Back in college, where the combination of free time and that university mojo so often lend themselves to this sort of thing, a friend and I challenged each other to cram the most undeniable truth into complete sentences of the fewest possible words.
The second sentence is a reference to the fact that cultural trends will always increase in pervasiveness and acceptance until some limit is broached, at which time opposing forces will be applied that cause society to respond with increasing negativity toward that trend. And, as with an actual pendulum, the higher the upswing, the more forceful the push back will be.
How true both are.
I first encountered the market reform movement near the end of 2005. Over the months that followed, I witnessed the following:
An SEC staffer in San Francisco subpoenaed the communications of Jim Cramer, Herb Greenberg, Bethany McLean, Carol Remond and a handful of other “journalists” suspected of colluding with Gradient Analytics and short selling hedge fund Rocker Partners, only to have SEC Chairman Chris Cox personally sabotage the effort. This was followed up almost immediately by the SEC vindictively subpoenaing Patrick Byrne.
FOIA requests filed with the SEC intended to give some sense of the scope of the delivery failure problem were regularly denied or spitefully filled with minimal accompanying explanation.
Numerous brutal articles were published attacking opponents of naked short selling – Byrne primarily among them – under the bylines of (surprise) Jim Cramer, Herb Greenberg, Bethany McLean, Carol Remond, Joe Nocera, and Roddy Boyd.
Audio tape captured by a market reform operative who covertly accessed a panel discussion featuring Herb Greenberg, Joe Nocera and Dan Colarusso (then Roddy Boyd’s editor) hosted by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. The theme of the discussion was essentially “How do we deal with these lying anti-naked short selling bloggers who are so critical of us?” Among other things, the tape caught Joe Nocera saying (to loud applause) he felt life was too short to bother understanding whether naked shorting is actually a problem, and Dan Colarusso saying he and his newspaper had the capacity to “crush” Patrick Byrne.
An all-out PR offensive launched by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) attacking opponents of naked short selling.
The emergence of Gary Weiss, an ostensibly credible former business journalist and blogger, bursting onto the scene, proclaiming naked short selling beneficial and its opponents crazy.
The hijacking and distortion of the Wikipedia article on naked short selling by whom we would soon learn was none other than Gary Weiss. Given journalists’ well-documented over-reliance on Wikipedia, this was undoubtedly a key factor in our difficulty getting them to provide more balanced coverage of the issue.
A special session of the Utah Legislature which, catching the banks flat-footed, resulted in passage of a law requiring brokerages with operations in Utah to promptly disclose stock delivery failures. But before it could go into effect, and after the prime brokers managed to rally their armies of lobbyists, the law was handily repealed.
Unprecedented growth of companies on the Reg SHO Threshold Securities list, indicating that, contrary to the intended aim of Regulation SHO, naked shorting was becoming increasingly prevalent.
On balance, it was a very dark time for the market reform movement, as every charge was followed by a blistering counter-charge, and every lunge answered by a quick parry. More than once, I recall hearing even the staunchest market reformers openly question the capacity of a rag-tag band of revolutionaries to counter the enormous influence and resources brought to bear by the hedge funds and prime brokers who were getting rich from the practice of manipulative naked short selling, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’d picked the wrong battle.
That’s not to say I ever doubted the correctness of the cause – only the correctness of my decision to join a fight that sometimes seemed impossible to win and certain to result in damage to my reputation as it had to Patrick Byrne’s and so many others’.
But in those moments of doubt, I’d remind myself of an eternal truth: the pendulum swings.
In other words, as dark as those days were, there would invariably be restraining forces applied to help slow – and eventually stall and even reverse – the momentum built up by decades of Wall Street villainy and the deep regulatory capture of the institutions intended to counter it.
What we could not have realized – as such perspective only comes with time – is that we (meaning, you, me, and everybody else who’s taken steps to do something about illegal naked short selling) were in fact the very restraining forces so many of us were expecting to arrive, cavalry-like, from some unknown quarter, and that as dark as those days seemed, they appeared quite bright to those who had endured the 1990s and early part of the current decade, when the practice persisted, without restraint, like a drunken orgy.
Of course, the event that finally brought the pendulum to a decisive halt and reversal was the current economic crisis, which saw the term “naked short selling” dragged into the popular lexicon (as determined by Yahoo! listing it as one of its five most popular search terms in September of 2008).
Since then, as the link between naked short selling and the beginning of the crisis itself has been solidly established, valiant members of Congress – most notably Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman – have dragged the issue of naked short selling into the political lexicon, as well.
Where are we today?
The SEC recently enacted permanent restrictions on illegal naked short selling, which include greatly enhanced disclosure of delivery failures and shorting activity.
Jim Cramer has been deeply and publicly shamed. Herb Greenberg is now a ‘consultant’. Bethany McLean has left business journalism. Dan Colarusso continues looking for steady employment. Roddy Boyd, Carol Remond and Joe Nocera all retain their former positions, but seem to steer clear of anything resembling the issue of naked shorting.
The DTCC is mum on the issue as well.
Gary Weiss – since abashed and banned from Wikipedia – sinks ever deeper into obscure irrelevance while the Wikipedia article on naked short selling that he once controlled has been liberated and made to read nearly as it should.
Substantive legislation with the capacity to end illegal naked short selling and other short-side market abuses once and for all is currently working its way through Congress.
As of today, the Reg SHO Threshold Securities list is 23% shorter than it was on the day I met Patrick Byrne (and 90% smaller than it was at its height in July of 2008), and is nearly devoid of the kinds of promising, well-capitalized companies whose inclusion used to be a sure sign of an impending bear raid.
These are all developments that seemed impossible in the dark days of 2006.
But here we are.
Yes, the pendulum is now unambiguously swinging in our direction, but the job is not done. Indeed, we can only be assured of progress to the extent that we each recognize our responsibility to continue pushing.
“The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth.”
- Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix
It is the mission of DeepCapture to show you, dear reader, that the financial world you inhabit, a world vouched-for in dulcet Midwestern tones by actor-spokesmen you recognize and trust, a world inhabited by honest brokers looking after your money, brokers who interact through self-regulating exchanges overseen by diligent regulators, themselves overseen by elected politicians looking out for their constituents, themselves challenged by an adversarial free press maintaining a critical posture towards it all, is in fact a “world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth.” It doesn’t exist: it is a socially constructed reality designed to keep you complacent as you feed your savings to the machine.
And I can prove it. For that matter, so can you, right now, from your computer. To explain how, I must continue with reference to The Matrix.
There is a point in the movie where Neo and his comrades are walking up a staircase. Neo glimpses a black cat that disappears then reappears:
In this essay I will explain a glitch that is available for you to verify right now, from your computer. I do not know how long it will remain after I write this, but it has existed for many months, and cannot be fixed without causing other problems for those seeking to keep you deluded. I will take you through three steps, and then you will be able to test this theory from your computer, and see a glitch that should not exist.
STEP #1 OF 3: UNDERSTAND WIKIPEDIA
Wikipedia is a social media encyclopedia. That is to say, it is the work of thousands of people collaborating across the Internet to write millions of articles on every subject one would expect to find in an encyclopedia, and many more. People are free to edit other peoples’ words, adding their own knowledge to the sum. The constitutional principles of Wikipedia demand that such edits and additions be written from a “Neutral Point of View”. Every article is backed up by a discussion page, where the people who are working on that article can meet and work out their differences in an atmosphere where good faith is assumed. Ultimately, differences which are not so resolved are put to community vote. In sum, Wikipedia is socially constructed reality.
Wikipedia has drawn its detractors (myself among them) across many fronts. One thing that both supporters and detractors agree on, however, is the remarkable speed with which Wikipedia is updated to reflect the world around us. When any significant event happens, the appropriate page is updated within minutes, or even within seconds, by someone. Be it a public statement of a treasury official, the passing of a celebrity, or a car bomb going off on a street in Beirut, the appropriate Wikipedia pages are updated before the story has finished scrolling across the wire.
STEP #2 OF 3: SCROLL THOUGH THE HEADLINES OF (OR READ) THESE 21 ARTICLES (a-u) CONCERNING NAKED SHORT SELLING AND THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL IMPLOSION
Second Item – Proposed Amendments to Regulation SHO
The next item on our agenda is the serious problem of abusive naked short sales, which can be used as a tool to drive down a company’s stock price to the detriment of all of its investors. The Commission is particularly concerned about persistent failures to deliver in the market for some securities that may be due to loopholes in the Commission’s Regulation SHO, adopted just two years ago.
At the Commission’s request, the Division of Market Regulation has prepared proposed changes in Rule 203 under Regulation SHO to cut down on failures to deliver.
The need for Regulation SHO grew out of long-standing and growing problems with failures to deliver stock by the end of the standard three day settlement period for trades, some of which were symptoms of abusive “naked” short selling. Selling short without having stock available for delivery, and intentionally failing to deliver stock within the standard three-day settlement period, is market manipulation that is clearly violative of the federal securities laws…
A grandfather provision, however, gave an exception from Rule 203(b)’s mandatory close out provision for any fail to deliver positions established before a security became a threshold security. And another provision of Rule 203(b) – the options market maker provision – provides an exception for any fail to deliver positions in a threshold security if they result from short sales by an options market maker, for the purpose of establishing or maintaining a hedge on options positions created before the underlying security became a threshold security.
We are particularly concerned about the potential negative effect that substantial and persistent fails to deliver may be having on the market in some securities. Specifically, these fails to deliver can deprive shareholders of the benefits of ownership – voting, lending, and dividends from issuers. Moreover, they can be indicative of abusive naked short selling, which could be used as a tool to drive down a company’s stock price. They may also undermine the confidence of investors who may believe that the fails to deliver are evidence of manipulative naked short selling in the stock. In turn, issuers may be harmed, as investors may be reluctant to commit capital to a stock that they believe is subject to abusive naked short selling.
To address these concerns, the Division of Market Regulation is recommending proposals to amend Regulation SHO. The recommended proposals are based on examinations conducted by the Commission’s staff and the SROs since Regulation SHO became effective in January 2005. While preliminary data indicates that Regulation SHO appears to be significantly reducing fails to deliver without disruption to the markets, there continues to be a number of threshold securities with substantial and persistent fail-to-deliver positions that are not being closed-out under existing delivery and settlement guidelines. It appears these persistent fails are primarily attributable to the grandfather and options market maker exceptions to the delivery requirements of Regulation SHO.
The proposals being recommended today would eliminate the grandfather provision, and narrow the options market maker exception. The proposals would include a limited one-time phase-in period following the effective date of the amendment. The proposals also include a technical amendment that would update the market decline limitation referenced in the rule. In combination, these proposals are intended to eliminate the persistent fails to deliver that are attributable to loopholes in Regulation SHO as originally adopted…
WASHINGTON, March 4 (Reuters) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday proposed tougher rules to curb so-called “naked” short-selling abuses and prevent market price manipulation.
SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said regulation SHO, an existing rule partly aimed at short selling abuses, “needs teeth.”
Short sellers borrow shares they consider overvalued and sell them. If the price drops, they repurchase the shares, return them and pocket the difference. In a naked short sale, the investor sells stock that has not yet been borrowed.
The three-member SEC voted unanimously to propose the rule, which targets sellers who intentionally deceive broker-dealers or purchasers about their ability to meet delivery deadlines.
Sellers sometimes deliberately fail to deliver securities as part of a scheme to manipulate the stock price.
WASHINGTON — Securities regulators voted 3-0 to propose a rule intended to crack down on lingering abuses involving so-called naked short sales and failures to deliver shares that have been used in such sales.
The proposal is part of a continuing attack by the Securities and Exchange Commission on short-sales abuses, an effort begun four years ago with the adoption of rules known as Regulation SHO.
Separately, the SEC voted to propose changes that could speed the introduction of exchange-traded funds, without review by federal regulators. (Please see related article.)
Short selling involves sales of borrowed shares, producing profits when prices decline, allowing the short seller to replace borrowed shares at a lower price.
In contrast, “naked” short sellers don’t borrow shares before engaging in short selling, and they may have no intention of borrowing them.
Regulation SHO sought to curb such practices by requiring short sellers to locate shares for borrowing before engaging in short sales, but it did not include any new mechanism to enforce the requirement.
Under the proposal, the SEC would create an antifraud rule targeting those who knowingly deceive brokers about having located securities before engaging in short sales, and who fail to deliver the securities by the delivery date.
SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said the proposal would bring needed teeth to Regulation SHO and address concerns about short-selling abuses, particularly in the market for small-cap stocks. “Reg SHO can’t be effective without enforcement,” Mr. Cox said.
Even with the regulation in place, the SEC received hundreds of complaints last year about alleged abuses involving short sales. While most trades settle within three days, as required, the SEC estimates about 1% of shares that change hands daily, or about $1 billion, are subject to delivery failures.
The SEC’s move last year to close off a “grandfather” exception to Regulation SHO, has done little to reduce longstanding delivery failures, according to preliminary data analyzed by SEC staff.
The SEC has yet to announce its plans for a separate pending proposal to scale back or eliminate an exemption for options market-makers.
Brokers who engage in short selling for customers would not face any new obligations under the proposed antifraud rule, and the SEC said it wouldn’t apply to market makers engaging in market-making activities.
Although the SEC already has authority to sue illegal short sellers, SEC officials said a new rule explicitly targeted to naked short sales might affect behavior. SEC Commissioners Paul Atkins and Kathleen Casey expressed support for the crackdown on abusive sales but said they want to be sure it doesn’t result in unintended consequences, such as driving legitimate short sales offshore.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will limit the ability of traders to bet on a drop in shares of brokerage firms, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae as part of a crackdown on stock manipulation, the agency’s chairman said.
Christopher Cox told the Senate Banking Committee that the agency will require traders to hold shares of the two mortgage buyers and the brokerages before they execute a short sale. The emergency order, to be in effect for 30 days, will bar the practice called naked short selling, in which traders avoid the financial cost of borrowing shares when betting they’ll fall.
Cox said the SEC will draft rules “to address the same issues across the entire market.”
Hedge-fund manager William Ackman, who oversees $6 billion at Pershing Square Capital Management, is among those betting that shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will fall. There’s no indication he is engaging in naked short selling, in which traders never borrow shares from their broker or deliver the stock to buyers.
The SEC has been reluctant to curb short selling “because it would require a major retooling of the plumbing of Wall Street,” said James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University studying short sales. “It’s only when the big Wall Street firms are threatened that the SEC does something about it.”
The SEC is investigating whether trading abuses contributed to the collapse of Bear Stearns Cos. in March and the 78 percent drop in the market value of larger rival Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. this year. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have each lost about 80 percent of their value amid speculation the mortgage-market crisis may push the firms into insolvency.
Short-sellers, who borrow shares betting that they’ll decline, are spreading rumors about Lehman in an organized attempt to depress the stock, according to Richard Bove, bank analyst at Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. in Lutz, Florida.
“As with Bear Stearns, Lehman has been targeted by the fear-trade,” said Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller analyst David Trone in a report yesterday. Lehman should go private so it can avoid the attacks by short-sellers, he said.
Freddie Mac, down as much as 34 percent today before Cox’s comments, erased some of the decline and fell $1.49, or 21 percent, to $5.62 at 2:34 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Fannie Mae shares rebounded from a 30 percent drop and were down 18 percent.
“I don’t think the government should ban short-selling in anything as long as it’s fully disclosed, as long as there’s no manipulation,” MFS Investment Management Chairman Robert Pozen said in an interview with Bloomberg News yesterday. “Don’t we want the market to work here?”
John Nester, an SEC spokesman, said the emergency order will “require any person effecting a short sale in the listed securities to borrow the securities before the short sale is effected and deliver the securities on settlement date.”
In traditional short selling, traders borrow stock through a broker and hope to profit by selling shares high and later buying them back at lower prices to repay the loan.
Naked short selling isn’t necessarily illegal, unless authorities can prove fraud, such as a scheme to manipulate stock prices.
The demise of IndyMac, coming on the heels of Bear Stearns’ desperate sale to JPMorgan Chase, is a sure sign of the fragility of today’s markets. What’s needed now, more than ever, is reliable information for investors and confidence that trading can be conducted without the illegal influence of manipulation.
Because financial institutions depend on confidence, they are uniquely vulnerable in the current climate. A “run on the bank” can take hold quickly, and can be fatal. But stampedes are not always rational.
When an irrational panic is fueled by a sense of urgency, false rumors that must be acted on immediately and the fear that everyone else may get out first, market integrity is threatened. It is the job of market cops to provide a measure of confidence that financial information about public companies is accurate and reliable — and when it is not, to punish those responsible.
Who profits from intentionally false information in the marketplace? Those who are in on the scam and positioned to benefit from the predictable response of others who believe the fraudulent information to be true.
The classic “pump and dump” scheme, in which a stock is inflated through false information and then dumped on unsuspecting investors when the perpetrators flee, is one example of how this works. “Distort and short” is the same thing in reverse.
Naked short selling can turbocharge these “distort and short” schemes. In a naked short, the usual process of short selling is circumvented, because the seller doesn’t actually borrow the stock and simply fails to deliver it. For this reason, naked shorting can occur even when actual shares aren’t available in the market. It allows manipulators to force prices down without regard to supply and demand.
Next week, the SEC will implement an emergency order designed to prevent naked short selling in the financial firms that the Federal Reserve Board has designated as eligible for access to its liquidity facilities.
Because these are large firms with substantial public float, honest short sellers can readily locate shares to make good on their short positions. Continued legitimate short selling in these issues will act, as it is supposed to, as a way for market participants to invest in the downside and to hedge other positions.
At the same time, eliminating the prospect of naked short selling will help assure investors that it is safe for them to participate, and that the current declining market is not the product of unseen manipulators and “distort and short” artists.
Our emergency order is not a response to unbridled naked short selling in financial issues — so far, that has not occurred — but rather it is intended as a preventative step to help restore market confidence at a time when it is sorely needed.
Many people think naked short selling is already illegal, but that isn’t true. Shares are normally delivered to the buyers within three days of the trade. But in most stocks, including those covered by our emergency order, that three-day period can be extended indefinitely.
Even without these extensions, and even when a short seller locates shares that can be borrowed, there can be problems because the short seller is not currently required to actually borrow those shares until settlement.
As a result, securities lenders can tell multiple short sellers they can borrow the same shares of stock — a sure recipe for a failure to deliver. Once the commission’s order takes effect, this possibility will no longer exist.
The SEC is committed to maintaining orderly securities markets. The abusive practice of naked short selling is far different from ordinary short selling, which is a healthy and necessary part of a free market.
Our agency’s rules are highly supportive of short selling, which can help quickly transmit price signals in response to negative information or prospects for a company. Short selling helps prevent “irrational exuberance” and bubbles.
But when someone fails to borrow and deliver the securities needed to make good on a short position, after failing even to determine that they can be borrowed, that is not contributing to an orderly market — it is undermining it. And in the context of a potential “distort and short” campaign aimed at an otherwise sound financial institution, this kind of manipulative activity can have drastic consequences.
It was famously — perhaps too famously — said that “markets will fluctuate.” That is certainly true if they are well-functioning. As market referee, the SEC neither can nor should direct the market’s fluctuations. Instead, our most basic role is to ensure a continued flow of liquidity to the markets from participants who are confident the game isn’t rigged against them.
Naked short selling can undermine the market’s integrity. For the financial sector in this crisis, certainly, but as soon as possible for the entire market, this is one worry investors shouldn’t have.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission extended an emergency limit on short sales in shares of Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and 17 brokerages as it prepares broader rules to thwart stock manipulation.
The SEC pushed back expiration of its ban on so-called naked short sales of the firms’ stocks from today through Aug. 12, the Washington-based agency said in a statement. The order aims to keep traders from driving down financial stocks to boost profits after Bear Stearns Cos. and IndyMac Bancorp Inc. collapsed amid rumors they were faltering.
The emergency order, focused on companies whose collapse might expose the U.S. government to losses, gives regulators time to weigh wider restrictions. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox last week told lawmakers the agency is examining other proposals, such applying the ban on naked short sales to the broader market.
“It definitely appears that the SEC is interested in making adjustments to short-sale regulations,” said John Standerfer, vice president for financial services at S3 Matching Technologies, the Austin, Texas-based trade processor.
In traditional short selling, traders borrow shares and sell them. If the price drops, they profit by re-buying the stock, repaying the loan and pocketing the difference.
Naked short sellers don’t borrow shares before settling sales. The SEC is concerned manipulative investors may use the sales, legal under some conditions, to drive down prices by flooding the market with orders to sell shares they don’t have.
Arrange to Borrow
The temporary order, which took effect July 21, requires traders to at least arrange to borrow shares before selling short Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage buyers. The order covers brokerages with access to the Federal Reserve’s discount window, which was opened to investment banks after the March collapse of Bear Stearns.
Market makers have an exception under the SEC order that permits them to sell short to maintain liquidity. Investors, such as hedge funds, previously could start trades without an agreement to acquire shares.
Short sales, particularly among retail investors, plummeted after the SEC announced the ban, according to data from S3 Matching Technologies, which processes trades for three of the top five retail brokerages. The sales fell 78 percent on average among the companies named in the order, compared with trades on July 14, the day before the SEC announced the measure, S3 data shows. The company handles about 15 billion transactions daily.
“I see no reason that will turn around,” said Standerfer in an interview yesterday. “It seems like a pretty restrictive rule to put in place for the entire market.’
Cox last week told Congress the agency may also force investors to disclose “substantial” bets on falling stocks and or reinstate a version of the so-called uptick rule, which barred short sales of stocks when prices are falling.
The uptick rule, implemented after the Great Depression and scrapped last year, allowed short sales only if a preceding trade boosted the stock price. The SEC is studying whether increasing the uptick increment, such as to a nickel or dime, might be more effective, he said.
Over the past several years, Patrick Byrne’s campaign to clean up Wall Street and end a practice that has destroyed companies and cost unwary investors billions of dollars generated plenty of publicity for him, mostly the wrong kind. Critics labeled him nuts, a conspiracy theorist, a complete wack job. Byrne, the chief executive of the Utah-based discount online retailer Overstock.com, even found himself tagged a member of the “tin-foil hat” brigade, a reference to the flying saucer fanatics of the 1950s who adorned their heads with aluminium to ward off, or enhance, thoughts from aliens in outer space. These days, when people talk of Byrne, the word ‘vindication’ comes up a lot. ‘You can always tell who the pioneers are — they’re the ones with all the arrows sticking out of their backs,’ said James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University. ‘You really can’t understate what Byrne has accomplished.’
The SEC’s emergency curb on short selling of 19 major financial services firms stocks expired before Wednesday trading, leaving investors to wonder if the measure helped protect the strained system.
Since July 21, the SEC rule banned “naked” short sales on those 19 stocks. Short sellers hope to profit by selling borrowed shares and replacing them at lower prices. In naked short sales, traders don’t actually borrow the shares; that can intensify the downward pressure on a stock.
The rule’s expiration appeared to have some effect Wednesday as financial stocks suffered sizable losses. That could mean short sellers have been at least partly behind big drops in shares of some financial companies.
“There has to be some sort of correlation between the moratorium ending and these stocks being down,” says Eric Fitzwater, analyst at research firm SNL Financial.
Perhaps more telling: The day the Securities and Exchange Commission announced the rule, July 15, was the day financial stocks bottomed for 2008. “If (the SEC) wanted to protect these companies artificially, it served its purpose,” Fitzwater says.
“It is impossible to know how big this problem is, but regulators accept it exists. The American Stock Exchange fined two market-makers for precisely this violation in July 2007. A month later the SEC proposed limiting or eliminating the exemption, but momentum stalled in the face of opposition from banks and exchanges. The anti-short lobby, emboldened by the July ban, is again pushing for an end to the market-makers’ exemption. …. How much does all this matter? Deliberate naked shorting has no place in a well-run market…”
WASHINGTON – With Wall Street engulfed in crisis, the Securities and Exchange Commission is planning measures to rein in aggressive forms of short-selling that were blamed in part for the demise of Lehman Brothers and which some fear could be turned against other vulnerable companies. During emergency meetings between federal officials and investment bank executives over the weekend, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox indicated to the bankers that the agency plans in a few days to impose new permanent protections against abusive ‘naked’ short-selling, a person familiar with the matter said Monday….
TOKYO — Japan moved Tuesday imposed new restrictions on so-called “naked” short selling of stocks, stepping up its efforts to arrest the tumble in domestic share prices.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange has asked member brokers to stop accepting naked short-sell orders, TSE President Atsushi Saito told a news conference.
The TSE’s move followed comments from Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, who said that regulations on naked short selling would be tightened. Mr. Nakagawa didn’t say that the practice would be banned, but the TSE’s move and local media’s interpretation of his comments suggested that the new strictures, to be enforced from today, will be a ban in all but name.
Short-sellers typically borrow stocks and then sell them on, profiting from the fall in price when they buy back the securities. Naked shorting removes the need to first borrow the stock, which means that larger volumes of shares can be dumped on the market. Short-selling generally has drawn fire from regulators across the world, who say it has contributed to the sharp market declines of recent months.
The Japanese government had planned to ban naked short selling from Nov. 4, but the recent plunge in local share prices has caused the new rule to be introduced a week ahead of schedule. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average closed at a 26-year low on Monday, as investor sentiment was battered by the global financial crisis, the rising yen and concerns about an international economic slowdown.
Traders said the naked short-selling ban was one reason for a big recovery in Japanese shares Tuesday.
The ban “was one of the positive factors behind the Nikkei’s gains (in the afternoon), but I don’t think it’s the main catalyst,” said Yukio Takahashi, market analyst at Shinko Securities. The Nikkei ended 6.4% higher Tuesday, erasing most of Monday’s sharp slide, due mainly to the yen’s weakening and firmness in major Asian stock markets, traders said. (See related article.)
The naked shorting ban comes as the government mulls a series of measures to improve confidence in Japan’s financial sector. Among other steps, the government wants to raise the cap on possible injections of taxpayers’ money into domestic banks from ¥2 trillion ($21.37 billion), ease fair-value accounting rules, loosen capital adequacy requirements for banks and enlarge tax breaks for stock investors.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Mr. Nakagawa highlighted the urgency of the task at hand. “I’ve discussed with Prime Minister [Taro Aso] the fact that the coming few days will be very important and that we must take steps immediately,” he said. “Our assessment is that the coming several days will be very important — and therefore dangerous — for the Japanese stock markets.”
Mr. Nakagawa also said the government will immediately open investigations into possible illegal practices linked with naked short selling. The Financial Services Agency, the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission and the TSE will work together in looking into past records on such sales practices, he said. “If we find out any violation of the law,” Mr. Nakagawa said, “we will retroactively deal with it strictly.”
CANBERRA: Australia moved to slap a permanent ban on the most controversial form of short-selling yesterday amid an historic fall in share prices, part of a crackdown that is also targeting hedge funds and credit rating agencies.
Interviewer: Let’s talk shorts. Harvey Pitt is former SEC chairman and founder and CEO of Kalorama Partners. Harvey, great to have you with us….Chairman Pitt, do we need to bring back the Uptick Rule? Would that make a difference here at all?
Harvey Pitt: I don’t believe so. The Uptick Rule was almost non-existence in terms of its detrimental affects. There’s a very simple solution and the SEC has it and they know what is. It’s very simply this. If you want to sell a stock short you have to have a legally and forcible right to produce that stock on settlement day. That’s all it takes. If the SEC does that people will not be able to sell short unless they have actually first located and gotten their stock.
Interviewer2: In other words that would do away with naked shorting right?
Harvey Pitt: Absolutely, and naked shorting is what’s causing a lot of the problems in the market.
Interviewer2: Because nobody is forced to deliver. Nobody must deliver. Too much of that going on.
Harvey Pitt: That’s been the real problem. People in affect are just gambling. They’re assuming the stock price will go down. They then spread false rumors to help the stock go down, but they have no skin in the game because they haven’t committed to produce the shares that they purportedly are selling.
Global securities regulators will gather on Monday to discuss rules on short selling and disclosure of credit derivatives, the head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission said on Thursday.
Christopher Cox, SEC chairman, said the meeting, to be held via teleconference, would address “urgent regulatory issues in the ongoing credit crisis.”
The announcement came during yet another tumultuous day of trading in global stock markets.
“In addressing turbulent market conditions, it is essential not only that regulators act against securities law violations, including abusive short selling, but also that there be close coordination among international markets to avoid regulatory gaps and unintended consequences,” Mr Cox said in a statement on Thursday.
The International Organization of Securities Commissions, which includes securities regulators from around the globe, will consider the effectiveness of their recent actions to reduce abusive short selling, without hurting legitimate shorting…
Mr Cox said regulators will explore “possible coordination” on rules relating to naked short sales – when shares are sold without being borrowed first– in particular with regard to position reporting and delivery and pre-borrowing requirements.
p) November 24, 2008 Reuters “Global regulators focus on abusive short selling”
WASHINGTON, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Global securities regulators launched three task forces to study abusive short selling, unregulated financial products and unregulated financial entities such as hedge funds, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Monday.
“The working groups were established amid volatile market conditions and designed to support work of the world’s 20 largest economies, which have already agreed to step up oversight of the troubled financial system. “One group will focus on aligning global regulators’ approach to naked short selling, the SEC said.””
Fails to deliver in the US equity market have exacerbated the sharp declines in share prices of financials.
IT IS NO surprise that the stock of Bear Stearns was heavily shorted in the run-up to its government-supported rescue in March, given its high leverage, poor risk management and the fact that its sub-prime bets had gone awry. Short-selling of any financial company would have been understandable by March this year. But just why on March 12, two days before the rescue announcement, almost 1.25 million Bear Stearns shares were shorted is a question that is a little harder to answer.
Up to that point in 2008, cumulative fails to deliver of Bear Stearns’ stock were only between 10,000 and 200,000 on any given day. On March 14, more than 2 million Bear Stearns shares went undelivered, and from then until the end of March, failures increased, peaking one day at more than 13.78 million shares. At the same time, from March 12 to the announcement on Friday March 14, Bear Stearns’ share price crashed from $61.68 to $30, dropping to $4.81 the following Monday.
That the precipitous drop in Bear Stearns’ share price coincided with fails to deliver has forced the market to properly address a long-standing question: are fails to deliver responsible for rapid share price deterioration? Had those failures been averted through better regulation would Bear Stearns have had a slower downfall, or even avoided outright collapse? And what of Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Indeed, would all financial companies have enjoyed more resilient share prices, instead of seeing sudden, sharp price declines that were the final nudge to creditors and counterparties abandoning firms and driving them into bankruptcy?
The SEC has since attempted to bring a halt to naked short-selling, which gives rise to fails to deliver, but are its efforts sufficient?
Formal investigations are taking place to look into abusive short-selling of the stocks of both Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.
Robert Shapiro, former economic adviser to Bill Clinton, chairman of Sonecon and an adviser to the presidential transition team of Barack Obama, believes there is sufficient evidence that naked shorting accelerated the collapse of Bear Stearns. He says: “Bear Stearns failed because it went bankrupt. However, the pace of the collapse of the stock price was clearly accelerated by the enormous naked short-sale activity. There perhaps could have been a more orderly bankruptcy which would have preserved more of the assets.”
John Welborn, an economist with investment firm the Haverford Group, agrees. “Fails to deliver added to the downfall of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns but were not, obviously, the whole story. Fails in Lehman Brothers were never significant enough to drastically alter the tradable float. In Bear Stearns, however, a torrent of fails began on March 12, before the public knew most of the bad news. The important thing to note here is that T+3 settlement essentially allows people to sell an infinite amount of any stock either to precipitate a bear raid or to capitalize on one already in progress.”
Welborn continues: “A bear raid encourages panic selling by long holders. Once enough long holders are induced to sell, then there are plenty of shares available to cover any naked positions ex post. When the long holders have sold their positions and the naked short sellers have covered at a lower price, then the issuer faces a dramatically depressed market. That may make it difficult (or impossible) to recapitalize, especially if that issuer is in the financial sector.”
Naked short-selling can be a confusing topic. A short-seller can only sell short if it can locate a source from which to borrow that security and therefore ensure delivery to the buyer – within the T+3 requirement. In most circumstances it is up to the prime broker to confirm whether it is possible to locate the stock and agree the transaction. If it is not possible to locate a stock, which can happen when certain stocks become illiquid, the trade is not allowed to take place. Market makers are an exception to this rule, and are able to lend stock without having located a source from which to borrow, in order to keep the markets liquid. This type of “naked shorting” is legal. If the source of stock is not a market maker, selling of a stock without having located a stock to deliver is illegal. Illegal, however, means very little when no enforcement penalties are in place.
Up until the end of this summer – not till September did the SEC enforce a crackdown – shorting without locating a source from which to borrow has suffered no penalty in the US, and brokers’ statements about efforts to locate them might be rather vague. “A broker can say he has located a stock, but that’s it,” says a hedge fund manager. “What if five other brokers are looking at that same stock and telling their clients they have located it. Who will get it?”
And if there is no penalty for failing to locate and failing to deliver, then why not just fail to deliver? In equity markets if a short-seller does not deliver, he can simply wait until the stock price deteriorates sufficiently so that he will never have to deliver, and therefore is able to keep the money from his sale. Do short sellers, be they hedge funds or proprietary trading desks, do this often? No. But can they do it? Yes. And were some doing this during the peak of the financial crisis? Absolutely.
One former employee of regulator NASD says he knows of a hedge fund that was shorting Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae on a “massive scale”, with no intention of ever locating stock. “His prime broker let the trade go through regardless as he was a large client of theirs,” he says.
Illegal naked shorting, at its worst, can be implemented to bring a company down. In the present crisis of confidence among financial institutions, it can also simply be a means of jumping on a losing target. If a financial institution’s stock looked as if it was falling, why not short-sell without promising a buy-in within three days and hope that the fall is sufficiently large beyond three days to make an even bigger profit?
A glance at the fails to deliver in the financials market indicates that some investors applied this strategy. A comparison of the average daily reported shares failing to deliver between the first quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2008 for the US’s top financial firms showed a clear increase over the period. The data, compiled by Washington publication IA Watch, showed a 335% increase for Freddie Mac, a 226% increase for Citigroup, a 133% increase for Goldman Sachs, a 632% increase for Morgan Stanley and a 1,123% increase for Bear Stearns. One source even suggests that some market participants never intended to buy-in and simply marked their tickets “long” selling shares that they did not even own as they knew they would never have to make delivery.
Fails to deliver: Unheard voices
Fails to deliver in the US stock markets are not a new phenomenon. In response to an increasing number of fails, the SEC introduced Regulation SHO in January 2004. This required that a daily list be compiled of all securities that had more than 10,000 fails to deliver, or more than 0.5% of issued shares failing to deliver for five consecutive days or more. No penalty was introduced to deter fails but it was believed that publication of the list would act as a deterrent. The majority of the stocks on the list were those of small firms on the Pink Sheets or Bulletin Boards and many were regarded as companies with weak business models that were likely to see fails to deliver, as levels of shorting in the stock would be high.
For years, small companies affected, and larger companies such as Overstock.com (which has market capitalization of $500 million) have appealed to the SEC to prevent fails to deliver, claiming that their stock prices have suffered as a result of the practice. In April 2004, in a series of articles, Euromoney warned about the implications for larger household names if fails to deliver were not properly addressed. Shapiro agrees that larger companies are now being targeted. He says: “Ordinarily this doesn’t happen to large institutions with large stock floats but in a panic situation they become vulnerable along with those companies that are always vulnerable – smaller companies that are without large public floats. In a time of panic, mechanisms that allow the markets to overshoot (naked shorts) mean you can drive a stock into the ground.”
Patrick Byrne, chief executive of Overstock.com, continues to lobby against fails but insists it is not a matter of self-interest. “The argument gets reduced to me being upset that stock in my firm might be being shorted. That was never the argument. Shorting has its place, I know. This has always been about why the government is ignoring the loopholes within the settlement system that are allowing for fails to deliver to occur.”
He is certain, as are several other long-standing lobbyists, that the recorded number of fails to deliver is only a fraction of the true amount. “If two broker/dealers clear through the DTCC, and one fails, then the two brokers can turn that failure into a private contract to be dealt with outside the DTCC and it becomes ‘ex-clearing’. After that there is no register of that fail,” says Byrne. If failures are as frequent as suggested, the idea of broker/dealers preferring to cancel out each other’s fails on a private basis is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Wes Christian is partner in a law firm representing 15 companies that allege that their stock price has been driven down by illegal naked shorting and fails to deliver. “We are aware of these deals being ex-cleared and of the failings of Reg SHO. Allowing failures to deliver creates artificial supply and that drives down prices,” he says. The defendants in Christian’s clients’ cases are the majority of broker/dealers on Wall Street.
Fails to deliver in the equity markets are seen to create artificial supply. If a stock can be sold without having to be borrowed, there is a strong possibility that stocks in excess of those issued are being sold. Indeed, several companies, Overstock.com included, have reported instances of more owners of stock than is possible. On March 14 128% of Bear Stearns stock outstanding was traded. These “phantom shares” can be on-lent without delivery again and again, further diluting the stock.
It’s a situation specific to the US markets, say participants. Patrick Georg at Clearstream Luxembourg says there has been no decline in settlement efficiency in Europe. Alan Cameron, head of clearing, settlement and custody client solutions at BNP Paribas Securities Services in London, says he has seen little to indicate similar instances of fails to deliver in Europe. “Some European countries like Spain impose strict fines on failures to deliver, as does Crest. It’s not an issue here in Europe.” Byrne adds that in Europe, the impact on reputation of failing to deliver is a deterrent. A head of a prime brokerage in the UK agrees: “It just does not happen in Europe. Securities get delivered in a timely fashion or business is lost.”
However, settlement is faster in Europe than in the US. It is surprising that the US still operates a T+3 system. Robert Greifeld, chef executive of Nasdaq, questioned the system in March this year at a conference when, in reference to fails to deliver, he said it was hard to believe that in 2008 the market still required three days to settle, and that a T+1 system should be part of a discussion about fails.
The SEC has pussyfooted around enforcing delivery in the US equity market over the past 10 years or so, but the collapse of financials stocks has pushed it to be stricter. On September 17, SEC chairman Christopher Cox announced several actions to “make it crystal clear that the SEC has zero tolerance for abusive naked short-selling.” From that date, fails to deliver beyond T+3 have been subject to a hard close-out. If stocks fail to deliver beyond T+3, the broker/dealers acting on the short-seller’s behalf are prohibited from further short sales in that security unless stocks are pre-borrowed.
This change of tack upsets those such as Byrne who have been fighting to have their voices heard for years. “When companies that had access to the Fed window became victims of fails to deliver, the SEC then had to sit up and take notice,” says Byrne.
Actions taken against naked shorting: Small steps
Since August, the number of companies with stock on the Reg SHO list has fallen from an all-time high of 650 to an all-time low of 90, although this does not take into account ex-clearing data. Shapiro says it is a step in the right direction. “The actions taken are an acknowledgement of the issues regarding naked shorting and fails to deliver at least. Progress is under way. Given there are many issues facing the SEC at the moment, this is encouraging.”
Others, however, are disappointed that more has not been done. Byrne says: “A hard close-out is not nearly enough. To truly stop failures to deliver, the SEC must enforce a pre-borrow where parties have to guarantee that a locate has been found through a contract.” At present, broker/dealers and short-sellers can say they have located a source of stock when several other parties might have also identified the same source. Peter Chepucavage of the International Association of Small Broker/Dealers and Advisers agrees that an initial pre-borrow rule is crucial in preventing fails to deliver. “The industry is resisting an initial pre-borrow rule but it is essential,” he says. “Without it the stock market is like the airline industry. You’re overselling the airplane seats knowing that someone will not be able to board even though they reserved/located, to avoid decrementing their inventory.”
The argument against pre-borrows is that liquidity will dry up, and that shorting will be deterred. However, Greg DePetris at Quadriserv believes the opposite would occur as lending would increase. “A more efficient settlement process should result from recent regulatory changes, and these tighter inventory controls might create new trading opportunities,” he says. “It’s important for anyone in possession of lendable supply to monetize its value, and traditionally that’s been done through the lending spread and reinvestment of cash. The notion of pre-borrows implies that there may be derivative value in the latent supply of securities, which lenders may be able to realize for their clients.”
Welborn says the SEC knows it has to introduce the pre-borrow rule if it wants to eliminate fails to deliver for good. “As long as there are companies on the Reg SHO list, then the problem has not been solved,” he says. “The only sustainable solution to naked short-selling is a rule requiring both a pre-borrow and a hard delivery. With only one of these pieces in place, the system is still open to abuse. For example, a hard-delivery requirement by itself would not have made an iota of difference for Bear Stearns; only a pre-borrow could have put a brake on the naked short-selling.”
Welborn points out that the SEC did precisely this in July when it ordered emergency pre-borrows for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the 17 primary dealers. “The SEC knows what must be done to fix this problem once and for all,” he says.
WASHINGTON, Dec 9 (Reuters) – U.S. securities regulators need to do more to crack down on abusive naked short selling — a type of trading blamed for contributing to the free-fall in financial stocks — former and current regulators said on Tuesday. Amid volatile market conditions, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a number of rules to rein in those who profit illegally from stock declines. Making bearish bets on stocks is a legitimate investment strategy but the SEC’s rules are designed to weed out abusive practices, such as investors’ failure to deliver stock by settlement date. Short sellers arrange to borrow shares they consider overvalued in hopes of repaying the loan for less and profiting from the difference. A naked short sale occurs when an investor sells stock that has not yet been borrowed, which can distort markets.
Former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt praised the SEC for taking constructive steps but said the agency has not done enough.
“Naked shorting is a situation in which someone is gambling but they have no skin in the game. They are not required to make any effort to deliver the shares,” said Pitt, one of the panelists speaking at a “Coalition Against Market Manipulation” event in Washington.
The SEC tightened up its rules this year and required short sellers to deliver securities three trading days after shorting the stock.
Rex Staples, general counsel for an association of state securities administrators, said the states are trying to eliminate the problem, but said “this seems to be a solution that the commission is best-equipped to solve.”
“States are ready to act, but we are throwing our support behind the federal regulator at this point,” said Staples, general counsel for the North American Securities Administrators Association.
Pitt and other panelists said the SEC needed to do more to eliminate ambiguity in its rules.
For example, investors are required to locate shares before shorting them. However, SEC rules require broker dealers to have “reasonable grounds” to believe that the security can be borrowed so that it can be delivered by settlement date. Critics say the language is vague.
“If you want to sell short any security, you should have a legally enforceable right to deliver stock on day of settlement. It’s unambiguous, it doesn’t leave any wiggle room,” said Pitt.
WASHINGTON — U.S. securities regulators need to do more to curb short-selling abuses, a group of academics, business executives and former top regulators said Tuesday.
The Securities and Exchange Commission should close loopholes and enforce current rules against “naked” short selling, said Harvey Pitt, former SEC chairman and now chief executive of Kalorama Partners, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm.
“The agency has to make it clear that naked short selling in any form is prohibited,” Mr. Pitt said at a midday press conference.
Short sellers aim to profit by borrowing shares for sale and replacing them later at a lower price. “Naked” short sellers don’t borrow shares they sell short, which can pummel stocks and facilitate market manipulation.
The SEC has sought to crack down on short-selling abuses in recent years, most recently with an interim rule requiring short sellers to deliver borrowed shares within three days of trade settlement. Mr. Pitt and others urged the SEC to make the requirement permanent and take other steps to stiffen pre-borrowing requirements, provide better tracking of stock-delivery failures, including those outside stock-clearing systems, and force buy-ins when delivery failures occur.
Ambiguous rules limiting naked short selling must be clarified, attorneys say
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — A top adviser to President-elect Barack Obama on securities regulation on Tuesday said he wants the Securities and Exchange Commission to require public disclosure of short selling.
“We’re looking for disclosure of positions, with a small delay, after a short sale is made,” said Roel Campos, a former Democratic SEC commissioner and member of Obama’s transition team.
After the precipitous drop in stocks of major investment and some commercial banks including Citigroup Inc. in September, the agency implemented a series of short sell rules, many of which were temporary in nature. Among these, the SEC temporarily banned short sales in roughly 800 financial institutions. That ban expired on October 8.
Regulators and others argued that many short sellers — who make bets that a stock price will decline — contributed heavily to the financial crisis and the collapse of many financial institutions.
The next agency chairman is expected to grapple with whether the agency is doing enough to chill manipulative short selling of shares, particularly when it comes to financial institutions.
Campos is seeking to have the next SEC chairman introduce new rules requiring short sellers to publicly disclose their positions in a manner that is similar to how equity investors are required to reveal their equity stakes.
For example, to comply with the SEC’s 13F rule, investors with $100 million in capital or more are required to publicly disclose their positions 45 days after every calendar quarter. Equity investors with 5% or greater stakes are also required to disclose that information to the agency in either an activist Schedule 13D or passive Schedule 13G filing.
But Campos argues that four-times-a-year public disclosure of short sell positions isn’t enough. He wants to see a requirement that hedge funds and other short sellers disclose their positions publicly more quickly after stakes are made, perhaps as fast as two weeks after each position is taken.
Among the temporary regulations put into place in the fall is a requirement for confidential weekly disclosure of short positions to the agency.
According to the rule, investors with $100 million or more in capital must disclose on a weekly basis to the agency their short positions. However, these investors only must provide that position information to the agency on a confidential basis. The expiration date for the provision was extended in October to Aug. 1 of 2009.
Short seller critics argue that public disclosure will mean their proprietary strategies will be disclosed, enabling rivals to copy their approach. Campos said the delay in public disclosure is intended to protect some proprietary strategies, but that there should be some parity with equity disclosure requirements.
Other ways to rein in short selling
In addition to disclosure, securities attorneys and academics discussed other mechanisms that the SEC could impose that could reign in short selling at an event hosted by the Coalition Against Market Manipulation in Washington.
Participants argued that the agency needs stronger rules limiting illegal naked short selling, the practice of selling shares without arranging to borrow the securities up-front.
The SEC in September adopted rules requiring short sellers and their broker dealers to deliver securities within three days of a trade. Participating investors who fail to arrange to borrow shares in advance are prohibited from making future short sales in the same securities.
But securities attorneys at the event argued that there are too many qualifiers on the naked short selling rule.
Rex Staples, general counsel for the North American Securities Administrator’s Association Inc., said there is a “reasonable” qualification on the delivery requirement. “To the extent you can qualify a word like reasonable, you are going to get that time after time,” said Rex Staples, general counsel for the North American Securities Administrator’s Association Inc.
Former SEC chairman Harvey Pitt, who participated in the discussion agreed that the SEC should eliminate ambiguity when it comes to the agency’s naked short selling provision. The agency should also take steps to enforce the rules.
“The agency must make it extremely clear that any naked short selling is illegal and it has to remove the ambiguities so the rules are very clear,” Pitt said.
Participants also debated bringing back the so-called up-tick rule, a regulation removed last year that allowed short sales only if a preceding trade boosted a company’s stock price.
Georgetown Finance professor James Angel said he wants to see an up-tick rule that would take effect when a stock has fallen 5%. He also sought additional prohibitions when a stock price falls 10% and 15%. Staples argued that the SEC should bring back the same up-tick rule it eliminated in 2007. “It is very helpful in times of financial turmoil,” Staples said.
The biggest bankruptcy in history might have been avoided if Wall Street had been prevented from practicing one of its darkest arts.
As Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. struggled to survive last year, as many as 32.8 million shares in the company were sold and not delivered to buyers on time as of Sept. 11, according to data compiled by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg. That was a more than 57-fold increase over the prior year’s peak of 567,518 failed trades on July 30.
The SEC has linked such so-called fails-to-deliver to naked short selling, a strategy that can be used to manipulate markets. A fail-to-deliver is a trade that doesn’t settle within three days.
“We had another word for this in Brooklyn,” said Harvey Pitt, a former SEC chairman. “The word was ‘fraud.’”
In addition to these articles, please note that naked short selling has been implicated in the hobbling of the US financial system by The American Bankers’ Association (12), the US Chamber of Commerce (123 ), the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, and Lehman, politicians John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Ron Paul and numerous other congressional representatives, the Chairman of the SEC, the Secretary of the Treasury, and so on and so forth.
STEP #3 OF 3: THE CURRENT WIKIPEDIA PAGE ON NAKED SHORT SELLING OMITS EVERYTHING YOU JUST READ, AND YOU ARE FORBIDDEN FROM FIXING IT
At “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit” it is as forbidden to add information such as that contained in the preceding articles as it would be to sell Adam Smith’s works on the streets of Pyongyang. Instead, right at this second, the Wikipedia page on Naked Short Selling sticks to a thoroughly-discredited two-year out-of-date Party Line that holds that experts think naked short selling is not a problem (or even exists) and the mass media agrees with the experts. Much of the page is written in gibberish apparently intended to make it more difficult for a lay person to confront (which is unusual for Wikipedia). And unique among the millions of Wikipedia articles, it cannot be fixed or updated to reflect any of the information cited exhaustively above.
That’s right. Notwithstanding thousands of articles such as the ones cited above, the current Wikipedia article on naked short selling insists that experts believe that it is not a problem. No mention is made of hearings, statements by economists and SEC Chairmen, emergency federal actions and emergency meetings of regulators from the G-20 to stop the world financial system from implding, etc.
Instead, the tone is set by this quote:
“While concern expressed by the regulator has been echoed by journalists, some commentators contend that naked short selling is not harmful and that its prevalence has been exaggerated by corporate officials seeking to blame external forces for their own shortcomings. Others have discussed naked short selling as a confusing or bizarre form of trading.”
That is, in a 54-word statement about a “concern”, precisely 11 words vaguely describe the existence of the “concern” and 43 say that there is no concern. This, though space is allocated to describe results from two off-topic studies from 2007 (one on failures in the IPO market, the other on the Canadian market):
A study of trading in initial public offerings by two SEC staff economists, published in April 2007, found that excessive numbers of fails to deliver were not correlated with naked short selling. The authors of the study said that while the findings in the paper specifically concern IPO trading, “The results presented in this paper also inform a public debate surrounding the role of short selling and fails to deliver in price formation.”
An April 2007 study conducted for Canadian market regulators by Market Regulation Services Inc. found that fails to deliver securities were not a significant problem on the Canadian market, that “less than 6% of fails resulting from the sale of a security involved short sales” and that “fails involving short sales are projected to account for only 0.07% of total short sales.”
Again, notwithstanding the thousands of articles such as the ones I cited above, the current Wikipedia page maintains that the mass media agrees that naked short selling is not a problem:
Reviewing the SEC’s July 2008 emergency order, Barron’s said in an editorial: “Rather than fixing any of the real problems with the agency and its mission, Cox and his fellow commissioners waved a newspaper and swatted the imaginary fly of naked short-selling. It made a big noise, but there’s no dead bug.” Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal said the order was “an exercise in symbolic confidence-building” and that naked shorting involved echnical concerns except for subscribers to a “devil theory”. The Economist said the SEC had “picked the wrong target”, mentioning a study by Arturo Bris of the Swiss International Institute for Management Development who found that trading in the 19 financial stocks became less efficient. The Washington Post expressed approval of the SEC’s decision to address a “frenetic shadow world of postponed promises, borrowed time, obscured paperwork and nail-biting price-watching, usually compressed into a few high-tension days swirling around the decline of a company.” The Los Angeles Times called the practice of naked short selling “hard to defend,” and stated that it was past time the SEC became active in addressing market manipulation.
The Wall Street Journal said in an editorial in July 2008 that “the Beltway is shooting the messenger by questioning the price-setting mechanisms for barrels of oil and shares of stock.” But it said the emergency order to bar naked short selling “won’t do much harm,” and said “Critics might say it’s a solution to a nonproblem, but the SEC doesn’t claim to be solving a problem. The Commission’s move is intended to prevent even the possibility that an unscrupulous short seller could drive down the shares of a financial firm with a flood of sell orders that aren’t backed by an actual ability to deliver the shares to buyers.”
The Wikipedia page engages in such pettifoggery as: “However, the SEC has disclaimed the existence of counterfeit shares and stated that naked short selling would not increase a company’s outstanding shares” (true only in the narrow technical sense that the SEC does not consider that which is increased by naked short selling to be “outstanding shares”: by the same token, the National Transportation Safety Board could claim that there are no plane crashes because the NTSB considers anything which crashes to no longer be a plane).
And so on and so forth. You will find such gibberish on the naked short selling article on Wikipedia, but what you will not find is any of the information presented in the articles cited in Step #2. It is forbidden to enter that information into Wikipedia.
THE TEST: ARE YOU FORBIDDEN FROM UPDATING WIKIPEDIA WITH THIS INFORMATION?
I know that to many this can be a maddeningly complicated issue, and it may not be easy to know who or what to believe. So I propose that you, the reader, conduct an easy, simple test, using the articles cited above. You can do it in about 2 minutes:
Log on to Wikipedia (if you do not have an account you can create one in seconds);
Attempt to edit it with any information regarding events, data, or quotes from any of the articles cited above.
You will find that it is forbidden for you to add any information, data, or quotes from those numerous articles, or to correct any of the glaring omissions and laughable spin of the current article. If you try, your additions will be removed nearly instantaneously. In fact, you may find yourself banned from Wikipedia while all proof that you even made an edit disappears.
On “The encyclopedia that anyone can edit”, a resource that updates in seconds at the passing of a celebrity or the gaffe of a politician, you will find that you cannot insert quotes on this one topic, even when those quotes come from SEC Chairmen, economists, presidential candidates, Congressmen and Senators, G-20 regulators, and Wall Street leaders, even when those quotes appeared months or years ago in The Economist, Reuters, DowJones, Associated Press, or Bloomberg.
Two million English-language articles work by one set of rules, but this article on a grave financial crime turns out to run on a secret set of rules.
And that, dear reader, is the stutter-stepping black cat that should wake you to the synthetic reality you inhabit.
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 financialmarkets.
Soon after, I beganto 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.
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.
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.”
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 eventsin 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
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).
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.
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, butwerecertainly the largest funders of John Mulheren.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, theLA Times reporter was nearly killed when two men in a black Mercedes tried to run her over.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 hadGenovese 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.
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).
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.
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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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” – byunsavory 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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While an examination of the recently-unsealed products of discovery in the Fairfax Financial (NYSE:FFH) vs. SAC Capital, el al, lawsuit reveals the extensive involvement of most all the usual players — both in the world of hedge funds and business journalism — one name, mostly unknown to those outside Fairfax circles, appears quite prominently: John Hempton of Sydney, Australia.
Hempton, it appears, conceived of and initially orchestrated the entire Fairfax fiasco. At the time, he was a senior analyst at Australia’s Platinum Asset Management hedge fund. Last year he left Platinum to join Global Value Investors, though on May 15 of this year, Hempton started a blog and began calling himself semi-retired; leading me to presume that some time in early May, Hempton and GIV parted ways.
Though possibly mere coincidence, Herb Greenberg abandoned his MarketWatch gig on May 1, 2008 while Bethany McLean announced her departure from Fortune three days later. Greenberg and McLean, as it turns out, both play notable roles in the apparent Hempton-inspired conspiracy.
A reading of Hempton’s early efforts to win converts to his thesis that Fairfax was a ticking time bomb waiting to implode suggests his conclusions were based on what he viewed as sound principles; he really was convinced, and composed multiple, lengthy missives outlining his reasoning. I suspect Hempton’s mistake was then convincing some of the worst people on Wall Street, whose methods fill the pages of this blog, and whose influence probably turned his project from a speculative to a criminal enterprise, dragging Hempton down with it.
That’s not to say that any of this absolves Hempton of blame.
For one, a 2002 email sent to Rocker Partners employee Monty Montgomery makes it clear that Hempton is prominent stock message board poster Brolgaboy (and brolgaboy1 on Yahoo Finance).
I asked Hempton to comment on or clarify this email, but he refused.
Between them, these accounts have many hundreds of posts on Yahoo Finance, to say nothing of the hundreds more posted to several other boards.
Here’s where I really begin to lose patience with John Hempton.
On August 15, 2005, Hempton created and began posting taunting messages under the name mr_byrnes_sith_lord. This was three days after DeepCapture.com contributor and Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne announced a lawsuit against Gradient Analytics and Rocker Partners hedge fund for conspiring to get rich by destroying his company. At that time, Byrne further announced that he had evidence of a central figure — whom Byrne metaphorically compared to the shadowy “Sith Lord” of the Star Wars series — coordinating these attacks in ways nobody had previously considered possible.
Also on August 15, 2005, Hempton created the Sith Lord blog, which he further used, over the space of two months, to deride Byrne for claiming that short-selling hedge funds might operate in a coordinated way to destroy public companies.
In case you’ve missed it, the extreme irony here is that at least initially, in the case of the attack on Fairfax Financial, Hempton himself filled a version of the very role he attacked Byrne for daring to claim exists.
More than just irony, this, my friends, is a perfect example hubris as defined by the ancient Greeks: an act of extreme pride and arrogance that humiliates the victim, and ultimately the perpetrator as well.
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In the adult novelty & video arcade shop that is our New York financial establishment, one of the mop-and-spooge-bucket boys is Roddy Boyd, formerly of the New York Post (for folks who move their lips when they read Entertainment Weekly), and currently, of Fortune Magazine (also known as “People Magazine for Capitalists”). I have met Roddy on occasion, and a more seedy and furtive character would be difficult to name. Many years ago I knew a one-eyed Chinese guy named “Chaney” who ran a Bangkok pawn shop/mail-drop who was (it was rumored) working for Taiwanese, Chinese, and Soviet intelligence, simultaneously, but by appearances anyway, Chaney was a model of probity and fair-dealing when compared to Mr. Boyd.
Admittance into Roddy’s New York financial journalism spooge-bucket-brigade is conditional upon acceptance of The Fundamental Principle and First Corollary of that august fraternity:
The Fundamental Principle – Hedge funds can do no wrong, particularly if they belong to a small constellation whose brightest lights are Stevie Cohen, Dan Loeb, David Einhorn, Jim Chanos, David Rocker & Marc Cohodes.
The First Corollary - If any corporation or individual appears to have been wronged by activities of any of these hedge funds, using methods up to and including stock counterfeiting and manipulation, blackmail, harassment, and intimidation, use of private eyes and internal moles, inciting endless and expensive investigations that go nowhere, and so on and so forth, it must only be because they deserved it (for proof, see The Fundamental Principle).
Today Fortune Magazine’s Roddy Boyd gives fine illustration of these rules in an article on Copper River Partners (née Rocker Partners). This is the same Copper River/Rocker Partners whose exploits are chronicled throughout DeepCapture, and who have been frequent beneficiaries of reportorial lotion-jobs from Roddy, Karen Richardson (WSJ), Herb Greenberg (CBSMarketWatch), Joe Nocera (New York Times), and Jim Cramer (CNBC & TheStreet.com), and have been long-time recipients of Bethany McLean’s highly-regarded regulars-only service. (Full disclosure: Copper River is also on the business end of a Marin County lawsuit filed by Overstock.com, in which I played modest role.)
In today’s think-piece, Roddy treats us to such insights as:
“But for noted short-sellers Copper River Management, a $1 billion hedge fund based in Larkspur, Cal., the month turned into a perfect storm. A devastating combination of counter-party failure, sudden regulatory edicts and margin calls conspired to turn the fund’s performance on its ear, leading to a 55% loss in just two weeks.” Translation: In the last two weeks Copper River lost over half of its billion dollars, though not through any fault of its own. Instead, counter-party failure, regulators, and those pesky margin calls “conspired” to create “a perfect storm” that lost the half-billion dollars.
In case the point was lost that none of this had to do with the quality of Copper River’s investments, Roddy Boyd writes it out. He really does, in those words: “What’s worse for Copper River is that the battering had nothing to do with the quality of its investments.”
We are treated to a bit of financial arcana: “On top of that, as Lehman unwound its own internal hedges to the Copper River trades, its trading desks bought shares of these companies, driving up their prices and leading to losses for Copper River.” Translation: Lehman sold puts to Copper River that Lehman then hedged by shorting stock (most likely in abuse of the option market-maker exception), and when Lehman covered those shorts it hurt Copper River, whose investment strategy assumed an environment where shorts rarely need cover (and understandably so). As far as Roddy Boyd is concerned, the possibility that a short might “cover” (that is, “at some point obtain and deliver that which they have sold”) and thereby cause loss to a favored hedge fund has “nothing to do with the quality of its investments.”
As though that litany of impositions were not harrowing enough, Roddy chronicles further injustices suffered by Copper River: “That was bad enough, but on September 19, the bottom fell out for the fund. That was when the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered unprecedented restrictions in short sales” (as our nation’s financial system was imploding). And further, “As prices in those stocks shot upwards, Copper River was forced to cover – or buy back – some of its positions at steep losses. “ This is intolerable: how could a hedge fund such as Copper River make money if it has to deliver what it sells?
And lastly, this chestnut: “The rising stock prices also led to a series of margin calls (demands for additional cash collateral to be deposited in a margin account) from Goldman Sachs, Copper River’s prime broker.” I’m with Roddy on this one: it’s damn inconsiderate of Goldman Sachs to insist that Copper River have funds to back its play.
But perhaps I am too hard on Roddy. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing will ever be made,” said Kant. A gal moves to the big city, gets behind, does things of which she is not proud. Molded are we all of imperfect clay.
But normally, she doesn’t write home about it.
It’s just Roddy’s ill fortune to have to perform these acts in national print.