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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 7 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 7 of 15)



What follows is PART 7 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

Where we left off, CNBC’s Jim Cramer had declared Dendreon to be a “battleground stock,” and we had learned about the ties that bind certain financial analysts, hedge fund managers and journalists, including Cramer.We had also learned that a great many people in this network are tied to the famous criminal Michael Milken or his close associates.

We had learned further that seven hedge fund managers in this network were among the only people on the planet known to be holding large bets against Dendreon as of March 31, 2007 – which was right at the time when criminals were flooding the market with millions of phantom Dendreon shares; and right after Dendreon had received the fantastic news that an FDA expert advisory panel had endorsed the company’s prostate cancer treatment; and right before Dendreon was to be derailed by some singularly strange occurrences.

I will describe those strange occurrences in due course. I will also describe how those strange occurrences coincide with the “philanthropy” of Michael Milken.  But first let us meet another dubious financial analyst, and then let us begin to understand how Michael Milken himself stood to profit financially from the demise of Dendreon, the only company with a viable new treatment for prostate cancer.

* * * * * * * *

It is easy for executives of public companies to know that they are “battleground” targets of the Milken network because the members of this network have quite distinctive characteristics. Whether they be journalists tied to Cramer, financial analysts, or hedge fund managers, they are unusual among financial professionals in that they take overt pride in their thuggish manner.

They let it be known that the executives are in their sights, and sometimes issue outright threats. They let on that they have inside information, influence, and power – and that unforeseen calamities can happen.  (This may have what economists call a “signaling effect,” dissuading potential investors from purchasing a stock, even if they believe in the fundamentals of the company.)

Often members of this network will join companies’ quarterly conference calls, and take turns firing off insinuating and preposterous questions in staccato fashion, giving the targets of their interrogations no opportunity to formulate reasonable replies.

So it was in March of 2007, when Dendreon held a conference call to discuss the FDA advisory panel’s recent vote in favor of Provenge. Nearly every analyst on the call was cheered by the news that the prostate cancer treatment would reach patients. Most of these analysts were advising clients that Dendreon’s stock would hit at least $20 (compared to the $1.50 target set by the doctor-impersonating financial analyst, Jonathan Aschoff).

Here is a representative sample of analysts who participated in the conference call, along with quotations showing how they greeted Dendreon CEO Mitchell Gold, and how they signed off.

Charles Duncan – JMP Securities

Greeting: “A big congratulations!”

Singing off: “Congrats Again.”

David Miller – Biotech Stock Research

Greeting: “Good evening. Warm congratulations.”

Signing off: “Congratulations to everybody on the team.”

Mark Monane – Needham & Company

Greeting: “Good day and congratulations to all.”

Signing off: “Congratulations once again.”

William Ho – Bank of America

Greeting: “Congratulations”

Signing off: “Okay”

Paul Latta – McAdams, Wright & Regan

Greeting: “Good evening & congratulations, Mitch, a great accomplishment for you and your team.”

Singing off: “Congratulations again.”

But then a financial analyst named Elliot Favus appeared on the conference call. Favus worked for Lazard Capital, and announced that he was sitting in for Joel Sendek, who usually covered Dendreon for Lazard. Favus launched into a series of aggressive questions, suggesting that the FDA advisory panel had been a sham, and that the FDA would not approve Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment.

Then Joel Sendek, Elliot’s colleague at Lazard, got on the call and initiated a similar interrogation. He kept asking whether the FDA advisory panel had asked the “right question” about the effectiveness of Provenge. When Dendreon’s CEO tried to answer, Sendek interrupted and asked again – Did the panel ask the “right question”?  The baffled answer was, “Yes.”  But Sendek kept asking. Do you think it was the “right question”? Do you think the FDA will have to “change the question”?

This was very strange. The FDA panel asked two questions. Is Provenge safe? And, is there “substantial evidence” of efficacy?  Those are the two questions that advisory panels always ask. Federal regulations require them to ask those questions.

It was hard to tell what Sendek was up to. Change the question? Did Sendek believe that the FDA was somehow going to alter its regulatory standards? Did he have information that the FDA might not approve Provenge – never mind that the agency had followed its advisory panels’ recommendations in 97% of cases, and had never in history rejected a panel-approved drug destined for dying patients?

And who was this Joel Sendek?

* * * * * * * *

Actual Joel Sendek publicity photo
Actual Joel Sendek publicity photo

Sendek is an analyst for Lazard research. He is famous on Wall Street for spending his evenings calling Wall Street investors and shareholders, and literally singing songs into their voicemail. Usually, these songs celebrate the demise of some biotech company or medicine. For example, when Sendek decided that an anemia drug called Erythropoietin wasn’t going to make it to market (or to patients suffering from anemia), he gleefully called everyone he knew on Wall Street and began singing (to the tune of American Pie):

Bye-bye, Erythropoietin pie.

Drove my growth rate with the pipeline,

But the pipeline went dry.

I don’t know what song Sendek sings about Dendreon’s prostate cancer medicine, but his reports on Dendreon have been marked by a similarly cheerful pessimism. Same goes for the reports on Dendreon published by Elliot Favus, who, until recently, worked with Sendek at Lazard. In the long two years that followed that conference call in March 2007, Lazard’s reports have consistently predicted (in tones that seemed almost hopeful) that Dendreon’s treatment would fail to reach patients who were dying of prostate cancer.

In April 2009, a few days before a Yahoo! message board poster predicted, almost to the minute, the“BEAR RAID” that shattered Dendreon’s stock price by 65% in 75 seconds, Lazard put out a statement that said that an “investigator in the current Provenge study” had concluded that Dendreon’s treatment did not work. This was terrible news – assuming that the “investigator” was somebody actually participating in the “current Provenge study” or any other scientific study of Dendreon’s treatment.

But it turned out that Lazard had made “a mistake.”

When Dendreon supporters started hollering that there was no such “investigator,” Lazard changed the statement to read that an “expert” had concluded that Provenge does not work. When Lazard was challenged to produce such an expert, it changed the message again. Now the expert wasn’t exactly saying that Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment does not work. Instead, it was that Provenge was “mentioned cautiously” by this particular “expert,” who remained anonymous.

If you can spot the similarity between this “mistake” and the “mistakes” of CNBC’s Jim Cramer, it will not surprise you to learn that Lazard’s research operation was then run by a guy named Paul Noglows. Prior to joining Lazard, Noglows was the director of research at IRG Research, an outfit owned by Jim Cramer’s financial news and research company, TheStreet.com.

Elliot Favus, the Lazard analyst who teamed up with the singing Sendek to trash Dendreon, later resigned from that job. Then he went to work for Och-Ziff Investment Management, a hedge fund managed by Dirk Ziff.

As you will recall, Ziff was the guy who helped Jim Chanos (host to Ashlee Dupre, hooker of Jim Cramer’s best friend Eliot Spitzer) start his hedge fund empire – an empire that now employs Evan Sturza, the fellow who used to be in the business of publishing research that predicted, with similar glee, the demise of medicines developed by companies that were under attack by Michael Steinhardt (Cramer’s former business partner; mentor to Chanos) and other cronies of Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky.

Ziff’, remember, was also the fellow who improperly received–along with Chanos, Steve Cohen and others in their network, advanced copies of biased financial research published by Morgan Keegan. And, of course, Chanos met Ziff through Michael Steinhardt and Marty Peretz, who was Ziff’s Harvard professor;  a close friend of Boesky; an ardent defender of Milken; a key limited partner, along with Boesky, in Michael Steinhardt’s hedge fund; and the co-founder, along with Cramer, of TheStreet.com.

Study the world of abusive short selling for three years, as I have, and you will see that these relationships matter. You will see how these people work together. And you will see that the most egregious cases of market skulduggery – the serious damage to public companies done by journalists and analysts through these repeated and precisely-crafted “mistakes”; the hired thugs; the threats; the over-the-top gloom (sung gleefully); the sudden bankruptcies, the orchestrated calamities, the endless litany of strange occurrences – an alarming amount of it can be traced to the same cast of beady-eyed, Milken-loving mischief-makers.

* * * * * * * *

As you may have gathered by now, Provenge has yet to be approved by the FDA. Despite evidence that it decreases prostate cancer mortality by 38%, the treatment has yet to be administered to patients, 60,000 of whom have died in the two years since the FDA’s advisory panel voted in Dendreon’s favor.

What strange occurrences have contributed to this outcome? What calamity was awaiting Dendreon as these seven “colorful” hedge fund managers stocked up on put options while naked short sellers flooded the market with at least ten million phantom shares?

Before I answer those questions, we ought to get to know some things about the “philanthropy” of Michael Milken and a firm called ProQuest Investments.

In 1993, Milken founded the Prostate Cancer Foundation, with a stated mission to promote advancements in the treatment of prostate cancer.

In 1998, ProQuest Investments opened for business with the specifically stated mission to invest in companies developing treatments for prostate cancer.

Ostensibly, ProQuest was founded by two men – Jay Moorin and Jeremy Goldberg. But the man who is really behind ProQuest Investments is Michael Milken. Industry reports suggest that Milken is the firm’s rainmaker. It was Milken who delivered  most of ProQuest’s early capital. And it is Milken who brings ProQuest’s deals to the table.

One of those deals was a company called Novacea, now known as Transcept Pharmaceuticals. For a long while, the controlling shareholders in Novacea were ProQuest Investments and a fund called Domain Associates. I believe it is safe to assume that ProQuest and Domain are affiliated, given that the two funds not only invest in the same companies, but actually share the same address.

Industry reports state that Domain was the “mentor” to Proquest, and an investor in the fund. One report states that the two funds “plot strategy” together.  Thus, it would be more accurate to say that the controlling shareholders in Novacea were first, ProQuest Investments, and second, ProQuest Investments (acting through Domain Associates).

But ProQuest and Domain are not like most biotech investment firms, which scout out companies with promising treatments and invest capital in them. Rather, ProQuest and Domain sometimes invest capital in  themselves. For example, Novacea was founded by Eckard Weber, who works as an executive and partner of Domain Associates. One day, there was no such thing as Novacea. The next day ProQuest and Domain had invested in a company called Novacea, which ostensibly had a promising treatment for prostate cancer.

This alone should have set off alarm bells. But for a long while, the media and others believed that Novacea was a serious – indeed, the most serious – competitor to Dendreon. An achievement for Dendreon was considered to be a set-back for Novacea. By the same token, a calamity for Dendreon had the potential to be a major boon to Novacea’s shareholders.

In fact, Dendreon suffered just such a calamity. And this calamity did indeed reap a large fortune for Michael Milken’s ProQuest Investments and Domain Associates.

But ProQuest and Domain are no longer shareholders in Novacea.

That is on account of some strange occurrences that I must describe in more detail.

* * * * * * * *

First, though, it is necessary for us to continue learning more about Michael Milken’s prostate cancer business,  ProQuest Investments, and Michael Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

As we know, ProQuest Investments was ostensibly founded by two men – Jeremy Goldberg and Jay Moorin.

Prior to becoming the ostensible co-founder of ProQuest (Michael Milken’s investment fund for companies that supposedly have treatments for prostate cancer) Moorin’s most significant achievement had been to serve as CEO of Magainin Pharmaceuticals, a company that later changed its name to Genaera Corporation. In many transactions, the financial advisor to this company was Paramount Capital.

Paramount Capital, as you will recall, is owned by Lindsay Rosenwald, the fellow who used to help his father-in-law (the “king of stock fraud”) run D.H. Blair, which was the dirtiest Mafia-affiliated brokerage on Wall Street – the same brokerage whose president had been Michael Milken’s national sales manager, and whose business model had been to underwrite phony biotech companies, then pump and dump their stocks.

As you will recall, Paramount’s vice president was once a top trader at SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by Milken crony Steve Cohen, who became the “most powerful trader on the Street” largely by maniacally maintaining relationships with his former colleagues. You will also recall that Cohen and Paramount employee Joseph Edelman were among those seven “colorful” hedge fund managers who held large numbers of put options in Dendreon as of March 2007.

At the risk of being repetitive, I will also remind you that Lindsay Rosenwald, the fraud king’s son-in-law, controlled Cougar Biotechnology, a company whose scientific advisory board included four doctors affiliated with Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation.

When Dendreon became a “battleground stock,” Dendreon had no more than three “serious” competitors. One was Milken crony Rosenwald’s Cougar Biotechnology. The other was Novacea, controlled by Milken’s ProQuest Investments. The third was a company called Cell Genesys, which I will return to in an upcoming chapter.

Magainin/Genaera, the company that was run by ProQuest’s ostensible founder, Jay Moorin, had lots of big ideas. For example, it claimed to have developed a way to treat foot ulcers with a substance extracted from the African clawed frog. It also claimed to have discovered a treatment for cancer. This treatment was apparently derived from the livers of tropical dogfish sharks.

Indeed, a great many of Magainin/Genaera’s supposed treatments were derived from exotic wildlife. And many of these treatments were heralded in press releases that suggested that regulatory approval was just around the corner.

Sometimes, the company announced that its treatments had already gained approval – albeit in exotic locales. Genaera’s lung cancer vaccine “was approved Jun 12 by the Cuban regulatory authorities…” noted one of Genaera’s optimistic press releases. Presumably, Cubans are now free of lung cancer.

For three decades, these press releases appeared. Many of them sent Magainin/Genaera’s stock into orbit. Then the stock would sink. After that, there would be another press release and the stock would be back in the stratosphere.

But in three decades, Genaera never brought a treatment to market. In fact, it never had a treatment approved by the FDA.

Three full decades. Countless potions and serums derived from all manner of critter and jungle beast. A stupendous salary for the CEO, and fantastic profits for anyone who spent those 30 years riding the volatility of Magainin/Genaera’s stock. But not a single treatment was brought to market.

In June 2009, Genaera announced that it was going out of business.

* * * * * * * *

Jeremy Goldberg, the other ostensible founder of Milken’s ProQuest Investments, was previously best known for his service as the founding CEO of a company called Versicor, which purported to make anti-viral medicines.

Among Versicor’s biggest early investors was Healthcare Ventures, a fund that was founded by two former Johnson & Johnson executives. It seems that a preponderance of Heathcare Venture’s principals previously worked for Luekosite, a biotech firm founded by Marty Peretz, the Boesky and Michael Steinhardt crony who launched TheStreet.com with Jim Cramer.

Another early investor in Versicor was Schroder Venture Management, a unit of the same company that runs Schroder Wertheim, which was the principal clearing firm for Euro-Atlantic, a Mafia-run brokerage that the Feds shut down in the late 1990s.

But Versicor’s most important investor was a biotech company called Sepracor, which markets Lunestra, the sleeping pill. Sepracor’s chairman, Timothy J. Barberich, was also a major investor in Versicor. Barberich served as Versicor’s founding chairman, while Goldberg served as Versico’s founding CEO. This was the Jeremy Goldberg who later founded Milken’s ProQuest Investments.

So Barberich was chair of Sepracor (a company that markets sleeping pills), and founding chairman of Versicor (which has yet to produce any drugs fit for human consumption). Curiously, Barberich also bankrolled Atlantic Casino Cruises, a gambling outfit that was being set up by a businessman named Adam Kidan and an alleged mobster named Anthony Moscatiello.

Moscatiello, who travels in an armor-plated Mercedes, has been pegged by the government as being the top bookkeeper to the Gambino Mafia family. As the story goes, Kidan masterminded Atlantic Casino Cruises. Moscatiello set the company up. And Barberich was the principal financier of the project.

Unfortunately, the project never really got off the ground. Soon after Barberich invested his money, Kidan, the businessman, entered into a deal to buy another casino, SunCruz, from a fellow named Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis. In due course, Boulis accused Kidan of financial improprieties in the deal.

Not long after that, Boulis was shot in the head – execution style.

And Moscatiello was arrested.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 8.

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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