Tag Archive | "short seller"

The Markit Group: A Black-Box Company that Devastated Markets

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The Markit Group: A Black-Box Company that Devastated Markets


Although much attention has been directed at the contribution made by credit default swaps  to the financial crisis, most discussion has focused on the companies, such as American International Group, that posted big losses because they sold these instruments without sufficient due diligence.

Another line of inquiry has not been pursued, however, though it is of equal, and perhaps greater, significance. That line of inquiry concerns the way in which the prices of credit default swaps effect the perceived value of all forms of debt — corporate bonds, commercial mortgages, home mortgages, and collateralized debt obligations — and as a result, the ability of hedge funds manipulators to use credit default swaps to enhance their bear raids on public companies.

If short sellers can manipulate the price of credit default swaps, they can disrupt those companies whose debt is insured by the credit default swaps whose prices are manipulated.  The game plan runs as follows: find a company that relies on a layer of debt that is both permanent, and which rolls over frequently (most financial firms fit this description). Short sell that company’s stock. Then manipulate the price of the CDS upwards, preferably into a spike, as you spread the news of the skyrocketing CDS price (perhaps with the cooperation of compliant journalists at, say, CNBC).

Because the CDS is, in essence, an insurance policy on the debt of the company, the spiking CDS pricing will cause the company’s lenders to panic and cut off access to credit. As this happens, the company’s stock will nosedive, thereby cutting off access to equity capital. Thus suddenly deprived of credit and equity, the firm collapses, and the hedge fund collects on its short bets.

Moreover, credit default swap prices are the primary inputs for important indices (such as the CMBX and the ABX) measuring the movement of the overall market for commercial and home mortgages.  In the months leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, short sellers pointed to these indices in order to argue  that investment banks – most notably Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers – had overvalued the mortgage debt and property on their books. Meanwhile, several hedge funds made billions in profits betting that those indexes would drop.

It should therefore be a matter of some concern that credit default swap “prices” and the indexes derived from them are determined almost entirely by a little company with zero transparency and, it appears probable, a high exposure to influence from market manipulators. The company is called Markit Group, and there is every reason to believe that its CDS-driven indices (the CMBX, the ABX, and several others) are inaccurate, while the credit default swap “prices” that they publish  and which rock the market are in fact  nowhere close to the prices at which credit default swaps actually trade.

Last year, the media reported that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo had sent subpoenas to Markit Group as part of an investigation into possible manipulation of credit default swap prices by short sellers. This investigation, like Mr. Cuomo’s other investigations into market manipulation, have yielded no prosecutions.

The Department of Justice is reportedly investigating Markit Group for anti-trust violations. This investigation (which is reportedly focused on how Markit Group packages and sells its information) seems to acknowledge that Market Group has near-monopolistic control of information about credit default swap prices. However, if the press reports are correct, the DOJ has not considered the possible appeal of this monopolistic control to market manipulators.

Meanwhile, Henry Hu, the director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s division of risk, has said that it has been nearly impossible for the SEC to conduct investigations into any matter concerning credit default swaps because the commission does not have access to any data on the trading of CDSs. In itself, this is a shocking admission.  It is all the more shocking when one considers that the necessary data exists and might be in the hands of the Markit Group – a black box company based in London.

A thorough investigation of Markit Group is urgently required.

Here is what we know so far:

  • Markit Group was co-founded by Rony Grushka, Lance Uggla, and Kevin Gould. Prior to founding Markit Group, Mr. Grushka’s main line of business was investing in Bulgarian property developments. He recently resigned from the board of Orchid Developments Group, an Israeli-invested company based in Sophia, Bulgaria. Messrs. Uggla and Gould formerly worked for Toronto-Dominion Bank in Canada.
  • Markit Group’s founders also include four hedge funds. However, Markit Group refuses to disclose the names of those hedge funds. In response to an inquiry, a Markit Group spokesman said it was “corporate policy” to keep the names of the hedge funds secret, but he would not say why Markit Group had such a policy. It seems worth knowing whether those hedge funds have any influence over Markit Group’s published information or indexes, and whether those hedge funds are trading on that information. It would also be worth knowing whether those hedge funds or affiliated hedge funds have engaged in short selling of public companies whose debt and stock prices were profoundly affected by the information that Markit Group published.
  • Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and several other investment banks also have ownership stakes in Markit Group. The investment banks received their stakes in exchange for providing trading data to Markit Group. It would be worth knowing whether these investment banks engaged in short selling ahead of Markit Group’s published indexes and price quotations.
  • Markit Group is secretive about how it creates its indexes. In early 2008, the Wall Street Journal noted that the CMBX simply “doesn’t make sense” and that Markit Group’s indexes “might be exaggerating the amount of distress” in the home and commercial mortgage markets. In 2008, the average prediction for defaults on commercial mortgages was 2%. The CMBX implied that the default rate could be four times that level.
  • When short seller David Einhorn initiated his famous public attack on Lehman Brothers, one of his central arguments was that the CMBX (the index that was likely “exaggerating the amount of distress”) proved that Lehman had overvalued the commercial mortgages on its books.
  • In March 2008, the Commercial Mortgage Securities Association sent a letter to Markit Group asking it disclose basic information about how the CMBX index is created and its daily trading volume. “The volatility in the CMBX index, caused by short sellers, distorts the true picture of the value of commercial-mortgage-backed securities,” the group said in a statement.
  • Markit Group is equally secretive about how it derives its “prices” for credit default swaps. A spokesman for the company spent close to one hour talking to Deep Capture. He did his job well and sounded like he was trying to be helpful. But he told us as little as possible.
  • However, in the course of this conversation, we did learn that Markit Group’s “prices” are not actual, traded prices. They are mere quotations. The Markit Group has what it calls “contributors” – hedge funds and broker-dealers that provide it with information. Markit Group has a grand total of 22 “contributors.” Deep Capture asked Markit Group’s spokesman for the names of these “contributors.” The spokesman said he would try to find out the names and call back later. He never called back.
  • The 22 “contributors” provide Markit Group with quotations, and these quotations become the Markit Group’s “price.” In other words, the “contributors” can quote any price for a CDS that they choose, regardless of whether anyone is actually willing to buy the CDS at that price. Markit Group looks at these quotations. Then it somehow decides which quotations make the most sense. Then it publishes information that purports to represent the actual market price of that CDS. This process is certainly unscientific. And it is ripe for abuse.
  • Consider, for example, the Markit Group “price” for CDSs insuring the debt of company X.  The Markit Group price strongly suggests that company X is going to default on its debt in the immediate future. Short sellers eagerly point to the Markit Group CDS “price” as evidence that company X is doomed. Panic ensues, and suddenly, company X really is doomed. But the fact is, nobody ever bought a company X CDS at the price quoted by Markit Group. Rather, that panic-inducing “price” was, in effect, pulled out of a hat. Who pulled it out of a hat? That is matter of immense importance. There are two possible scenarios:
  • The first possible scenario is that the 22 “contributors” report their quotations in good faith. They should be sending the actual traded price, not just a quotation, but assume they are just doing what was asked of them. From these quotations, Markit Group somehow decides what the “price” should be. It is possible that this decision is based on some secret formula (which would be worrisome); or it is possible that Markit Group executives sit around a table debating what the price should be and take a shot in the dark (which would be even more worrisome); or it is possible that Markit Group deliberately chooses the most horrifying price possible in order to assist the short sellers who are affiliated with its owners (which would be a matter for the authorities).
  • The second possible scenario is that Markit Group acts in good faith (if not scientifically), but one or more of the 22 “contributors” or their affiliates has an interest in seeing company X fail. If just one of those “contributors” sends in an astronomically high quotation, that could be enough. Markit Group factors the absurd quotation into its posted “price” and it suddenly becomes possible to convince the world that company X is about to default on its debt.  Panic ensues, the firm’s layer of debt dries up, the stock price plunges, and perhaps the “contributor” or its affiliate make a lot of money.
  • As Deep Capture understands it, CDS quotations suggested by the 22 “contributors” also help determine the movement of the CMBX and ABX indexes. The movement of these indexes did serious damage to the American economy in multiple ways. The  indexes prompted write downs at most of the major banks and mortgage companies. They were ammunition for short sellers, like David Einhorn, who claimed that companies had cooked their books by not writing down to the rock bottom prices suggested by the Markit Group indexes. They helped precipitate the decline in prices of mortgage securities, and contributed mightily to the panic that spread across the markets.  A lot of people made a lot of money as result of those indexes moving downward. So, it is rather important to know more about how those indexes are formulated, and if they can be driven by the same people who are making directional bets on their movements.

Conclusion: Ten years ago, there was no such thing as a credit default swap. Six years ago, a very small number of investors traded credit default swaps as hedges against the long-shot possibility of corporate defaults. Nobody looked to credit default swaps as reliable indicators of corporate well-being.

Then, suddenly, there were over $60 trillion in credit default swaps outstanding. That is, over the course of a few years, somebody had made over $60 trillion (many times the gross domestic product) in long shot bets that borrowers would default on their debt. As this derivative risk marbled through the system, the trading in credit default swaps was completely opaque. Nobody knew who bought them, who sold them, or at what price.

But starting in 2001, we knew the “prices” of CDSs. We knew the “prices” because two Canadians, a developer of Bulgarian real estate, and four mysterious hedge funds had founded a small, black-box company in London. That company, the Markit Group, achieved near-monopolistic power to publicize the “prices” through its magic process of aggregating quotation information provided by 22 hedge funds and broker-dealers who could well have been betting on the downstream effects of sudden price changes.

These “prices” were not prices in any meaningful sense of the term.  But, suddenly, these “prices” became perhaps the single most important indicator of corporate well-being. Assuming that those four hedge funds and the 22 “contributors” (or hedge funds affiliated with them) bet against public companies, it seems more than possible that short-sellers got to run the craps table, call the dice, and place bets, all at the same time.

So perhaps it is not surprising that a lot of long-shot rolls paid off quite nicely.

Posted in Featured Stories, The Deep Capture Campaign, The Mitchell ReportComments (74)

Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 11 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 11 of 15)



What follows is PART 11 of a 15-PART series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture in the coming days, after which point the story will be published in its entirety.

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Click here to read PART 6

Click here to read PART 7

Click here to read PART 8

Click here to read Part 9

Click here to read PART 10

Where we left off, we had learned that on March 29, 2007, an FDA advisory panel voted overwhelmingly that Dendreon’s promising treatment for prostate cancer should be approved. As a result, most financial analysts and investors were expecting 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 reason to believe 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 controlled, along with an affiliate, 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, had supported Novacea and Cougar, while turning its back on Dendreon.

In addition, we had learned that in April 2007, Howard Scher, an FDA-contracted doctor who had sat on the FDA advisory panel that reviewed Dendreon’s application, and who also happened to be the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Therapeutic Consortium,” initiated an unprecedented lobbying campaign to have the FDA reject Dendreon’s application for approval. This was highly improper, not only because advisory panel doctors are not supposed to lobby the FDA after a panel has already voted, but also because Dr. Scher was hardly an objective observer. Aside from his affiliation with Milken’s “philanthropy,” Dr. Scher was also an executive and board member of Milken’s ProQuest Investments, the firm that controlled Dendreon’s competitor, Novacea. Dr. Scher was, moreover, leading clinical trials for Novacea and serving as a board member of Lindsay Rosenwald’s Cougar Biotechnology.

Also involved in the lobbying effort against Dendreon was Dr. Maha Hussain, who was also one of the 17 doctors who had sat on the FDA advisory panel that voted on Dendreon’s treatment (all 17 doctors voted that Dendreon was safe; only Dr. Scher, Dr. Hussain, and two others voted that it was not effective).  Dr. Hussain, like Dr. Scher, should not have been on that panel because she, too, had ties to the Milken-invested Novacea.

Perhaps owing to those ties, both Dr. Scher and Dr. Hussain trashed Dendreon in “confidential” letters to FDA commissioners, letters which immediately were reprinted in a dubious publication called The Cancer Letter, causing Dendreon’s stock price to tank, to the profit of those ten hedge fund managers who had had the “foresight” to place big long-shot bets against Dendreon.

Soon after, the FDA told Dendreon that it would not approve its prostate cancer treatment, sending the stock into the single digits, much to the delight of criminal naked short sellers who apparently knew the FDA decision was in the works and sold millions of phantom Dendreon shares in the days just prior to the decision becoming public knowledge.

While the hedge funds were not surprised by the decision, many were. This was the first time in history that the FDA had ignored an expert advisory panel recommendation to approve a treatment destined for dying patients.

Which raises the question…

* * * * * * * *

Who in the government helped sabotage Dendreon? Despite the lobbying by the captured doctors, despite the Wall Street whispering, despite the singing Sendek and the media mimics — despite all of this, it still seemed likely that the FDA would heed the advice of its advisory panel.

Instead, the FDA told Dendreon that it would not yet approve its treatment — that the company had to get more data, which would take years, by which time the company could easily run out of money. The FDA handed Dendreon (and prostate cancer patients) what seemed like a death sentence. This was a strange occurrence. It must have followed some serious work by government officials in high places.

One official who might have advocated against Dendreon was then FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, who was a close ally of Michael Milken. Dr. von Eschenbach was a founding director of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation, and later he was at the forefront of an ultimately unsuccessful effort to convince George Bush to grant a presidential pardon forgiving Milken for his crimes. But it is clear that von Eschenbach was not the only official courted by Milken and his associates.

Long before I came along, an assortment of Dendreon shareholders, prostate cancer patients, honest folks on Wall Street (there are some), and concerned citizens spotted the connections among Milken, ProQuest and the captured doctors who led the lobbying effort against Dendreon. When the FDA failed to approve Provenge, these folks saw that an injustice had been done, and they hollered loudly. Soon after, a grass roots organization called Care-to-Live was founded to advocate on Dendreon’s behalf.

Care-to-Live (to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for uncovering some of the information that appears in this story) has not only chronicled Dendreon’s travails, but has also labored tirelessly to right the wrongs.  It has organized street protests and letter-writing campaigns. It has lodged Freedom of Information Act requests and it has filed a lawsuit against the FDA. In the course of these efforts, it managed to get a hold of various documents and email communications between Dr. Scher (the physician with financial ties to Milken’s companies and “philanthropy”) and officials in the government bureaucracy.

What these documents and emails show is that Dr. Scher and his allies depended largely on support from a mid-level FDA employee and the National Cancer Institute, which oversees government funding of cancer initiatives, and has considerable, though unofficial, influence over FDA decisions. Over the years, Milken and his Prostate Cancer Foundation have made great efforts to ingratiate themselves with the NCI, which may be one reason why Dendreon was never able to receive government funding, despite the revolutionary potential of its treatment.

On March 31, 2007, Alison Martin, who was in charge of the prostate cancer division of the National Cancer Institute, emailed Dr. Scher, who was busy crafting the missive that would be published with mysterious immediacy by The Cancer Letter. “Glad to hear letter is being drafted,” Martin wrote. “If that [FDA] division’s vote suggests [that Dendreon’s treatment] be considered for approval, I was wondering if it then could go to ODAC, which is more clinically savvy, i.e. this is just a step in a process.”

The “division” whose possible approval of Dendreon’s treatment so discomfited Dr. Martin was the FDA’s Center for Biologic Evaluation & Research (CBER), which was assigned the task of evaluating Dendreon’s application. Martin was suggesting that if CBER was going to approve Provenge, perhaps the matter could be taken to ODAC – the FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee, which was led by an FDA official named Dr. Richard Pazdur.

Pazdur has a close relationship with a Washington lobbyist named Samuel D. Turner. Some years ago, Turner, who helps run an organization called the Cancer Leadership Council, led a campaign to have Pazdur appointed as the commissioner of the FDA. Michael Milken supported that campaign. And Milken’s advisors, such as Dr. Donald Coffey of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, have collaborated closely with Turner in another cancer lobbying group called C-Change, of which the Cancer Leadership Council is an affiliate.

As a result of this support, Milken and Pazdur have become very close friends.

Some years ago, a U.S. Congressional investigation determined that Pazdur, through his lobbyist friend Turner, had leaked inside information that the FDA was going to reject Erbitux, a cancer drug that was developed by ImClone. As you will recall, that inside information made its way to Martha Stewart, setting in motion the chain of events that landed her in jail.  The ImClone inside information also was first published in The Cancer Letter, the same rag that published Dr. Scher’s “confidential” letter to the FDA.  And, remember, the records of phone calls made to ImClone at that time raise the distinct possibility that funds managed by Milken cronies Carl Icahn, Steve Cohen, and Dirk Ziff also were privy to that information before it was made public.

As an aside, after ImClone’s stock crashed on the news, the company was seized by Milken crony Carl Icahn. And soon after Martha Stewart received the inside information, but before she was caught, hedge funds in the Milken network began short selling Martha Stewart’s company, Martha Stewart Living Omnivision. One hypothesis that explains the exquisite timing of those hedge funds is that the funds knew Martha was going to be arrested and therefore shorted her company on the assumption that news of her arrest would crash the stock. They may even have been the ones who turned her in.  But that is a story for another time.

For now, it merely needs to be emphasized that Pazdur, the FDA official, has unusually close relationships with Milken and some of his cronies. He was a key player in the ImClone scandal, which displays remarkable similarities (such as insider information mysteriously appearing in The Cancer Letter and the involvement of hedge funds in the Milken network) to the Dendreon scandal. And Pazdur appears to have been the FDA official most responsible for derailing Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment.

Pazdur was not supposed to be the one who decided whether Dendreon’s drug was approved. Instead, because the drug is a biologic, the decision rested with the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER). Nonetheless, Pazdur inserted himself into the decision process. It was at Pazdur’s behest that Dr. Scher and Dr. Hussain were, despite their ties to competing companies controlled by Milken’s funds and friends, appointed to the advisory panel that voted on Dendreon’s application.

As you will recall, Dr. Scher and Dr. Hussain were among the four panelists who quickly voted “No” to the incorrectly phrased question about Dendreon’s effectiveness. When the phrasing was changed to the correct, legally mandated question ( Is there “substantial evidence” that the drug reduces mortality?) the remaining 13 experts on the panel voted “Yes.”

According to eyewitnesses, just as panelists began voting “Yes,” Pazdur began passing notes to Dr. Maha Hussain, who then attempted to instill further confusion, apparently hoping to have the remaining panelists continue to vote on the incorrect question. Pazdur, who had come to the meeting uninvited and unannounced, also spent a good deal of time conversing with Dr. Hussain, giving the impression that they were working together to devise arguments that might turn the panel against Dendreon.

Curious to know whether it was Pazdur who ultimately derailed Dendreon’s application, perhaps even delivering the captured doctors’ “confidential” letters to The Cancer Letter – and wondering whether this had anything to do with Pazdur’s relationship with Michael Milken — Care-to-Live, as part of its lawsuit against the FDA, subpoenaed Pazdur’s relevant emails and documents.

Pazdur responded under oath as follows: “I searched both my paper and computer files and was unable to locate any documents that were responsive to Plaintiff’s requests. I recall receiving…these letters…However, as these letters related to a specific regulatory application conducted by a different FDA Center (CBER), did not fall under my direct regulatory supervision…I shredded my hard copies of these letters and deleted any electronic copies. The documents were shredded and deleted within a month of receipt.”

This response was strange. For one, Pazdur seemed to be stating that he had no involvement in the Dendreon decision. If that were the case, what was he doing at the advisory panel meeting?  Pazdur’s statement also contradicted an earlier statement from the FDA. In response to complaints that Pazdur had participated in a decision that was supposed to be left to the CBER division, the FDA said that he had done so “at CBER’s request.” Clearly, Pazdur had been involved in the decision, so it was disingenuous for him to state otherwise in his efforts to explain why he had (frantically?) shredded and deleted all the relevant documents.

Moreover, if Pazdur is telling the truth (and not, that is, simply obstructing justice), then Pazdur violated the spirit of various initiatives, including a bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and directives from the Archivist of the United States, aimed at ensuring that government employees maintain records of their official business. The reason that government officials are asked to keep good records is that they are sometimes involved in controversies – controversies such as the one that was swirling around Dendreon’s FDA application when Pazdur began shredding and deleting documents so promptly and thoroughly.

In any case, most of the documents that Care-to-Live requested had been transmitted electronically, meaning that a simple computer excavation could have retrieved them, even if they were deleted. Clearly, Dr. Pazdur had reason not to hand over those documents. Perhaps he was advised not to by his lawyer, who happens also to be the same lawyer who represents The Cancer Letter, the rag that published the “confidential” letters that Dr. Scher and Dr. Hussain wrote to Dr. Pazdur and FDA commissioners.

Fortunately, Alison Martin of the National Cancer Institute did not shred everything – she handed over at least some of her documents. And the email quoted above strongly suggests that her plan was to get Dendreon’s application out of the hands of the designated authority, CBER, and into the hands of Richard Pazdur. In response to that email, Dr. Scher wrote to Martin that he, too, would try to have Dendreon’s application “reviewed by ODAC” (which was controlled by Pazdur). In a follow-up email, Dr. Scher wrote: “Got a minute for quick question related to FDA processes?”

A minute later, Martin responded: “Consider this confidential, please…but I wanted you to know.” As to what confidential information she delivered to Scher, that is unclear from the documents received by Care-to-Live. Apparently, the telling documents were also promptly shredded.

But other documents and emails show that by early April, Martin was fully engaged in helping Scher draft his letter trashing Dendreon — the “confidential” letter to the FDA that would be quickly published by The Cancer Letter. Indeed, a copy of a half-edited draft of Dr. Scher’s letter was found on Martin’s computer. And in one email, Martin appears to complain about all the work she has done on this letter. “Maybe you should write a letter, too,” she jokes.

So an employee of the federal government was helping a conflicted doctor lobby the federal government. That is, Martin, the head of the prostate cancer unit at the National Cancer Institute, was helping a doctor – a doctor with financial ties to Michael Milken and to a competing, Milken-invested company — sabotage Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer.

As news of this started to reach Dendreon’s supporters, Martin left her job at the National Cancer Institute. Soon after, she was appointed president and chief executive officer of the Melanoma Research Alliance (where one  can safely suppose her compensation exceeds her previous government salary).

The Melanoma Research Alliance was a brand new “philanthropic” outfit. It had just been set up by a “prominent philanthropist.”

The name of the “prominent philanthropist” is, of course, Michael Milken.

Milken founded the Melanoma Research Alliance and hired Alison Martin with an initial grant from Leon Black, the “prominent” billionaire and Milken crony who does business with an alleged Russian mobster named Felix Sater.

Sater, remember, is the fellow who allegedly was behind the threat to have Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne murdered if Patrick did not end his crusade against abusive short selling and the “deep capture” of the nation’s regulatory bodies.

* * * * * * * *

On May 11, three days after the FDA failed to approve Dendreon’s treatment, The Wall Street Journal published a report that purported to investigate the allegations that the government approval process had been compromised. This “investigation” entailed asking Dr. Scher whether he had any conflicts of interest.

“’I try to keep to the high ground,’” Dr. Scher told The Journal. Apparently content with his reply, and eager to assuage any suspicions that something nefarious had gone down, The Journal added that Dr. Scher “serves as an advisor to Innovive, a small biotech not involved in prostate cancer, and works with Bristol-Myers Squibb in an unpaid capacity on early stage drugs that may hold promise in prostate cancer. He and his wife hold small amounts of stock in Biogen, Idec and Pfizer.”

That was it. According to the Journal, Scher had no conflicts of interest.

The Journal did not mention that Dr. Scher was a board member and executive of  Milken’s ProQuest Investments. It did not mention the fact that ProQuest was heavily invested in Novacea, a Dendreon competitor. It did not mention that Dr. Scher was leading the trials of Novacea’s prostate cancer drug, or that he was a paid director on the advisory board of another Dendreon competitor – Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald’s Cougar Biotechnology. And it did not mention that Dr. Scher was leading clinical trials for yet another Dendreon competitor, Cell Genesys, which, like Cougar and Novacea, was supported by Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation, whose “Therapeutic Consortium,” was chaired by none other than Dr. Scher.

The Wall Street Journal did not mention any of this, despite the fact that concerned citizens had plastered the information all over the Internet.

Four days after the Journal article appeared– May 15, 2007 – the FDA issued new guidelines for evaluating immunotherapy agents, such as Dendreon’s treatment. Now it was official – Pazdur’s division would have some influence.

This seemed like the FDA was papering over a scandal. If Pazdur had violated the guidelines by influencing the Dendreon decision, now the FDA could say that, in fact, there were new guidelines, and Pazdur had followed them (never mind that the new guidelines were written one week after the FDA failed to approve Dendreon’s treatment, possibly because Pazdur had violated the old guidelines).

* * * * * * * *

Just a few weeks after the FDA said it would not yet approve Dendreon’s treatment, it was easier to understand why Dr. Scher, Milken and their allies were so eager to see Dendreon fail. On May 30, 2007, Novacea, the company whose largest investors were Milken’s ProQuest Investments and the affiliated Domain Associates, announced that it had signed a $500 million deal to jointly develop its prostate cancer treatment with pharmaceutical giant Schering Plough. Within 24 hours, Novacea’s stock price jumped 86 percent.

In subsequent days, the business media reported this “news” as if it were not just a business triumph, but also a major breakthrough in the world of medicine. “On Tuesday, Novacea was just another young biotech, with a modest market capitalization of $187 million,” enthused Forbes magazine. “That all changed on Wednesday when the drug maker announced it had signed a deal worth over $500 million with pharma juggernaut Schering-Plough.”

Forbes added that Novacea’s treatment “appears to significantly increase the chance of survival among androgen-independent prostate cancer patients…”

As this $500 million figure and news of Novacea’s medical miracle made its way around the other news organizations, and appeared everywhere on the Internet, Novacea’s stock continued to soar.

Nobody in the media paused to consider whether a “$500 million deal” constitutes a medical breakthrough (like, for example, reducing mortality by 20% in late-stage prostate cancer patients, as Dendreon had done). The assumption was, if there is big money and the stock is soaring, the company’s prostate cancer treatment must be good.

Furthermore, nobody in the media paused to consider that had Dendreon received approval for its competing treatment, this “$500 million deal” would almost certainly not have happened. Nor did anybody in the media report that the people (Milken and friends) who stymied Dendreon were the same people who stood to profit from this purported “$500 million” deal.

At any rate, the deal was not quite what it was made out to be. Novacea did not receive $500 million. It received $60 million up front. Meanwhile, Schering-Plough was given $12 million worth of Novacea stock at a bargain price. By cashing out of the stock after it soared in value, Schering-Plough could significantly reduce that upfront investment. The rest of the much-trumpeted $500 million was dependent on Novacea’s clinical trials showing that its cancer treatment actually improved the health of patients.

Sure enough, just a few months later, in November 2007, Novacea announced that the clinical trial of its treatment had been terminated “due to an unexplained imbalance of deaths…” In other words, Novacea’s drug was not improving the health of patients. It was killing patients. And as soon as this news was released, the much-heralded $500 million Schering-Plough deal was cancelled.

Either shortly before or soon after the trials were terminated due to an “imbalance of deaths,” Milken’s ProQuest Investments and Domain Associates sold their stock in Novacea. Given the enormous boost the stock price had received after the “$500 million” news, it appears that  ProQuest and Domain (i.e. Michael Milken and friends) sold their stock at a significant profit.

So the questions remain: Did Dr. Scher (who worked for ProQuest and lead Novacea’s clinical trials) really believe that Novacea’s treatment was superior, as he claimed during his successful campaign to get the FDA to reject Dendreon’s drug? Did Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation, which was an extension of ProQuest and snubbed its nose at Dendreon’s treatment, really believe that there were better treatments in the pipeline?

Did ProQuest and its affiliate Domain, which founded Novacea, ever care about producing a marketable drug? Or was Novacea a scam? A scam that was built on real science (though Dr. Scher was less than upfront about the results of his clinical trials, his efforts to develop Novacea’s treatment were no doubt sincere).  A scam that was more sophisticated than those perpetrated by the bucket shops of yore, and whose every component may have been technically legal.

But nonetheless a scam – an old-fashioned pump and dump scam.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….Click here for Chapter 12.

If this article concerns you, and you wish to help, then:
1) email it to a dozen friends;
2) go here for additional suggestions: “So You Say You Want a Revolution?

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 10 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 10 of 15)



What follows is PART 10 of a 15-PART series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture in the coming days, after which point the story will be published in its entirety.

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Click here to read PART 6

Click here to read PART 7

Click here to read PART 8

Click here to read Part 9

Where we left off, we had learned that on March 29, 2007, an FDA advisory panel had voted overwhelmingly that Dendreon’s promising treatment for prostate cancer should be approved. As a result, most financial analysts and investors were expecting that Dendreon would become a profitable company. 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 reason to believe 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 Michael Milken himself stood to profit if Dendreon were to experience any 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, a Milken crony, Lindsay Rosenwald (who once helped run D.H. Blair, a Mafia-linked brokerage 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. In addition, we had learned that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, had supported Novacea and Cougar, while turning its back on Dendreon.

Finally, we had learned that on April 13, 2007, The Cancer Letter, a newsletter with a record of publishing information leaked from the FDA in the service of select Wall Street hedge funds, published another FDA leak. This leak was a letter written to the FDA from a doctor named Howard Scher, who was a board member and executive of ProQuest Investments and the chairman of the “Therapeutic Consortium” of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation. In that letter (an unprecedented attempt to lobby the FDA after an advisory panel had already voted), Dr. Scher argued vehemently that Dendreon’s treatment should not be approved.

One of Dr. Scher’s principal arguments against Dendreon was that the FDA advisory panel had improperly “changed the question” regarding the efficacy of Dendreon’s treatment. As we saw in Chapter 9, that claim was false, and Dr. Scher’s other arguments were specious.

But Dendreon’s enemies continued to whisper in reporters’ ears about this issue of “the question,” and the unprecedented lobbying of the FDA continued.

Now we meet another conflicted doctor and the sixth of those seven hedge funds that bet big against Dendreon right before the lobbying began….

* * * * * * * *

On April 20, three weeks after the advisory panel vote, and one week after Dr. Scher’s missive appeared in The Cancer Letter, Forbes journalist Matthew Herper published a story arguing that there was a good chance the FDA would not approve Dendreon’s cancer treatment outright. “If the agency wants to ask Dendreon for more data, it certainly has some outs,” Herper wrote. “The FDA changed the wording of the question…”

Three days later, Dr. Maha Hussain, one of the panel doctors who had quickly voted “No” on the bogus question, wrote a letter to the FDA arguing that Dendreon’s treatment should not be approved. This letter, like Dr. Scher’s, was addressed to FDA commissioners and was presumably confidential. And this letter, like Dr. Sher’s, found its way to The Cancer Letter, which posted it for all to see just three days after it was written.

Dr. Hussain’s arguments were precisely the same as those employed by Dr. Scher and the whispering folks on Wall Street. “The recommendations for approval…are based on data that can only be characterized as best as ‘suggestive’ of possible benefit,” she wrote. “From the scientific and procedural aspects, in general, it would seem that at the end of the day what should determine a positive verdict in any therapeutic trial is the strength of the evidence as critically reviewed by an Advisory Committee…with clear guidance on the question posed to the committee within the framework of the regulatory guidelines and requirements of the FDA for approval.” [Italics mine]

That is, Dr. Hussain—like Dr. Scher, the singing Sendek, and whoever was feeding the journalist Matthew Herper–was suggesting that the FDA panel had voted on the “wrong question.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Aschoff, the physician-impersonating financial analyst who’d set a target for Dendreon’s stock price to reach a mere $1.50, was telling journalists that the FDA panel would not have voted to approve Dendreon’s treatment if it weren’t for the “substantial” rewording of “the question.” On April 25, Aschoff issued another damaging report, this one asserting, once again, that the FDA would ignore its panel because the panel had voted on the “wrong  question.”

By this time Dendreon supporters were busily circulating transcripts showing that the FDA panelists had, in fact, voted on the legal question. The supporters had also discovered Dr. Scher’s ties to Novacea, Cougar Biotechnology, Proquest, and Michael Milken, and began explaining to all and sundry that ProQuest and Novacea would cash in if Dendreon were not approved. Moreover, the supporters had revealed that Dr. Hussain, the second letter writer, had also done work for the Milken-invested Novacea, and was a member of the “Therapeutic Consortium” of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation.

On April 26, Matthew Herper of Forbes published another article – this one repeating the arguments in Dr. Hussain’s letter. Herper, who had been told about Scher’s conflicts of interest, had apparently decided to investigate. This investigation seemed to have involved nothing more than asking Dr. Scher if he had any conflicts of interest. In his April 26 article, Herper  reported that Scher’s spokesman said “that Scher had nothing to do with his letter leaking [and appearing in The Cancer Letter], and that he knew of no family members who would benefit financially either way if Provenge were approved.”

To reinforce Scher’s credibility, and to make Dendreon’s supporters look silly, Herper added that the supporters had alleged that “Scher’s wife works for a hedge fund that might be short Dendreon…This is not true. She works in human resources for a nursing home company that could not conceivably benefit materially from any news about Dendreon.”

Aside from ignoring Scher’s ties to Milken’s ProQuest Investments, which would profit handsomely if Dendreon were not approved, Herper misconstrued the information about Scher’s wife. The truth was, Dendreon’s supporters had revealed that Scher’s wife had a cousin, Barry Lafer, who was a hedge fund manager. Phone records legally obtained by Deep Capture show that Scher called Lafer, at his office, on April 23, while Herper’s article was in the works.

But the main point of Herper’s article was that “all this debate” (i.e. the Wall Street whispering and the conjectures of two conflicted doctors) made “Dendreon an even riskier stock than other biotechs.” Herper added that according to unnamed “others,” Dendreon’s “studies do not rise to the level usually required for approval.”

Besides being false, this was another way of suggesting that the FDA panelists, all experts in their field, voted in favor of Dendreon because they had misunderstood the standards for approval. They had been asked the “wrong question.”

On April 29, Bloomberg News reported that Dendreon’s shares were being sold at “a record pace” as investors “bet the company’s experimental prostate-cancer drug will fail to win approval from U.S. regulators.”

Then, on May 4, there was yet another letter.  This one was from a University of Washington biostatistician named Dr. Thomas Fleming. It is perhaps noteworthy that Fleming had done work for Gerson Lehrman, an outfit that is owned by former hedge fund managers.

Gerson Lehrman has a remarkable business model which can best be described as “institutionalized bribery.” Clients, mostly hedge funds, hire Gerson to put doctors and other experts on the payroll. In exchange for the payments, the doctors agree to provide hedge funds with “insight” (some say they provide inside information) about clinical trials of drugs that are marketed by public companies. The doctors also agree to talk to reporters (and perhaps also to the FDA) about these drugs. In at least one case it has been clearly established that these hired sources lied (which could well explain, of course, why they were hired).

Like the letters from Dr. Scher and Dr. Hussain, within days of its creation Dr. Fleming’s missive miraculously ended up in the hands of The Cancer Letter, which eagerly published it.

“Reportedly Scher felt motivated to write the letter after being kept awake the night following the [advisory panel],” wrote Dr. Fleming. “I also was kept awake the night following the panel.”

In addition to knowing about Dr. Scher’s sleeping habits, Dr. Fleming shared Dr. Scher’s concern that approving Dendron’s treatment might derail Asentar, the drug that was being developed by Milken’s Novacea. How “could one defend internal consistency at FDA if [Provenge] were to be approved before the [Asentar] trial?” Fleming asked.

By this time, Dendreon’s supporters (a rambunctious bunch) were screaming and howling about the dishonesty of those who had suggested that the advisory panel had been asked the “wrong question.” So the party line changed a bit. Now it was that the panelists who had voted in Dendreon’s favor must have been somehow confused. Dendreon trials did not “provide ‘substantial evidence of efficacy’, Dr. Fleming wrote. “Rather at best, these trials provide plausibility of efficacy…”

I’ll leave it to the reader to parse the difference between “plausibility” and “substantial evidence.” But clearly, this letter was yet another strange occurrence.

Four days later – May 8, 2007 — the FDA told Dendreon that it was rejecting the company’s application for Provenge, a paradigm-shattering vaccine for those terminally ill with prostate cancer.

* * * * * * * *

The SEC’s partial data shows that more than 12 million Dendreon shares “failed to deliver” on May 10, 2007.  Traders are given three days to produce stock before their trades are registered as “failures to deliver,” so it is clear that hedge funds had sold the 12 million shares of phantom stock on May 7 — the day before the FDA made its decision. This suggests that somebody was aware of this imminent decision. We don’t know who engaged in that naked short selling because, as far as the SEC is concerned, it’s a big secret.

But we do know that a mere 10 hedge funds held large numbers of put options (a bet that the stock price would fall) as of March 31, a few days after the advisory panel’s nearly unanimous vote in Dendreon’s favor. Obviously, these were hedge funds with remarkable foresight concerning a long-shot event (the FDA’s decision to go against the overwhelming recommendation of its advisory panel to approve a drug for terminally ill cancer patients). Seven of those hedge funds belong to a mischievous Wall Street network that is known for its foresight – and for attacking companies that, coincidentally, are victims of illegal naked short selling.

Five of these hedge funds I have already named. All have ties to Michael Milken or his close associates. Some have ties to the Mafia. They are: Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, Perceptive Advisors, Millennium Capital, Steve Cohen’s Sigma Capital, and Pequot Capital.

In preparation for naming the sixth, we need to hearken back to September 2001, when two airplanes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth dove into a field in Pennsylvania. On the day before that attack, a short seller named Anthony Elgindy called his broker and ordered him to liquidate one of his accounts, giving the explanation that a big event was about to occur. Mr. Elgindy said that on the following day (that is, on September 11, 2001) the market was going to  lose two-thirds of its value.

After the 9-11 attacks, that broker notified the FBI of Elgindy’s eerie prediction, and the FBI launched an investigation. In the course of this investigation, the government learned  that Elgindy had sold massive amounts of phantom stock, and that he routinely blackmailed and threatened companies that he was selling short. The government also learned that Elgindy had ties to terrorist outfits in the Middle East, and for a time prosecutors argued in court that Elgindy had advance knowledge of the 9-11 disaster.

Ultimately, though, Elgindy was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison for the more demonstrable crimes of stock manipulation and paying bribes to two FBI officials who fed him information from the FBI’s National Crime Information System (one of those FBI agents actually kept Elgindy informed of the progress of the investigation into Elgindy’s connection to the 9-11 attacks). In June, 2009, it was learned that the SEC’s inspector general had begun investigating SEC officials who are also alleged to have collaborated with Elgindy, either by providing inside information on commission investigations, or launching destructive, dead-end investigations of companies that Elgindy was selling short.

Elgindy, like Bernard Madoff  (the Dendreon short and Ponzi schemer who helped write the SEC’s rules on naked short selling), is believed to have ties to organized crime. He once worked for a now-defunct Mafia-connected brokerage called Blinder Robinson (known on the Street as Blind’em, Rob-em), and a source close to the Elgindy investigation has told Deep Capture that, shortly before Elgindy appeared for sentencing, Russian mobsters forced Elgindy to saw off the tip of one of his own fingers as a reminder not to squeal on other members of his network.

There is evidence – including transcripts of Elgindy’s private Internet message board – that shows that Elgindy routinely attacked public companies in collaboration with certain hedge fund managers. A significant number of these hedge fund managers were part of the Milken network.

One of them was Jeffery Thorp, whose father once worked with the Genovese organized crime family to develop a method for cheating Las Vegas casinos. The government’s investigation of Elgindy eventually led to Thorp, who was charged in 2006 with providing fraudulent “death spiral” PIPEs financing to 22 companies. The SEC’s case, one of the rare instances in which the commission has identified a naked short seller by name, makes it clear that Thorp sold massive amounts of phantom stock, ultimately destroying the 22 companies that had received his fraudulent PIPEs.

Recall that similar “death spiral” PIPEs were arranged by Carl Icahn’s Ladenburg Thalmann, ending in the phantom stock ruination of more than 20 companies. Icahn is the “prominent” investor who owes his status as a billionaire to Michael Milken and the Mafia-connected Zev Wolfson. Icahn is also the “prominent” investor who, along with Ziff Brothers and Steve Cohen, called ImClone immediately before The Cancer Letter published the “leaked” news of an FDA decision.  Icahn is also the “prominent” investor whose former employee was the last man to see Alain Chalem (a Mafia-connected naked short seller) before Chalem’s head was riddled with bullets by Russian mobsters.

Do you still not believe that this network has ties to the Mob? Consider that Thorp’s father, in addition to working for the Genovese organized crime family, was the single most important player in the stock manipulation network that Milken operated in the 1980s.

The father, Edward Thorp, ran a hedge fund called Princeton-Newport. The FBI eventually raided that operation, hauling away phone recordings and documents. Thorp was not ultimately charged, but the evidence that the FBI retrieved that day featured prominently in the prosecution’s 98-count indictment of Milken. Indeed, people who worked on the case say that the Princeton Newport evidence was far more important to the prosecution than the testimony of Milken’s more famous co-conspirator, Ivan Boesky.

Do you still not believe that people in this network employ precisely the same ruthless tactics? Consider that when the FBI investigated Elgindy, it also stumbled upon a hedge fund called Gryphon Partners. One of Gryphon’s portfolio managers, Jonathan Daws, was eventually charged with participating in various short selling schemes hatched by Elgindy and his bribed FBI agent. In pleading guilty, Daws said, “others at Gryphon made trades in some of the relevant stocks, independent of me, and not at my direction.” Daws was convicted.  No charges were immediately filed against Gryphon.

However, in 2006, the SEC sued Gryphon for providing fraudulent “death spiral” PIPEs financing to 35 companies. Like Thorp and the hedge funds introduced by Carl Icahn’s Ladenburg Thalmann, Gryphon provided its PIPEs financing knowing that it would cause stock prices to fall. The hedge fund then hammered the companies with naked short selling, sending their stocks into “death spirals.” Most of the 35 companies were destroyed.

So, at this point in the story, we have identified more than 70 companies that have been vaporized by “prominent” investors, all part of the same network.

At any rate, Gryphon Partners, the Elgindy-connected, PIPEs-financing, 35 company-destroying SEC-sued death spiral finance house, was founded by G. Stacy Smith and Reid S. Walker, two “prominent” investors who have since gone on to greater things. They now run a hedge fund called WS Ventures.

And WS Ventures is the sixth of our seven “colorful” hedge funds that had the foresight to own large numbers of put options in Dendreon at the end of March 2007, just after the seemingly fantastic news that the advisory panel had voted overwhelmingly in Dendreon’s favor, and during the period when Dendreon was awash in illegal naked short sales, and just before the disastrous news that the FDA had rejected the advice of its own advisory panel.

A few months later, Dendreon, on the verge of collapse and desperate for money to support its sabotaged prostate cancer treatment, went ahead and signed a deal to receive its first “death spiral” PIPEs finance.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….Click here for Chapter 11.

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

1) email it to a dozen friends;

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

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 2 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 2 of 15)



What follows is PART 2 of a 15-PART series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture over several weeks, after which point the story will be published in its entirety. It is a story about the travails of just one small company, but it describes market machinations that have affected hundreds of other companies, and it contains a larger message for anyone concerned about the “deep capture” of our nation’s media and regulatory bodies.

Click here to read PART 1

Where we left off, CNBC’s Jim Cramer had trashed Dendreon while declaring it to be a “battleground stock.” This seemed to foretell a series of brutal attacks that involved  illegal naked short selling and other familiar weapons of the “battleground.” As we will see, these attacks have helped prevent Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment from reaching patients. As we will also see, most of Dendreon’s known detractors–including hedge funds betting against the company’s stock and Cramer himself–have ties to the famous criminal Michael Milken or his close associates. Meanwhile, there are serious questions to be asked about the precise nature of Milken’s “philanthropy” — specifically his Prostate Cancer Foundation…

* * * * * * * *

In January 2007, some 15 months after CNBC’s Jim Cramer announced that the FDA had rejected Provenge (even though the agency had not yet reviewed Provenge), the FDA assigned “priority review status” to Dendreon’s application to have the drug approved. Such status is typically granted to drugs whose trials suggest that they can significantly improve the safety or effectiveness of treating a serious or life-threatening disease. Some weeks after receiving “priority review status,” Dendreon announced that an FDA advisory panel would meet on March 29 to vote on whether its treatment for prostate cancer should be approved.

FDA advisory panels are made up of doctors and scientists who are employed on a one-time basis to review a new drug. Their decisions are not binding, but in 97 percent of all cases, the FDA follows the advisory panel’s recommendations. Given that Dendreon’s data results had been strong enough to cause the FDA to fast-track things by granting “priority review status,” it was widely expected that the advisory panel would vote in favor of Provenge, and that the drug would get FDA approval soon after. This was very good news.

Normally, this would be a time for short sellers to close out their trades. Companies receiving priority status (moving them down the road to FDA approval) generally see their stocks soar in value, and typically the prices stay at peak levels, at least until the companies present plans for how they are going to bring their drugs to market.

But in the middle of that March, there was a strange occurrence: short selling in Dendreon began to increase at an unprecedented rate. Illegal naked short selling increased as well.

SEC data shows that on March 16, 2007, over 1 million Dendreon shares “failed to deliver” – because they were sold short by people who did not possess any shares. That is, these naked short sellers took investors’ money but delivered…nothing.

The numbers rose steadily, so by March 28, the day before the advisory panel vote, more than 9 million phantom shares were circulating in the market. And consider that the SEC data might understate “failures to deliver” by factors of ten or more. So by that point the market may actually have been flooded with about 90 million phantom shares – in a company that had only 100 million shares outstanding.

On the night of March 28, 2007, Cramer commented on Dendreon again. He did not mention the phantom stock  (in May, 2008, he began a “crusade” against naked short selling, but he started this “crusade” just one day after he was exposed by Deep Capture as a central player in a media cover-up of the naked short selling scandal). Instead, Cramer offered the long-shot prediction that the FDA advisory panel would not approve Provenge. He advised Dendreon’s shareholders to “SELL, SELL, SELL!!!”

This was the “battleground.” And Dendreon was under attack.

* * * * * * * *

The next day—March 29, 2007–the FDA’s advisory panel decided overwhelmingly in Dendreon’s favor. Every one of the 17 scientists and doctors on the panel voted that Provenge was safe, and 13 of the 17 panelists voted that there was substantial evidence that the treatment effectively lengthened the lives of prostate cancer patients.

As you will recall, the FDA had followed the recommendations of advisory panels in 97 percent of all cases. So at this point it seemed extremely likely that Provenge was on the fast track to approval. Most experts expected that Dendreon could begin delivering its treatment to prostate cancer patients within six months. The company’s stock price, which the short sellers had depressed to $4 before the panel vote, now soared.

By April 13, Dendreon was worth around $20 a share.

But the short sellers did not relent. The more the stock rose in value, the more they piled on, flooding the market with still more phantom stock. On the day after the advisory panel meeting, at least 9 million phantom shares were sold, according to the SEC’s unforgivably incomplete data. During the following two weeks, between 9 and 10 million shares were “failing to deliver” on any given day. And on one day, April 13, overall short interest in Dendreon rose to 32 million shares – from just 8 million shares a few hours before.

By any reckoning, this was sheer insanity. Given Dendreon’s prospects for FDA approval, it seemed like the short sellers were flushing money down the toilet. Some observers racked it up to psychology – the short sellers had grown emotionally tied to their positions, and simply could not give them up.

But I offer several other possible hypotheses, which are all mutually compatible. The first is that the short sellers believed that they could generate enough phantom shares to drive the stock price back down, despite Dendreon’s fantastic news. The second is that the short sellers were aware that there was about to be released a wave of lopsided negative financial research and media reports (including more from Cramer) that they expected would crack the stock.

And the third explanation is that the short sellers who made this long-shot bet perhaps knew something that the rest of the world did not. They perhaps knew that some strange occurrences were imminent, and that these strange occurrences would diminish Dendreon’s prospects. And given the especially sharp increase in short selling on the morning of April 13, they might have expected that the strange occurrences would begin on that particular day.

Alas, something strange would indeed occur later on April 13, 2007. And after that, there was another strange occurrence – then still more strange occurrences, one after the other until it seemed that Dendreon and its treatment for prostate cancer would no longer exist.

I will describe these strange occurrences, but first we must understand a bit more about a network of smooth market operators and a “prominent philanthropist” named Michael Milken.

* * * * * * * *

As mentioned, we do not know who was responsible for the illegal naked short selling of Dendreon. The SEC keeps that a secret.

But while the SEC is of no help, most any Wall Street broker can describe several “proprietary” strategies that are popular with unscrupulous hedge funds.

One such strategy is known as a “married put.” Normally, a hedge fund buys from a market maker a certain number of put options—the right to sell a stock at a specified price at a specified date. If on that date the stock has lost value to the point it is below that specified price, the buyer of the put option (the hedge fund) makes money, and the seller (the market maker) loses money. To hedge the risk that he might lose money, the market maker, at the same moment that he sells the put option,  also short sells the stock. This is perfectly legal.

But some market markers conspire with hedge funds to drive the stock price down. Instead of merely shorting the shares into the market, the market maker naked short sells the shares, and, importantly, sells those phantom shares to the same hedge fund that bought the puts. As a result, the hedge fund manager winds up with the puts and a matching number of shares (actually phantom shares that are never delivered to him, but about which he never complains, or forces delivery, as that would create upward pressure on the stock, the precise opposite of what he wants).  Because the puts and the phantom shares are equal in number and arrive together at the hedge fund, they are known as “married puts”.

Once in possession of the phantom shares, the hedge fund manager proceeds to fire them into the marketplace. But he is able to say that he never naked shorted because all he has done is sold the shares that he bought (wink wink) from the market maker.

Either way, the effect is to flood the marketplace with phantom stock. The hedge fund makes money. And the market maker is rewarded with more business selling married puts.

Incidentally, the fee charged for such puts do not follow any normal option model pricing (in fact, the exchanges search for married puts by looking for options that are mispriced in relation to Black-Scholes, the standard formula that prices options). That is because their pricing is not really a function of any math or statistics, but is a function of the willingness of the hedge fund to pay the option market maker to help him break the rules against naked short selling. And that willingness is a function of how difficult it is for the hedge fund to use other loopholes to break those rules.

In the slang of Wall Street, these married puts are known as “bullets.” Through their maneuverings, the option market maker and hedge fund manager synthesize a naked short position that puts “bullets” into the hands of the hedge fund. The hedge fund fires those “bullets” at the stock to make it collapse, timing the last “bullet” to fire as the hedge fund’s put option expires profitably. If the option position nears expiration and looks like it will expire at a loss (“out of the money”), the hedge fund manager goes back to the option market maker, and together they reload by synthesizing more “bullets.”

Until recently, this behavior flourished owing to a rule called the “options market maker exemption” which is said to have been enacted thanks partly to the pleadings of a “prominent” market maker and investor named Bernard Madoff, who had considerable influence at the SEC. Madoff also obtained an exemption allowing market makers to sell short on a down-tick. The SEC was so grateful for his help in this regard that the commission named the new rule the “Madoff Exemption.” This was before Mr. Madoff became famous for orchestrating a $50 billion Ponzi scheme with help from the Mafia (CNBC’s Charles Gasparino has reported that Madoff might be tied to the Russian Mafia; whistleblower Harry Markopolis stated in Congressional hearings that Madoff appeared to have ties to the Russian Mafia and Latin American drug gangs; and Deep Capture’s own investigations suggest that Madoff did business with multiple people with ties to both Russian and Italian organized crime).

The options market maker exemption permitted market makers (e.g. Madoff) to sell stock that they did not possess,  so long as they were doing so temporarily to “maintain liquidity.” Abusing that exemption in order to facilitate naked short selling in cahoots with hedge funds looking to drive down stock prices was blatantly illegal, but the SEC looked the other way, even as market makers failed to deliver shares for weeks, months, and even years at a time. If anyone raised a fuss, the hedge funds would say that the phantom shares didn’t originate with them, the SEC would say that stock manipulation is hard to prove, and the market makers would say that they weren’t breaking any rules.

* * * * * * * *

At any rate, in March 2007, with Dendreon seemingly on the fast track to FDA approval, most traders were rushing to buy the company’s shares. A specific set of hedge funds, however, purchased large numbers of put options in Dendreon. Without a subpoena, we cannot say for sure whether the put options they bought were married to naked short sales, but simply from their put activity it is clear that these hedge funds were placing quite large bets against Dendreon, and they maintained these positions even after the FDA advisory panel voted in favor of Provenge on March 29.

To understand how completely anomalous these bets were, consider that in the entire universe of 11,500 hedge funds, only ten held large numbers (more than 150,000) of put options in Dendreon at the end of March 2007. Two of those ten funds held relatively few (200,000 each) put options in Dendreon and cashed out soon after the FDA advisory panel meeting. They do not appear to have otherwise been major traders in Dendreon, so I will not mention their names.

One of those ten hedge funds is Apollo Medical Fund Management, which is managed by a man named Brandon Fradd.  Fradd was once accused of burning documents relevant to a civil court case. Fradd was also once the limited partner of a criminal named Reed Slatkin, who was indicted for orchestrating the third largest Ponzi scheme in history. But Slatkin seems to have had minimal involvement in Apollo’s trading, and I have yet to uncover any evidence proving that Apollo is tied to naked short sellers or others in the network that this story intends to document. So let us give Fradd the benefit of the doubt.

Let us focus instead on the remaining seven of the ten hedge funds that held large numbers of put options immediately after the FDA’s advisory panel handed Dendreon its fantastic news, which was right at the time that Dendreon was bombarded by illegal naked short selling (phantom stock), and just before Dendreon was to experience some strange occurrences.

The managers of these seven hedge funds all know each other well. They have all worked with Michael Milken or Milken’s close associates. They include the following:

  1. a fraudster and naked short seller who is believed to have stolen billions of dollars with help from Russian and Italian organized crime;
  2. a trader working for a man who once managed, along with his father-in-law, the dirtiest, Mafia-linked brokerage on Wall Street.
  3. a trader who co-founded his fund with a man who was jailed for plotting to murder Michael Milken’s famous co-conspirator, Ivan Boesky;
  4. a man who became the “most powerful trader on the Street” after working for one of the most notorious, Mafia-linked brokerages on the Street;
  5. an accused naked short seller who was at the center of the greatest scandal in SEC history, and is now under criminal investigation;
  6. a fellow who once owned a fund that was charged in a massive naked short selling fraud and was later mixed up in a Mafia-connected, criminal naked short seller’s scheme to bribe agents of the FBI; and
  7. a Russian “whiz kid” who was the top trader for a man who once worked at a notorious Mafia-linked brokerage—the same brokerage that once employed the criminal naked short seller who bribed those agents of the FBI.

Again, judging from SEC disclosures of put option holdings, these seven colorful traders (plus Fradd, whom I have yet to tie to this network) were the only hedge fund managers on the planet who were placing serious bets against Dendreon after the FDA’s advisory panel voted in support of Provenge.

So let’s get to know more about these seven colorful traders–and then let’s try to surmise whether they knew about the strange events that were about to occur in the Spring of 2007, and whether those strange occurrences had anything to do with a “prominent philanthropist” named Michael Milken.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….Click here for Chapter 3

If this article concerns you, and you wish to help, then:
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2) go here for additional suggestions: “So You Say You Want a Revolution?

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 1 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 1 of 15)



What follows is part 1 of a 15-part series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture over the next several weeks, after which point the story will be published in its entirety. It is a story about the travails of just one small company, but it describes market machinations that have affected hundreds of other companies, and it contains a larger message for anyone concerned about the “deep capture” of our nation’s media and regulatory bodies.

* * * * * * * *

This story, like too many others, begins with Jim Cramer, the CNBC personality, making “a mistake.”

On September 26, 2005, Cramer  announced to his television audience the sad news (punctuated by funny sound effects – a clown horn, a crashing airplane) that Provenge, an experimental treatment for prostate cancer, had flopped. Thousands of end-stage patients had been pinning their hopes on Provenge, but according to Cramer the treatment had just been rejected by the Food & Drug Administration. It would never go to market.

This seemed odd, because Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN), the company developing Provenge, had not yet submitted an application for FDA approval. As everybody in the biotech investment community knew, Dendreon had, in fact, only recently completed Phase 3 clinical trials and probably would not face scrutiny from an FDA advisory panel for at least another year.

As for the likelihood that the advisory panel would eventually vote in favor of Provenge, the odds looked quite good. The Phase 3 trials had demonstrated that Provenge significantly increased patient survival with only minimal side-effects, such as a few days of mild fever. Moreover, Provenge was an altogether different sort of treatment – one that fought tumors by boosting patients’ immune systems rather than subjecting them to the ravages of chemotherapy.

Provenge was not a magical elixir of life, but Dendreon was doing more than just developing a new technology. It was pioneering a treatment that could revolutionize the way that doctors fight prostate cancer. By some conservative estimates, the market for Provenge alone could reach more than $2 billion a year. If the treatment could be applied to other cancers, the market would be even larger.

The morning after Cramer declared Dendreon and Provenge to be dead in the water, Mark Haines, the anchor of  CNBC’s “Squawk Box” program, apologized for Cramer’s “mistake.” That afternoon, at an important UBS investor conference, Dendreon presented still more promising data. This would normally have given a significant boost to the company’s stock price, but the value of Dendreon’s shares stayed flat for the day, and then began a gradual decline.

This had partly to do with Cramer. The next evening, on his “Mad Money” program, the journalist (or entertainer, or self-confessed criminal, or… whatever Cramer is) acknowledged that the FDA had not yet rejected Provenge, but drawing upon his medical expertise, Cramer maintained that Provenge was not effective. In characteristically level-headed fashion,  he announced that Dendreon shareholders were drunken, carousing, gambling Falstaffs who “might as well take their money to Vegas.”

Dendreon, Cramer added (rather ominously), was  a “battleground stock.”

* * * * * * * *

What Cramer meant by “battleground ” has since become all too apparent. For the past four years, Dendreon has been one of the most manipulated stocks on NASDAQ. During some periods the volume of trading in the shares of this little company has exceeded the trading in America’s largest corporations – a good sign that hedge funds have been churning the stock to move the market.

And with every burst of good news, the company has faced waves upon waves of naked short selling – hedge funds illegally selling millions of shares that do not exist to flood the market and drive down the stock price. Along with the phantom stock, people seeking to diminish Dendreon have deployed false financial research , biased media, bogus class action lawsuits, Internet bashers, dubious science, and other familiar weapons of the “battleground.”

The denouement of this stock market “battle” occurred recently, on April 28, 2009, when Dendreon was to present all-important results at the American Urological Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. Some days prior, Dendreon’s CEO, Mitch Gold, had announced that the results of an Independent Monitoring Committee study were “unambiguous in nature…a clear hit” for Provenge.

If a CEO uses language like that and does not produce the data to back it up, he is guaranteed a visit from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Unless the CEO or his allies have juice with the SEC, the commission will usually charge the CEO with making false statements to pump his stock.  Gold was unlikely to take that risk, so it was clear to most people that the meeting in Chicago was going to be a triumph for Dendreon.

And it indeed it was.  The data presented that day showed that Provenge lowers the risk of prostate cancer death by 22.5 percent, with little or no toxicity. With a few notable exceptions (some of whom are to appear as prominent characters in this story), nearly every medical professional on the planet now concurred that Provenge was a blockbuster drug – one that should receive FDA approval and make Dendreon a highly profitable company.

But the hedge funds weren’t finished. In the days following Gold’s announcement, short sellers piled on with a vengeance, returning Dendreon to the leagues of the world’s most heavily traded stocks. The firm once again found itself on the SEC’s “Reg Sho” list of  companies whose stock was “failing to deliver” in excessive quantities –a sign of illegal naked short selling.

On CNBC, meanwhile, Cramer had hammered Dendreon. On April 6, 2009,  amidst ear-rattling sound effects –dogs fighting, and (inexplicably) a baby crying — Cramer had said “I don’t like Dendreon.”  He had shouted that Provenge had no chance of getting FDA approval and Dendreon shareholders should “SELL! SELL! SELL!”

Then, on April 28, at 10:01  am central time — just hours before Dendreon’s triumph in Chicago – an anonymous message board author on Yahoo! Finance posted this message: “HIGH PROBABILITY OF MASSIVE BEAR RAID…DNDN [Dendreon] could easily drop 50% on a massive bear raid…its coming today@12:30 pm central.”

Just minutes before 12:30 pm central, Dendreon’s stock price began to fall. It didn’t just fall–it nosedived from $24 to under $8 … in 75 seconds.  That’s correct, during a period of 75 seconds, more than 4,000 trades were placed, totaling 3 million shares, or about 50% of Dendreon’s (spectacularly high) average daily volume. Given that the message board poster knew what was coming more than two hours beforehand, and predicted the timing almost precisely, it is a safe bet that this was a coordinated, illegal naked short selling attack. And just in case you still didn’t get this – it caused Dendreon’s share price to lose more than 65% of its value – in just 75 seconds flat.

“My desk was floored,” one trader wrote on a message board. “We all just stood up swearing, headsets and other assorted desk items being thrown at monitors…I haven’t heard that much swearing in years…”

It was, say others, one of the strangest occurrences in Wall Street history.

* * * * * * * *

In fact Dendreon had witnessed even stranger occurrences – brutal naked short selling attacks occurring simultaneously with antics that simply have no precedence in the world of medicine. As will be described presently, these strange occurrences very nearly destroyed Dendreon in 2007.  These strange occurrences have also prevented patients from having access to Dendreon’s treatment – a treatment that, as will become clear, should have reached the market some time ago.

And from the day of that first strange occurrence in September 2005, when Cramer predicted that Dendreon would become a “battleground” stock, to the latest strange occurrence in April 2009, when Dendreon’s stock nosedived by 65% in 75 seconds, more than 60,000 men in the United States died of prostate cancer.

So we must ask: Who did this? Who stood to profit from Dendreon’s demise? Were the extremely odd delays in getting Provenge to market purely accidental? Or, were the remarkable trading patterns and volatility accompanying those delays in fact an expression of stock manipulation, and if so, who were the manipulators?  Since we know that Dendreon experienced naked short selling, and naked short selling is a crime, who are the criminals?  And when much of the medical community rallied around Provenge last month, which manipulators crashed the stock to single digits – possibly to make the company ripe for a hostile takeover by the very people who once sought to destroy it?

* * * * * * * *

It is one of the peculiarities of the Securities and Exchange Commission that while it is ever-eager to hassle CEOs of small companies, it goes to considerable lengths to protect billionaire hedge fund managers. The SEC has publicly stated that naked short selling is a crime. It has said that it has evidence that illegal naked short selling occurs on a large scale and does serious damage to public companies. But it almost never says which hedge funds are responsible. It never says who is flooding the market with  phantom stock.

As far as the SEC is concerned, it’s all a big secret. As the commission states on its website, the naked short selling statistics “of individual firms and customers is proprietary information and may reflect firms’ trading strategies.” It seems not to matter to the SEC that those “proprietary” trading strategies are illegal.

Meanwhile, the SEC does not require hedge funds to disclose even their legal short positions. As a result, it is impossible for any journalist to present photo-perfect portraits of attacks on companies like Dendreon.

But brokers and other sources can tell us who some of the short sellers are. And by analyzing public information (such as data that hints at various hedge funds’ options strategies) we can make educated guesses as to who has the most to gain from a company’s decline. We can also come to understand the relationships that bind certain hedge fund managers and miscreants, and ask whether these people might have been acting in concert.

If the relationships are few in number, or separated by six degrees, we must abandon the project – a spatter of dots on the wall is not a work of art. But if the dots are plentiful, precise, and show a recognizable pattern, then we have something valuable – a sort of pointillist painting of market behavior.

In the case of Dendreon, we have such a painting. And when we look at this painting, with its dozens of data points, we can see quite clearly the familiar smirk of Michael Milken, the famous “junk bond king” and criminal stock manipulator.

During the times when Dendreon has been most evidently a “battleground stock,” nearly every hedge fund known to have placed large bets against Dendreon and a significant number of Dendreon’s detractors — esteemed medical professionals, financial research analysts, government officials, and Jim Cramer himself – have been tied to Milken or his close associates.

Most of the hedge fund managers who appear in this story are part of a tight network that has been in operation – exchanging information, attacking the same stocks, employing the same tactics – for upwards of twenty years. This is the same network that attacked the major financial institutions in 2008, possibly contributing to the collapse of the American financial system. And though I recognize that some people find this hard to absorb, I will present further evidence that a good number of the people in this network have ties to organized crime – the Mafia.

As for Milken, he was released from prison in 1993, at which point he went to considerable lengths to rebrand himself as a “prominent philanthropist.” One of the “philanthropic” outfits that he founded is the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and for this he has received widespread applause from the media, government officials, and the business elite. Because Milken has effectively bathed himself in the glow of his “philanthropy” (and because his public relations machine is so indisputably clever), many people find themselves saying that Milken’s financial crimes were but misdemeanors – the slight over-exuberance of a “market innovator.”

But the Dendreon story raises serious questions about the nature of Milken’s “philanthropy” – and about a society that venerates and even seeks guidance and favor from the most destructive financial criminal the world has ever known.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 2.

If this article concerns you, and you wish to help, then:
1) email it to a dozen friends;

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Email Exposes Short Seller Plot to Destroy a Public Company


This is Part 3 of an ongoing series.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

Think about what Cramer has said.

And then have a look at the following email.

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

Message # : 727

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

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

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

Subject: CNBC – FAIRFAX

Reply:

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

They are all “prominent investors.”

To be continued…

* * * * * * * *

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

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


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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

Rocker. That’s David Rocker.

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

The limited public information about Lattanzio concerns a Russian prostitute.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

Fortune magazine reported that these allegations were “unsubstantiated.”

But the Belzbergs have a certain cachet

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

Millennium, after all, had a certain cachet.

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

Its techniques have a certain cachet.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can listen to the full conversation here.

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said it was just a bar fight.

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

Felix said it was just a bar fight, too.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

They said it was suicide.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They have a certain cachet.

* * * * * * * *

Meshulum Riklis also denies having any connection to the Mafia.

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was dead.

They said it was suicide.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….

* * * * * * * *

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

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Strange Occurrences, and a Story about Naked Short Selling


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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I figured it would take a week.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

The famous criminals were Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky.

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

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

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

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

After that, nobody heard much from Boesky.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

“Whatcha reading?” one said.

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

“Yes,” I said, “he’s mentioned”

“Haven’t read it,” the man said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

Patrick kept on fighting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That said, my questions about this have gone unanswered.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….

* * * * * * * *

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

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