The SAC Capital Advisors insider-trading scandal has inspired an episode of the fictional television program “Person of Interest.” The show features a plotline that was probably taken from recent media headlines about SAC Capital, but we might humbly suggest that the show instead feature a plotline that DeepCapture published more than three years ago.
The CBS crime drama told the tale of insider-trading at a hedge fund called “VAC Capital,” a clear reference to SAC Capital, and just as the real SAC trader Mathew Martoma has been accused of earning for SAC Capital a massive sum ($276 million) from trading on tips about Alzheimer’s drug trials that he received from a University of Michigan professor, so too does the VAC trader turn a massive profit (inflated to $500 million for the purposes of television titillation) from an inside tip. However, readers of DeepCapture might recall that the full (true) story is a lot worse than just that.
In 2009, DeepCapture published a book-length story (“Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and The Story of Dendreon”) demonstrating that Milken had worked with “captured” doctors to derail FDA approval for a promising cancer treatment while promoting less-than promising treatments from which they stood to profit. That story also demonstrated that there was a high probability that a small group of hedge funds, including SAC Capital, had not just traded on inside information about the FDA’s decisions, but had perpetrated manipulative short selling attacks on the stock of the company, Dendreon, that was manufacturing the promising cancer treatment.
I am no TV producer, but it seems to me that Wall Street miscreants trying to destroy companies with promising medical treatments (i.e. killing people, which is exactly what they are doing) is better television than miscreants merely “making a killing” on inside information. Or maybe not. It could be that the old narrative of Gordon Gecko, the greedy but charming rogue scoring the big bucks from his clever reading of inside information, is what people want to see on their TV screens—not the far uglier truth. Even the major U.S. news organizations seem intent upon portraying SAC Capital’s insider traders not as destructive miscreants, but as basically harmless rogues, perhaps even worthy of our respect and admiration.
During the three years while hedge funds were attacking Dendreon’s stock price and Milken was successfully scheming with FDA doctors to derail Dendreon’s cancer treatment (more specifically, a treatment for prostate cancer), more than 60,000 men who would have benefited from that treatment instead died before their time. In fact, Wall Street miscreants nearly destroyed Dendreon, but thanks largely to citizen activists (and not the media) who exposed the corruption that led to the FDA initially denying approval to Dendreon’s cancer treatment, the FDA did (albeit three years too late) finally approve the drug–so maybe it was a Hollywood ending, after all.
Either way, Wall Street miscreants are attacking many other companies with promising medical treatments…and nobody (aside from a few citizen activists) is watching.
It’s been a long time coming, but the guys with guns and badges might soon be slapping handcuffs on some of Wall Street’s most destructive miscreants. According to a report posted over the weekend on The Wall Street Journal’s webpage, “Federal authorities are preparing insider-trading charges that could ensnare consultants, investment bankers, hedge-fund and mutual-fund traders and analysts across the nation…”
The New York Times on Sunday followed up with its own report, quoting Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, who bemoaned “the lengths to which corrupt insiders will go to misuse confidential information for their own personal gain.” As the Times noted, the rhetoric is reminiscent of the 1980s, when the Feds busted the massive stock manipulation and insider trading ring led by the famous financial criminal Michael Milken – and, indeed, it might not be a coincidence that this weekend’s announcement of imminent indictments came exactly 20 years after Milken was sentenced to prison.
The names of some of the hedge funds mentioned in the press as likely DOJ targets – hedge funds like SAC Capital and Ziff Brothers – will be completely familiar to readers of DeepCapture.com. In fact, this website was founded in large part to expose the depredations of precisely this network – a network that has its origins (at least to some extent) in the criminal enterprise that Michael Milken built in the 1980s.
As we have long explained, this network not only regularly trades on inside information, it has pioneered new variations of the practice by, for example, manufacturing information (often false) which they can front-run in the market, employing abusive (and likely illegal) short selling techniques to manipulate the stock of public companies; and “capturing” some of the institutions this nation relies upon to curtail such behavior.
Most notable among these institutions are the financial press (large swaths of which have grown inappropriately close to precisely this network of hedge fund managers), and the SEC, which has not only failed in its regulatory duties, but has often assisted the hedge funds’ schemes by launching misguided (and go-nowhere) investigations of the companies the hedge funds have targeted, and providing the hedge funds with confidential information about those investigations. All of this has been thoroughly documented within the pages of Deep Capture.
It was more than five years ago that Overstock.com CEO and future Deep Capture founder Patrick Byrne first gave a famous public conference call that he dubbed “The Miscreants Ball”. With more than 500 Wall Street executives and a few journalists listening in, Patrick outlined the existence of a “network” of miscreant hedge funds and “independent” financial analysts that he said was using underhanded methods to trade on privileged information and do serious damage to the financial markets.
In “The Story of Deep Capture”, we sought to explain the origins of the Deep Capture project by telling the tale of our extensive (and at times, arguably over-the-top) investigation of this network of hedge funds – a network that included SAC Capital (whose founder, Steven Cohen, was investigated by the SEC in the 1980s for trading on inside information given to him by Milken’s shop at Drexel, Burnham), Ziff Brothers, and others. This story was (I admit) exceedingly long – it demanded its readers’ patience – but it provided plenty of detail of how the network operates.
Among the tactics we cited in that story was the use of so-called “independent” experts – experts who had been hired by hedge funds to ferret out inside information about companies targeted by the hedge funds, or to badmouth companies the hedge funds were selling short. It now appears that the Feds have themselves independently discovered how these “expert networks” actually operate and, as a result, some of these “experts” seem to be looking at possible jail time.
Another tactic we detailed at length was the use of supposedly “independent” financial research shops, such as Gradient Analytics, which were, in fact, in the business of publishing spurious reports for the benefit of their hedge fund clients, which would obtain the reports before they were made public and place trades that would profit from the effect that the reports would have on stock prices. Over and over again we noted how the false information in these reports ended up regurgitated in stories written by a small clique of journalists who appeared to have developed exceedingly close relationships to a small circle of hedge funds, and had come to depend on the hedge funds’ bogus analysis to the exclusion of all dissenting views.
The journalists (some of whom worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, whose editors must have swallowed hard before publishing this weekend’s stories announcing the imminent indictments) had, like the SEC, been “captured” by the hedge fund managers.
Some of these journalists even went to lengths to cover up the hedge funds’ shenanigans, insisting all along that their favorite hedge fund managers were innocent of any crime – indeed, insisting that the hedge fund managers were heroes and the smartest people on Wall Street. (The hedge fund managers were clever, to be sure, but apparently not clever enough to avoid becoming targets of what now appears to be the biggest criminal investigation in the history of Wall Street.).
In January 2009, in a story titled “Hedge Funds Reading Tomorrow’s Headlines Today”, Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley provided indisputable evidence that SAC Capital, Ziff Brothers, and some of the network’s other major figures, such as James Chanos of Kynikos Associates, received advance copies, and traded ahead of bogus financial research produced by Morgan Keegan, a supposedly “independent” research shop that was, in fact, working for those same hedge funds.
Even after this evidence was posted for all to see, the press continued to use these hedge fund managers as sources, and never once cast doubts as to whether they really were wholesome geniuses who deserved the final say on the health of public companies. Meanwhile, James Chanos, who heads a hedge fund lobby, could be found regularly roaming the halls of the SEC, where he successfully convinced regulators to flinch from enforcing the rules against manipulative trading that he and his associates were skirting.
Some time ago, Deep Capture published another treatise titled “Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and The Story of Dendreon.” In this book-length story (which might, indeed, have been the longest blog post ever published), we provided excruciating detail about the lengths that the Milken network of hedge funds – including SAC Capital – went to obtain (and manufacture) inside information about biotech companies.
We noted in that story that the hedge funds and Michael Milken apparently even managed to “capture” doctors working for the Food and Drug Administration – prominent doctors who abandoned their duty to the public and served the interest of the most destructive network of financial operators in America. And we explained in that story that the hedge funds did not just trade on inside information, they also deployed their information advantage and abusive short selling to hobble public companies that were developing medicines that could have saved lives.
During the many years that Deep Capture has sought to expose these miscreants, we have struggled with our despair – our belief that the system might be so thoroughly corrupted that justice would never see the light of day. In our view, the DOJ officials and FBI agents who are now going after this network of hedge funds deserve medals. They are “public servants” in the true meaning of the phrase.
If the indictments are indeed imminent, they are proof that there are some officials who will do what is right for the country in the face of great pressure — pressure from the media, which insisted on defending the hedge funds, and from an immensely powerful hedge fund lobby that had a lot of regulators and politicians on its side.
And make no mistake: the hedge funds that the Feds are targeting are not just “insider traders” – a term that makes it seem as if they are nothing more than outsized versions of Martha Stewart. These hedge funds’ tactics have damaged the integrity of the markets. And they have hobbled – perhaps even destroyed – countless public companies. They even helped bring about our current economic troubles.
Indeed, it might not be a coincidence that the hedge funds named as likely to be facing indictments – SAC Capital, Citadel, Ziff Brothers, and others in their network – are the same hedge funds that attacked Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, the collapse of which contributed mightily to market cataclysm of 2008.
Bear Stearns executives reported seeing the managers of SAC Capital and Ziff Brothers celebrating the demise of that bank at a special breakfast meeting days after its collapse. The creditors of Lehman Brothers are suing some of these same hedge funds — SAC Capital, Och-Ziff (run by Dirk Ziff, also of Ziff Brothers) and Citadel – because they seem to be the most likely suspects in the illegal short selling and rumor mongering that helped topple or almost topple, not just Lehman, but multiple other pillars of the American economy.
Yes, make no mistake – these hedge funds are not just small-time insider traders. I do not even think it is a huge stretch to say that some of these hedge funds are a threat to the security of our nation.
As it happens, it is on this subject – the threat that some traders pose to national security – that Deep Capture is now on the verge of publishing an immensely long and detailed piece of research. For now I will refrain from revealing too much of the article’s contents except to alert you that it includes excruciating detail about this Milken network, shocking facts about some traders who are dangerous in every sense of the word, and a tremendous amount of information regarding some singularly ruthless organized crime groups and people tied to the world’s most violent terrorist outfits.
Incidentally, I feel it only prudent to mention that, on the remote chance that anything happened to interrupt the serialization of this piece on DeepCapture (say, for example, a power failure), then arrangements have been made for it to receive immediate publication, in full, in a way that would reach 20 million people, instantly. In addition, the whole package is already in the hands of some politicians who care. Lastly, over the last couple of years I constructed a Doomsday Machine (and of course, there’s no point in having a Doomsday Machine if you keep it a secret). The reader who gets but a few pages into it will understand why I make this cautionary mention.
We will begin publishing this new story as a series in a few weeks. We apologize to our regular readers for not updating the Deep Capture site regularly during recent months. And we thank our readers for having the patience to wade through our previous stories, and for staying tuned for what will be by far our longest and most comprehensive story to date.
A blog published by the University of North Carolina School of Journalism reported recently that Steve Cohen of hedge fund SAC Capital managed to kill a story by Reuters reporter Matt Goldstein. It seems that Goldstein was going to shed some light on allegations that Cohen engaged in insider trading. Cohen didn’t like that, and got in touch with Goldstein’s superiors.
It remains unclear how Cohen convinced Goldstein’s superiors to shelve their journalistic ethics, but it is not surprising that he succeeded. After all, Cohen is “the most powerful trader on the Street.” He is also part of a network of closely affiliated hedge fund managers that for many years all but dictated much of what was published by the New York financial press.
Three years ago, while working for the Columbia Journalism Review, a magazine affiliated with Columbia University’s school of journalism in New York, I began investigating this network of hedge funds. I worked for many months on this story, and compiled evidence that the hedge fund managers, including Steve Cohen, had developed extremely odd relationships with small number of dishonest journalists.
This evidence gradually convinced me that the hedge funds and journalists not only routinely worked together to disseminate false information about public companies, but also set out to cover up the serious crime of market manipulation via naked short selling.
As I was preparing to publish this story, a hedge fund called Kingsford Capital donated a large sum of money to the Columbia Journalism Review. Indeed, it was made clear to me that my salary would be paid directly from Kingsford’s donation.
I have made this abundantly clear in various stories that I have since written for Deep Capture, but new evidence confirms that Kingsford is tied directly to Steve Cohen’s network of hedge funds and shady journalists – that is, the very network that I was planning to expose in the Columbia Journalism Review when Kingsford announced that it would henceforth be paying my salary.
I left the Columbia Journalism Review soon after Kingsford announced its “donation.” It is possible that my editors would have done the right thing and published my story had I remained. However, I have no doubt that Kingsford Capital’s “donation” stemmed not from some newfound dedication to the field of media criticism, but was intended as a means of acquiring leverage over the Columbia Journalism Review.
Moreover, new information suggests that Kingsford’s financial inducements might have persuaded other journalists to cover up short seller crimes.
This is a scandal of rather significant proportions, so let’s review the evidence, old and new.
While at Columbia, a key focus of my investigation was a financial research shop called Gradient Analytics. Former Gradient employees had testified under oath that short selling hedge funds – especially Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital and Rocker Partners – wrote and traded ahead of Gradient’s false, negative reports on public companies. Former employees of Gradient also said that journalist Herb Greenberg, then of CNBC and MarketWatch.com, timed his false, negative stories, which were based on Gradient research, so that Rocker could profit from the effect those stories had on stock prices.
In the course of investigating SAC Capital and Rocker, I was taking a close look at the bear raid on a company called Fairfax Financial (NYSE:FFH). As we have since shown in numerous Deep Capture reports, Rocker, SAC Capital and a few closely affiliated hedge funds – including Jim Chanos’s Kynikos Capital, and Dan Loeb’s Third Point Capital – conspired to destroy Fairfax. As part of this ultimately unsuccessful attack, the hedge funds attempted to cut off Fairfax’s access to credit. They traded ahead of false financial research that had been written with their cooperation. And they hired a thug named Spyro Contogouris to harass and threaten Fairfax executives.
Emails obtained from discovery in a lawsuit filed by Fairfax Financial (NYSE:FFH) show that Kingsford Capital, the hedge fund that donated money to pay my salary at the Columbia, is directly tied to Steve Cohen, Rocker Partners and the other hedge funds that were attacking Fairfax at the time of my investigation. In one email, from Kingsford manager David Scially to Rocker Partners employee Russell Lyne, the subject line reads: “http://www.spyrocontogouris.com” – a reference to the website of the above-mentioned thug, Spyro Contogouris. The contents of the email is redacted, so it is difficult to know what was discussed, but it is safe to assume that Kingsford and Rocker were communicating about the attack on Fairfax.
It has also come to my attention that Kingsford Capital at one time employed the above-mentioned thug, Spyro Contogouris. Two weeks after Kingsford agreed to “donate” money to the Columbia Journalism Review, the FBI arrested Contogouris as part of an investigation into this same network of hedge funds.
Another target of my investigation was TheStreet.com (NASDAQ:TSCM). Although some good journalists work for that publication, a review of hundreds of stories and numerous bear raids made it clear to me that TheStreet.com had been founded partly to serve the financial interests of select short selling hedge funds, including Rocker Partners, which was then TheStreet.com’s largest shareholder (apart from founder Jim Cramer). Over the course of my investigation, I closely examined the journalism of TheStreet.com’s five founding editors. It was clear that these five journalists had routinely disseminated false information that served the interests of their short selling sources, including Rocker Partners and SAC Capital.
Four of the five founding editors of TheStreet.com were as follows:
1) Jim Cramer, famously of CNBC;
2) David Kansas, then of the Wall Street Journal;
3) Herb Greenberg, the CNBC and MarketWatch reporter mentioned above, said to be conspiring with Rocker and Gradient Analytics;
4) Jon Markman, then running a hedge fund out of the offices of the above mentioned Gradient Analytics. (Markman has since gone on the record saying that hedge funds pay journalists to write false stories.)
The fifth founding editor of TheStreet.com was Cory Johnson. In 2006, Cory Johnson was a manager of Kingsford Capital, the hedge fund that donated money to pay my salary at the Columbia Journalism Review, right before I was to publish a story exposing the five founding editors of TheStreet.com and the hedge funds in their network. After I published my first Deep Capture story raising questions about Kingsford’s donation to the Columbia Journalism Review, Johnson removed all references to Kingsford from his online profiles at LinkedIn.com and other social networking sights.
Another focus of my investigation at Columbia was a hedge fund manager named Jim Carruthers. Patrick Byrne, in his capacity as CEO of Overstock.com, had recently sued Rocker Partners and given a famous conference call presentation in which he described the shenanigans of Rocker and affiliated hedge funds. During this presentation, Patrick stated that he had been informed that Carruthers had been posing as a private investigator as part of the network’s efforts to smear public companies. An email obtained in the Fairfax discovery, written by an employee of the above-mentioned Third Point Capital, and addressed to the above-mentioned Dan Loeb, states: “Jim Carruthers (ex Eastbourne partner, Scially friend, etc.) would like to come up and meet with you…It would be well worth your time.” In other words, Scially, the Kingsford Capital manager, was on good terms with both Carruthers and Loeb, at the time that Kingsford announced that it would be paying the salary of the journalist (me) who was seeking to expose Carruthers, Loeb, and the rest of their network.
Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley has obtained a list of people whom Kingsford Capital manager David Scially invited to be his “friends” on Facebook, the social networking site. Among Scially’s Facebook friends were Rocker Partners’ managing partner, and three of this managing partners’ family members. Several bloggers, such as Gary Weiss (more on him below), have written that Judd’s Facebook list is a Nixonesque “enemies list” dreamed up by Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, when in fact Byrne was not involved in its creation, most of the people on the list have nothing whatsoever to do with Overstock.com, and it was not “dreamed up”, but merely documents cold facts (bilateral Facebook friendships) that are in fact public. When considered alongside the emails and other evidence, the Facebook revelation is excellent evidence that Scially is close to Rocker Partners – close enough to invite the managing partner and much of his family to be his internet pals. That is big news – a clear motive for Kingsford Capital to begin paying my salary right before I was going to publish strong evidence that Rocker Partners and others in its network were dirty players.
Scially’s Facebook friends also include the above-mentioned Dan Loeb, accused of conspiring with Rocker Partners in the attack on Fairfax; David Einhorn, a hedge fund manager whom I was investigating because he consistently attacks public companies in cahoots with Loeb and others in the network; and Dan Colarusso, a journalist I was investigating because he had vowed to use “barrels of ink” to “crush” Patrick Byrne, who was famously crusading against naked short sellers and this same network of miscreant hedge fund managers. (Patrick is now a Deep Capture reporter.) This additional Facebook information is clear evidence that Kingsford Capital is part of the network I was investigating when Kingsford Capital “donated” money to the Columbia Journalism Review.
Another target of my investigation at CJR was a journalist named Gary Weiss. Weiss, a former reporter for BusinessWeek magazine is flat-out corrupt. It is a disgrace to the profession of journalism that he is still working. While at BusinessWeek, he published stories fed to him by Kingsford Capital while deliberately covering up illegal naked short selling by Kingsford’s then business partner. Since then, Weiss has been caught anonymously authoring blogs that spew lies about people he considers to be his enemies. He has been caught anonymously authoring blogs in which he effusively praises himself — Gary Weiss. He has denied that he authored the blogs about himself despite all evidence to the contrary. He was caught shilling for the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. (an outfit at the center of the naked short selling scandal) while posing as a journalist. He was caught lying about his shilling. He was caught lying and denying when he was caught controlling the Wikipedia entry on naked short selling. He has lied repeatedly in his blogs about Deep Capture reporters Patrick Byrne and Judd Bagley. He has lied about me – for example, stating that I was fired from the Columbia Journalism Review. He has continued to lie and cover up the crime of naked short selling. He has lied and covered up crimes committed by people tied to the Mafia. And the common denominator of all this lying has been to boost the profits of short selling hedge fund managers, such as his pals at Kingsford Capital, which “donated” a lot money to the Columbia Journalism Review shortly before I was going to publish a story exposing Gary Weiss and his hedge fund friends. (For complete evidence of Gary Weiss’s lying, and his ties to Kingsford Capital, please search through Deep Capture’s archives. We have published extensively on the subject).
Another target of my investigation at CJR was a hedge fund manager named Manuel Asensio, who is tied closely to Gary Weiss. Asensio previously worked for First Hanover, a brokerage tied to the Mafia. He is a self-confessed naked short seller and has been fined for naked short selling infractions. He was also once a business partner of Kingsford Capital. That is to say, Kingsford and Asensio contractually agreed to attack public companies together. I think it’s safe to say that Asensio was close to Kingsford Capital at the time that Kingsford Capital delivered a bundle of money the Columbia Journalism Review.
Another focus of my investigation at CJR was the appalling bear raid on a collectibles company called Escala (NASDAQ:ESCL). Not only was Escala the victim of massive amounts of illegal naked short selling, but a hedge fund convinced the Spanish government that Escala’s parent company, based in Madrid, was fleecing investors in philatelic collectibles. The Spanish government closed the parent company, Afinsa, but not a single executive of the company has since been prosecuted for any crime. Former clients of Afinsa are now petitioning the Spanish government, claiming that the closure was a gross miscarriage of justice. For the full story, I encourage you to visit a website (www.gregmanning.me) put together by Escala’s former CEO. This website provides evidence that the hedge fund at the center of the bear raid on Escala – the hedge fund behind the Spanish government’s decision to close Afinsa — was none other than Kingsford Capital, which donated a bundle of money to the Columbia Journalism Review while I was busy trying to figure out which hedge fund was at the center of the bear raid on Escala.
While I was working on my story for the Columbia Journalism Review, a reporter named Justin Hibbard was working on a similar story for BusinessWeek magazine. I have reviewed emails between Hibbard and one of his sources. These emails clearly show that Hibbard had received evidence that various companies had been clobbered by illegal naked short selling. The emails suggest that Hibbard was investigating ties between journalists and naked short sellers, and that he had interviewed the above-mentioned Herb Greenberg. But for some reason, Hibbard’s story was killed. It never appeared in BusinessWeek. Shortly after Hibbard’s story was killed, Hibbard had a new job – working as consultant to Kingsford Capital.
After I wrote my first story raising questions about Kingsford’s “donation” to the Columbia Journalism Review, Hibbard erased all mention of Kingsford from his profiles on LinkedIn.com and other social networking sites. In a phone interview, Hibbard told me that he “preferred not to discuss” his relationship with Kingsford. When I asked what happened to his BusinessWeek story about naked short selling and corrupt journalists, he said that he had never worked on any such story. When I told him I had evidence to the contrary, he said he might have done some initial research on naked short selling, but he never finished the story. Currently, Hibbard works as a private investigator catering to the needs of short sellers and other “activist” investors. In an interview with an online publication, he said he serves hedge funds by “covertly” observing executives of public companies, taking photos of the executives with a spy camera, staking out offices, using multiple cars to trail the executives, etc. I assume Kingsford Capital is one of his clients.
My successor at the Columbia Journalism Review is now referred to as the “Kingsford Capital Fellow.” He has written several stories arguing that the above-mentioned Gradient Analytics is innocent, despite massive amounts of evidence to the contrary. He has written that short sellers are swell and good sources for journalists (glossing over the distinction between short selling and abusive short selling, just as a child molester would gloss over the distinction between sex and pedophilia). He has criticized a 60 Minutes television news expose on Gradient and Steve Cohen of SAC Capital. He has criticized Bloomberg News for writing that criminal naked short sellers helped take down Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. And he has portrayed the corrupt Gary Weiss as a respectable reporter. I don’t mean to suggest that the “Kingsford Capital Fellow” is dishonest, but I predict he will not write about journalists who have been corrupted by Kingsford Capital’s network of hedge fund managers.
To summarize, a particularly nasty network of hedge fund managers and criminals use underhanded tactics to influence the press. We have a money trail, multiple motives, and plenty of other reasons to believe that this network got to the Columbia Journalism Review, which is the only watchdog there is to keep the press honest.
My most recent post, showing emails suggesting an instance of insider trading on the parts of short-selling hedge funds SAC Capital, Kynikos Associates and Third Point Partners, included a brief appearance by a fellow named Jeff Perry.
As with all those included on these emails, I had to do some research to determine the role each played for their respective employers at the time the emails were sent. For most, this was easy. But for Jeff Perry, it was difficult. That’s because since 2002, when the emails were originally sent, Perry has worked for SAC, Third Point, and Kynikos.
So, not only do these supposedly fierce competitors share and profit from inside information, they also share employees.
The sender of possibly the most damning of the highlighted emails was, at the time, SAC portfolio manager Forrest Fontana, who, with the help of a SAC investment of $50-million, left to start his own hedge fund, Fontana Capital, in 2005. However, despite a very strong start, Cohen suddenly pulled his money out of Fontana Capital in 2007, leaving the firm far out of the money and, according to Reuters, hardly a hedge fund at all these days.
And this brings us to another interesting phenomenon, recently examined by financial blogger and author Lila Rajiva: the startlingly high mortality rate of SAC-sponsored spin-off hedge funds. As Lila notes, the consistently poor performance of Cohen’s anointed proteges — often a result of Cohen’s inconsistent support of them — contrasted with the strong showing of one fund launched by former SAC traders who left under a cloud, is a little suspicious…as though maybe these satellite SACs weren’t supposed to succeed.
Here are Lila’s observations on the matter:
1. The high number of SAC traders who seem to have gone off into their own businesses.
You’d think with all that money and the fund’s record as the most consistently successful in the business (only one bad year on record), their traders would stay forever. Quite the opposite. People seem to have been leaving all the time to form their own businesses.
But SAC was also said to be a very tough environment. You produced, or you left.
So maybe that’s why Lee and Far, Grodin and Goodman, all left to found their own firms?
Could be. But I’m not convinced.
2. None of the spin-off firms seems to have been very successful.
Why not? Why couldn’t these hot-shot traders make money on their own?
The Reuters piece suggests that perhaps the SAC experience didn’t foster business ability. And that perhaps SAC traders flounder without SAC’s huge supporting cast.
But those things are likely to be true of other firms as well, not solely SAC.
Still not convinced.
Furthermore, consider this.
3. A spin-off fund that didn’t get money from Cohen ended up quite successful:
“Healthcor, a healthcare industry focused fund, had raised $3.2 billion by June 2009 since launching four years ago. The fund returned 25 percent in 2006, 18 percent in 2007, and was up 4 percent last year, when the average hedge fund lost 19 percent. In the first 10 months of 2009, Healthcor was up 7 percent.
Healthcor, founded by Arthur Cohen and Joseph Healey, opened without any financial support from SAC. In fact, soon after Cohen and Healey struck out on their own, SAC sued the pair, accusing them of breaching their employment contracts. The matter ultimately was settled. (Healthcor’s Cohen is not related to SAC’s Cohen).”
4. Even spin-offs that were doing well were shut down.
When Stratix started in 2004, it had $60 million given to it by SAC. When it shut down, in 2007, it was up 17% and had $530 million under management. Yet it shut down. Why did it shut down? Those numbers sound pretty good.
Another spin-off, Fontana Capital, started out in 2005 with $50 million of SAC money. It grew to $325 million by 2006. But sometime in 2007, Cohen pulled out all his money. And in 2009, Fontana was down to $16.1 million, despite being down only 7.69%, compared to the average S&P Financial index loss of 57%. Again, that sounds like it wasn’t doing all that bad.
Reuters quotes someone familiar with the record of ex-SAC traders:
“So many of the ex-SAC people seem to have this model where they attract you with fantastic returns in the first year but in year two or three or four you get annihilated,” said a person who is familiar with several former SAC employees’ records.
Shades of Bernie Madoff….
Someone need to look closely at what happened to the money at these firms…
Within minutes of my introduction to the world of short selling hedge funds, I encountered the analogy that remains the best suited to describe the truth to which they subscribe: Bizarro World.
A planet that appears from time to time in the DC Comics universe, Bizarro World is noteworthy for its utter opposition to everything associated with reality on Earth (in fact, another name for Bizarro World is Htrae – “Earth” spelled backwards).
Bizarro World made very infrequent appearances in the DC Comics universe; however what few insights we’ve been able to gain have been telling.
For one, we know that the residents of Bizarro World adhere to a simple moral code: “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!”
For another, consistent with its black-is-white nature, the alpha-superhero of Bizarro World – a Superman-like figure appropriately named ‘Bizarro’ – is in fact a super villain, and one of many.
Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately, the Bizarro World of short selling hedge funds sits side-by-side with our own. Yet, true insights into how it actually operates have been startlingly rare.
Possibly the best behind-the-curtains view came in December of 2006, with Jim Cramer’s infamous admission as to how short selling hedge funds do (and indeed, according to Cramer, “must”) operate, moving the Bizarro World citizenship of that group from theory to undeniable fact.
See for yourself:
Cramer: “You can’t foment. You can’t create yourself an impression that a stock’s down. But you do it anyway because the SEC doesn’t understand it. So that’s the only sense that I would say that it’s illegal.”
Bizarro translation: “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us can break law to make money because regulator not understand regulations!”
Cramer: “Look what people can do. I mean that’s a fabulous thing! The great thing about the [stock] market is that is has nothing to do with the actual stocks. Look, over maybe two weeks from now the buyers will come to their senses and realize everything they heard was a lie…”
Bizarro translation: “Us hate beauty! Us pervert capital markets to make them hostile to small, promising businesses and technologies! Us stock market has nothing to do with actual stocks!”
Cramer: “These are all what’s really going on under the market that you don’t see. What’s important when you’re in that hedge fund mode is to not do anything remotely truthful – because the truth is so against your view, that it’s important to create a new truth to develop a fiction.”
Bizarro translation: “Us love ugliness! Us hate truth! Us prefer fiction!”
Cramer: “I think that it’s important for people to recognize the way that the market really works is to have that nexus of ‘hit the brokerage houses with a series of orders that can push it down’, then leak it to the press, and then get it on CNBC (that’s also very important), and then you have kind of a vicious cycle down. It’s a pretty good game.”
Bizarro translation: “Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World! Us make money by wrecking public companies! And here on Bizarro World, Jim Cramer not even pretend to be friend of small investor! Oh yeah…CNBC official network of Bizarro World!”
(Lest any suppose these clips have been taken out of context, I strongly encourage everybody to download and view the 10 minute conversation in its entirety.)
On Bizarro World, villains are treated like celebrities while the law-abiding are scorned and ostracized. So it should come as no surprise that on CNBC (the official network of Bizarro World), short selling hedge fund managers are called “titans” while those who question them are dismissed with a wink and a smirk.
Of course, this would seem consistent with the seemingly inverted reality that is short selling, where – as opposed to traditional investors who earn profits when they buy low and later sell high – shorts aspire to do the same by first selling high and then buying low.
While on the surface short selling might appear to have been invented on Bizarro World, that’s not true. Shorting is (as has been stated time and again on this blog) a healthy part of a normal market.
What was invented on Bizarro World, however, is shorting’s insidious doppelganger: naked short selling, which is a practice ripped straight from the Bizarro World welcome guide. Unlike legitimate short selling, which requires first borrowing the shares one sells short, naked shorting skips that step, allowing criminals to sell not only something they do not own, but something that does not even exist, except as a tradable electronic ledger entry which they themselves conspire with corrupt brokerages to create.
This, in turn has the effect of artificially increasing the supply of a company’s shares. In other words, on Earth, only companies get to issue stock, whereas on Bizarro World, it’s the naked short sellers that issue shares of a company’s stock, with impunity, sometimes in quantities rivaling the number of legitimate, company-issued shares in circulation (with the expected impact on share price).
Or, should I say, naked short sellers used to be able to do this.
Based on insiders’ insights into forthcoming letters to investors explaining their performance over the first and second quarters of 2009, Herbst-Bayliss predicts that “To anyone considering hedge fund investments in the coming months, the data will illustrate that these managers who cashed in on last year’s financial markets crash now rank as the $1.4 trillion hedge fund industry’s worst performers.”
Specifically, Herbst-Bayliss notes, “In the first six months of 2009 [short selling hedge funds] lost 9.38 percent, compared with the 9.55 percent that other hedge funds gained.”
Most notably, the story quotes Brad Alford, a professional hedge fund advisor and investor, who says, “Every few years short-sellers have their day in the sun. Then things revert to normal where the markets rise and life becomes so difficult for them that many just go out of business,” he added.
In case you missed it, you might want to re-read Alford’s quote to make sure you catch what makes it so telling: that a rising market can be bad for short sellers.
But how can that be, given the recently-ended bull market – possibly the greatest in economic history – saw short selling hedge funds such as SAC Capital, Kynikos Associates and Third Point Capital experience mind-boggling growth, while a month-long rise in what is otherwise shaping up to be one of the greatest bear markets in economic history (when the shorts should be thriving) may prove to be their ultimate doom?
Talk about Bizarro World investing!
The difference, I suspect, is naked short selling: a crutch-like tool that allowed the shorts to defy gravity while the market soared, the effective removal of which has left them atrophied and uncoordinated when forced to fend for themselves in a market where capable, legitimate short sellers should thrive.
Blue vs. Green Kryptonite: Click to see full image
Or maybe a more apt metaphor is that of Kryptonite, the green version of which makes Superman weak and Bizarro strong, while the blue version has the opposite effect. For a long time, a captured media and SEC equipped short selling hedge funds with a big, fat slab of green Kryptonite, which their own hubris has caused to be replaced by a bit of the Bizarro-toxic blue stuff.
Will July of 2009 be the short sellers’ Waterloo?
Will short selling hedge funds’ greed simply assume another form?
Will the economy recover before it’s too late to matter?
Find out what happens in the next episode of Deep Capture!
Where we left off, we had learned that on March 29, 2007, an FDA advisory panel had overwhelmingly voted to approve Provenge, a prostate cancer vaccine developed by Dendreon. As a result, most financial analysts and investors believed that Dendreon had a promising future. However, ten hedge funds (out of a universe of 11,500 hedge funds) held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), suggesting they expected that Dendreon would be derailed. At least seven of those hedge funds can be tied to Michael Milken or his close associates.
We had also learned that Milken himself stood to profit if Dendreon were to experience problems receiving FDA approval. This is because Milken was the early financier and principal deal maker for ProQuest Investments, a fund that (along with an affiliate) controlled a company called Novacea, which was one of Dendreon’s competitors in the race to produce a new treatment for prostate cancer. Meanwhile, Lindsay Rosenwald (a Milken crony who once helped run a Mafia-linked brokerage called D.H. Blair, which specialized in pumping and dumping fake biotech companies) controlled Cougar Biotechnology, which was Dendreon’s second competitor in the race to develop a treatment for prostate cancer. And hedge funds affiliated with Milken or his close associates were heavily invested in Cell Genesys, which was Dendreon’s third competitor.
We had learned further that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation supported Novacea, Cougar and Cell Genesys. The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s support for these companies preceded announcements that they had signed massive deals with large pharmaceutical companies. In the cases of Novacea and Cell Genesys, those deals were soon cancelled on the news that their treatments were ineffective, and the companies’ investors quickly dumped their stock. This fact, combined with other evidence, suggests that the Prostate Cancer Foundation was supporting what amounted to sophisticated “pump and dump” schemes.
Meanwhile, the Prostate Cancer Foundation snubbed its nose at Dendreon. And in April, 2007, Dr. Howard Scher, who was an executive and director of Milken’s investment fund, ProQuest, and the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Therapeutic Consortium”, spearheaded an unprecedented lobbying effort to convince the FDA to reject Dendreon’s treatment – the first time in history that the FDA had gone against an advisory panel’s recommendation to approve a drug for terminally ill patients. This lobbying effort had the support of government officials who have ties to Michael Milken.
In the days before and after the lobbying effort, Dendreon was trashed by a few captured journalists – most notably, CNBC’s Jim Cramer — and was also subjected to a blistering attack by naked short sellers who illegally flooded the market with millions of phantom shares to help drive down the company’s stock price. This criminal naked short selling continued intermittently for much of the next two years, while the SEC did nothing, and while other events conspired to hobble Dendreon, a company that had completed multiple clinical trials that strongly indicated that its product, Provenge, was capable of lengthening the lives of tens of thousands of men with prostate cancer.
Amazingly, the SEC will not reveal the names of the naked short sellers. As it says on its website, to release information about (illegal) naked short selling would be to reveal the (criminal) hedge funds’ “proprietary trading strategies.”
* * * * * * * *
When Dendreon’s FDA application was derailed simultaneously with a naked short selling attack that flooded the market with tens of millions of phantom shares, Dendreon’s supporters went berserk. They sent the government hundreds of letters complaining about the naked short selling and the apparent machinations of Michael Milken’s associates. After that, all but one of the ten hedge fund managers ceased to own “put options” in Dendreon.
However, the naked short selling continued pretty much unabated for two years. And in April 2009, Dendreon was once again on the SEC’s “Reg Sho” list of companies whose stock was “failing to deliver” in excessive quantities. Dendreon stayed on that list even after the company’s CEO announced that results of an Independent Monitoring Committee study of 500 patients were “unambiguous in nature…a clear hit” for Provenge.
After the CEO’s announcement, Dendreon’s stock, which had been as low as $4 weeks earlier, rose to the mid-20s. Then, on April 28, 2009, just hours before Dendreon was to present this “unambiguous” data to an all-important meeting of the American Urological Association, the now legendary Yahoo! message board post appeared, warning of a “BEAR RAID” that was to occur at precisely 12:30pm Central time. Right on cue, Dendreon’s stock tanked 65% in matter of 75 seconds (to $7), within minutes of the moment predicted by that message.
Within hours after that amazing crash, Nasdaq announced that it had investigated the matter and decided to let the trades stand. This was quite remarkable, given that it would have been impossible for the exchange to determine the identity of that message board poster and sort through the trading data in such a short period of time. It is all the more remarkable considering that this “BEAR RAID” was most likely the work of naked short selling criminals.
At any rate, it is likely that short sellers, recognizing that it was now going to be more difficult to prevent Dendreon from getting FDA approval, used the opportunity of that sharp price drop to cover their short positions. Some short sellers might also have used the opportunity to buy shares, hoping to cash in on the bonanza that was to follow. After the “BEAR RAID,” Dendreon’s stock price quickly rose above $27.
The night after the “BEAR RAID”, CNBC’s Jim Cramer (who has begun a “crusade” against the crime of naked short selling in an effort to distance himself from his previous efforts to cover up the crime of naked short selling) said “I’m not qualified to talk about Dendreon.” This was just two weeks after Cramer had screamed that Dendreon had no chance of receiving FDA approval. Now, he was no longer commenting on Dendreon’s chances, but he noted, “I am a big believer in taking profits when I see a short squeeze. So I am going to recommend taking profits.”
Some people clearly did take profits. After Cramer’s comment, the stock started to fall, and by May 8, it was at $19. Then the buying started again. Quite possibly, some of the hedge funds that had been short selling Dendreon used the dip to $19 to purchase still more Dendreon shares. After May 8, the stock rose back up to around $25, which is approximately where it remains today. When SEC filings for this period are in, it will be interesting to see which hedge funds bought shares.
But it will remain impossible to know who the criminal short sellers were. As far as the SEC is concerned, that is a big secret – “proprietary trading strategies.”
* * * * * * * *
After Dendreon reported its data to the American Urological Association –data that showed almost precisely what the data showed two years earlier (that is, that Provenge was safe, and that it lengthened survival times while greatly improving the quality of life for end-stage prostate cancer patients who would otherwise be subjected to the misery of chemotherapy) — Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation, which had long shunned Dendreon while Milken’s allies maneuvered to derail it, finally concluded that it was time to say something positive about Provenge.
“The PCF is delighted to see evidence of increased patient survival from Provenge,” the Milken “philanthropic” foundation said in a press release. “We share the analysis of Dr. Philip Kantoff, a leader in the PCF Clinical Therapy Consortium…and a principal investigator of the Provenge Phase III clinical study. The results validate 16 years of modern research to harness a patient’s own immune system to fight their prostate cancer and prolong their lives…”
The Prostate Cancer Foundation continued: “The PCF first provided funding to Dr. Eric Small…to support clinical research around measuring immune responses in patients treated with Provenge…”
In other words, Milken’s “philanthropy” hadn’t spent two years ignoring, and in some cases trying to quash Dendreon’s treatment. In fact, the Prostate Cancer Foundation had supported Dendreon all along!
This is nonsense. What the Prostate Cancer Foundation did not mention is that Dr. Philip Kantoff, the physician mentioned in the press release, was on the advisory board of Cougar Biotechnology, the company that Milken’s “philanthropic” foundation was promoting as a better alternative to Dendreon. Moreover, Dr. Kantoff was one of the few physicians to publicly cast doubts on Provenge. He was never able to say that Provenge did not work, but when talking to the press at the time of the FDA advisory panel meeting in 2007, he was dismissive, or at least confused.
“I didn’t think [Provenge] had a snowball’s chance in hell of working,” Dr. Kantoff told Forbes magazine’s Matthew Herper, the journalist who went to lengths to argue against FDA approval. “I’m still skeptical, but I think there’s something going on here.” Kantoff suggested that Provenge could be a “slam dunk,” but maybe the trial size was too small. Left unmentioned was the fact the FDA had regularly approved treatments for dying patients when relatively small trials had shown such stunning results.
As for Dr. Small, he too was on the advisory board of Cougar Biotechnology. The Prostate Cancer Foundation did indeed give him funding to measure immune responses in patients treated with Provenge, but it is not at all clear that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit was keen to see Dr. Small’s study yield positive results. When the study did yield positive results, Dr. Scher, the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s Therapeutic Consortium (referred to in the above press release as the “Clinical Therapy Consortium”), spun them as negative results.
In his letter to the FDA (the one that quickly and mysteriously ended up in the hands of The Cancer Letter), Dr. Scher quoted Dr. Small as saying the following: “In summary, this study suggests that while sipuleucel-T fell short of demonstrating a statistically significant difference in TTP, it may provide a survival advantage to asymptomatic [prostate cancer] patients.” Dr. Small had not written the word “may” in italics. That was Dr. Scher’s improvisation, part of his effort to convince the world that absolute “proof” of efficacy was needed for FDA approval.
As both Dr. Small and Dr. Scher knew, the “gold standard” for physicians, and the federally mandated standard for drug approval, is “survival” — “substantial evidence” that a treatment may help patients live longer. Perhaps Dr. Small felt constrained in challenging Dr. Scher’s misuse of his study. Perhaps he also felt uncomfortable about joining Dr. Scher, who was, after all, the powerful chairman of Milken’s Therapeutic Consortium, at the meeting of the FDA advisory panel that voted on Provenge in March 2007.
Dr. Small was supposed to speak on behalf of Provenge at that panel. Perhaps this concerned the folks at the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Either way, Dr. Small was a no-show at the panel that day.
He apologized – something about a hitch in his travel plans.
* * * * * * * *
In May 2009, while Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation was rewriting history, Milken’s hedge fund crony, Steve Cohen, who was one of those seven hedge fund managers who had bet big against Dendreon after the advisory panel meeting in 2007, reached out to Care-to-Live, the grass-roots organization that had done so much to highlight the connections among Milken’s “philanthropy,” Milken’s investments, and Dendreon’s travails
On May 19, one of Care-to-Live’s founders received an email from an employee of CR Intrinsic Investors, which is one of Steve Cohen’s hedge funds. “I’m an investor in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and I’m interested in understanding the patients perspective on Provenge and any other therapies in development…,” the email began. “Would you or someone from Care-to-Live be available speak with me…? I have spoken to a number of academic thought leaders, but I’d like to better understand what the patients want…”
And by the way, “I’m happy to provide compensation for time spent speaking with me if that is of interest.”
Milken-affiliated hedge funds already have analysts and journalists regurgitating their party line on command. They also have doctors on the payroll. Might as well put the troublemakers on the payroll, too.
* * * * * * * *
Or perhaps Cohen is genuinely thinking about investing in Dendreon. Perhaps he already has. The intentions of this network remain a matter of some speculation.
Much of this speculation focuses on Dmitry Balyasny, the Russian “whiz kid.” As recently as March of this year, when they filed their last SEC documents, Balyasny’s hedge fund, Visium, held around 900,000 call options in Dendreon. Simultaneously, the hedge fund owned 860,000 put options. It is possible that Balyasny and his associate, Jacob Gottleib, were implementing a split-strike pricing strategy – selling out of the money calls and buying out of the money puts. The effect is to create a large synthetic short position.
SEC documents show that during much of the past two years, Balyasny’s funds also owned large numbers of Dendreon shares. These could have been shares that they bought to cover short positions. Or it could be that they owned shares to gather proxy votes and put pressure on Dendreon’s management to act in ways that might not be good for the company.
Dendreon’s latest Schedule 14-A, filed on April 30, showed that Balyasny (remember, Balyasny’s other fund was previously one of the seven hedge funds with large bets against Dendreon) had become one of Dendreon’s largest shareholders, with a 5.5% stake in the company. Another major shareholder was Capital Ventures International, the unit of Susquehanna that did the PIPEs deal with Dendreon. Meanwhile, Joseph Edelman, the hedge fund manager who was employed in 2007 by Lindsay Rosenwald, formerly of the Mafia-connected D.H. Blair, has bought at least 2 million Dendreon shares.
In addition to those purchases, many of the Milken network hedge funds that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds now have the capability to convert, so they, too, might soon count themselves among Dendreon’s largest shareholders. Altogether, this network may already control (or have the ability to convert into control of) as much as 30% of the company.
It is possible that this network is planning to seize control of Dendreon by stealth. This was the modus operandi of the Milken network in the 1980s. As most every book on Milken recounts, affiliated investors (some combination of Milken, Ivan Boesky, Carl Icahn, Princeton-Newport, John Mulheren, and others) would each buy, say, 4.9% or 9.8% of a company without declaring themselves to be affiliated investors. In some cases, Milken would “park” stock (e.g. Princeton would secretly buy stock on Milken’s behalf) in order to conceal that he had any ownership at all.
By secretly holding large blocks of shares, the network was able to acquire controlling stakes while bypassing regulatory requirements to declare such positions. Besides putting them in a position to manipulate prices, Milken and friends then put pressure on companies’ managements by quietly letting it be known that they had, as a group, a controlling number of proxy votes.
If Milken’s friends come to control Dendreon, Milken’s “philanthropic” foundation will no doubt continue to articulate its new position of being “delighted” that the data shows that Dendreon’s treatment is safe and effective (which is the same thing the data showed two years and 60,000 American deaths ago). And if the Milken network takes over Dendreon, perhaps Michael Milken will, in the name of “philanthropy,” convince his government minions to grant approval to Provenge, so that it can be administered to the patients who so desperately need it.
But that should not cause us to ignore the ordeal that Dendreon has endured during these past few years. And we should demand an end to a status quo which lets Wall Street miscreants, cheats, and manipulators (and not free markets) decide which companies survive unmolested, and which will be crippled or killed off entirely.
But it is not surprising that criminals see fit to maim public companies.
Consider that it is impossible to buy life insurance on another person’s life. The legal principle has developed that one can only insure something in which one has “an insurable interest.” But imagine that this were not the case. Imagine if it were possible for people to buy insurance on other people’s lives. One can see that there might evolve a type of criminal who would buy life insurance on the lives of others, and then arrange for those people to die.
One can even imagine that, as society wised up to this practice of buying life insurance and then manipulating outcomes, such criminals would evolve new tactics towards the same end. For example, the criminals might target newborn babies in hospitals, because babies are vulnerable, and it would be difficult for anyone to know for certain whether they were dying naturally, or as a result of criminals manipulating outcomes.
One could even imagine that the most sophisticated of these criminals would come to target newborn babies who were already sick, because manipulating their medical outcomes in order to cause their deaths would leave the slightest statistical footprint possible.
In our society one cannot buy life insurance on another person, but one can buy “life insurance” on a company: that is, one can make a bet that a company will fail, and collect on that bet when the company dies. It is the contention of Deep Capture that there are criminals who take out life insurance policies against companies, and then manipulate their outcomes so as to collect on those policies.
And just as we can understand the logic of criminals focusing on newborn babies, so too can we understand why the financial criminals have learned to focus on small, early-stage public companies. And to extend the morbid metaphor one last step: just as the criminals might focus on newborns who are already sick, because their outcomes are already in the most doubt (making the criminal manipulations hardest to spot), so too have the financial criminals learned to focus not just on early-stage public companies, but on early stage public companies working in the field of biotechnology.
That is because in biotechnology the difficulties in valuing a company are at their greatest. There is often little to no revenue. The idea behind the company may be nothing more than the theory of a scientist. No one knows whether it will work. If it works, no one knows how long it will take to prove that it works. And even if it can be proven to work, no one knows how long it will take to clear all the legal and regulatory hurdles it will face. Such companies are favored targets for manipulators because it is easy to manipulate the truth when no one knows the truth, and whatever truth there is lies behind so many veils.
In the case of Dendreon , the truth was hard to miss. It was more than a company with a blockbuster treatment. It was the first company in decades to develop a medicine that could truly revolutionize the way that doctors treat cancer. The company had gathered its data, and the data was conclusive (to a 95% confidence level): Provenge was safe and effective. A panel of experts assembled by the FDA had declared that the treatment should be approved.
So when naked short sellers attacked, and the treatment was derailed, it was obvious that there had been foul play. Hundreds of concerned citizens took it upon themselves to investigate, and document, the footprints of the miscreants. As a result we have been able to present a highly discernible, if admittedly imperfect, picture of their trail.
But we must ask: How many other small biotech companies have been victimized in less obvious ways? How many companies were like the babies in our morbid metaphor — snuffed out before they could demonstrate their potential; killed by criminal naked short sellers and their captured accomplices (journalists, regulators, doctors) who successfully pled innocence, saying the companies died because they were sick or weak? And how many of those murdered companies, weak or not, had medicines that could eventually have improved health and saved lives?
Our morbid metaphor, you see, is not entirely metaphor. Real people have died.
In answer to the question of how many people have died, we know only from the data that abusive and illegal short selling has affected many hundreds of small biotech companies with all manner of medicines. We know that the vast majority of those companies are now gone, and that some number of them, if left to the rigours of the market, but not to the whims of criminal short sellers, would have one day delivered their medicines to patients.
But, of course, we do not know who the criminal short sellers are. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, that is a big secret – “proprietary trading strategies.”
* * * * * * * *
Note: The original draft of this story incorrectly stated that BAM Capital was affiliated with Dmitry Balyasny’s Balyasny Asset Management. Having mistaken BAM Capital with Balyasny’s fund, I aslo suggested in the original draft of this story that Balyasny had aquired more than ten percent of Dendreon’s shares in the Spring of 2009. This was incorrect. Balyasny’s Visium hedge fund had aquired 5.5% of Dendreon’s shares. I regret the error.
Where we left off, we had learned that on March 29, 2007, an FDA advisory panel overwhelmingly voted to approve Provenge, a vaccine that Dendreon had developed for prostate cancer. As a result, most financial analysts and investors believed that Dendreon had a promising future. However, ten hedge funds (out of a universe of 11,500 hedge funds) held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), suggesting they expected that Dendreon would be derailed. At least seven of those hedge funds can be tied to Michael Milken or his close associates.
We had also learned that Milken himself stood to profit if Dendreon were to experience unexpected problems receiving FDA approval. This is because Milken was the early financier and principal deal maker for ProQuest Investments, a fund that (along with an affiliate) controlled a company called Novacea, which was one of Dendreon’s competitors in the race to produce a new treatment for prostate cancer. Meanwhile, Lindsay Rosenwald (a Milken crony who once helped run a Mafia-linked brokerage called D.H. Blair, which specialized in pumping and dumping fake biotech companies) controlled Cougar Biotechnology, which was Dendreon’s second competitor in the race to develop a treatment for prostate cancer. And hedge funds affiliated with Milken or his close associates were also heavily invested in Cell Genesys, which was Dendreon’s third competitor.
We had learned further that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which appears to act in concert with Milken’s investment fund, ProQuest, had supported Novacea, Cougar and Cell Genesys. The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s support for these companies preceded announcements that they had signed massive deals with large pharmaceutical companies. In the cases of Novacea and Cell Genesys, those deals were soon cancelled on the news that their treatments were ineffective, and the companies’ investors quickly dumped their stock. This fact, combined with other evidence, suggests that the Prostate Cancer Foundation was supporting what amounted to sophisticated “pump and dump” schemes.
Meanwhile, the Prostate Cancer Foundation snubbed its nose at Dendreon. And in April, 2007, Dr. Howard Scher, who was an executive and director of ProQuest, and the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Therapeutic Consortium”, spearheaded an unprecedented lobbying effort to convince the FDA to reject Dendreon’s treatment – the first time in history that the FDA had gone against an advisory panel’s recommendation to approve a drug for terminally ill patients. This lobbying effort had the support of government officials who have ties to Michael Milken.
In the days before and after the lobbying effort, Dendreon was trashed by a few captured journalists – most notably, CNBC’s Jim Cramer — and was also subjected to a blistering attack by naked short sellers who illegally flooded the market with millions of phantom shares to help drive down the company’s stock price. This criminal naked short selling continued intermittently for much of the next two years, while other events conspired to hobble Dendreon, a company that had completed multiple clinical trials that strongly indicated that its product, Provenge, was capable of lengthening the lives of tens of thousands of men with prostate cancer…
* * * * * * * *
In July 2008, not long before Cell Genesys announced that its drug was killing people, CNBC’s Jim Cramer called Dendreon a “dog.” Cramer, of course, did not mention that the illegal naked short selling of Dendreon was continuing apace. Throughout that month, more than 1 million Dendreon shares “failed to deliver” every day, according to SEC data.
At the end of August 2008, after Cell Genesys announced that its drug was killing people, Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation posted a story that suggested that this failure was a sign that Dendreon could be in trouble, too. Clearly, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, whose top officials had done so much to derail Dendreon in 2007, were not eager to see the company’s treatment reach patients.
Not once did the Prostate Cancer Foundation note that the difference between Dendreon and the three companies promoted by the Prostate Cancer Foundation was that Dendreon had provided heaps of evidence that its treatment actually worked.
In October 2008, Dendreon released still more favorable data. Its Independent Monitoring Committee’s studies were showing (as had the company’s phase 3 trials in 2007) that Provenge was safe, and offered a significant survival advantage over a placebo.
Meanwhile our two favorite financial analysts – the singing Sendek and Jonathan Aschoff – continued to reiterate their sell ratings on Dendreon.
The attacks continued through March 2009, which is when we were treated to the reappearance of Matthew Herper, the Forbes reporter who had dismissed Dendreon during those strange occurrences in April 2007. Now, Herper published a story in which he made it clear that Dendreon’s treatment would not, and should not, be approved by the FDA.
In support of his claims, he cited the analysis of Dr. Thomas Fleming, one of the three people whose missives had ended up in the hands of The Cancer Letter. To show that Fleming (who is not a physician, but rather a statistician) was not the only “expert” opposed to Dendreon’s treatment, Herper cited several other “experts” – Susan Ellenberg, Donald Berry, and Janet Wittes – who had views that were remarkably similar to Fleming’s.
What Herper did not mention is that Susan Ellenberg had co-authored a book with Fleming, Janet Wittes was credited with editing that book, and that book enthusiastically cited the work of Donald Berry. Clearly, these “experts” had worked together to make sure that one message was whispered in Herper’s ear.
While Herper was working on his article, John Stewart of the “Daily Show” began exposing Jim Cramer as a fraud. This created quite a stir, and in the midst of it Cramer went on CNBC to tout none other than….Cougar Biotechnology, the company controlled by Lindsay Rosenwald, formerly of the Mafia-linked “pump and dump” shop D.H. Blair. Cramer said he thought Cougar was the next big thing in prostate cancer treatment, and everybody should load up on its stock.
Meanwhile, with Novacea and Cell Genesys killing people, Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit was now directing much of its energy to promoting the mostly untested treatment then being hawked by Cougar Biotechnology.
Cougar’s treatment “has recently attracted global media coverage,” began one Prostate Cancer Foundation press release, which described the treatment as “a promising experimental medication with the potential to treat patients who have failed conventional medical treatment for advanced prostate cancer…”
The press release continued: “The [Prostate Cancer Foundation] Therapeutic Clinical Investigation Consortium played an important role by accelerating US clinical testing of this new agent in Phase II clinical trials….In Phase 1 studies, [Cougar’s treatment] exhibited the potential to attenuate disease progression and shrink tumors.”
Actually, the studies were not quite so encouraging as Milken’s foundation would have one believe. Abiraterone had been tested on a total of 30 patients. These patients purportedly experienced declines in levels of “prostate specific antigen,” but this is a long way from demonstrating that Cougar’s treatment “attenuates disease” or “shrinks tumors.” As for that “potential to treat patients,” it will be at least two years before Cougar has enough data to submit an application for FDA approval.
For the sake of prostate cancer patients everywhere, Deep Capture hopes that Cougar’s drug proves to be successful. We wish merely to note the different reception the network of Milken cronies delivers to a drug like Provenge, whose supporting data is ample and overwhelmingly positive, versus the opinions the network expresses about a drug whose data is preliminary and inclusive, but whose investors hail from the Milken network.
We also wish to reiterate that Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation and people tied to Milken gave ringing endorsements to companies – Novacea, Cell Genesys, and Cougar Biotechnology – right before those companies entered into purportedly massive deals with major pharmaceutical companies. In the cases of Novacea and Cell Genesys, those massive deals were canceled soon after they were signed because the companies’ treatments were shown to be ineffective.
Yet, in all three cases, investors with ties to Milken or his close associates made large fortunes selling out their stock soon after the companies received over-the-top endorsements from the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Meanwhile, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, whose officials had played a key role in derailing Dendreon back in 2007, continued to snub its nose at Dendreon’s Provenge, the one treatment that could be safely and effectively administered to patients – right away.
* * * * * * * *
It is not clear if Milken himself was invested in Cougar, but Dr. Samuel Saks, who was a director on Cougar’s advisory board, was also a board member of Milken’s fund, ProQuest Investments. Three other members of Cougar’s advisory board were doctors affiliated with Milken’s “philanthropy,” the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
In addition to Rosenwald, the biggest investors in Cougar Biotechnology have included Millennium Management (the hedge fund that was co-founded by the guy who was going to murder Ivan Boesky, and later died of an early heart attack) and Visium Capital, which is co-owned by Dimitry Balyasny and Jacob Gottleib.
As noted, Millennium, Visium and Balyasny were also among the largest shareholders in Cell Genesys when the Prostate Cancer Foundation began promoting that company’s treatment, GVAX, in mass mailings and flyers handed out in front of shopping malls. Millennium’s manager and Dmitry Balyasny, meanwhile, were among the seven traders who were betting big against Dendreon in March 2007.
The few media stories about Balyasny make him seem like he is a “prominent” investor – and a poster boy for the American dream. Born in Russia, he came to America as a young man and soon started raking in the bucks as a “whiz kid” investor. In addition to Visium, Balyasny is the proprietor of Balyasny Asset Management. Some of Balyasny Asset Management’s employees – including, for a period of time, the fund’s chief risk officer — have come from SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by Milken crony Steve Cohen.
A great many of Balyasny’s other employees were hired from a hedge fund called Magnetar Capital. The senior partner and investment committee chairman of Magnetar is Michael S. Gross, who was previously a founding partner of Apollo Advisors, the investment fund run by Milken crony Leon Black.
As you will recall, Leon Black funded the new Milken “philanthropic” foundation that hired National Cancer Institute prostate cancer chief Alison Martin after she helped the chairman of Milken’s Therapeutic Consortium foil Dendreon’s FDA application. Leon Black is also a business partner of Felix Sater, the alleged Russian mobster who once stuck a broken stem of a wine glass through a stock broker’s face and then went on to run White Rock Partners, a Mafia-infested brokerage that was indicted for manipulating stock in cahoots with the above-mentioned Lindsay Rosenwald’s D.H. Blair.
Prior to starting his own hedge funds, Balyasny was the top trader at an outfit called Schonfeld Securities, the proprietor of which is a man named Steven Schonfeld. Prior to founding his firm, Schonfeld worked for Blinder Robinson (then known on the Street as “Blind’em and Rob’em”). Blinder Robinson was among the first firms to be shut down by the Feds when they began investigating a network of Mafia-linked brokerages that included Rosenwald’s D.H. Blair and Sater’s White Rock Capital.
Schonfeld worked at Blinder Robinson with Anthony Elgindy, the criminal naked short seller who was was later sentenced to prison for stock manipulation and bribing FBI officials. As you will recall, Elgindy appeared for his sentencing missing a finger – reportedly because the Russian Mafia forced him to saw it off, giving him something on which to meditate while he served his 11 years in jail. Meanwhile, the Elgindy investigation led the authorities to other hedge funds, such as Gryphon Partners, whose manager was later among the few who bet big against Dendreon.
As should be clear by now, it is significant that a preponderance of the hedge funds that bet big against Dendreon, and a preponderance of the hedge funds that were invested in the three Milken-promoted companies – Cell Genesys, Novacea, and Cougar Biotechnology – were part of the same network. And it is significant that much of this network seems to be centered on Michael Milken and Steve Cohen, who became the “most powerful trader on Wall Street” some years after he was investigated by the government for trading on inside information provided to him by Milken’s shop at Drexel Burnham.
Permit me to repeat a few facts: Cohen was once the top earner for Gruntal & Company, which was simultaneously employing several traders who were later tied to the Mafia. When Gruntal was indicted for embezzling millions of dollars, many of its former employees went on to fill the ranks of White Rock Capital, run by the alleged Russian mobster Felix Sater (he with the broken wine glass).
Cohen, meanwhile, had left to start his own hedge fund empire. Cohen’s hedge funds have helped pump stocks promoted by D.H. Blair, which was eventually indicted on 173 counts of securities fraud and implicated in a Mafia stock manipulation scheme that was orchestrated by White Rock Capital.
Lindsay Rosenwald, who is the son-in-law of D.H. Blair’s founder and a former top executive of D.H. Blair, was not only the controlling shareholder of Cougar Biotechnology, but also the proprietor of a hedge fund called Paramount Capital. The vice president of Paramount was formerly a top trader for Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital. The vice president of the above mentioned Millennium Management is also a former top trader of SAC Capital.
And Cohen, who is maniacal about his working relationships, is on close terms with Schonfeld Securities, run by the former employee of Blind’em and Rob’em. Cohen has employed Schonfeld’s traders, including Anthony Bassone, who was until recently assistant controller of SAC Capital; and Rob Cannon, who is Cohen’s top personal trader at SAC. Another “Russian whiz kid”, Michael Orlov, created the computerized trading infrastructure at both SAC and Schonfeld Securities. And, as mentioned, Cohen shares employees and trading strategies with that other “Russian whiz kid” — Dmitry Balyasny, who was once Schonfeld’s biggest earner.
All of which I mention only because I fancy myself a biographer of a particularly destructive network of Wall Street personalities. It may be of no significance that out of Planet Earth’s 11,500 hedge funds, there were only ten hedge funds with large numbers of Dendreon put options at the end of March, 2007. There may be no significance to the fact that of those ten hedge funds, seven were in the same network — Millennium Management; Balyasny Asset Management; WS Capital (the successor to Gryphon Partners); Perceptive Advisors (whose manager was simultaneously working for Paramount Capital); Bernard Madoff Investment Securities; Pequot Management; and SAC Capital (managed by Steve Cohen, who is said to be maniacal about maintaining working relationships with people in his network).
And it could be purely coincidence that these hedge funds were the largest holders of put options on Dendreon shares right at the time that Dendreon was getting clobbered by massive amounts of illegal naked short selling – and right before Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer was stymied by an unprecedented lobbying effort led by FDA-contracted doctors and government officials tied to Michael Milken.
By the way, three months later – at the end of June, 2007 — there was just one more hedge fund with large numbers of Dendreon put options. It is not clear from SEC filings whether these put options were bought before or after the FDA announced (on May 8, 2007) that it would not approve Dendreon’s treatment.
Either way, it is probably another coincidence that this eleventh hedge fund that bought large numbers of put options was the above-mentioned Magnetar Capital.
Where we left off, we had learned that on March 29, 2007, an FDA advisory panel overwhelmingly voted to approve Provenge, a vaccine Dendreon developed for prostate cancer. As a result, most financial analysts and investors believed that Dendreon had a promising future. However, ten hedge funds (out of a universe of 11,500 hedge funds) held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), suggesting they had expected that Dendreon would be derailed. At least seven of those hedge funds can be tied to Michael Milken or his close associates.
We had also learned that Milken himself stood to profit if Dendreon were to experience unexpected problems receiving FDA approval. This is because Milken was the early financier and principal deal maker for ProQuest Investments, a fund that (along with an affiliate) controlled a company called Novacea, which was one of Dendreon’s competitors in the race to produce a new treatment for prostate cancer. Meanwhile, Lindsay Rosenwald (a Milken crony who once helped run a Mafia-linked brokerage called D.H. Blair, which specialized in pumping and dumping fake biotech companies) controlled Cougar Biotechnology, which was Dendreon’s second competitor in the race to develop a treatment for prostate cancer.
We had learned further that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which appears to act in concert with Milken’s investment fund, ProQuest, had supported Novacea and Cougar, neither of which had shown that their treatments were safe or effective, while turning its back on Dendreon.
In addition, we had learned that in April, 2007, Dr. Howard Scher, who was an executive and director of ProQuest, and the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Therapeutic Consortium”, spearheaded an unprecedented lobbying effort to convince the FDA to deny approval to Dendreon’s treatment – the first time in history that the FDA had gone against an advisory panel’s recommendation to approve a drug destined for dying patients.
In the days before and after the lobbying effort, Dendreon was subjected to a blistering attack by naked short sellers who illegally flooded the market with millions of phantom shares to help drive down the company’s stock price. This criminal naked short selling continued intermittently for much of the next two years, while other events conspired to hobble Dendreon, a company that had completed multiple clinical trials that strongly suggested that its product, Provenge, was capable of lengthening the lives of thousands of men with prostate cancer….
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In December 2007, three U.S. Congressmen — Mike Michaud (D-Maine), Dan Burton (R-Indiana) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) — called on the House Commerce Committee to investigate why the FDA failed to approve Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer. Referring to Dr. Scher and his ally, Dr. Hussain, the lawmakers said in a letter that “there are reasons to believe that serious ethics rules were violated by two FDA advisory panel members in their decision [to vote and lobby against Dendreon] and that these violations played a role in the subsequent FDA decision not to approve Provenge at this time.”
A bipartisan group of 12 additional Congressmen eventually signed on to the request for an investigation. And in February 2008, as outrage over this scandal spread through the medical community, a group of seven respected doctors, calling themselves “Physicians for Provenge” wrote a letter to the ranking members of the House Commerce Committee, suggesting that the investigation should urgently proceed.
“Please consider why our colleagues and we KNOW that Provenge works and why tens of thousands of men with late stage prostate cancer should be given access to it,” the physicians wrote. Noting the “egregious conflicts of interest” of Dr. Scher and Dr. Hussain, the “Physicians for Provenge” added that the “FDA should be carefully assessing risk versus reward for the treatment of terminally ill patients, rather than ‘gate keeping’ based on outdated statistics, reducing short-term health costs or backroom shenanigans.”
Nonetheless, Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell denied the requests for an investigation. To justify this decision, Dingell wrote in a letter to the committee that an “investigative hearing prior to an agency’s final decision runs the risk of interfering with the normal regulatory process.”
Apparently, it was fine if FDA-contracted doctors and government officials tied to Michael Milken corrupted the normal regulatory process by obfuscating approval standards (“substantial evidence” versus “proof”) and by drafting unsolicited post-vote letters with back-channel help from a government employee who was weeks away from taking a new job created by Michael Milken. But investigating such improprieties would corrupt the regulatory process, in the eyes of Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell.
Dingell also pointed out that “a new law strengthening conflict of interest provisions now governs FDA panels.” Unfortunately, that law was passed in September 2007, some months after Milken’s conflicted allies derailed Dendreon’s application.
In any case, it is not clear that the old conflict of interest provisions were not violated in the Dendreon case. Dr. Scher received a conflict of interest waiver, but in his application for that waiver he did not mention his financial ties to Milken’s ProQuest Investments. There should have been an investigation into why that waiver was granted. And while he was at it, Representative Dingell should have investigated the illegal naked short selling of Dendreon and the “backroom shenanigans” of Milken’s captured officials at the FDA and the National Cancer Institute.
At any rate, while the congressional investigation was being stopped in its tracks, Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation was becoming more brazen.
In March 2008, for example, the Prostate Cancer Foundation sent out a peculiar mass mailing. Written by a cardiologist on Prostate Cancer Foundation letterhead, the mailing began, “I’ll never forget the day my 5-year-old son came home from school, worried. One of the other kids told him I was going to die.”
The letter went on to describe the horrors of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. So far, all kosher. But then came the strange part – the charity’s solicitation explicitly promoted a mostly untested experimental treatment that was being developed by a public company that was considered to be one of the few competitors to Dendreon. The treatment was called GVAX, and the company developing it was called Cell Genesys.
The author of the letter noted that during his treatment, he had “learned about some of the groundbreaking research projects supported by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, such as GVAX, a drug now in phase 3 clinical trials that boosts the immune system to fight off prostate cancer cells.”
Notice that the name of the drug – GVAX – was printed in boldface letters, so nobody could miss it. Notice, too, the underlining, which stressed that this treatment (as opposed to others, such as Dendreon’s) was endorsed and supported by the Prostate Cancer Foundation. And, finally, notice the unequivocal statement that GVAX works – that it “boosts the immune system” and is able to “fight off” cancer.
Lest there be any question that Milken was eager to promote GVAX, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, soon after, began distributing flyers at supermarkets and shopping malls with a similar message. “My 5-year-old didn’t want to lose his daddy,” read the flyers, which then proceeded to describe a “groundbreaking” new medicine – GVAX.
At the time, Cell Genesys was nowhere near bringing GVAX to market. It had just finished phase 2 clinical trials on a total of 65 patients. Lab results showed that GVAX might increase prostate cancer antibodies, but they did not show that the immune system was actually boosted in such a way as to better “fight off” cancer or improve survival. Phase 3 trials, which would determine whether GVAX actually improved the health of patients, had just begun.
But if you were an average Joe who read those flyers – or a wealthy Mary who received that solicitation in the mail – you’d be mighty convinced that Cell Genesys was the next big thing in cancer therapy. You might even be tempted to buy its stock.
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When Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation began distributing his fliers promoting GVAX, a number of hedge funds had accumulated large numbers of shares in Cell Genesys.
One of these was Millennium Management, the hedge fund that had been founded by the fellow who planned to murder Ivan Boesky when it seemed that Boesky might cooperate with the authorities in their case against Milken. Again, Millennium is one of those seven hedge funds that had the foresight to own put options in Dendreon back in March 2007, right before Dendreon’s treatment was unexpectedly scuttled by the FDA.
Another hedge fund with a big stake in Cell Genesys was Forest Investment Management, owned by Michael Boyd, the father of hedge fund shill Roddy Boyd, currently of Fortune Magazine. Michael Boyd, remember, had previously been involved in two big ventures – one with a former Milken colleague from Drexel Burnham; the other with Santo Maggio, the convicted criminal CEO of Refco Securities.
Hedge fund Perceptive Advisors also held a moderately large stake in Cell Genesys. Recall that Perceptive was then run by Joseph Edelman, who was not only another one of those seven hedge fund managers who held put options in Dendreon, but was also simultaneously serving as a trader for Paramount Capital.
As you might recall, the vice president of Paramount Capital was a former employee of Milken crony Steve Cohen, who was also one of those seven hedge fund managers betting big against Dendreon. The owner of Paramount, of course, is Lindsay Rosenwald, who used to run the Mafia-controlled D.H. Blair with Milken’s former national sales manager, and controlled Cougar Biotechnology, another Dendreon competitor promoted by the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Another big buyer of Cell Genesys shares was Mazama Capital, a hedge fund based in California. In December 2006, Mazama also owned 2.1 million shares of Dendreon. It dumped more than a million of those shares sometime before or immediately after the March advisory panel meeting, when it seemed certain that Dendreon would receive FDA approval.
Only one other hedge fund dumped similar quantities of Dendreon shares at that time. It was JL Advisors, which is controlled by the above-mentioned Steve Cohen. This dumping of shares contributed to the selling volume that was amplified by whoever was selling massive amounts of phantom stock in Dendreon.
Then there was Renaissance Technologies, which held 800,000 shares in Cell Genesys when Milken’s “philanthropy” began promoting the company. The CFO of Renaissance is James Rowen, who was previously the chief financial officer of SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by the above-mentioned Steve Cohen, who is known to be maniacal about making sure that his former employees remain satellites of his trading empire.
Meanwhile, hedge funds Balyasny Asset Management and Visium Capital held a combined 12 million shares of Cell Genesys. Balyasny and Visium have overlapping ownership (Dmitry Balyasny is a partner in both hedge funds) though they don’t generally disclose that in their SEC filings.
Dimitry Balysasny is a close associate of Steve Cohen. He has employed some of those former SAC Capital traders and managers with whom Cohen maniacally maintains relationships. And he and Cohen have attacked the same companies.
As I mentioned, Balyasny was one of our seven hedge fund managers with large numbers of put options in Dendreon. I will return to him, because this enigmatic Russian might have more surprises in store for Dendreon.
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Three weeks after Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation began publicly promoting Cell Genesys’s virtually untested prostate cancer treatment, Cell Genesys announced that it had signed a gargantuan $320 million deal to develop and commercialize GVAX with Takeda Pharmaceutical, the Japanese biotech giant.
The press reported this deal dutifully and uncritically, making it sound like GVAX was the next big thing. The stock price soared, earning large profits for the Milken-network hedge funds that had invested in Cell Genesys.
But just as there was something fishy about the Milken-invested Novacea and its $500 million deal with Schering Plough, so too did the “$320 million” Cell Genesys deal deserve a hearty dose of skepticism.
For starters, only days before Cell Genesys announced the Takeda deal, Takeda had bought a company called Millennium Pharmaceuticals. Millennium had been transformed into Takeda Pharmaceutical Capital Ventures. It was Takeda Capital Ventures, not the Takeda parent company, that signed the deal with Cell Genesys. In other words, it was almost certain that Millennium’s management, most of whom had been retained by Takeda Capital, orchestrated the whopping $320 million deal.
That was rather strange because Millennium had been founded by a man named Mark Levin. It was Levin who orchestrated Millennium’s merger with LeukoSite, the biotech company that belonged to Marty Peretz, the Boesky-Milken crony who founded TheStreet.com. And more important to this particular episode, it was Levin who had founded Cell Genesys. He founded the company basically by investing in himself (just as Domain Associates had created the Milken-invested Novacea out of thin air).
So, assuming Levin still had influence over Millennium/Takeda, and assuming he was still invested in Cell Genesys, he had just orchestrated a deal to use other people’s money to invest $300 million in himself.
Or, at least Cell Genesys’s press release said that Takeda (which was, in fact, Millennium) was going to “pay Cell Genesys an upfront payment of $50 million and additional milestone payments totaling up to $270 million…Takeda [actually Millennium, now known as Takeda Capital Ventures] will pay Cell Genesys tiered, double-digit royalties based on net sales of GVAX immunotherapy for prostate cancer…”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sounds like those “net sales” are imminent, right? In fact, just as the Milken-invested Novacea’s $500 million deal was dependent on clinical trials showing good results, so too was Cell Genesys’s big deal with itself dependent on the company producing some evidence that it’s drug actually worked. The operative phrase in that press release was “milestone payments totaling up to $270 million.”
Of course, just three months later, Cell Genesys announced that it had halted its trials of GVAX after its Independent Data Monitoring Committee, in a “routine safety review meeting,” observed “an imbalance of deaths…” In other words, GVAX was not helping patients. It was killing them. And, of course, the $270 million worth of “milestone payments” announced with so much fanfare were unceremoniously canceled.
Either before this announcement, or immediately after, the big investors in Cell Genesys – Mazama, Balyasny, Millennium, Perceptive Advisors – all dumped their shares. Given the big boost those shares got from Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation promotions and the giddy announcement that Cell Genesys would receive $330 million, we can assume that those investors made a nice profit on their sales, just as Milken’s ProQuest and affiliated funds made nice profits on their sales of Novacea.
It seems to me that Cell Genesys, like Novacea, was a sophisticated pump and dump scam, aided by Michael Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Which brings us to Cougar Biotechnology, the third Dendreon “competitor” promoted by Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation. Cougar Biotechnology, as we know, was controlled by Lindsay Rosenwald, who used to help run D.H. Blair, the Mafia-linked pump-and-dump shop whose two vice chairman pled guilty to securities crimes, and whose president was Milken’s former national sales manager.
D.H. Blair was indicted on 173 counts of securities fraud, and it was notorious for pumping and dumping biotech companies with no real medicine. But who knows? Maybe Cougar has a genuine product. It is hard to say at the moment, and will remain that way for years to come, because its prostate cancer treatment remains virtually untested.
In any case, just last month, Cougar, no doubt aided by the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s vigorous endorsements, wangled a $1 billion deal to merge with Johnson & Johnson, so Rosenwald and friends did quite well on their investments.
Remember that while Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation was using unwitting donors’ money to promote Novacea, Cougar Biotechnology, and Cell Genesys, its top officials, and perhaps Milken himself, were actively seeking to derail Dendreon, the one company that actually had a promising treatment for prostate cancer. This was certainly to the benefit of the short sellers (some of whom were illegally naked short selling) and the buyers of put options who were betting big against Dendreon
Meanwhile, it should be noted that Cougar Biotechnology experienced almost no naked short selling, according to SEC “failures to deliver” data. The Milken-invested Novacea also experienced virtually zero naked short selling, even after it announced that its treatment was killing people. The same goes for Cell Genesys — relatively little naked short selling, even when its treatment flopped.
The miscreant party line is that hedge funds do not engage in naked short selling to manufacture phantom stock. The party line is that most “failures to deliver” are the result of mechanical “errors.” It’s funny how those “errors” tend to occur when miscreants in a certain network are short a company. It’s also funny that those “errors” don’t happen to companies in which Milken and his cronies are invested.
Where we left off, we had learned that on March 29, 2007, an FDA advisory panel voted overwhelmingly to recommend approval of Provenge, Dendreon’s promising new treatment for prostate cancer. As a result, most financial analysts and investors expected that Dendreon would have a promising future. However, ten hedge funds (out of a universe of 11,500 hedge funds) held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), suggesting they expected Dendreon would be derailed. At least seven of those hedge funds can be tied to Michael Milken or his close associates.
We had also learned that Milken himself stood to profit if Dendreon were to experience problems receiving FDA approval. This is because Milken was the early financier and principal deal maker for ProQuest Investments, a fund that (along with an affiliate) controlled a company called Novacea, which was one of Dendreon’s competitors in the race to produce a new treatment for prostate cancer. Meanwhile, Lindsay Rosenwald (a Milken crony who once helped run a Mafia-linked brokerage called D.H. Blair, which specialized in pumping and dumping fake biotech companies) controlled Cougar Biotechnology, which was Dendreon’s second competitor in the race to develop a new treatment for prostate cancer.
We had learned further that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, seems largely to be an extension of Milken’s investment fund, ProQuest. This might explain why the Prostate Cancer Foundation endorsed and provided financial support to Novacea and Cougar, neither of which had shown that their treatments were safe or effective, while snubbing its nose at Dendreon.
In addition, we had learned that in April, 2007, an FDA-contracted physician, Dr. Howard Scher, who was also an executive and director of Milken’s ProQuest Investments, and the chairman of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation “Therapeutic Consortium”, spearheaded an unprecedented lobbying effort to undermine the prescribed regulatory process and convince the FDA to deny approval to Dendreon — the first time in history that the FDA went against an advisory panel’s recommendation to approve a drug destined for dying patients.
In the days before and after the lobbying effort, Dendreon was subjected to a blistering attack by naked short sellers who illegally flooded the market with millions of phantom shares to help drive down the company’s stock price. This criminal naked short selling continued intermittently for much of the next two years, while other events conspired to hobble Dendreon, a company that had completed multiple clinical trials that strongly suggested that its product, Provenge, was capable of lengthening the lives of tens of thousands of men with prostate cancer….
* * * * * * * *
“Black Wednesday at the FDA.”
That is how Dr. Mark Thornton, a former medical officer in the FDA’s Office of Oncology Products, described the FDA’s decision not to approve Dendreon’s Provenge. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Thornton described vaccines such as Provenge as the “Holy Grail of cancer treatment.” Without directly referring to anyone by name, Dr. Thorton described Dr. Scher’s lobbying effort as “arrogant” and “unprecedented.”
Dr. Thornton added that when the FDA succumbed to that lobbying, “the dawn of a new era in cancer immunotherapy was driven back into the night. It will be years before we know the full impact of these decisions and how many cancer patients…have had their lives cut short as a result.”
This scandal infuriated many other physicians and patient advocates (with the exception of those affiliated with Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation). Some Dendreon supporters took to the streets.
On June 2, 2007, there was a protest in front of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Two days later, several prostate cancer advocacy groups rallied in Washington. On June 6, there was yet another protest, this one attended by still more physicians who demanded to know why the FDA had failed to approve Dendreon’s treatment.
“I’d like to explain in the most basic of terms,” said Dr. Mark Moyad of the University of Michigan medical school, at the June 6 rally. “We think a mistake has been made. We are here in a friendly way to start the process of correcting that mistake.”
That word — “friendly” – seems to me to perfectly describe Dendreon’s supporters. I might add “intelligent,” and “fair,” and “engaged.” But the mainstream media played its customary role by portraying such advocates as vexatious wackos (notwithstanding the fact that many of Dendreon’s supporters were respected physicians).
“Oncologists do not usually need bodyguards…” began a story in the Washington Post, which was all about the Dendreon “controversy.” The gist of this story was that people advocating for prostate cancer patients might somehow be dangerous – that it was strange how vocal they were, it was strange that they used the Internet to get the word out – and Dr. Scher (the physician who helped derail Dendreon) feared for his safety. He had even received some “threats.”
Nowhere in the story was it suggested that a great many prominent doctors were saying that the FDA had made a “mistake” in failing to approve Dendreon’s application. Nowhere was it mentioned that Dr. Scher played a significant role in engineering this “mistake.” And nowhere was it mentioned that Dr. Scher was egregiously conflicted due to his financial ties to Michael Milken’s investment fund and Dendreon’s competitors, Novacea and Cougar Biotechnology.
Essentially identical stories appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Seattle Times, and on CNBC. Every one of these media outfits portrayed Dendreon’s supporters as potentially dangerous lunatics. Every one of them stated unequivocally that Dr. Scher had been “threatened.” Yet, not one of them specifically described the threats, and as far as I can ascertain, there were no “threats.”
Clearly, there was a new party line – Dr. Scher was the victim. Given the near verbatim repetition of this party line in so many newspapers, and given my experience working in the mainstream media, I can say with near certainty that this was the work of an orchestrated public relations campaign – a campaign to distract attention from what was really happening to Dendreon.
Meanwhile, Dendreon remained one of the most manipulated stocks on Nasdaq. On the day that the Washington Post story appeared, SEC data showed that criminal naked short sellers had sold, and failed to deliver, more than 13 million Dendreon shares. Following the mainstream media’s standard operating procedures, no mention was made of this phantom stock in any of the stories on Dendreon’s troubles.
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By June of 2007, Dendreon’s stock price was averaging around $7 – down from its early April high of $25. There was no way the company could raise more money on the stock market, and so it had to significantly scale back its work on Neuvenge, a promising treatment that fought breast cancer in the same way that Provenge fought prostate cancer. In order to get enough cash to continue work on Provenge, Dendreon issued over $100 million worth of convertible bonds.
Sometimes, hedge funds that buy a company’s convertible bonds are well-intentioned – they want the company to succeed so that the company can repay the loan.
But, often, hedge funds that buy convertible bonds do not have the company’s best interests at heart. Indeed, Deep Capture has obtained an internal client presentation given by a well-known investment bank that states that the single largest segment of investors in convertible bonds are hedge funds that actually intend to increase their bets against the companies that they are financing.
A convertible bond is debt that can be “converted” into stock. A hedge fund lends a company, say, $100 million. As repayment, the hedge fund can either receive the $100 million plus interest at maturity, or instead it can receive, say, 10 million shares in the company.
If the share price is $8 at the time of the loan, those 10 million shares would be worth $80 million. But if the share price rises to $20, the hedge fund can convert his $100 million loan into $200 million worth of stock. If the hedge fund manager is a value investor who wishes the company well, he will make his loan and wait for the stock to rise.
But there are various ways that convertible bonds can be put to malevolent use. Suppose a group of hedge funds have launched a full scale short selling attack against a company, but the hedge funds want to short sell even more stock. To do that legally, the hedge funds must first locate more stock to borrow, and then sell it. But sometimes there is simply no more stock available for short sellers to borrow.
Now, suppose the share price has already been significantly hammered, so the company can no longer raise money through the stock market. The hedge funds know this. And the hedge funds are important clients of an investment bank. So the hedge funds and the investment bank hatch a plan.
It works like this: the investment bank tells the victim company that it can resolve the company’s cash problems by brokering a convertible bond offering. If the company agrees, the investment bank says, “great, but there’s just one hitch – you, the company, have to lend us, the investment bank, the shares that the company would normally keep on hand in case the bond holders convert.
To assuage any fears, the investment bank might promise the company that it will not re-lend those shares to short sellers, but will merely sell them to long buyers – people who want to invest in the company. The company says, “fine,” and issues, say, $100 million worth of debt convertible to 10 million shares. The company also agrees to that “hitch” — so now the investment bank has wangled a “stock loan” agreement that gives it exclusive rights to borrow those 10 million shares until such time as the bond holders convert.
Meanwhile, the investment bank returns to that group of hedge funds, who agree to buy the convertible bonds as a means to extricating those 10 million shares from the company. Once the investment bank is in possession of those shares, it cannot (at least according to its agreement with the company) lend them to the hedge funds for purposes of short selling. But it can do one better. It can broker swap contracts that oblige counterparties to pay the hedge funds a certain amount of money in the event that the company’s stock price decreases in value.
Then, the investment bank dumps those 10 million shares into the market all at once, causing the stock price to further collapse. Meanwhile, the hedge funds and the investment bank might be engaging in naked short selling – selling stock that has never been borrowed by anybody (i.e. stock that does not exist).
If anyone asks about this illegal naked short selling, the hedge funds say they thought they had “a locate” on stock that they could borrow and deliver. If anyone asks the hedge funds to be more specific, the hedge funds say that they had “located” and planned to borrow those 10 million shares that the investment bank had borrowed from the victim company. If the SEC notes that the investment bank had an agreement not to lend those shares to short sellers, the hedge funds say they didn’t know about that.
Of course, the SEC rarely asks any of these questions, but the convertible bonds provide some immunity, just in case.
As the stock price hits rock bottom, the company depletes the cash it raised from the bond offering. And the only way for the company to receive new funding is to issue more convertible bonds to the hedge funds, or do one of those dreaded “death sprial” PIPE deals.
If this were a game of chess, it would now be “check” for the hedge funds. The company knows that its stock price and its financing depend entirely on the hedge funds, which are put in the position of being able to drive (and trade ahead of) the company’s business decisions. This scheme might even allow a set of hedge funds to take control of, say, a $700 million company, for a $100 million loan.
With the exception of the naked short selling, most of this scheme’s elements can be found in the standard PowerPoint presentations that some banks deliver to their hedge fund clients behind closed doors. The investment banks market the scheme as a way to profit from volatility in the stock. When the stock crashes, the hedge funds make money from the swaps and their short selling. If the stock subsequently increases in value, the hedge funds can convert their bonds and use some of the proceeds to pay the counterparties to the swaps.
But sometimes the hedge funds intend to fully destroy the company. They make plenty on their short positions and swaps, and their bonds pull in some money during the bankruptcy proceedings. Sometimes, during bankruptcy, the hedge fund lenders get their hands on company assets (such as blockbuster medical treatments) that are actually worth considerably more than what they spent on their bonds.
At other times, the ultimate goal is not to destroy the company outright, but to crash the stock, and then accumulate shares, giving the hedge funds still more influence over company decisions, and perhaps paving the way for a hostile takeover.
I do not know for certain the motivations of the hedge funds that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds. I do not know if they engaged in naked short selling. After all, the identities of the naked short sellers and the real amount of failed trades they are generating are, as far as the SEC is concerned, still a big secret. Remember that the SEC says that releasing information about (illegal) naked short sales would reveal the (criminal) hedge funds’ “proprietary trading strategies.” And the SEC cannot have that.
I do know, however, that nearly every one of Dendreon’s convertible bond holders are connected in important ways to Michael Milken or the seven affiliated hedge fund managers who held large numbers of put options in Dendreon prior to the strange occurrences of March 2007. This raises the suspicion that the convertible bond holders were not typical investors (that is, investors who put in capital hoping that the company would prosper).
Instead, the fact that the buyers of the converts were part of the same network that was placing large bets against Dendreon (and taking steps, with help from Milken’s “philanthropy”, to derail Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer) raises the possibility that these bond investments were made as part of a strategy to manipulate Dendreon’s stock price down, during which time members of this network would (with help from Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation) pump up the stock prices of Dendreon’s “competitors” – the companies controlled by Milken and his friends.
In the two years that these shenanigans were going on, 60,000 American men died of prostate cancer, which seemed to be of no concern to this particular network of miscreants. But once the competing, Milken-connected companies had been thoroughly pumped, and then dumped (on the news that their treatments were worthless), it would perhaps be time to exert greater control over the one company–Dendreon–that actually had a treatment that could extend lives.
As we will see, members of the Milken network – some of the hedge funds that bought the convertible bonds, and some of the seven hedge funds that were betting big against Dendreon in 2007 – have, as a group, recently become the company’s largest shareholders. Their precise intentions, however, remain a mystery.
While we do not have photo-perfect pictures of what was going on behind the scenes of Dendreon’s bizarre trading (the SEC does not let that get public), we do know that this paradoxical play of participating in a convertible bond in order to further a manipulative scheme against a company, is in fact a standard play on Wall Street. Given this, we would be remiss not to name the colorful hedge funds that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds.
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As we have covered, Milken crony Carl Icahn founded the options department at Gruntal & Company, which owed its existence to Michael Milken and was one of the more disreputable trading houses on the Street. Ultimately, Gruntal was found to have employed several traders with ties to the Mafia, and soon after, it was charged with a massive fraud and forced to pay what was then one of the largest fines in Wall Street history.
Many of Gruntal’s former employees ended up working for White Rock Capital, which was run by the alleged Russian mobster, Felix Sater, the fellow who was allegedly behind the threat to have Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne murdered if he did not end his crusade against naked short selling and the “deep capture” of important institutions.
As we also know, when Icahn left Gruntal, he handed over direction of the options department to Milken crony Ron Aizer. The first trader Aizer hired was Steve Cohen, who was reportedly investigated by the SEC for trading on inside information provided by Milken’s shop, and later became “the most powerful trader on Wall Street” — the fourth of those seven hedge fund managers prescient enough to bet big against Dendreon before Milken’s other cronies derailed the company in 2007.
The second trader hired by Aizer was a man named Andrew Redleaf, who later went on to co-found two hedge funds — Deephaven Capital Management and Whitebox Advisors. According to a media account posted on Whitebox’s website, Redleaf’s family kept its investment accounts at Drexel Burnham Lambert, where Michael Milken was then running his stock manipulation and junk bond empire. Redleaf was recommended to Aizer by Andy Stillman, who was then managing Drexel’s propriety options trading.
Minkow was eventually imprisoned for the ZZZZ Best fraud, and when he was released, he began a career as a self-described “fraud investigator.” He works in partnership with Sam Antar, the convicted felon who masterminded a massive fraud in the 1980s at an appliance retailer called Crazy Eddie. Antar, who is close to Milken and his network (members of which once tried to help Antar seize control of Crazy Eddie) now spends most of his time on the Internet, smearing and threatening people who work to expose the crime of naked short selling.
For example, Antar once posted on the Internet the names and address of Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley’s young children. Antar writes with almost daily regularity that Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne is running a fraudulent company (Overstock.com), though he has produced nothing to support his claims, and every reputable person who has examined his arguments has concluded that they are absurd.
Meanwhile, Antar has littered the Internet with all manner of falsehoods about me—stating, for example, that I’m a drug addict and was fired from my last job. Ever the charmer, Antar has also let it be known that he is friendly with violent people, including those who once ambushed me, punched me in the face, and suggested that I should stop working with Patrick Byrne.
It is interesting to note that, these facts notwithstanding, in 2008 Fortune magazine saw fit to grace its pages with a highly flattering 2,738 word profile of Antar (“It Takes One to Know One”). Fortune did this even as it acknowledged that, “As would-be fraudbuster, Sam E. [Antar] has yet to notch his first kill. (Although in fairness he doesn’t hold himself out to be a full-time 10-Q detective. ‘I don’t have 40 people working for me like the SEC,’ he says.) He hasn’t brought any companies down or caused any regulators to open any investigations.”
That is, concerning a notorious swindler and convicted felon who threatens little girls, smears other journalists, is denounced by public officials, and who has not actually been the source of any credible investigation that Fortune can cite, Fortune published a perfectly complimentary puff piece.
As for the above-mentioned Andrew Redleaf, I noted that he is a founding partner in Deephaven Capital Management. In 2006, Deephaven was sanctioned by the SEC for short selling 19 public companies (almost all biotech firms) on inside information that his hedge fund colleagues were giving the companies “death spiral” PIPEs finance.
As you will recall, similar schemes have involved Milken crony Carl Icahn (the founder of Gruntal’s options department); Jeffrey Thorp (son of the Mafia-linked card counter who was the most important figure in Milken’s stock manipulation network during the 1980s); Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald (who used to run the Mafia-linked D.H. Blair, the president of which was Milken’s former national sales manager); and Gryphon Partners (which was tied to the Mafia-linked, nine-fingered Anthony Elgindy, a naked short seller who is now serving an 11 year sentence for stock manipulation schemes and bribing two FBI agents).
My apologies for the repetition, but there are some who are new to this, and it is difficult for even the well initiated to keep track of so many miscreants, so permit me to remind the reader that Gryphon’s founder and Lindsay Rosenwald were among the seven colorful hedge fund managers who bet big against Dendreon in March 2007, just before the company was derailed by strange occurences engineered by Milken’s cronies. Also among those seven hedge fund managers was Steve Cohen, who was, earlier in his career, investigated for trading on inside information provided by Milken’s shop, and was the first trader hired at Gruntal by Milken-crony Ron Aizer.
Andrew Redleaf, the second trader hired by Aizer at Gruntal, is, remember, not just a co-founder of Deephaven Capital (sanctioned for short selling on inside information that companies were to receive dubious financing), but also the proprietor of Whitebox Advisors.
And Whitebox Advisors is among those hedge funds that bought convertible bonds issued by Dendreon, a company that suffered a two-year, sustained naked short selling attack while trying to bring to market a treatment for dying cancer patients.
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A hedge fund called DKR Management also bought convertible bonds issued by Dendreon. DKR was founded by Barry L. Klein and Gary S. Davis. Previously, Klein worked for Michael Milken as the President of Drexel Burnham Lambert Trading. Davis also worked for Milken at Drexel.
In later years, Klein and Davis founded the predecessor to AIG Trading Group, a unit of American International Group. AIG Trading Group was later run by Joseph Cassano, who had also been a Milken employee at Drexel.
While at AIG, Cassano sold tens of billions of dollars worth of credit default swaps (contracts that pay out if a company defaults on its debt) to hedge funds and investment banks.
Rolling Stone magazine’s Matthew Taibbi, who is one of the mainstream media’s finest journalists, was among the first to establish that AIG Trading Group and Milken crony Cassano destroyed AIG, which ultimately had to be nationalized by the U.S. government – greatly contributing to the collapse of the financial system last fall. Since then, several reports have also implicated Cassano’s Milken-tied predecessors, Klein and Davis.
Meanwhile, various government investigations are seeking to know whether short sellers acquired and manipulated the prices of AIG’s credit default swaps as a way to weaken their target companies – including Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. The question that remains unanswered is whether the short sellers that bought credit default swaps from Milken cronies Cassano, Klein and Davis were also members of the Milken network (which would mean that some members of the Milken network wrecked the world while the other members of the network bet that they would).
Another highly significant factor in the collapse of the financial system – as can be discerned from statements by countless officials and by reports in virtually every newspaper in the land, though the newspapers seem content not to investigate the matter or state this explicitly – was the naked short selling of AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and hundreds of other companies.
In the years leading up to the financial cataclysm (and during the time when Dendreon was under attack by naked short sellers), certain hedge funds orchestrated an effective public relations campaign aimed at covering up the crime of naked short selling. As part of this public relations campaign, the hedge funds would regularly trot out a certain Yale professor, who would do his utmost to defend the criminals.
This professor’s favorite stratagem was to divert discussion away from illegal naked short selling, and repeat, over and over, that legal short selling was good for the markets–a fact that was never in dispute. The professor’s capacity for obfuscation was unmatched, but he nonetheless became a favorite source for some members of the media. He appeared regularly on CNBC and was quoted in dozens upon dozens of articles – all of which communicated the non sequitor that illegal naked short selling is not bad for the markets because legal short selling is good for the markets. Of course, this is like arguing that sexual harassment is not bad because sex is good.
The name of this professor is Owen Lamont. To this day, the professor is still sought out by the press, which dutifully regurgitates his baloney. But the professor does not work for Yale anymore.
Now he works for the above-mentioned DKR Management, one of the Milken-connected hedge funds that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds while Dendreon was brutally attacked by criminal naked short sellers.
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There are interesting stories to be told about most every hedge fund that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds. One of them, Eagle Rock Capital, run by an Iranian fellow named Nadir Tavakoli, was once a controlling investor in the International Fight League, a promoter of ultimate fighting matches. The other controlling investor in the International Fight League (which went bankrupt amidst allegations of ultimate fighting’s connections to the Japanese Yakuza and stories that fighters were committing suicides and murders at alarming rates) was a “Russian whiz kid” (according to the media) named Dmitry Balyasny.
The first things to know about Dmitry Balyasny are that he is closely affiliated with Steve Cohen and he is the seventh of those seven hedge fund managers who were betting big against Dendreon by holding put options on the company’s stock, after the FDA advisory panel had recommended that Provenge be approved, and before Milken’s cronies successfully lobbied the FDA to ignore that recommendation. So I will return to Balyasny soon.
But first, let’s continue with our list of hedge funds that held Dendreon’s convertible bonds.
One was GLG Partners. As we know from emails acquired in a lawsuit, GLG Partners received updates on Steve Cohen’s attack on Canadian insurer Fairfax Financial, so it would be unsurprising if GLG was also clued in to Cohen’s attack on Dendreon.
Recall also that (shortly before GLG bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds) French authorities fined GLG for being part of an insider trading ring that included UBS O’Conner (a unit of UBS investment bank, which, until March, 2007, was led by former Milken employee Ken Moelis) and Meditor Capital, a hedge fund (also, of course, with ties to Steve Cohen) that had just made a large investment in Novacea, the prostate cancer company that was then being promoted (by Milken’s fund and Milken’s “philanthropy”) as a competitor to Dendreon. In short, GLG was “in the mix.”
Another outfit that bought lots of Dendreon’s convertible bonds (shortly after it was caught running an insider trading ring with Meditor and GLG Partners) was…UBS O’Conner.
Then there was Quattro Partners, which bought Dendreon bonds convertible into a more than a million Dendreon shares. The founding partner of Quattro is named Michael Baldock. He had a long career in biotech investing after spending time as an investment banker at Michael Milken’s Drexel Burnham Lambert.
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Another of the big investors in Dendreon’s convertible bonds was Forest Investment Management, a hedge fund controlled by a man named Michael Boyd. Prior to founding Forest, Boyd was a partner in an outfit called Forum Capital Markets. Boyd’s co-founder in Forum was C. Keith Hartley, yet another of Milken’s disciples from Drexel, Burnham Lambert.
Boyd was also the co-founder of a brokerage called McMahan Securities. One of his partners in that operation was Santo Maggio, who later became chief executive officer of Refco Securities, the brokerage that was allegedly processing the phantom stock sales of Rhino Advisors, which illegally naked shorted companies after providing them with finance brokered by Milken crony Carl Icahn’s Ladenburg Thalmann. When Refco was found to be fraudulently hiding $400 million worth of liabilities (liabilities that many believe were related to naked short selling), Maggio pled guilty to two counts of securities fraud, one count of conspiracy, and one count of wire fraud.
Another of Michael Boyd’s many accomplishments is his son, Roddy. Refco employed Roddy as a trader, perhaps as a favor to his father’s former partner, the criminal Santo Maggio.
But Roddy soon abandoned the securities business to become a business journalist – first at the New York Post and now at Fortune magazine. Roddy Boyd is a key figure among the small coterie of journalists who turn up repeatedly in Deep Capture‘s analyses.
Like all members of the coterie, Roddy has spent several years trying to cover up the naked short selling scandal, ridiculing anyone who mentions the crime or the remarkable coincidence of companies appearing on the Reg Sho list (the SEC’s list of companies suffering from naked short selling) when those companies are the targets of a select group of hedge funds whose names will be familiar to the reader who has made it this far.
In addition to covering up naked short selling crimes, Roddy writes hatchet jobs on the public companies targeted by this same select group of short selling hedge funds. The sources of the information in Roddy’s stories are, of course, the short sellers themselves, and most of the short sellers are, as has been explained over and over, tied to Michael Milken or his close associates.
For example, Roddy spent a great deal of time working with a soon-to-be arrested criminal named Spyro Contogouris, who had been hired by a subsidiary of Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital, to sabotage, harass, and trash Fairfax Financial.
As mentioned, we have obtained a great number of emails between Cohen, Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates, and others in the network that was attacking Fairfax. In one email, hedge fund manager Chanos writes to journalist Roddy Boyd, “your courtesy was a boon to me. Thank you!”
With the exception of Roddy’s particular clique of journalists, it is not typical for reporters to receive thank you notes for the “courtesies” that they have extended to help hedge funds make money.
Another holder of Dendreon’s convertible bonds was CNH Partners, run by Todd Pulvino, who used to work for Grosvenor Capital. Grosvenor is managed by Scott Lederman, who was the grad school roommate of Steve Cohen and later the chief operating officer of Cohen’s SAC Capital. While Pulvino was presenting himself as a legitimate investor in Dendreon’s debt, was he in touch with Steve Cohen, who had bet big against Dendreon right before Provenge was derailed by the unprecedented lobbying effort of Milken’s other cronies?
We can’t say. And we can’t say who was illegally naked short selling Dendreon’s stock. That, remember, is a big secret – “proprietary trading strategies.”
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On October 12, 2007, Dendreon, still desperate for capital to continue clinical trials that might eventually help its cancer treatment receive FDA approval, signed the paperwork on its first PIPE deal. A dreaded PIPE – the sort of deal that dilutes equity and tends to attract naked short selling that sends a company’s stock into a “death spiral.”
The provider of this PIPE finance was the Azimuth Opportunity Fund, managed by an outfit called Acqua Wellington Asset Management.
Acqua Wellington is controlled by a “prominent” investor named Isser Elishis. In an otherwise flattering article, Herb Greenberg – a journalist whose entire career was devoted to granting “courtesies” to hedge funds in the Milken network – described Elishis as the “banker of last resort.”
Herb, who disappeared from public sight after he was exposed by Deep Capture, now owns a company that ostensibly sells financial research to hedge funds in the Milken network (or, arguably, merely receives payment from them for the extensive string of “courtesies” that Herb extended while working as a journalist).
Among Azimuth’s first forays into the markets was an investment in a company called SulphCo, which claimed to have a method for turning sulphrous crude into clean-burning oil. Elishis collaborated on this deal with SulphCo’s principal investor, Zev Wolfson, who, you will recall, was the investor who financed Milken cronies Carl Icahn, Saul Steinberg, John Mulheren, and various brokerages tied to the Mafia, naked short selling, or both.
SEC data shows that on the day that Dendreon signed its PIPE deal with Azimuth, naked short sellers flooded the market with more than 2 million phantom shares. During the following week, more than a million Dendreon shares “failed to deliver” every day, despite (or perhaps because of) the news that Dendreon had enrolled 500 patients in a trial to confirm its earlier positive results, putting Provenge back on the track to FDA approval.
* * * * * * * *
In the late 1980s, a fellow named Jeffrey Yass and his two friends, Eric Brooks and Kenneth Brodie, set up a partnership to place bets at horse racing tracks across the country. On one single day at Sportsman Park in Chicago they pulled in winnings of more than $600,000. This seemed somewhat excessive, so Sportsman Park banned the three friends from its premises. The punters filed a lawsuit claiming that Sportsman Park had violated their rights to visit a public facility.
At any rate, Jeffrey Yass and Eric Brooks eventually abandoned the business of betting on horse races and instead pursued careers on Wall Street. Now they are “prominent” investors, the proprietors of a mid-sized investment and trading house called Susquehanna International.
In the spring of 2008, Susquehanna was introduced to Dendreon by a placement agent, Lazard Capital Markets. It is not clear why Dendreon would want to do business with Lazard. After all, Lazard was home to the singing Joel Sendek, who had been busily trashing Dendreon in his research reports.
Sendek had also been trumpeting Dendreon’s competitor, Cougar Biotechnology, as the next big thing in cancer treatment. In turn, Cougar Biotechnology (the company then controlled by Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald, formerly of the Mafia-affiliated pump-and-dump shop D.H. Blair) had been quoting Sendek in its SEC filings.
Sendek’s endorsement, Cougar seemed to be suggesting, was evidence that the company was making progress toward bringing its prostate cancer treatment to market. This was odd, because most pharmaceutical companies use data collected from clinical trials to demonstrate this, not quotes from singing Wall Street analysts.
Meanwhile, it was widely understood that Lazard’s stock loan department was one of the go-to shops for hedge funds looking to short sell Dendreon’s shares. We cannot say that Lazard was loaning phantom stock to the short sellers (if it were, that would be a big secret), but Lazard’s coziness with short sellers ought to have given Dendreon pause.
There was also the fact that Lazard Capital had only recently been spun off from Lazard Ltd. Given that the two operations remained closely affiliated (sharing business and so forth), it might have been of some concern that the chairman of Lazard Ltd. was Bruce Wasserstein, a close associate of Michael Milken.
In “Den of Thieves,” James Stewart, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, quotes a criminal named Denis Levine as saying that Wasserstein was “owned” by Milken’s famous co-conspirator, Ivan Boesky. Given that Denis Levine was indicted for participating in Boesky’s insider trading schemes, one would think he knew of what he spoke, but there is no hard evidence to support his allegation.
In any case, Dendreon followed Lazard’s advice, and did a “registered direct offering” with Capital Ventures International, an affiliate of Susquehanna, the firm founded by Yass and Brooks. A “registered direct offering” is similar to a PIPE, the difference being that the securities sold to the investor are registered with the SEC and immediately tradable.
For most of March 2008, naked short sellers were failing to deliver less than 500,000 shares per day. As negotiations for the “registered direct offering” were underway, the amount of phantom stock gradually increased. And on the day the deal was signed, April 3, at least 1.6 million phantom shares had been sold into the market and remained undelivered.
For the next two months, more than one million Dendreon shares remained “failed to deliver” every day. This despite (or perhaps because of) the fantastic news, on March 12, 2008, that the FDA had agreed to an amended “Special Protocol Assessment,” which would enable the company to release, one year ahead of schedule, the results of an “IMPACT” trial that seemed likely to confirm the company’s Phase 3 trials showing substantial evidence that Provenge was safe and effective.
As Dendreon’s enemies must have known, it would soon be impossible to stymie the company with arguments about data, but stock manipulators were not yet ready to end their campaign against the company.
Where we left off, we had learned that Dendreon had come under a blistering, illegal naked short selling attack, right at the time that the FDA’s expert advisory panel had voted overwhelmingly that the company’s promising treatment for prostate cancer should be approved, and right before that treatment was to be derailed by some strange occurrences.
We had learned further that in the days before those strange occurrences only ten hedge funds on the planet were known to possess large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), and seven of those hedge funds were tied to Michael Milken or his close associates. Also, we had learned that Michael Milken himself, through a fund called ProQuest Investments, stood to profit from the demise of Dendreon through ProQuest’s investment in Dendreon’s competitor, Novacea.
While Milken was the principal investor and dealmaker for ProQuest, the fund was ostensibly founded by two men, Jay Moorin and Jeremy Goldberg, who had interesting backgrounds. Moorin had founded Magainin (later renamed “Genaera”), a drug company that specialized in curing cancer and other ills with all manners of potions derived from exotic beats, but over its 30 year history, ending with its closure last month, never actually produced a drug.
Goldberg, I noted, was best known for founding a biotech company called Versicor with a man named Timothy Barberich, who was simultaneously bankrolling a casino venture with a shady businessman named Adam Kidan and an alleged Mafia bookkeeper named Anthony Moscatiello. Kidan and Moscatiello, meanwhile, wound up in a business dispute with Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis, who was subsequently murdered, execution-style.
These two individuals – Jeremy Goldberg and Jay Moorin – were the front men for Milken’s fund.
Now we learn more about Milken’s ProQuest Investments, and begin to describe those strange occurrences that derailed Dendreon in the spring of 2007….
* * * * * * * *
Adam Kidan was named as a suspect in the murder of Gus Boulis and was questioned, but never charged. Instead, he went to jail for his dealings with Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Washington lobbyist. Moscatiello, the alleged Mafia bookkeeper, was arrested and charged with the murder. When he was released on parole, he disappeared. Lately, he has been featured on the popular television program, “America’s Most Wanted.”
Barberich, chairman of Versicor, said he hardly knew Moscatiello or Kidan, and only got involved as the chief financier of their casino because he’d seen an advertisement in a newspaper. Meanwhile, Jeremy Goldberg left Versicor and “founded” ProQuest Investments, Michael Milken’s vehicle for investing in companies that supposedly have treatments for prostate cancer.
Milken is barred from the securities industry, so even though he seems to have been largely responsible for building ProQuest, it is not surprising that he does not appear on ProQuest’s website. Goldberg’s name isn’t listed either. And there are a few other names that disappeared from the website after people began investigating ProQuest.
Among the missing are the names of the people who sit on ProQuest’s advisory board of directors. Thankfully, we have screenshots of the fund’s website, taken prior to the whitewashing.
The screenshots show that at the time that Dendreon was getting mauled in 2007, ProQuest’s advisory board included the following: Jonathan Simons, president and CEO of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; Howard Soule, executive vice president of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; Stuart Holden, medical director of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; William G. Nelson, a doctor who sits on the “Therapeutic Consortium” of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; James Blair, manager of ProQuest affiliate Domain Associates and a board member of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; David B. Agus, a doctor with Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; and, finally, a doctor (I’ll introduce him shortly) who was the chairman of the “Therapeutic Consortium” of Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation.
In other words, ProQuest Investments, which is Milken’s investment fund (though Milken doesn’t tell people that), enjoys remarkable overlap with Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Which raises a question: What does the Prostate Cancer Foundation do with the money that it solicits from generous people — not just wealthy donors but also average folks who want to fight cancer and donate what they can?
I do not mean to be dismissive of a philanthropy. I am sure there are well-meaning people who work at the Prostate Cancer Foundation. It has served as a forum for many of the world’s leading doctors to exchange information, and it has raised awareness of a terrible disease. All philanthropy, one can argue, is good. And since Milken himself is a prostate cancer survivor, one is inclined to believe that his interest in battling the disease is genuine.
But that might be to underestimate Milken’s love of “the game” — his desire to be a player in the world. It might also be to underestimate the particular world that Milken inhabits. It is a world of people who desire money, yes, but who perhaps desire in greater measure both stature and influence. For stature and influence blind the public and soothe the conscience.
For the miscreant, to play “the game” is fun. To play the game and cheat is more fun still. But it is perhaps also as simple as this: the miscreant desires to feel no shame. He wants to be able to say to himself, “I am important. I am prominent… .I have the approval of others.”
Certainly, Milken has used his “philanthropy” to ingratiate himself with the establishment and the public at large. He is one of the few convicted criminals who has returned to “prominence.” So, it seems, he has gotten one over on us. He has won. But “the game” is never over. And in the view of Deep Capture, winning matters more to Milken than battling the disease that once afflicted him.
Yes, it’s all about “the game.”
This might explain why Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit snubbed its nose at Dendreon, a company that did not have a cure for prostate cancer, but did boast the most promising new treatment available—a treatment that could have been safely administered to patients right away. This might explain why Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation instead supported Novacea, a company whose controlling shareholders were Milken’s ProQuest Investments and Domain Associates. As we will see, Novacea’s treatment was more likely to kill patients than save them, but that does not matter when it’s all about winning “the game.”
To win the game, of course, one must have allies — preferably miscreants who know a good scheme when they see it. Perhaps that is why Perceptive Advisors, which is an affiliate of Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald’s biotech empire, invested a large sum in Milken’s Novacea while serving as one of the seven Milken-network hedge funds that bet big against Dendreon.
As you will recall, Perceptive Advisors didn’t just bet big, it also pounded Dendreon by exercising call options, flooding the market with millions upon millions of Dendreon shares. Simultaneously, Milken crony Steve Cohen, whose former top trader was a vice president of Lindsay Rosenwald’s Paramount Capital, flooded the market with at least 1.6 million Dendreon shares.
But it’s not just about winning the game. It’s about the exhilaration of pushing the limits. It’s about being brazen – brazen to the extreme; brazen to point of lunacy – and seeing if you can (ha! ha! ha!) get away with it.
Perhaps that is why Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation went to extraordinary lengths (delivering money, organizing conferences, dispatching prominent doctors) to promote a mostly untested prostate cancer treatment – a treatment (Abiraterone) that was ostensibly being developed by Cougar Biotechnology, the company that was controlled until recently by the above-mentioned Lindsay Rosenwald, who is not only the son-in-law of the “king of stock fraud,” but also a former vice chairman of D.H. Blair – a firm whose president was Michael Milken’s former national sales manager; a firm that was tied to the Mafia and indicted on 173 counts of securities fraud; a firm that was best known for fraudulently pumping and dumping biotech companies that had no real medicine whatsoever.
Yes, it’s all about “the game.”
Perhaps this also explains the strange occurrences that began in the Spring of 2007.
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In the weeks after the FDA’s advisory panel meeting on March 29, 2007, there were only three financial analysts on the planet who were giving a “sell” rating to Dendreon’s stock.
The first two you have already met. One was the song-singing Sendek of Lazard research, the outfit run by the former head of research at a subsidiary of TheStreet.com, which was co-founded by Milken crony Marty Peretz, short selling hedge funds, and Jim Cramer, the former hedge fund manager turned “journalist.”
The second was Jonathan Aschoff, the doctor-impersonating fraud who used to work for Sturza’s Institutional Research, a firm that specialized in publishing biased, negative financial research on biotech companies for a network of short sellers that included the likes of Jim Chanos (Sturza’s current employer) and Michael Steinhardt (mentor to Chanos; son of the “biggest Mafia fence in America”; partner of Milken co-conspirator Ivan Boesky; and incubator of Jim Cramer’s hedge fund).
The third financial analyst who was bashing Dendreon in the spring of 2007 was Maged Shenouda of UBS, the investment bank. Shenouda’s arguments against Dendreon matched almost precisely those of Aschoff and the singing Sendek, both of whom we have shown to be part of the Milken network. So it is probably significant that Shenouda’s boss, the president of UBS’s investment banking, was (until March 2007) Ken Moelis, who had once been a trader for Michael Milken’s operation at Drexel, Burnham, Lambert. Indeed, Moelis had been one of Milken’s most trusted and favored employees.
While this protégé of Milken was president of UBS, the company had become one of the more crooked banks in the world. According to the Department of Justice, for example, UBS “systematically and deliberately” violated U.S. law by recruiting Americans looking to evade taxes. But, of course, it was not ordinary Americans who hid their money at UBS. It was only the wealthiest of people, especially hedge fund managers, who stashed billions upon billions of dollars in secret accounts at UBS, while perhaps taking advantage of the bank’s other “services” as well.
Was one those “services” illegal naked short selling? In 2006, the Louisiana attorney general filed court documents to compel UBS to hand over records that would help answer that question. Specifically, the attorney general suspected that UBS had, along with Refco, processed phantom stock for Rhino Advisors, the hedge fund whose manager became a fugitive from U.S. law, living in Austria, his money undoubtedly stashed in secret bank accounts, after his “unbridled” criminal naked short selling destroyed companies that had been hobbled by fraudulent “death spiral” PIPEs deals, many of which were brokered by Milken crony Carl Icahn’s Ladenburg Thalmann.
In March of 2007, when Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment appeared to be on the fast track to FDA approval, and a UBS research analyst was trashing Dendreon, another interesting event was unfolding. Specifically, Mitchel Guttenberg, who had sat on an elite 12-member committee that signed off on the contents of UBS’s financial research, had just been arrested by the FBI.
Prior to joining UBS, Guttenberg had not had a distinguished career. He started out in Wisconsin, where regulators determined that he was trading without a proper license. Later, he worked at a second-tier bank called First Albany and put in time at Axiom Capital, a firm that was once censured by the NASD for publishing false financial research on biotech companies. (More recently, one of Axiom’s brokers was charged with systematically defrauding mentally handicapped elderly people).
Moelis, the Milken protégé who was president of UBS, stacked the bank with his cronies, many of them former Milken employees, and had a propensity for hiring and promoting people who were a bit rough around the edges. For example, it would have been Moelis who promoted Guttenberg to the elite committee that signed off of UBS’s financial research.
Soon after joining UBS’s financial research committee, according to the DOJ, Guttenberg began illegally providing inside information about the contents of soon-to-be released UBS research reports to a circle of hedge fund managers and traders. Two of the traders who profited from Guttenberg’s tips worked for a hedge fund called Chelsey Capital. Previously, the SEC had investigated Chelsey Capital and a hedge fund called GLG Partners for allegedly paying investment banks large commissions (bribes) in exchange for privileged access to initial public offerings.
It is clear that GLG Partners (and perhaps, by extension, also Chelsey Capital) is a member of the network of hedge funds that is the subject of this story. Thanks to a lawsuit that Canadian insurer Fairfax Financial filed against SAC Capital (run by Milken crony Steve Cohen, the “most powerful trader on Wall Street”); Kynikos Associates (run by the above-mentioned Jim Chanos, who was featured in Chapter 6 of this story), and other hedge funds in their network, Deep Capture has acquired copies of emails that Jim Chanos sent to GLG Partners. While it is difficult to tell from these emails whether GLG participated in the network’s attack on Fairfax, Chanos certainly communicated with GLG about the status of that attack.
In March, 2007, when Mitchel Guttenberg, the member of UBS’s elite 12-member financial research committee, was arrested, the SEC stated that Guttenberg was at the center of “one of the most pervasive insider trading rings since the days of [Milken co-conspirator] Ivan Boesky….” A few days later, Moelis, the Milken protege, resigned from UBS to start his own investment bank.
A few months after that, French authorities busted another UBS insider trading ring, this one including UBS subsidiary UBS O’Conner; the above-mentioned GLG Partners; and a hedge fund called Meditor Capital. At the time, one of Meditor’s top traders was Andrew Billet, formerly of SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by Milken crony Steve Cohen, who was one of the seven “colorful” traders who held large numbers of put options in Dendreon.
This connection would not be worth mentioning except for the fact that Steve Cohen is known to include former employees in his nationwide trading network, and in 2007, Meditor’s trading tended to run parallel to that of Cohen’s hedge funds. Indeed, Meditor’s biggest share purchases were in biotech companies – Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Vion Pharmaceuticals, Atherogenics, and Cypress Bioscience — that were also targeted by Cohen’s SAC Capital.
Moreover, in April, 2007, right before some strange occurrences were to derail Dendreon, Meditor purchased 1.6 million shares in Novacea, the company whose controlling shareholders (Michael Milken’s ProQuest and Domain Associates) must have known, for reasons that I will describe, that they would make money on their investment in Novacea only in the event that Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer failed to go to market.
Aside from Meditor Capital, there was, in the spring of 2007, only one other hedge fund that made a major investment in Milken’s Novacea – a company whose prostate cancer treatment, we will see, had no chance of reaching patients anytime soon. The second hedge fund was Perceptive Advisors, managed by an employee of Paramount Capital, whose vice president was formerly one of Steve Cohen’s top traders.
Perceptive Advisors, we know, was one of the seven “colorful” hedge funds that held large numbers of put options in Dendreon. And Paramount Capital was owned by Lindsay Rosenwald, the Milken crony who controlled Cougar Biotechnology, another Dendreon “competitor” that claimed to have a treatment for prostate cancer, though that treatment had almost no data showing that it could be safely administered to patients.
So we can begin to see a pattern – a pattern that is all the more interesting when you consider the strange occurrences that began in April 2007.
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I will get to those strange occurrences in a moment. But first let’s learn a bit more about that first UBS insider trading ring — the one that was busted in March 2007, when a UBS researcher was bashing Dendreon.
In addition to the Chelsey traders, the ring included two other miscreants – David Glass and David Tavdy, both of whom received advance notice of the contents of UBS’s financial research. Tavdy, described as a “scrappy” Russian immigrant, was a close friend and former First Albany co-worker of Mitchel Guttenberg, the fellow who was a member of UBS’s elite financial research committee. Tavdy earned a fortune from his trading, but apparently unsatisfied, he had painted on his expensive, high-speed motor boat the name, “Enough is Never Enough.”
Glass had previously spent most of his career at Sterling Foster, which was one of the first brokerages shut down by the FBI when the bureau began its crackdown on Wall Street outfits believed to be tied to the Mafia. Glass quit his job at Sterling Foster right before the FBI raided the firm, arresting 20 of its brokers. Later, Glass helped a close friend write the script for “Boiler Room,” the successful movie about a brokerage that specialized in ripping off investors.
Glass was the first one busted for his role in the UBS insider trading ring. The FBI promptly strapped him with a wire and dispatched him to record a conversation with a Wall Street greaseball named Larry McKeever, who had said that he was going to expose the UBS insider trading ring to the authorities unless Glass paid him a large sum of money.
In the course of this conversation, Glass mentioned Tavdy and Tavdy’s close friend, Mitchel Guttenberg, whom Milken crony Ken Moelis had promoted to UBS’s financial research committee, putting him in a position to illegally disclose the contents of upcoming UBS research reports.
Specifically, Glass told McKeever that the attempted bribe wasn’t a good idea because Guttenberg and Tavdy might find out about it. Glass was especially careful to warn McKeever about Tavdy. As Glass put it, Tavdy “probably knows the name of Larry McKeever.”
In response, McKeever said of Tavdy: “Listen, Glass, I kid you not—he’s a fucking dead man. I don’t give a fuck if he’s tied into the Russian mob or whatever. I’ll find that cocksucker, mark my words. My lips to your ears. He don’t know my name.”
At this point, McKeever appeared to have had second thoughts about issuing threats to Tavdy, a guy who might be tied to the Russian mob.
McKeever nervously added, “How does he know my name?”
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In March 2007, after the FDA advisory panel voted in favor of Provenge, the singing Sendek, the doctor-impersonating Aschoff, and the fellow from UBS’s troubled research shop were the only three financial analysts in the world who were dismissive of Dendreon’s prospects. But it is interesting to see what a determined public relations campaign can accomplish.
Dendreon’s treatment was the first-ever vaccine for cancer. It was the first-ever promising substitute for the ravages of chemo. And it was the first-ever cancer therapy that could target and boost the immune system. Although the data suggested that it did not prevent the inevitable end in some patients, but merely forestalled it, the treatment was truly revolutionary and seemed to have the potential to save a lot of people. So one might have expected some media excitement.
But Dendreon was a small company that did not understand how “the game” worked. The whispering hedge funds, along with their proxies — the song-singing, doctor-impersonating analysts – were more sophisticated. So the press reports on Dendreon were few in number. And most of them featured Sendek, Aschoff, or the UBS fellow voicing their party line that Provenge was “dangerous” – that the data was insufficient, that there were better drugs in the pipeline. And as the days went by we heard more and more about this strange notion that the Provenge advisory panel had asked the “wrong question” – that the FDA might have to “change the question.”
Dendreon’s enemies repeated their “talking points.” They stayed “on message.” They manufactured the news, and the news was that the FDA just might reject Dendreon’s application. Rarely mentioned was the fact the FDA had never in history rejected a drug for dying patients after its expert advisory panel had voted for approval.
But despite the weird news reports, Dendreon’s stock price continued to soar.
And so, the hedge funds continued to pile on. Call options (such as those exercised by the above-mentioned Perceptive Advisors, which was part of Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald’s biotech trading empire) were exercised in mass. And millions upon millions of phantom shares continued to flood the market. By April 10, Forbes magazine was reporting that Dendreon, a company that then had a market cap of just under $2 billion, had become one of the top three most heavily traded stocks on Wall Street – beating out Microsoft, Cisco, and Seagate Technologies.
On April 12, Jim Cramer tried to explain away the increase in the stock price. He told CNBC’s audience that they were witnessing a short “squeeze,” – the stock price was soaring as short sellers scrambled to buy shares to cover their positions. Cramer added that he was aware of one hedge fund manager who had failed to buy counterbalancing call options at an effective strike price. This was probably a reference to the above-mentioned Edelman. In any case, Cramer seemed to be saying that it was just a matter of time before the stock price would crash again.
Cramer was right about that. But there was no short “squeeze” – the short sellers were not covering their positions. To the contrary, they were growing their positions — exponentially. On April 4, 2007, around 3 million Dendreon shares were sold short. The next day, the number of shares sold short quadrupled – to 13 million. And more than 10 million shares were sold short every day leading up to April 12.
It is a safe bet that these short sellers knew that something was going to crack Dendreon’s stock price.
And sure enough, on April 13, Dendreon witnessed the first of some singularly strange occurrences.
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Late that day – April 13 – a newsletter called The Cancer Letter published a presumably confidential letter that Dr. Howard Scher of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center had written to the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Scher was one of the 17 doctors who had sat on the FDA’s advisory panel, and his letter — which was addressed to an FDA deputy commissioner and cc’d to then FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach and an FDA official named Richard Pazdur – argued vehemently that Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment should not be approved.
This was strange for numerous reasons. For one, it was unprecedented for a doctor to lobby the FDA after an advisory panel had already voted on a treatment. Doctors who are contracted by the FDA to judge a treatment for a life threatening disease voice their opinions during the advisory panel meeting. At the end of the meeting, they are invited to vote on two questions: Is the treatment safe? And, is there “substantial evidence” that the treatment might improve the health of patients? The vote is considered final. When it’s done, the doctors are expected (as we will see) to go home and keep their opinions to themselves.
When Dendreon supporters and prostate cancer advocacy groups–including Care-To-Live, a heroic organization that has done much to publicize Dendreon’s travails–saw Scher’s letter, they asked Francesco Marincola, a doctor who had sat on the Provenge advisory panel, to write his own letter in Dendreon’s defense. Dr. Marincola declined. He said, “As you may well infer…I share many of your opinions. However, I strongly believe that my role as a member of the advisory board is to express my opinion during the meeting [and that] it would be ill advised to influence the FDA decision beyond that point.”
Dr. Marincola added: “If it is true (which I doubt) that some other member of the board contacted the FDA afterwards, it is beyond my control. But my personal opinion is that my credibility as a member of the board will be better preserved if I give my impartial opinion at the time of the meeting and let the FDA do their work afterwards.”
This, said Dr. Marincola, was a matter of preserving the “integrity of the process.”
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The second thing strange about Dr. Scher’s missive is that, within days, it ended up in the hands of The Cancer Letter, a publication whose subscribers include a significant number of Wall Street investors. FDA employees are forbidden to discuss the merits of medical products in public, and one big reason is that news of such discussions can profoundly affect stock prices.
The publication of Scher’s letter was reminiscent of an event that had made The Cancer Letter famous in the world of biotech – an event that had established The Cancer Letter’s reputation as an organ of short selling hedge funds. That event was the FDA’s decision in 2001 to deny approval of a cancer drug that had been developed by a biotech company called ImClone.
News of the ImClone decision was made public not by the FDA. Somebody had inside information that the FDA was going to reject ImClone’s cancer treatment, and that somebody leaked the information to The Cancer Letter, which published it with great fanfare. In the days prior to the publication, short selling in ImClone increased dramatically. Meanwhile, ImClone executives and their friends offloaded their shares.
One of those friends was Martha Stewart, who was then known for her all-American, home lifestyle products. Stewart was accused of trading on her inside information about the FDA’s ImClone decision. Ultimately, she went to jail for obstructing the DOJ’s investigation into her actions.
Others were more fortunate. A Congressional investigation into the ImClone affair produced phone records that showed who had called ImClone in the days before the FDA’s decision was made public by The Cancer Letter. These records show that on December 27, 2001, ImClone received phone calls from three hedge fund managers. Presumably, these three hedge fund managers had gotten wind of the imminent story in The Cancer Letter, and were calling to discuss.
It should surprise nobody that these hedge fund managers were all members of a particularly colorful Wall Street network. One of the three hedge funds that called ImClone that day was Ziff Brothers Investments. That, remember, is the fund that incubated the trading empire of Jim Chanos, who is now under investigation for trading ahead of reports issued by financial research firm Morgan Keegan. Dirk Ziff, as you will recall, was introduced to Chanos by Michael Steinhardt (Milken crony; Boesky partner; son of “the biggest Mafia fence in America”) and by Ziff’s Harvard Professor, Marty Peretz (Steinhardt partner; Boesky crony; Milken pal).
The second hedge fund that called ImClone that day was SAC Capital, run by Steve Cohen, the Milken crony who is “the most powerful trader on the Street.” As you will recall, Cohen is a Chanos collaborator (both received and communicated about advanced copies of the same Morgan Keegan reports, and they have frequently employed the same tactics, and the same thugs, to attack the same companies). As you will also recall, previously Cohen was the top earner at Gruntal & Company, a Mafia-linked brokerage that owed its existence to Milken’s junk bond finance. While there, he was reportedly investigated for trading on inside information provided to him by Milken’s people at Drexel Burnham.
The third fund manager who called ImClone that day was Carl Icahn, the Milken crony who founded the options department at the Mafia-linked Gruntal & Company before becoming a billionaire by brokering “death spiral” PIPEs financing in cahoots with criminal naked short sellers, and by blackmailing companies with finance from Milken and the Mafia-connected Zev Wolfson.
It is difficult to know whether these three fund managers acted on the secret ImClone information that The Cancer Letter made public soon after they called ImClone. We don’t know because the SEC does not require hedge funds to disclose their short positions, as they do their long holdings.
Short positions are, after all, a big secret.
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We do know that in the days leading up to The Cancer Letter’s publication of Dr. Scher’s letter, short selling of Dendreon’s stock increased dramatically. Meanwhile, criminal naked short sellers continued to churn out phantom stock. SEC data shows that at least 9 million shares had failed to deliver on April 10. There were similar numbers the following day, and on the day after that, more than 10 million shares had failed to deliver. On April 10, Dendreon’s stock was trading at its high of around $25. By April 12, the day before The Cancer Letter’s “scoop,” the stock had already nosedived to around $18.
This trading was strange. And as mentioned, Dr. Scher’s letter was strange.
It wasn’t just that Dr. Scher’s lobbying of the FDA was unprecedented and an affront to the “integrity” of the drug approval process. And it was not just that his letter to the FDA quickly appeared in The Cancer Letter (just as The Cancer letter had made public the FDA’s decision about ImClone). And it was not just that short selling hedge funds clearly knew that Dr. Scher’s letter was in the works.
It was that Dr. Scher’s letter precisely echoed the party line that had been put out by the whispering hedge funds, the song-singing Sendek, the UBS researcher, and the doctor-impersonating Jonathan Aschoff.
Like the Wall Street analysts, Dr. Scher said that Provenge had failed to meet its “primary end-points in two clinical trials” — that the data was not absolute “proof” that Provenge worked. And just as Aschoff had told journalists that it would be “dangerous” to approve Dendreon, Dr. Scher argued that the FDA would be somehow setting a dangerous precedent by approving a new standard of treatment.
Dr. Scher’s letter was also reminiscent of that Dendreon conference call, when the singing Sendek asked, over and over, whether the advisory panel had asked the “right question” and whether the FDA might have to “change the question.” Now Dr. Scher, too, was suggesting that the advisory panel had somehow been a sham – that it had “changed the question” regarding the efficacy of Provenge. Since the panel had voted on the wrong “question,” Scher argued, the panel’s overwhelming endorsement of Provenge should be disregarded.
It seemed that Dr. Scher, who is one of the most prominent cancer doctors in America, was parroting the medical wisdom of Wall Street goons. Either that, or the goons were parroting Dr. Scher. Whichever the case, and whatever their motivations, Wall Street miscreants and a prominent FDA-contracted doctor were now working in parallel to quash a promising treatment for prostate cancer.
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Here’s another factoid about Michael Milken’s ProQuest Investments. As I mentioned, ProQuest whitewashed its website, so that it no longer identifies the directors of its advisory board. Screenshots from the past allowed me, in a previous section of this story, to tell you who most of those directors were as of Spring, 2007. But there is one ProQuest director whom I have not yet identified by name.
This ProQuest director is a doctor. And his name is Howard Scher.
That is correct: Dr. Howard Scher, who sat on the advisory panel that voted on the merits of Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment, and then trashed Dendreon’s treatment in a letter to the FDA (an unprecedented lobbying effort after an advisory panel had voted), was also a director of Michael Milken’s ProQuest Investments. In fact, Dr. Scher was not just a director of ProQuest, he was also an executive of the fund, which likely means he stood to profit from its investments.
(l to r) Dr. David Solit, Tommy Lasorda, Dr. Howard Soule, Dr. Howard Scher and Michael Milken
Dr. Scher was, moreover, the chairman of the “Therapeutic Consortium” at Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation. He also received unknown amounts of money as the lead investigator of Asentar, the prostate cancer treatment that was being developed by Novacea, whose controlling investors were Milken’s ProQuest Investments and its affiliate, Domain Associates. Meanwhile, Dr. Scher was a paid member of the advisory board of Cougar Biotechnology, the Dendreon competitor that was controlled by Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald, formerly of the Mafia-connected pump-and-dump stock fraud shop D.H. Blair.
It is bad enough that the world’s foremost financial criminal, Michael Milken, stood to profit from the demise of a promising prostate cancer treatment. It is disconcerting to know that Lindsay Rosenwald, a Mafia-connected Milken-crony with a record of destroying real companies and creating fake companies, is among the biggest biotech players in the nation – a player who controls 8% of the world’s pharmaceutical firms. It is unsettling to know that this crony and those seven Milken-network hedge funds with large numbers of put options were no doubt intent on seeing Dendreon fail.
But somehow, the saddest news of all is that Dr. Scher took unprecedented steps to derail a competing treatment that could have extended the lives of a great many men. Dr. Scher is one of the most prominent physicians in America. He is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on prostate cancer. His opinions matter. His advice is heeded. It is likely that at some point Dr. Scher believed that other treatments were superior to Dendreon’s, but somewhere along the line, he seems, at least to some extent, to have let his motives become mixed in with his incentives.
Given his connections to Milken’s ProQuest Investments, to Novacea (the company controlled by ProQuest and an affiliate) and to Dendreon’s other competitors (such as Cougar Biotechnology), Dr. Scher probably should not have sat on the FDA advisory panel that voted on whether Dendreon should be approved. He certainly should not have been lobbying the FDA. He should not have trashed Dendreon’s treatment, for as he must have known, due to these other relationships, he could no longer claim to be an objective observer.
He had what they call…well, in more innocent times, they called it a “conflict of interest”
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Maybe we should not be too hard on Dr. Scher. I am reminded of a story that I once reported for Time Magazine in Asia, about a network of Mafia-connected stock brokerages that had set up shop in Bangkok, Thailand in order to avoid the FBI “Mob on Wall Street” crackdown that led to Operation Uptick in 2000. The owners of the brokerages were bad guys (there was a point where they nearly began murdering each other in the streets of Bangkok), but they had become quite prominent in some business circles. They were also fantastically generous “philanthropists.”
The bad guys gave especially large sums of money to a priest who was famous for the wonderful work he had done to help people in Bangkok’s most dire slums. The priest was, of course, grateful for the contributions, and he used every opportunity to speak highly of his benefactors. Even when the bad guys were charged with crimes – even when they became fugitives from the law – the priest spoke quite strongly in their defense. He simply refused to acknowledge that the criminals were anything other than “prominent” businessmen and “prominent” philanthropists.
The priest was not a bad man. He was as good as they come. But he had received so much money – and he had deployed this money to so much good purpose – that he was inclined to continue working with the criminals.
The famous priest should have condemned the miscreants. He was an important voice of moral authority. But by the wonders of human psychology, he possibly believed, quite genuinely, that the criminals had done no wrong. We call this phenomenon “deep capture.” The priest had been “captured” by the criminals. His judgment was clouded.
Perhaps Dr. Scher was a priest of the medical community. Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation had donated tens of millions of dollars to Dr. Scher’s hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering (a hospital, it should be noted, by way of disclosure, that has also received significant donations from the family of Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne, whose cancer was successfully treated there). With support from the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Dr. Scher and Memorial Sloan have been able to continue their research into experimental treatments that perhaps will one day help patients.
No doubt, Dr. Scher was grateful for this generosity. No doubt, he was earnest about his Milken-financed investigations and believed that he was contributing to the advancement of science. Meanwhile, Milken and his foundation had become quite “prominent” players in the fight against prostate cancer. Indeed, it is fair to say that Milken, more than anyone, had come to dominate the prostate cancer establishment. Nobody had more influence. So, in Dr. Scher’s view, it perhaps made perfect sense to collaborate with this criminal. As his collaboration grew, he perhaps became inextricably tied to the work – not just financially, but also emotionally.
The phenomenon of “deep capture” is indeed pervasive. And it is pervasive because it can swallow anyone – even those with the best of intentions.
That said, Dr. Scher’s letter to the FDA was not merely the work of an earnest but “captured” physician. As we will see, it was conniving. It trashed Dendreon in a manner that was patently dishonest, and exaggerated the promise of a treatment (the one under development at Milken’s Novacea) that would soon be shown to be ineffective.
Unwittingly or not, Dr. Scher aided the machinations of the criminal Michael Milken. And as we will see, there are good reasons to suspect that those machinations were not about philanthropy or fighting cancer, or even about investing in companies that had genuine value.
The machinations were about destroying a good company so that Milken and a network of hedge funds could make a big bundle of money.