the end of March, 2007 – right after the FDA’s vote, and right before Dendreon was to be derailed by some strange occurrences — only ten hedge funds on the planet held significant numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company). At least seven of those hedge funds are quite “colorful.”

We have learned the identities of four of the seven “colorful” hedge funds. Now we hear more from Jim Cramer, and discover the identity of the fifth hedge fund that stood to profit from the demise of Dendreon and its promising treatment for prostate cancer…

* * * * * * * *

“SELL! SELL! SELL!” shouted Jim Cramer on March 28, 2007.

The CNBC “journalist” assured his viewers that the FDA advisory panel would vote that Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer was neither safe nor effective (notwithstanding the fact that the FDA had given the treatment “priority review” status because Provenge had shown strong trial results and was destined for critically ill patients).

On the following day, when the FDA advisory panel voted unanimously that Provenge was safe and overwhelmingly that it was effective, Cramer said, once again, that he had made “a mistake.” By way of explanation, Cramer said that he had mixed up Dendreon’s treatment, Provenge, with Provaisic, the fictional drug from the 1993 Hollywood movie “The Fugitive,” in which Harrison Ford plays a doctor trying to expose an evil pharmaceutical company called Devlin MacGreggor.

But Cramer, again drawing upon his vast medical expertise, continued to insist that Provenge remained unlikely to gain FDA approval.

By this time, a number of bloggers and stock market observers had noted that Cramer, a former hedge fund manager, had recently made a video available to a limited number of high-paying subscribers to his financial news website, TheStreet.com. In this video, Cramer advised his viewers – mostly Wall Street operators — to illegally drive down stock prices.

“Maybe you need $10 million capital to knock [a stock] down,” Cramer had said. “It’s a fun game and it’s a lucrative game…By the way, no one else in the world would ever admit that, but I don’t care…Now, you can’t foment…You can’t create yourself an impression that a stock’s down. But you do it anyway because the SEC doesn’t understand it…This is just actually blatantly illegal…But I think it’s really important to foment…You get [the CNBC reporter]…talking about it as if there’s something wrong [with the stock]…Then you would call The Wall Street Journal and get the bozo reporter…if you’re not doing it maybe you shouldn’t be in the game.”

The bloggers and observers who pointed to this video as evidence of Cramer’s skulduggery also noted that Cramer had once planned to run his hedge fund out of the offices of Ivan Boesky, the famous co-conspirator of the criminal stock manipulator Michael Milken. When Boesky was indicted, Cramer instead went to work with Michael Steinhardt, the Boesky-Milken crony and “prominent” hedge fund manager whose father was the “biggest Mafia fence in America” and who was financier for the fugitive billionaire Marc Rich, for whom Steinhardt later arranged a pardon from Bill Clinton.

By 2007, I had (while working as an editor for the Columbia Journalism Review) spent close to a year  studying the work of Cramer and a clique of influential journalists, most of whom had previously worked in high-level positions for Cramer’s website, TheStreet.com. I had discovered that the existence of short-side stock manipulation was denied by these journalists  (including Cramer, when he was communicating to general audiences, as opposed to when he was explaining to select groups of Wall Street operators how to do the thing he was publicly saying does not exist).

The journalists were especially keen to whitewash the crime of naked short selling, and given the threat that this crime posed to so many companies and the very stability of the financial system, it seemed to me that these journalists were engaged in a cover-up of immense proportions.

I had also discovered that these journalists routinely reported negative stories that contained bias, falsehoods, and well-timed “mistakes.” The vast majority of these stories were sourced from one particular network of hedge fund managers and miscreants. Invariably, these stories were about public companies that the hedge fund managers had sold short. And, invariably, these stories were aired right at the time that the target companies were getting bombarded with phantom stock.

Moreover, most of the hedge funds and miscreants in this network seemed, like Jim Cramer, to be connected in important ways to the criminals Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, or their close associates. One of them was David Rocker.

Last year, Rocker’s hedge fund, Copper River (previously known as Rocker Partners), was shut down. Soon after, Carol Remond, a Dow Jones Newswires journalist who had close ties to Rocker, revealed that Rocker’s most important trading strategy had been to abuse the SEC exemption allowing market makers to engage in naked short selling (see “Carol Remond Tells a Joke She Doesn’t Get” for details) .

According to Remond, when the SEC closed this loophole, making it more difficult for Rocker Partners/Copper River to work with option market makers to manufacture phantom stock, the hedge fund went out of business. What she left unexplained, however, was that such exploitation was illegal. Therefore, Dow Jones reporter Carol Remond was in fact bemoaning the tragedy that a hedge fund had to close because it was not able to break the law anymore.

Rocker had previously worked as a top trader for Michael Steinhardt, the Boesky and Genovese Mafia crony whose offices had also housed Jim Cramer’s hedge fund. In later years, Rocker became the largest outside shareholder in Cramer’s financial news website, TheStreet.com.

In 2006, staff at the Securities and Exchange Commission suspected that Rocker and other hedge funds in his network were working with an “independent” financial research shop called Gradient Analytics and a select group of journalists to disseminate false information in order to drive down stock prices. The SEC issued subpoenas to Rocker, Gradient, TheStreet.com, Jim Cramer, Herb Greenberg (a founding editor of TheStreet.com who was then working for MarketWatch.com and CNBC), and that Dow Jones reporter, Carol Remond.

Cramer vandalizes his subpoenaIn response, Cramer famously vandalized his subpoena on live television. Other journalists (most of them tied to Cramer) went berserk, claiming that Rocker had done no wrong and the SEC’s subpoenas had violated the media’s first amendment right to free speech. Soon after, the SEC said it would not enforce the subpoenas it had issued to journalists. And a year later, the commission dropped its investigation of Gradient and Rocker.

In May of 2006, shortly after the SEC announced that it would not enforce its subpoenas, a recently dismissed SEC attorney named Gary Aguirre wrote an eye-popping letter to the United States Congress in which he stated that he had led an SEC investigation into allegations of rampant naked short selling and insider trading at a hedge fund called Pequot Capital.

Aguirre said that his rank-and-file colleagues at the SEC believed that Pequot’s naked short selling had the potential to “seriously injure the financial markets,” but before he could complete his investigation, Aguirre’s superiors at the SEC, captured by powerful Wall Street interests, had fired him for political reasons.

Since then, a U.S. Congressional Committee has investigated and issued a lengthy report noting that there seemed to be evidence that Pequot was indeed engaged in “stock manipulation” (naked short selling). As for the SEC’s failure to fully investigate Aguirre’s allegations, the Congressional Committee concluded that the “picture is colored with overtones of a possible cover-up.”

The SEC inspector general also issued a report that backed up all of Aguirre’s claims.

Late in 2008, the SEC re-opened its investigation into Pequot Capital. And in May, 2009, Pequot manager Art Samberg shut down the fund, noting that the investigations had made the “situation increasingly untenable for the firm and for me.”

But from what is known publicly, the SEC is only looking into insider trading at Pequot. As for Aguirre’s investigation into Pequot’s alleged naked short selling – the crime that had the potential to “seriously injure the financial markets”—the SEC has said nothing.

Remember, as far as the SEC is concerned, illegal naked short selling is a big secret – “proprietary trading strategies.”

At any rate, it is worth noting that Cramer’s financial news website, TheStreet.com, had several founding partners. One was Cramer. Another was Marty Peretz, a Milken-Boesky crony who was–along with Marc Rich, Boesky, and the Genovese Mafia—a key limited partner of Michael Steinhardt (the hedge fund manager who gave Rocker his start and also incubated Cramer’s hedge fund).

A third founding partner of TheStreet.com was famously alleged to have engaged in rampant illegal naked short selling, just as David Rocker, once the largest outside shareholder of TheStreet.com, was reported (by Dow Jones reporter Carol Remond, unwittingly) to have engaged in rampant illegal naked short selling in cahoots with options market makers.

The name of this third founding partner of Cramer’s website, TheStreet.com, was…Pequot Capital, the hedge fund whose alleged naked short selling and insider trading were the targets of Gary Aguirre’s SEC investigation — the investigation that got quashed, leading to one of the greatest scandals in SEC history.

So it goes almost without saying that Pequot Capital was the fifth of seven “colorful” hedge funds that held large numbers of put options in Dendreon at the end of March, 2007 – right at the time when Cramer was shouting “SELL! SELL! SELL!” and criminal naked short sellers were flooding the market with at least 9 million phantom Dendreon shares.

* * * * * * * *

In addition to Cramer’s rants, there were other indications that Dendreon might be in the sights of some powerful players, and might therefore be in trouble – despite the fact that its treatment for prostate cancer seemed to be on the fast track to FDA approval.

On March 22, 2007, CNBC’s Mike Huckman wrote in a blog that he remembered “sitting at a table at a rare Dendreon analyst meeting a few years ago and someone from a Connecticut hedge fund leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘It [Provenge] doesn’t work.’” Huckman made no indication of questioning whether the hedge fund might have had a motive for saying that.

There were odd mutterings from other quarters as well. On the day before the FDA’s advisory panel met to vote on Provenge, Matthew Herper of Forbes magazine published an article casting doubts on Dendreon’s prospects. He wrote that “researchers, statisticians and Wall Street analysts are fiercely debating whether there is enough data about [Dendreon’s] radical new treatment.”

In fact, there was no “fierce” debate at all. For most Wall Street analysts, the calculation was rather simple. Given that Dendreon’s trials had shown that Provenge was safe, and given that the treatment was destined for end-stage patients (hence its “priority review” status), the advisory panel was likely to vote in its favor. In 97% of all cases, the FDA had followed the recommendations of its advisory panels. And when FDA advisory panels recommended approval for drugs destined for dying patients, the FDA had accepted its panels’ recommendations 100% of the time.

When the FDA approved treatments, the companies that developed them almost always saw their stock prices go up. So from the perspective of most Wall Street analysts, the future for Dendreon looked bright.

As for those “researchers and statisticians,” most agreed that Provenge was not only safe, but also effective. However, a small number of researchers and statisticians were, along with the hedge funds, whispering in reporters’ ears. They were saying that Provenge doesn’t work.

But there were excellent reasons to doubt the words of the researchers who were critical of Provenge. And, as we will see, the most prominent of them were preparing (with the possible connivance of a criminal “philanthropist” named Michael Milken and seven “colorful” hedge fund managers) to cash in on one of the stranger occurrences in the FDA’s 80 years of existence.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….Click here for Chapter 6

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


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

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

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

Prelude

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

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

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

Michael Steinhardt Act I

Steinhardt’s first act was notable in three ways:

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

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

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

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

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

Steinhardt Act II

Steinhardt’s second act also contained three scenes.

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

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

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

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

Steinhardt Act III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Steinhardt, Act IV

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

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

Dénouement

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

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

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

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

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

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Michael Steinhardt – "When the Bad Guys Came to Town"


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

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

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

Prelude

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

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

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

Michael Steinhardt Act I

Steinhardt’s first act was notable in three ways:

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

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

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

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

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

Steinhardt Act II

Steinhardt’s second act also contained three scenes.

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

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

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

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

Steinhardt Act III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Steinhardt, Act IV

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

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

Dénouement

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

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

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

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

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

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