Category | The Mitchell Report

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

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.

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Did Hayman Capital Help Destroy Bear Stearns?

Did Hayman Capital Help Destroy Bear Stearns?

It was perhaps the single most important moment leading to the downfall of Bear Stearns.

On March 13, 2008, reporter David Faber, live on CNBC, said, “I’m told by a hedge fund that I know well…I’m told that [last night] Goldman would not accept the counterparty risk of Bear Stearns.”

Faber and that hedge fund might as well have flown an airplane into the side of Bear Stearns’s headquarters on 47th Street.  Previously, there had been rumors about Bear Stearns, but this was the first time that anyone had stated as fact that a major bank was refusing to accept Bear Stearns risk. It wasn’t until Faber and that hedge fund unleashed the explosive news — right in the middle of a crucial interview with Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz – that the run on the bank began.

This raises two important questions:  Which hedge fund told Faber that Goldman wasn’t accepting Bear’s counterparty risk? And, was the news true?

The answer to the second question is a definitive “No.” We know this because some hours later, Faber reported that, actually, “Goldman did say alright, now we will accept Bear as a counterparty.”  Oops. Of course, at this point it was too late – clients were fleeing Bear Stearns in mass, panicked by the news that Goldman might or might not have accepted Bear Stearns as a counterparty. The run on the bank had started, and Faber’s retraction did nothing to stop it.

To answer the first question, it is necessary to understand that short selling hedge funds often “foment” the markets by spreading incendiary information about the companies they are attacking. In a video sold to hedge fund managers and other high paying subscribers, CNBC’s Jim Cramer, a close associate of David Faber, once encouraged hedge fund managers to “foment.” He said, “Now you can’t foment. That’s a violation of…But you do it anyway because the SEC doesn’t understand it…This is actually blatantly illegal…But I think it’s really important to foment.”

It is also necessary to understand that one particular network of hedge funds has, for several years, have accomplished much of their “fomenting” by placing false or hysterical stories with a specific group of dishonest journalists. After the hedge funds have demolished a company’s stock price, they turn to those same journalists to cover up their misdeeds and present skewed versions of what happened to the company.

One of these journalists is Jim Cramer. Another is David Faber. A third is Roddy Boyd, formerly of Fortune magazine.  Roddy is particularly humorous because he unwittingly tends to reveal the miscreancy of his hedge fund sources. By reading between the lines of his stories and turning a keen ear to his public boasting, we can often discover nuggets of truth. So it is that Roddy has revealed the likely identity of the hedge fund that crashed that airplane into the side of Bear Stearns.

In a story published on March 28, 2008, Roddy repeated the assertion that Goldman had refused to serve as a counterparty to Bear Stearns. He noted that Goldman had stated this refusal in an email that Goldman sent on March 11, 2008. And in support of this assertion, Roddy quoted Kyle Bass, the manager of a Dallas-based hedge fund called Hayman Capital. “I was astounded when I got the [Goldman] e-mail…” Bass said to Roddy. “Goldman told Wall Street that they were done with Bear, that there was [effectively] too much risk. That was the end for them.”

Kyle Bass is known to be a close friend of David Faber. The two men worked together on “House of Cards,” Faber’s CNBC special documentary on the collapse of Bear Stearns. It appears quite likely that it was Bass’s hedge fund, Hayman Capital, that fed Faber the death-knell news that Goldman had refused to serve as a counterparty. And to convince Faber that Goldman had cut Bear off, it is likely that Hayman alluded to the same supposed “email”  from Goldman to Hayman that was later cited by Roddy Boyd.

Beyond these suppositions, the story gets a bit murky. Depending on whom you ask, there was either no such email, or there was an email, but it was an utterly routine email that merely stated that Goldman could not immediately process counterparty requests, but would do so in short order. While Roddy gives absolute credence to Bass’s claim that “Goldman told Wall Street that it was done with Bear Stearns,” he also states, in parenthesis, that Goldman denied that it had refused to accept Bear’s counterparty risk, which is another way of saying that Bass’s claim was an exaggeration to say the least.

In hopes of getting to the bottom of this, I called Hayman Capital. Hayman’s lawyer, Chris Kirkpatrick, told me that neither Bass nor anyone else at the hedge fund would comment on the matter. Apparently, Hayman only speaks to Roddy Boyd, David Faber and a few other journalists known to be tools of short selling hedge funds. Certainly, Hayman would not provide me with a copy of the famous email.

The most I could get out of Kirkpatrick was a vague statement that “what has been reported in the media is not accurate.” I do not know if he meant that Roddy’s story was inaccurate – that Bass, in fact, no longer claims that “Goldman told Wall Street that it was done with Bear Stearns.”  I do not know if he meant that it was inaccurate to suggest that Bass had received an email that said as much.

What I do know is this: at the time that Faber and his hedge fund source (probably Hayman) delivered that deadly blow to Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs was accepting Bear Stearns counterparty risk. That is an absolute fact.

So here’s the kindest scenario:  Goldman at one point sent out some kind of email. It is possible that Goldman is lying (it does that sometimes), and this email did, in fact, state that Goldman would not serve as a counterparty to Bear Stearns. Or it is possible that the email stated no such thing. Either way, by the time of Faber’s report Goldman was accepting Bear as a  counterparty so the email was no longer relevant.

Although the email was no longer relevant, Hayman Capital was either confused or super-excited by said email, and in its tizzy, Hayman couldn’t control itself – it just had to call David Faber with the shocking news right before Faber was to conduct a life-or-death interview with Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz. But that’s all it was – an innocent tizzy. Hayman certainly did not mean to spread inflammatory information about Bear Stearns.

The other scenario is that a cabal of hedge funds, including Hayman capital, orchestrated a “conspiracy” to destroy Bear Stearns for profit. That is the scenario that Bear Stearns’ former CEO, Jimmy Cayne, laid out for Fortune magazine. When a Fortune reporter (not Roddy Boyd) quoted Cayne’s “conspiracy” remark, Hayman Capital’s lawyer, Kirkpatrick, wrote a letter to Fortune in which he stated that “Cayne’s rant” was a “feeble attempt to deflect blame…”

Hayman’s lawyer added that Hayman “did not have any positions in Bear Stearns’ securities at the time of its failure…In short, Hayman did not stand to profit from [Bear Stearns’s] failure.”

Because our markets are defined by their opacity there is no way to confirm whether Hayman had any “positions in Bear Stearns’ securities” or any other kind of bet against Bear Stearns. The SEC does not require hedge funds to report their short sales, their credit default swap positions, or any of the myriad other derivatives by which a hedge fund might profit from the demise of an investment bank.

But given that Hayman reportedly was betting big  iagainst subprime mortgage derivatives, and given that the value of such derivatives plummeted as the result of the Bear Stearns fiasco, it is a bit disingenuous for Hayman to suggest that it “did not stand to profit” from Bear’s failure.

Moreover, Hayman failed to mention that one of its most important investors was Dan Loeb, manager of a hedge fund called Third Point Capital. As Deep Capture has detailed elsewhere, Loeb is very much a part of that network of short sellers that has habitually disseminated false information through a clique of dubious journalists, including David Faber and Roddy Boyd.

Most of these hedge fund managers, including Loeb, are connected in some way to the famous criminal Michael Milken or his close associates. (Loeb worked side-by-side with many of Milken’s former traders at Jefferies & Co., and got his first big break by obtaining preferential access to certificates of beneficial interest that had been issued by Milken’s bankrupt operation at Drexel Burnham Lambert). And members of this network, including Loeb, were by far the biggest short sellers of Bear Stearns stock.

Most of these hedge funds invest in smaller hedge funds with the expectation that the smaller hedge funds will somehow participate in their attacks on public companies. I do not know what preconditions came with Loeb’s investment in Hayman, but I think it’s fair to say that Hayman is an honorary member of the network.

As a measure of the lengths to which this network goes to spew false information, consider that Loeb once contracted with an outfit called Magic Consulting – owned by convicted stock manipulator Michelle McDonough (formerly Michelle Sarian). Emails obtained by Deep Capture show that McDonough’s job was to coordinate a stable of internet stock message board posters and journalists who bashed stocks shorted by Loeb and his friends. McDonough was herself a fairly prolific message board basher, prior to going to prison.

One of the internet message board bashers in McDonough’s stable was Floyd Schneider, a former employee of a Mafia-connected short seller named Anthony Elgindy, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for short selling crimes. One of the journalists in McDonough’s stable was the above-mentioned Roddy Boyd.

In one email to Schneider, Roddy refers to McDonough as “our mutual best friend.”

So we might question Roddy’s version of the Goldman email story. We might question Roddy’s relationship with Hayman Capital. We might question Hayman Capital’s relationship with Loeb and his network of “fomenting” short sellers. And we might also question whether these short sellers deliberately set out to destroy Bear Stearns.

Actually, it is not we who must question. It is the SEC. But as Jim Cramer said, the SEC “doesn’t understand.”

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Roddy Boyd and the Bear Stearns Insider

Roddy Boyd and the Bear Stearns Insider

“Telling the truth is only possible by accident through a special sort of boastfulness…”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Idiot”

Regular readers of Deep Capture are aware that we have sought to expose certain journalists who seem to serve the interests of a network of market miscreants, many of whom are tied to the famous criminal Michael Milken or his close associates.

One of these journalists is Roddy Boyd, who worked at the New York Post before moving to Fortune magazine. It has come to our attention that Roddy has left Fortune. The magazine did not return a phone call seeking comments on the circumstances behind his departure, but whatever those circumstances might be, it seems fit to honor his departure by publishing an excerpt from a book called “House of Cards.”

In this book, which is written by a Wall Street insider named William Cohan, Roddy is quoted at length, and one particular passage stands out for being quintessentially Roddy. While you are reading the passage, keep in mind that I spent a number of hours talking to Roddy some years ago, and can report that he has a manner of speaking that is similar to what Dostoevsky called “a special sort of boastfulness” –which is to say that Roddy likes to stroke his own back, and in so doing, he often rambles in such a way as to unintentionally admit to his own buffoonery, or to some form of miscreancy on the part of his favorite Wall Street sources.

In this passage, Roddy tells the story of certain communications he had with Tom Marano, Bear Stearns’s (NYSE:BSC) top mortgage trader, on March 6, 2008 – a few days before false rumors began swirling about Bear Stearns’s access to credit. The following week, the false rumors were rampant, and those rumors, along with naked short selling, quickly brought Bear to its knees.

A couple of weeks after the collapse of Bear Stearns, Marano found a new job – with Cerberus Capital Management. As I have detailed elsewhere, Cerberus is run by Steve Feinberg, who was once one of Michael Milken’s top traders at Drexel Burnham. After working for Milken, Feinberg moved to Gruntal & Co., a criminal-infested brokerage, where he worked closely with Steve Cohen, who was once investigated by the SEC for trading on inside information fed to him by Michael Milken’s staff at Drexel.  Cohen now runs SAC Capital, believed to be one of the biggest short sellers of Bear Stearns’s stock.

I am not yet going to state what I think is important about the passage quoted below. But I have other reasons to believe that the facts that Roddy drops in the course of his braggadocio are key to understanding what happened to Bear Stearns. Read the passage yourself, focusing on the facts, not on Roddy’s version of the facts. Consider that Roddy’s conversation with Marano took place on March 6, when there were not yet any rumors in the market, and Bear’s stock was trading above $60. Then, let me know if you spot what’s important.

Here’s the passage:

“…at eleven in the morning on March 6 Marano placed a phone call to Roddy Boyd, then a writer at Fortune. Marano had been a source of Boyd’s for years, when the journalist was covering Wall Street at the New York Post, and had freely offered commentary about his competitors and the markets generally. Boyd had been a trader for eight years before switching careers to journalism, and the two men spoke the same language. ‘I know the mortgage product dead cold,’ Boyd said. Their relationship was a well-defined pas de deux.  ‘It was unusually well defined,’ [Boyd] explained. ‘We knew exactly what we were saying. I could have a very long conversation in two minutes. I protected him always. I never BS’d with him. I never got him in hot water. The corollary was he never BS’d with me, and he would give me good stuff.’

“This time, Marano called Boyd to talk about Bear Stearns, and specifically about his concern that the firms he had traded with for years were suddenly asking him whether Bear had enough cash on hand to execute his trades. ‘He called me at 11:00 A.M. that day and we talked about one or two things,’ Boyd continued. ‘It was weird. He knew it was weird. We did small talk in under ten seconds. I said to him, ‘What’s up?’ He said, ‘What are you hearing about Bear?’ I said, ‘You know what I’m hearing and you know what I’m seeing. He said, ‘I know what you’re hearing and you’re seeing. It’s just baffling.’ Now here I’m playing him a little because I’m hearing things and I’m seeing some things, but he’s not saying much more than I am, so I let him walk and talk. He said to me, ‘Roddy, our guys, our senior guys here, are hearing a really strange thing from custies.’ That’s customers. He said, ‘We were not prepared to hear stuff like this. This is baffling. People are quite literally questioning our solvency, questioning our ability to go on. The shorts are having a lot of fun with us today.’…

“‘He’s thinking two things,’ Boyd continued. ‘One, he’s got to stop this whole line of inquiry right here, right now, because if you have to ask the question, oh my God. Second, he’s thinking about the trajectory of rumor and supposition, and that thesis of smoke versus fire….With a question of their ability to act as a counterparty on the table, that’s unimaginable. I mean, this is Bear Stearns….Now they’re being questioned from the standpoint of fundamental liquidity. He [Marano] said that he believed that these short sellers had been speculating in the credit default swap market and telling counterparties at other firms that they had concerns about Bear Stearns’s liquidity and solvency, and that was driving the cost of spreads wider. What that was doing was making their overnight funding more expensive. That was cutting into their profit margin, and in turn was also starting a sort of cottage industry of rumors about Bear Stearns.’

Roddy continued: “‘There’s no need to explain anything between us,’ he [Marano] said.  I said, ‘Are you sure you’re seeing this?’ He said, ‘Look at [the credit default] swaps.’ So I looked them up and then I see the hockey sticks’ —  a sharp spike up in their cost… ‘He said, ‘It’s unbelievable. It all bullshit.’ At that point—he’s very much a corporate guy—but he had left me [with a clear message]. I’m not stupid. Hedge funds and prime brokerage accounts are unusually skittish about questions of financial health, financial solvency, and he said, ‘I’m hearing there’s questions about our financial health.’ At that point, Marano is telling me he knew he was done, because once that question of credibility goes out there, and serious people say it to you enough, you’re done. It’s all that there is to it. It’s all that there is to it. Where do you go to get your reputation back.’ …

“Boyd worked hard [the following night] and over the weekend trying to figure out which bank—said to be European—had decided it would no longer be a counterparty to Bear Stearns in the overnight financing markets. Obviously, this would be a huge negative development for the firm…‘At that point, I’m pulling my fucking hair out—pardon my language—calling everybody,’ [Boyd] said. ‘I’m calling Deutsche Bank, I’m calling UBS, and I’m very aggressive. Get your senior guys on the phone. Get your financing desk on the phone. I don’t want to talk to some stupid flack. I spent eight years on a desk. I’m smarter than all those flacks. They’re all Kool-Aid drinkers. They don’t honestly know a derivative from a bond from a stock. None of them are going to be able to ask their financing desk. They don’t even know enough to call the repo guys on the financing desk. I told them, Get your financing guys or get your credit guys on the phone with me, or you’re going in Fortune. Here’s the New York Post coming out of me. I said, There’s two ways this is going to work: bad or good. This hand is good; this hand is bad. I shake your hand or I punch you. Let me know…I’m talking to the guys in New York, and they’re saying, We swear to Christ we are not the ones to have done that [cut financing]. If Deutsche Bank had done it, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, that’s the story right there.’ The minute a repo line gets pulled, you die, okay? They die a terrible death.’…

Roddy continued that, after the March 6 call with Marano, ‘“I was thinking, I’m going to poke around in this more…but then I was thinking, This is strange. This is like a situation where you can abuse your position as a reporter. When you’re at Fortune, you have to do stuff right. When you’re at the New York Post, you have to be there first and fastest. At Fortune, you write the first draft of history, and you have to get it right and you have to be consistently right. I’m thinking, I don’t really want to screw with this company – I don’t want to spread rumors. I don’t want to become part of the story. I don’t want to hurt people unnecessarily. I’m an aggressive guy and I’ll pick fights with anyone or anything, but there’s a right way of doing my job and there’s a wrong way. I weighed my duty as an employee here versus the right thing to do.”

Do you see what happened here? Feel free to post your opinion in the comments section. Or contact me privately by email at mitch0033@gmail.com.

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On Rolling Stone, Penson Financial, the Mafia, and Naked Short Selling

On Rolling Stone, Penson Financial, the Mafia, and Naked Short Selling

As should be clear from the contents of Deep Capture, the world of illegal naked short selling is a weird one, populated by sociopathic billionaires, slick lobbyists, famous felons, bent regulators, crooked law firms, corporate spies, message board maniacs, sinister banks, shifty private investigators, mendacious professors, professional dissemblers, propagandists, grifters, thugs, liars, and the Mafia.

Things become all the more weird when you consider that regulators and law enforcement do almost nothing to stop naked short selling, even though a growing number of prominent people – everyone from U.S. Senators to George Soros – insist that criminal naked short sellers helped take down Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and the American financial system. Then there’s the weird fact that anybody who tries to shed light on this weird state of affairs is quickly subjected to smear campaigns that are…weird.

Anyway, message to Matt Taibbi: Welcome to our world.

Taibbi, as many people know, is the star reporter who published a major expose about naked short selling in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine. In addition, he has published a few blogs providing more evidence to support his claim that illegal naked short selling is a big deal and it’s pretty “hilarious,” as he puts it, that the government hasn’t prosecuted the people who might have helped crash the financial system.

In one of his blogs (which you can read here), Taibbi posts a video that seems to show a day trader conducting a short sale of stock in an unnamed big bank through a brokerage called Penson Financial. The SEC says that short sellers have to have “reasonable grounds” that they can locate actual stock to deliver to their buyers. As Taibbi rightly points out, this is a “very  funny piece of regulatory policy – asking greedy ass financial companies to determine what to them is a ‘reasonable’ effort to follow the rules. “

At any rate, if you believe what you see in Taibbi’s video, Penson Financial gave that day trader a phony “locate” on quite a few of the unnamed big bank’s shares. In fact, the video seems to show Penson Financial confirming that it had “located” many billions of the unnamed big bank’s shares – altogether, five times as many shares as were then in circulation. In other words, it seems that if this trader had had the inclination and the funds, Penson would have accepted a massive naked short sale, helping the trader flood the market with billions upon billions of shares that simply did not exist.

This is rather important, because Deep Capture has reviewed evidence showing that little Penson Financial and one other relatively unknown firm were by far the biggest traders in financial stocks in the first nine months of last year, handling more than 80 percent of volume. To repeat, Penson Financial, a little firm in Dallas, Texas, and one other relatively small firm handled by far the biggest volume of trading in the stock of all those big banks that collapsed last year, leading to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. When it came to clearing trades in financial stocks, Penson was bigger than Goldman, bigger than Merrill, bigger than every major brokerage on Wall Street.

We do not know for certain that the trading through Penson was naked short selling. We know only that naked short selling accounted for much of the overall trading last fall in companies like Lehman Brothers. And we know that a preponderance of the overall trading went through Penson. Perhaps Penson carefully weeded out the naked short sellers, in which case it handled almost all of the trading in financial stocks except for naked short selling. But if Taibbi’s video is any indication, Penson was certainly willing to locate stock that did not exist.

If I have anything to add to Taibbi’s terrific reporting, it is this: Penson Financial’s vice president in charge of stock clearing (that is, the head of the division that appears to have located stock that did not exist) is a man named Christopher Sandel. From 1985 to 1995, Sandel was a top executive at Adler Coleman, best known for being the clearing firm to the Genovese Mafia family.

Adler Coleman famously went bust when its top customer, the Genovese-controlled brokerage Hanover Sterling, self-imploded in one of the greatest naked short selling scandals of all time. Several traders tied to the Gambino crime family were charged with naked short selling companies that were underwritten by Hanover. That the Genovese Mafia brokers at Hanover were not charged in this case seems odd, because the most likely scenario is that the Genovese underwrote hapless companies, pumped their stock prices, and then called in the Gambinos to vaporize the companies, with everybody profiting on the way down.

Anyway, when some of America’s biggest financial companies collapsed under a barrage of short selling last fall, an enormous chunk of that trading was being cleared by a fellow who used to work for a company that seemed to specialize in clearing trades for the Mafia. Should this concern us? Might the Mafia have played some role in the collapse of the financial system? If I were more heavily armed, I would venture an opinion.

Now, of course, there is a concerted effort to portray Taibbi as a sucker, and his video as a fake. One blogger who has suggested as much is Gary Weiss, a former BusinessWeek reporter. As we have documented elsewhere on Deep Capture, Gary Weiss is a corrupt pseudo-journalist whose sources have included naked short sellers with ties to the Mob. Among Gary’s favorite sources were John Fiero (fined $1 million in Hanover Sterling scandal), Anthony Elgindy (currently serving an 11 year prison sentence for short selling crimes and alleged to have had his finger sawed off by Russian mafiosi who were concerned that he would become a government informer), and Manuel Asensio (who once worked for a Mafia-controlled brokerage called First Hanover).

Weiss has reported extensively on the Mafia’s infiltration of Wall Street, but he has, for years, insisted that only conspiracy theorists believe naked short selling is problem. He wrote a great deal about Hanover Sterling, but not once did he mention that naked short selling was central to that case. In his book, “The Mob on Wall Street,” Weiss told the story of a Genovese Mafia broker, and mentioned that this Mafia broker claimed to clear his trades through none other than…Penson Financial.

But, of course, Gary insisted that the Mafia broker must have been lying, because Penson is a “legitimate firm.”

Meanwhile, a blog called ClusterStock has also suggested that Taibbi’s video is a “hoax.” Taibbi has written a fine rebuttal to that claim (which you can read here), so I have nothing to add, except that ClusterStock was founded by Henry Blodget, who was famously charged with securities fraud in 2002, and by the former co-owners of DoubleClick, a company that was once defrauded by the Colombo Mafia family. DoubleClick was never charged with any crimes, as it was, alas, the victim.  Such is the sad fate of many firms that  have business dealings with the Mafia (of course, this fate may be avoided by adhering to a simple dictum: “Avoid having dealings with the Mafia”).

I tell you this not because I think there is some kind of conspiracy, but  merely because I am fascinated by the always colorful biographies of people who attack those who seek to expose the crime of naked short selling. Blodget is, by all accounts, a reformed criminal, and I’m sure the other people at ClusterStock  are law-abiding people. Gary Weiss would be perfectly innocent, too — except that he’s an out-and-out fraud.

Recently, Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley revealed that Weiss was the anonymous author of a blog on the popular website Daily Kos. This blog, of course, denied that naked short selling is a crime, while smearing those who said otherwise. To support its smears, the blog, written by the anonymous Gary Weiss, referred readers to another blog, written by none other than Gary Weiss.  Indeed, Gary Weiss has had a great many phony on-line aliases, and all of these Gary Weiss aliases proclaim that Gary Weiss is right and great.

In a variation of this on-line chicanery, ClusterStock’s writers littered the comments section of Taibbi’s blog with allegations that his video was a “hoax.” To support these allegations, the ClusterStock writers provided links to another blog…ClusterStock. Presumably, Gary Weiss will also provide links to ClusterStock. Oh wait, he already did that.

Meanwhile, Penson Financial, has written a letter to the SEC, suggesting that Taibbi’s video was (what else?)…”a hoax.”  In the letter, Penson Financial, which was fined in 2006 for naked short selling, promises that it does not engage in naked short selling.

The SEC no doubt believes this.

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Rolling Stone Reports that Naked Short Selling Killed Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers

Rolling Stone Reports that Naked Short Selling Killed Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers

Matt Taibbi has published a story in Rolling Stone magazine that nobody should miss. It’s not yet available on-line, so you’ll have to pick it up at the newsstands, but here’s a quick summary.

Taibbi writes:

“On Tuesday, March 11th, 2008, somebody – nobody knows who – made one of the craziest bets Wall Street has ever seen. The mystery figure spent $1.7 million on a series of options, gambling that shares in the venerable investment bank Bear Stearns would lose more than half of their value in nine days or less. It was madness – “like buying 1.7 million lottery tickets,” according to one financial analyst.”

Bear’s stock would have to drop by more than half in a matter of days for the mystery figure to make a profit. And that is what happened.

As Taibbi explains, “the very next day, March 12, Bear went into a free fall…Whoever bought those options on March 11th woke up on the morning of March 17th having made 159 times his money, or roughly $270 million. This trader was either the luckiest guy in the world, the smartest son of a bitch ever or…Or what?”

Taibbi speculates (as has Deep Capture) that these options might have been purchased by somebody who was abusing the options market maker exemption to engage in illegal naked short selling. And Taibbi goes beyond speculation to state, as an obvious fact, that illegal naked short selling helped bring Bear Stearns to its knees.

Presumably operating under that assumption, the SEC issued more than 50 subpoenas to Wall Street firms in the wake of Bear’s collapse, but “it has yet to indentify the mysterious trader who somehow seemed to know in advance that one of the five largest investment banks in America was going to completely tank in matter of days.”

Taibbi continues: “The SEC’s halfhearted oversight didn’t go unnoticed by the market. Six months after Bear was eaten by predators, virtually the same scenario repeated itself in the case of Lehman Brothers – another top-five investment bank that in September 2008 was vaporized in an obvious case of [naked short sellers engaging in] market manipulation. From there, the financial crisis was on, and the global economy went into full-blow crater mode.”

Taibbi notes that there were many other factors that made the economy weak. But he says that naked short selling is what pushed Bear and Lehman over the edge. If it weren’t for naked short selling – a massive “counterfeiting scheme,” in Taibbi’s words — those banks would likely have survived, and we might have avoided an all-out financial catastrophe.

This cannot be stressed enough. Criminals deliberately destroyed two of America’s biggest investment banks, precipitating the greatest financial cataclysm since the Great Depression. And the government has done absolutely nothing to bring those criminals to justice. In fact, as Taibbi makes clear in his story and on his blog, the most likely culprits are feted by top government officials in closed door meetings.

I’d call this the biggest financial and political scandal in the history of this country.

Certainly, it is, as Taibbi writes, “one of the most blatant cases of stock manipulation in Wall Street history.” Certainly, it is, as Taibbi writes, “the two biggest murders in Wall Street history.” And, certainly, it is odd that this very big story has appeared in Rolling Stone, but has yet to be covered by a single mainstream news publication.

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, BusinessWeek – they have all known about naked short selling since Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne began hollering about it in 2005. But none of them write about it. Instead, we find a competent financial journalist, and the only major story about one the greatest financial crimes of all time, published in a slightly alternative magazine about music.

I worry for the Republic.

* * * * * * * *

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SAC Capital Gets “Tips” from Goldman; If Only There Were a Pattern

SAC Capital Gets “Tips” from Goldman; If Only There Were a Pattern

Earlier this week,  the Wall Street Journal published what should have been a fairly explosive story implicating Goldman Sachs and its favored hedge fund clients in yet more market miscreancy. Predictably, though, this story did not have what journalists call “legs.” No other mainstream media outlets picked it up. There was no outrage. And there is, of course, no indication that anyone in the government plans to do anything about it.

So allow me to do my small part by reprinting the relevant passage:

“Goldman Sachs Group Inc. research analyst Marc Irizarry’s published rating on mutual-fund manager Janus Capital Group Inc. was a lackluster ‘neutral’ in early April 2008. But at an internal meeting that month, the analyst told dozens of Goldman’s traders the stock was likely to head higher, company documents show.

“The next day, research-department employees at Goldman called about 50 favored clients of the big securities firm with the same tip, including hedge-fund companies Citadel Investment Group and SAC Capital Advisors, the documents indicate. Readers of Mr. Irizarry’s research didn’t find out he was bullish until his written report was issued six days later, after Janus shares had jumped 5.8%.”

The story goes on to suggest that this is standard operating procedure at Goldman. Every week, Goldman analysts exchange stock tips with each other at a gathering the firm calls the “trading huddle.” After the huddle, the tips are conveyed to as few as six, and no more than 60 preferred clients – presumably all high paying hedge funds, such as the above-mentioned SAC Capital.

The Journal quotes Goldman spokesman Edward Canaday as saying that the tips are nothing more than “market color” and are “always consistent with the fundamental analysis” in published reports. As for the retail investors who might benefit from this “market color,” they are out of luck.  Goldman’s spokesman says, “We are not in the business of serving thousands of retail customers.”

No, of course, Goldman is not in the business of serving retail customers. Goldman is in the business of serving SAC Capital, which is known to pay more and higher commissions than any firm on Wall Street (a model pioneered by Michael Steinhardt). And, apparently, one of Goldman’s services is to give SAC Capital advance notice of the contents of its research reports, so that SAC Capital can trade on that inside information, effectively transferring money from the accounts of average investors into the bank account of Steve Cohen, whom BusinessWeek magazine has called “the most powerful trader on Wall Street.”

For those who do not know, Steve Cohen is the proprietor of SAC Capital. He spent his formative years as the top trader for Gruntal & Company, a brokerage that stood firmly on “The Shabby Side of the Street” – as Fortune magazine described it. Gruntal was staffed largely by criminals, some with ties to the Mafia. In the 1990s, Gruntal’s management was implicated in what was then the biggest case of embezzlement in the history of Wall Street.

During his time at Gruntal, Cohen was investigated by the SEC for trading on inside information provided to him by Michael Milken, the most famous – and most destructive – financial criminal the world has ever known. Today, Cohen maintains close business relationships with Milken’s cronies and with former Gruntal managers, such as Howard Silverman, who somehow avoided prosecution, and now operates a “dark pool” platform that allows Cohen to process trades without public scrutiny.

Cohen is no doubt a mathematical whiz (after all, he’s a hedge fund manager). But, with some effort, I have cracked his trading strategy. I’m sure this strategy has some algorithmic expression, but for the sake of simplicity, let us just call it, “cheating.”

First, it was trading on inside information from Michael Milken. Then, a few years ago, it emerged in sworn affidavits that SAC was authoring, and trading ahead of, the so-called “independent” financial research published by an outfit called Gradient Analytics. The SEC’s staff launched an official investigation of Gradient, and began to probe its relationship with Cohen, but ultimately SEC leadership intervened, and the matter was dropped.

This tends to happen — the SEC’s leadership intervenes when its staffers step on the toes of powerful hedge fund managers.

Last December, Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley broke the news that SAC Capital and Kynikos Associates received advanced copies of reports published by Morgan Keegan, another “independent” financial research shop. It is clear that SAC Capital and Kynikos traded ahead of these reports, which is trading on material, non-public information. The SEC is supposedly investigating Kynikos, but don’t expect any resolution to that case, or any action against Steve Cohen, who is, after all, “the most powerful trader on Wall Street.”

If it seems that nobody much cares that Goldman has been providing such tips to SAC Capital and others, some of the blame must go to the Wall Street Journal, which is a “respectable” publication with a reputation for “balance,” and therefore refrains from saying much of anything at all. The Journal’s story about Goldman could have been the sort of investigative blockbuster that would spur the government to action, but it is so politely worded and so “balanced” that it is possible to read the thing and think that Goldman did nothing wrong.

The Journal reports that “Canaday [the Goldman spokesman] says that analysts are told that any comment at a meeting that could result in a change in a rating, earnings estimate or stock-price target ‘must be published and disseminated broadly to all clients.’ He adds, however, that it is rare that tips arising from the meetings reach that threshold. He says ratings changes after the meets also are rare.”

Elsewhere in the story, the Journal provides two vivid examples that show Canady’s statement to be blatantly false, and yet nowhere does the Journal state (even politely) that Canady spends his days issuing mealy-mouthed platitudes to cover up Goldman’s improprieties. And nowhere is it noted that Goldman’s spokesmen regularly describe the bank’s critics as “conspiracy theorists” or people “who just don’t understand how the markets work,” the implicit threat being that any journalist who asks too many questions will be made to look foolish.

The Journal story states that Goldman provided a “tip” to SAC Capital. It states that this “tip” was articulated in published research report six days later, after the stock had gained more than 5%. But not once does the story state the obvious: that SAC Capital was given advance notice of the contents of Goldman research – a clear violation of law. And, of course, nowhere in the story are we reminded that this is serial behavior. Nowhere are we given any reason to be particularly pissed off.

So what we have is a significant addition to a long list of atrocities, in a story that will, unfortunately, be forgotten.

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

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


What follows is PART 15 of a 15-PART series. Soon, we will publish the full 15-part story as a single document.

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Click here to read PART 6

Click here to read PART 7

Click here to read PART 8

Click here to read PART 9

Click here to read PART 10

Click here to read PART 11

Click here to read PART 12

Click here to read PART 13

Click here to read PART 14

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

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

We had learned further that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation supported Novacea, Cougar and Cell Genesys. The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s support for these companies preceded announcements that they had signed massive deals with large pharmaceutical companies. In the cases of Novacea and Cell Genesys, those deals were soon cancelled on the news that their treatments were ineffective, and the companies’ investors quickly dumped their stock. This fact, combined with other evidence, suggests that the Prostate Cancer Foundation was supporting what amounted to sophisticated “pump and dump” schemes.

Meanwhile, the Prostate Cancer Foundation snubbed its nose at Dendreon. And in April, 2007, Dr. Howard Scher, who was an executive and director of Milken’s investment fund, ProQuest, and the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Therapeutic Consortium”, spearheaded an unprecedented lobbying effort to convince the FDA to reject Dendreon’s treatment – the first time in history that the FDA had gone against an advisory panel’s recommendation to approve a drug for terminally ill patients. This lobbying effort had the support of government officials who have ties to Michael Milken.

In the days before and after the lobbying effort, Dendreon was trashed by a few captured journalists – most notably, CNBC’s Jim Cramer — and was also subjected to a blistering attack by naked short sellers who illegally flooded the market with millions of phantom shares to help drive down the company’s stock price. This criminal naked short selling continued intermittently for much of the next two years, while the SEC did nothing, and while other events conspired to hobble Dendreon, a company that had completed multiple clinical trials that strongly indicated that its product, Provenge, was capable of lengthening the lives of tens of thousands of men with prostate cancer.

Amazingly, the SEC will not reveal the names of the naked short sellers. As it says on its website, to release information about (illegal) naked short selling would be to reveal the (criminal) hedge funds’ “proprietary trading strategies.”

* * * * * * * *

When Dendreon’s FDA application was derailed simultaneously with a naked short selling attack that flooded the market with tens of millions of phantom shares, Dendreon’s supporters went berserk. They sent the government hundreds of letters complaining about the naked short selling and the apparent machinations of Michael Milken’s associates. After that, all but one of the ten hedge fund managers ceased to own “put options” in Dendreon.

However, the naked short selling continued pretty much unabated for two years. And in April 2009, Dendreon was once again on the SEC’s “Reg  Sho” list of companies whose stock was “failing to deliver” in excessive quantities.  Dendreon stayed on that list even after the company’s CEO announced that results of an Independent Monitoring Committee study of 500 patients were “unambiguous in nature…a clear hit” for Provenge.

After the CEO’s announcement, Dendreon’s stock, which had been as low as $4 weeks earlier, rose to the mid-20s. Then, on April 28, 2009, just hours before Dendreon was to present this “unambiguous” data to an all-important meeting of the American Urological Association, the now legendary Yahoo! message board post appeared, warning of  a “BEAR RAID” that was to occur at precisely 12:30pm Central time. Right on cue, Dendreon’s stock tanked 65% in matter of 75 seconds (to $7), within minutes of the moment predicted by that message.

Within hours after that amazing crash, Nasdaq announced that it had investigated the matter and decided to let the trades stand. This was quite remarkable, given that it would have been impossible for the exchange to determine the identity of that message board poster and sort through the trading data in such a short period of time. It is all the more remarkable considering that this “BEAR RAID” was most likely the work of naked short selling criminals.

At any rate, it is likely that short sellers, recognizing that it was now going to be more difficult to prevent Dendreon from getting FDA approval, used the opportunity of that sharp price drop to cover their short positions. Some short sellers might also have used the opportunity to buy shares, hoping to cash in on the bonanza that was to follow. After the “BEAR RAID,” Dendreon’s stock price quickly rose above $27.

The night after the “BEAR  RAID”, CNBC’s Jim Cramer (who has begun a “crusade” against the crime of naked short selling in an effort to distance himself from his previous efforts to cover up the crime of naked short selling) said “I’m not qualified to talk about Dendreon.” This was just two weeks after Cramer had screamed that Dendreon had no chance of receiving FDA approval. Now, he was no longer commenting on Dendreon’s chances, but he noted,  “I am a big believer in taking profits when I see a short squeeze. So I am going to recommend taking profits.”

Some people clearly did take profits. After Cramer’s comment, the stock started to fall, and by May 8, it was at $19. Then the buying started again. Quite possibly, some of the hedge funds that had been short selling Dendreon used the dip to $19 to purchase still more Dendreon shares. After May 8, the stock rose back up to around $25, which is approximately where it remains today. When SEC filings for this period are in, it will be interesting to see which hedge funds bought shares.

But it will remain impossible to know who the criminal short sellers were. As far as the SEC is concerned, that is a big secret –  “proprietary trading strategies.”

* * * * * * * *

After Dendreon reported its data to the American Urological Association –data that showed almost precisely what the data showed two years earlier (that is, that Provenge was safe, and that it lengthened survival times while greatly improving the quality of life for end-stage prostate cancer patients who would otherwise be subjected to the misery of chemotherapy) — Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation, which had long shunned Dendreon while Milken’s allies maneuvered to derail it, finally concluded that it was time to say something positive about Provenge.

“The PCF is delighted to see evidence of increased patient survival from Provenge,” the Milken “philanthropic” foundation said in a press release. “We share the analysis of Dr. Philip Kantoff, a leader in the PCF Clinical Therapy Consortium…and a principal investigator of the Provenge Phase III clinical study. The results validate 16 years of modern research to harness a patient’s own immune system to fight their prostate cancer and prolong their lives…”

The Prostate Cancer Foundation continued: “The PCF first provided funding to Dr. Eric Small…to support clinical research around measuring immune responses in patients treated with Provenge…”

In other words, Milken’s “philanthropy” hadn’t spent two years ignoring, and in some cases trying to quash Dendreon’s treatment. In fact, the Prostate Cancer Foundation had supported Dendreon all along!

This is nonsense. What the Prostate Cancer Foundation did not mention is that Dr. Philip Kantoff, the physician mentioned in the press release, was on the advisory board of Cougar Biotechnology, the company that Milken’s “philanthropic” foundation was promoting as a better alternative to Dendreon.  Moreover, Dr. Kantoff was one of the few physicians to publicly cast doubts on Provenge. He was never able to say that Provenge did not work, but when talking to the press at the time of the FDA advisory panel meeting in 2007, he was dismissive, or at least confused.

“I didn’t think [Provenge] had a snowball’s chance in hell of working,” Dr. Kantoff told Forbes magazine’s Matthew Herper, the journalist who went to lengths to argue against FDA approval. “I’m still skeptical, but I think there’s something going on here.” Kantoff suggested that Provenge could be a “slam dunk,” but maybe the trial size was too small. Left unmentioned was the fact the FDA had regularly approved treatments for dying patients when relatively small trials had shown such stunning results.

As for Dr. Small, he too was on the advisory board of Cougar Biotechnology. The Prostate Cancer Foundation did indeed give him funding to measure immune responses in patients treated with Provenge, but it is not at all clear that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit was keen to see Dr. Small’s study yield positive results. When the study did yield positive results, Dr. Scher, the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s Therapeutic Consortium (referred to in the above press release as the “Clinical Therapy Consortium”), spun them as negative results.

In his letter to the FDA (the one that quickly and mysteriously ended up in the hands of The Cancer Letter), Dr. Scher quoted Dr. Small as saying the following: “In summary, this study suggests that while sipuleucel-T fell short of demonstrating a statistically significant difference in TTP, it may provide a survival advantage to asymptomatic [prostate cancer] patients.” Dr. Small had not written the word “may” in italics. That was Dr. Scher’s improvisation, part of his effort to convince the world that absolute “proof” of efficacy was needed for FDA approval.

As both Dr. Small and Dr. Scher knew, the “gold standard” for physicians, and the federally mandated standard for drug approval, is “survival” — “substantial evidence” that a treatment may help patients live longer. Perhaps Dr. Small felt constrained in challenging Dr. Scher’s misuse of his study. Perhaps he also felt uncomfortable about joining Dr. Scher, who was, after all, the powerful chairman of Milken’s Therapeutic Consortium, at the meeting of the FDA advisory panel that voted on Provenge in March 2007.

Dr. Small was supposed to speak on behalf of Provenge at that panel. Perhaps this concerned the folks at the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Either way, Dr. Small was a no-show at the panel that day.

He apologized – something about a hitch in his travel plans.

* * * * * * * *

In May 2009, while Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation was rewriting history, Milken’s hedge fund crony, Steve Cohen, who was one of those seven hedge fund managers who had bet big against Dendreon after the advisory panel meeting in 2007, reached out to Care-to-Live, the grass-roots organization that had done so much to highlight the connections among Milken’s “philanthropy,” Milken’s investments, and Dendreon’s travails

On May 19, one of Care-to-Live’s founders received an email from an employee of CR Intrinsic Investors, which is one of Steve Cohen’s hedge funds.  “I’m an investor in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and I’m interested in understanding the patients perspective on Provenge and any other therapies in development…,” the email began. “Would you or someone from Care-to-Live be available speak with me…? I have spoken to a number of academic thought leaders, but I’d like to better understand what the patients want…”

And by the way, “I’m happy to provide compensation for time spent speaking with me if that is of interest.”

Milken-affiliated hedge funds already have analysts and journalists regurgitating their party line on command. They also have doctors on the payroll. Might as well put the troublemakers on the payroll, too.

* * * * * * * *

Or perhaps Cohen is genuinely thinking about investing in Dendreon. Perhaps he already has. The intentions of this network remain a matter of some speculation.

Much of this speculation focuses on Dmitry Balyasny, the Russian “whiz kid.” As recently as March of this year, when they filed their last SEC documents, Balyasny’s hedge fund, Visium, held around 900,000  call options in Dendreon. Simultaneously, the hedge fund owned 860,000 put options. It is possible that Balyasny and his associate, Jacob Gottleib, were implementing a split-strike pricing strategy – selling out of the money calls and buying out of the money puts. The effect is to create a large synthetic short position.

SEC documents show that during much of the past two years, Balyasny’s funds also owned large numbers of Dendreon shares. These could have been shares that they bought to cover short positions. Or it could be that they owned shares to gather proxy votes and put pressure on Dendreon’s management to act in ways that might not be  good for the company.

Dendreon’s latest Schedule 14-A, filed on April 30, showed that Balyasny (remember, Balyasny’s other fund was previously one of the seven hedge funds with large  bets against Dendreon) had become one of Dendreon’s largest shareholders, with a 5.5% stake in the company. Another major shareholder was Capital Ventures International, the unit of Susquehanna that did the PIPEs deal with Dendreon. Meanwhile, Joseph Edelman, the hedge fund manager who was employed in 2007 by Lindsay Rosenwald, formerly of the Mafia-connected D.H. Blair, has bought at least 2 million Dendreon shares.

In addition to those purchases, many of the Milken network hedge funds that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds now have the capability to convert, so  they, too, might soon count themselves among Dendreon’s largest shareholders. Altogether, this network may already control (or have the ability to convert into control of) as much as 30% of the company.

It is possible that this network is planning to seize control of Dendreon by stealth. This was the modus operandi of the Milken network in the 1980s. As most every book on Milken recounts, affiliated investors (some combination of Milken, Ivan Boesky, Carl Icahn, Princeton-Newport, John Mulheren,  and others) would each buy, say, 4.9% or 9.8% of a company without declaring themselves to be affiliated investors. In some cases, Milken would “park” stock (e.g. Princeton would secretly buy stock on Milken’s behalf) in order to conceal that he had any ownership at all.

By secretly holding large blocks of shares, the network was able to acquire controlling stakes while bypassing regulatory requirements to declare such positions. Besides putting them in a position to manipulate prices, Milken and friends then put pressure on companies’ managements by quietly letting it be known that they had, as a group, a controlling number of proxy votes.

If Milken’s friends come to control Dendreon, Milken’s “philanthropic” foundation will no doubt continue to articulate its new position of being “delighted” that the data shows that Dendreon’s treatment is safe and effective (which is the same thing the data showed two years and 60,000 American deaths ago). And if the Milken network takes over Dendreon, perhaps Michael Milken will, in the name of “philanthropy,” convince his government minions to grant approval to Provenge, so that it can be administered to the patients who so desperately need it.

But that should not cause us to ignore the ordeal that Dendreon has endured during these past few years. And we should demand an end to a status quo which lets Wall Street miscreants, cheats, and manipulators (and not free markets) decide which companies survive unmolested, and which will be crippled or killed off entirely.

But it is not surprising that criminals see fit to maim public companies.

Consider that it is impossible to buy life insurance on another person’s life. The legal principle has developed that one can only insure something in which one has “an insurable interest.” But imagine that this were not the case. Imagine if it were possible for people to buy insurance on other people’s lives. One can see that there might evolve a type of criminal who would buy life insurance on the lives of others, and then arrange for those people to die.

One can even imagine that, as society wised up to this practice of buying life insurance and then manipulating outcomes, such criminals would evolve new tactics towards the same end. For example, the criminals might target newborn babies in hospitals, because babies are vulnerable, and it would be difficult for anyone to know for certain whether they were dying naturally, or as a result of criminals manipulating outcomes.

One could even imagine that the most sophisticated of these criminals would come to target newborn babies who were already sick, because manipulating their medical outcomes in order to cause their deaths would leave the slightest statistical footprint possible.

In our society one cannot buy life insurance on another person, but one can buy “life insurance” on a company: that is, one can make a bet that a company will fail, and collect on that bet when the company dies. It is the contention of Deep Capture that there are criminals who take out life insurance policies against companies, and then manipulate their outcomes so as to collect on those policies.

And just as we can understand the logic of criminals focusing on newborn babies, so too can we understand why the financial criminals have learned to focus on small, early-stage public companies. And to extend the morbid metaphor one last step: just as the criminals might focus on newborns who are already sick, because their outcomes are already in the most doubt (making the criminal manipulations hardest to spot), so too have the financial criminals learned to focus not just on early-stage public companies, but on early stage public companies working in the field of biotechnology.

That is because in biotechnology the difficulties in valuing a company are at their greatest. There is often little to no revenue.  The idea behind the company may be nothing more than the theory of a scientist. No one knows whether it will work. If it works, no one knows how long it will take to prove that it works. And even if it can be proven to work, no one knows how long it will take to clear all the legal and regulatory hurdles it will face. Such companies are favored targets for manipulators because it is easy to manipulate the truth when no one knows the truth, and whatever truth there is lies behind so many veils.

In the case of Dendreon , the truth was hard to miss. It was more than a company with a blockbuster treatment. It was the first company in decades to develop a medicine that could truly revolutionize the way that doctors treat cancer. The company had gathered its data, and the data was conclusive (to a 95% confidence level): Provenge was safe and effective. A panel of experts assembled by the FDA had declared that the treatment should be approved.

So when naked short sellers attacked, and the treatment was derailed, it was obvious that there had been foul play. Hundreds of concerned citizens took it upon themselves to investigate, and document, the footprints of the miscreants. As a result we have been able to present a highly discernible, if admittedly imperfect, picture of their trail.

But we must ask: How many other small biotech companies have been victimized in less obvious ways? How many companies were like the babies in our morbid metaphor — snuffed out before they could demonstrate their potential; killed by criminal naked short sellers and their captured accomplices (journalists, regulators, doctors) who successfully pled innocence, saying the companies died because they were sick or weak? And how many of those murdered companies, weak or not, had medicines that could eventually have improved health and saved lives?

Our morbid metaphor, you see, is not entirely metaphor. Real people have died.

In answer to the question of how many people have died, we know only from the data that abusive and illegal short selling has affected many hundreds of small biotech companies with all manner of medicines. We know that the vast majority of those companies are now gone, and that some number of them, if left to the rigours of the market, but not to the whims of criminal short sellers, would have one day delivered their medicines to patients.

But, of course, we do not know who the criminal short sellers are. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, that is a big secret – “proprietary trading strategies.”

THE END

* * * * * * * *

Note: The original draft of this story incorrectly stated that BAM Capital was affiliated with Dmitry Balyasny’s Balyasny Asset Management. Having mistaken BAM Capital with Balyasny’s fund, I aslo suggested in the original draft of this story that Balyasny had aquired more than ten percent of Dendreon’s shares in the Spring of 2009. This was incorrect. Balyasny’s Visium hedge fund had aquired 5.5% of Dendreon’s shares. I regret the error.

Posted in Featured Stories, The Deep Capture Campaign, The Mitchell ReportComments (76)

Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 14 of 15)

Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 14 of 15)


What follows is PART 14 of a 15-PART series. The last installment will appear on Deep Capture in the coming days, after which point the story will be published in its entirety.

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Click here to read PART 6

Click here to read PART 7

Click here to read PART 8

Click here to read PART 9

Click here to read PART 10

Click here to read PART 11

Click here to read PART 12

Click here to read PART 13

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

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

We had learned further that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which appears to act in concert with Milken’s investment fund, ProQuest, had supported Novacea, Cougar and Cell Genesys. The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s support for these companies preceded announcements that they had signed massive deals with large pharmaceutical companies. In the cases of Novacea and Cell Genesys, those deals were soon cancelled on the news that their treatments were ineffective, and the companies’ investors quickly dumped their stock. This fact, combined with other evidence, suggests that the Prostate Cancer Foundation was supporting what amounted to sophisticated “pump and dump” schemes.

Meanwhile, the Prostate Cancer Foundation snubbed its nose at Dendreon. And in April, 2007, Dr. Howard Scher, who was an executive and director of ProQuest, and the chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Therapeutic Consortium”, spearheaded an unprecedented lobbying effort to convince the FDA to reject Dendreon’s treatment – the first time in history that the FDA had gone against an advisory panel’s recommendation to approve a drug for terminally ill patients. This lobbying effort had the support of government officials who have ties to Michael Milken.

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

* * * * * * * *

In July 2008, not long before Cell Genesys announced that its drug was killing people, CNBC’s Jim Cramer called Dendreon a “dog.” Cramer, of course, did not mention that the illegal naked short selling of Dendreon was continuing apace. Throughout that month, more than 1 million Dendreon shares “failed to deliver” every day, according to SEC data.

At the end of August 2008, after Cell Genesys announced that its drug was killing people, Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation posted a story that suggested that this failure was a sign that Dendreon could be in trouble, too. Clearly, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, whose top officials had done so much to derail Dendreon in 2007, were not eager to see the company’s treatment reach patients.

Not once did the Prostate Cancer Foundation note that the difference between Dendreon and the three companies promoted by the Prostate Cancer Foundation was that Dendreon had provided heaps of evidence that its treatment actually worked.

In October 2008, Dendreon released still more favorable data. Its Independent Monitoring Committee’s studies were showing (as had the company’s phase 3 trials in 2007) that Provenge was safe, and offered a significant survival advantage over a placebo.

Meanwhile our two favorite financial analysts – the singing Sendek and Jonathan Aschoff – continued to reiterate their sell ratings on Dendreon.

The attacks continued through March 2009, which is when we were treated to the reappearance of  Matthew Herper, the Forbes reporter who had dismissed Dendreon during those strange occurrences in April 2007. Now, Herper published a story in which he made it clear that Dendreon’s treatment would not, and should not, be approved by the FDA.

In support of his claims, he cited the analysis of Dr. Thomas Fleming, one of the three people whose missives had ended up in the hands of The Cancer Letter. To show that Fleming (who is not a physician, but rather a statistician) was not the only “expert” opposed to Dendreon’s treatment, Herper cited several other “experts”  – Susan Ellenberg, Donald Berry, and Janet Wittes – who had views that were remarkably similar to Fleming’s.

What Herper did not mention is that Susan Ellenberg had co-authored a book with Fleming, Janet Wittes was credited with editing that book, and that book enthusiastically cited the work of Donald Berry. Clearly, these “experts” had worked together to make sure that one message was whispered in Herper’s ear.

While Herper was working on his article, John Stewart of the “Daily Show” began exposing Jim Cramer as a fraud. This created quite a stir, and in the midst of it Cramer went on CNBC to tout none other than….Cougar Biotechnology, the company controlled by Lindsay Rosenwald, formerly of the Mafia-linked “pump and dump” shop D.H. Blair. Cramer said he thought Cougar was the next big thing in prostate cancer treatment, and everybody should load up on its stock.

Meanwhile, with Novacea and Cell Genesys killing people, Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit was now directing much of its energy to promoting the mostly untested treatment then being hawked by Cougar Biotechnology.

Cougar’s treatment “has recently attracted global media coverage,” began one Prostate Cancer Foundation press release, which described the treatment as “a promising experimental medication with the potential to treat patients who have failed conventional medical treatment for advanced prostate cancer…”

The press release continued:  “The [Prostate Cancer Foundation] Therapeutic Clinical Investigation Consortium played an important role by accelerating US clinical testing of this new agent in Phase II clinical trials….In Phase 1 studies, [Cougar’s treatment] exhibited the potential to attenuate disease progression and shrink tumors.”

Actually, the studies were not quite so encouraging as Milken’s foundation would have one believe. Abiraterone had been tested on a total of 30 patients. These patients purportedly experienced declines in levels of “prostate specific antigen,” but this is a long way from demonstrating that  Cougar’s treatment “attenuates disease” or “shrinks tumors.” As for that “potential to treat patients,” it will be at least two years before Cougar has enough data to submit an application for FDA approval.

For the sake of prostate cancer patients everywhere, Deep Capture hopes that Cougar’s drug proves to be successful. We wish merely to note the different reception the network of Milken cronies delivers to a drug like Provenge, whose supporting data is ample and overwhelmingly positive, versus the opinions the network expresses about a drug whose data is preliminary and inclusive, but whose investors hail from the Milken network.

We also wish to reiterate that Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation and people tied to Milken gave ringing endorsements to companies – Novacea, Cell Genesys, and Cougar Biotechnology – right before those companies entered into purportedly massive deals with major pharmaceutical companies. In the cases of Novacea and Cell Genesys, those massive deals were canceled soon after they were signed because the companies’ treatments were shown to be ineffective.

Yet, in all three cases, investors with ties to Milken or his close associates made large fortunes selling out their stock soon after the companies received over-the-top endorsements from the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Meanwhile, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, whose officials had played a key role in derailing Dendreon back in 2007, continued to snub its nose at Dendreon’s Provenge, the one treatment that could be safely and effectively administered to patients – right away.

* * * * * * * *

It is not clear if Milken himself was invested in Cougar, but Dr. Samuel Saks, who was a director on Cougar’s advisory board, was also a board member of Milken’s fund, ProQuest Investments. Three other members of Cougar’s advisory board were doctors affiliated with Milken’s “philanthropy,” the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

In addition to Rosenwald, the biggest investors in Cougar Biotechnology have included Millennium Management (the hedge fund that was co-founded by the guy who was going to murder Ivan Boesky, and later died of an early heart attack) and Visium Capital, which is co-owned by Dimitry Balyasny and Jacob Gottleib.

As noted, Millennium, Visium and Balyasny were also among the largest shareholders in Cell Genesys when the Prostate Cancer Foundation began promoting that company’s treatment, GVAX, in mass mailings and flyers handed out in front of shopping malls. Millennium’s manager and Dmitry Balyasny, meanwhile, were among the seven traders who were betting big against Dendreon in March 2007.

The few media stories about Balyasny make him seem like he is a “prominent” investor – and a poster boy for the American dream. Born in Russia, he came to America as a young man and soon started raking in the bucks as a “whiz kid” investor. In addition to Visium, Balyasny is the proprietor of Balyasny Asset Management. Some of Balyasny Asset Management’s employees —  including, for a period of time, the fund’s chief risk officer — have come from SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by Milken crony Steve Cohen.

A great many of Balyasny’s other employees were hired from a hedge fund called Magnetar Capital. The senior partner and investment committee chairman of Magnetar is Michael S. Gross, who was previously a founding partner of Apollo Advisors, the investment fund run by Milken crony Leon Black.

As you will recall, Leon Black funded the new Milken “philanthropic” foundation that hired National Cancer Institute prostate cancer chief Alison Martin after she helped the chairman of Milken’s Therapeutic Consortium foil Dendreon’s FDA application. Leon Black is also a business partner of Felix Sater, the alleged Russian mobster who once stuck a broken stem of a wine glass through a stock broker’s face and then went on to run White Rock Partners, a Mafia-infested brokerage that was indicted for manipulating stock in cahoots with the above-mentioned Lindsay Rosenwald’s D.H. Blair.

Prior to starting his own hedge funds, Balyasny was the top trader at an outfit called Schonfeld Securities, the proprietor of which is a man named Steven Schonfeld. Prior to founding his firm, Schonfeld worked for Blinder Robinson (then known on the Street as “Blind’em and Rob’em”). Blinder Robinson was among the first firms to be shut down by the Feds when they began investigating a network of Mafia-linked brokerages that included Rosenwald’s D.H. Blair and Sater’s White Rock Capital.

Schonfeld worked at Blinder Robinson with Anthony Elgindy, the criminal naked short seller who was was later sentenced to prison for stock manipulation and bribing FBI officials. As you will recall, Elgindy appeared for his sentencing missing a finger – reportedly because the Russian Mafia forced him to saw it off, giving him something on which to meditate while he served his 11 years in jail. Meanwhile, the Elgindy investigation led the authorities to other hedge funds, such as Gryphon Partners, whose manager was later among the few who bet big against Dendreon.

As should be clear by now, it is significant that a preponderance of the hedge funds that bet big against Dendreon, and a preponderance of the hedge funds that were invested in the three Milken-promoted companies – Cell Genesys, Novacea, and Cougar Biotechnology – were part of the same network. And it is significant that much of this network seems to be centered on Michael Milken and Steve Cohen, who became the “most powerful trader on Wall Street” some years after he was investigated by the government for trading on inside information provided to him by Milken’s shop at Drexel Burnham.

Permit me to repeat a few facts:  Cohen was once the top earner for Gruntal & Company, which was simultaneously employing several traders who were later tied to the Mafia. When Gruntal was indicted for embezzling millions of dollars, many of its former employees went on to fill the ranks of  White Rock Capital, run by the alleged Russian mobster Felix Sater (he with the broken wine glass).

Cohen, meanwhile, had left to start his own hedge fund empire. Cohen’s hedge funds have helped pump stocks promoted by D.H. Blair, which was eventually indicted on 173 counts of securities fraud and implicated in a Mafia stock manipulation scheme that was orchestrated by White Rock Capital.

Lindsay Rosenwald, who is the son-in-law of D.H. Blair’s founder and a former top executive of D.H. Blair, was not only the controlling shareholder of Cougar Biotechnology, but also the proprietor of a hedge fund called Paramount Capital. The vice president of Paramount was formerly a top trader for Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital. The vice president of the above mentioned Millennium Management is also a former top trader of SAC Capital.

And Cohen, who is maniacal about his working relationships, is on close terms with Schonfeld Securities, run by the former employee of Blind’em and Rob’em.  Cohen has employed Schonfeld’s traders, including Anthony Bassone, who was until recently assistant controller of SAC Capital; and Rob Cannon, who is Cohen’s top personal trader at SAC. Another “Russian whiz kid”, Michael Orlov, created the computerized trading infrastructure at both SAC and Schonfeld Securities. And, as mentioned, Cohen shares employees and trading strategies with that other “Russian whiz kid” — Dmitry Balyasny, who was once Schonfeld’s biggest earner.

All of which I mention only because I fancy myself a biographer of a particularly destructive network of Wall Street personalities. It may be of no significance that out of Planet Earth’s 11,500 hedge funds, there were only ten hedge funds with large numbers of Dendreon put options at the end of March, 2007.  There may be no significance to the fact that of those ten hedge funds, seven were in the same network — Millennium Management; Balyasny Asset Management; WS Capital (the successor to Gryphon Partners); Perceptive Advisors (whose manager was simultaneously working for Paramount Capital); Bernard Madoff Investment Securities; Pequot Management; and SAC Capital (managed by Steve Cohen, who is said to be maniacal about maintaining working relationships with people in his network).

And it could be purely coincidence that these hedge funds were the largest holders of put options on Dendreon shares right at the time that Dendreon was getting clobbered by massive amounts of illegal naked short selling – and right before Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer was stymied by an unprecedented lobbying effort led by FDA-contracted doctors and government officials tied to Michael Milken.

By the way, three months later – at the end of June, 2007 — there was just one more hedge fund with large numbers of Dendreon put options. It is not clear from SEC filings whether these put options were bought before or after the FDA announced (on May 8, 2007) that it would  not approve Dendreon’s treatment.

Either way, it is probably another coincidence that this eleventh hedge fund that bought large numbers of put options was the above-mentioned Magnetar Capital.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Check in soon for Chapter 15.

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

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


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

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Click here to read PART 6

Click here to read PART 7

Click here to read PART 8

Click here to read PART 9

Click here to read PART 10

Click here to read PART 11

Click here to read PART 12

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only there were a pattern.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 14.

Posted in Featured Stories, The Deep Capture Campaign, The Mitchell ReportComments (68)

Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 12 of 15)

Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 12 of 15)


What follows is PART 12 of a 15-PART series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture in the coming days, after which point the story will be published in its entirety.

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Click here to read PART 6

Click here to read PART 7

Click here to read PART 8

Click here to read PART 9

Click here to read PART 10

Click here to read PART 11

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

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

We had learned further that Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, seems largely to be an extension of Milken’s investment fund, ProQuest. This might explain why the Prostate Cancer Foundation endorsed and provided financial support to Novacea and Cougar, neither of which had shown that their treatments were safe or effective, while snubbing its nose at Dendreon.

In addition, we had learned that in April, 2007, an FDA-contracted physician, Dr. Howard Scher, who was also an executive and director of Milken’s ProQuest Investments, and the chairman of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation “Therapeutic Consortium”, spearheaded an unprecedented lobbying effort to undermine the prescribed regulatory process and convince the FDA to deny approval to Dendreon — the first time in history that the FDA went against an advisory panel’s recommendation to approve a drug destined for dying patients.

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

* * * * * * * *

“Black Wednesday at the FDA.”

That is how Dr. Mark Thornton, a former medical officer in the FDA’s Office of Oncology Products, described the FDA’s decision not to approve Dendreon’s Provenge.  In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Thornton described vaccines such as Provenge as the “Holy Grail of cancer treatment.”  Without directly referring to anyone by name, Dr. Thorton described Dr. Scher’s lobbying effort as “arrogant” and “unprecedented.”

Dr. Thornton added that when the FDA succumbed  to that lobbying, “the dawn of a new era in cancer immunotherapy was driven back into the night. It will be years before we know the full impact of these decisions and how many cancer patients…have had their lives cut short as a result.”

This scandal infuriated many other physicians and patient advocates (with  the exception of those affiliated with Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation). Some Dendreon supporters took to the streets.

On June 2, 2007, there was a protest in front of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Two days later, several prostate cancer advocacy groups rallied in Washington. On June 6, there was yet another protest, this one attended by still more physicians who demanded to know why the FDA had failed to approve Dendreon’s treatment.

“I’d like to explain in the most basic of terms,” said Dr. Mark Moyad of the University of Michigan medical school, at the June 6 rally. “We think a mistake has been made. We are here in a friendly way to start the process of correcting that mistake.”

That word — “friendly” – seems to me to perfectly describe Dendreon’s supporters. I might add  “intelligent,” and “fair,” and “engaged.”  But the mainstream media played its customary role by portraying such advocates as vexatious wackos (notwithstanding the fact that many of Dendreon’s supporters were respected physicians).

“Oncologists do not usually need bodyguards…” began a story in the Washington Post, which was all about the Dendreon “controversy.”  The gist of this story was that people advocating for prostate cancer patients might somehow be dangerous – that it was strange how vocal they were, it was strange that they used the Internet to get the word out – and Dr. Scher (the physician who helped derail Dendreon) feared for his safety. He had even received some “threats.”

Nowhere in the story was it suggested that a great many prominent doctors were saying that the FDA had made a “mistake” in failing to approve Dendreon’s application. Nowhere was it mentioned that Dr. Scher played a significant role in engineering this “mistake.”  And nowhere was it mentioned that Dr. Scher was egregiously conflicted due to his financial ties to Michael Milken’s investment fund and Dendreon’s competitors, Novacea and Cougar Biotechnology.

Essentially identical stories appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Seattle Times, and on CNBC. Every one of these media outfits portrayed Dendreon’s supporters as potentially dangerous lunatics. Every one of them stated unequivocally that Dr. Scher had been “threatened.”  Yet, not one of them specifically described the threats, and as far as I can ascertain, there were no “threats.”

Clearly, there was a new party line – Dr. Scher was the victim. Given the near verbatim repetition of this party line in so many newspapers, and given my experience working in the mainstream media, I can say with near certainty that this was the work of an orchestrated public relations campaign – a campaign to distract attention from what was really happening to Dendreon.

Meanwhile, Dendreon remained one of the most manipulated stocks on Nasdaq. On the day that the Washington Post story appeared, SEC data showed that criminal naked short sellers had sold, and failed to deliver, more than 13 million Dendreon shares. Following the mainstream media’s standard operating procedures, no mention was made of this phantom stock in any of the stories on Dendreon’s troubles.

* * * * * * * *

By June of 2007, Dendreon’s stock price was averaging around $7 – down from its early April high of $25. There was no way the company could raise more money on the stock market, and so it had to significantly scale back its work on Neuvenge, a promising treatment that fought breast cancer in the same way that Provenge fought prostate cancer. In order to get enough cash to continue work on Provenge, Dendreon issued over $100 million worth of convertible bonds.

Sometimes, hedge funds that buy a company’s convertible bonds are well-intentioned – they want the company to succeed so that the company can repay the loan.

But, often, hedge funds that buy convertible bonds do not have the company’s best interests at heart. Indeed, Deep Capture has obtained an internal client presentation given by a well-known investment bank that states that the single largest segment of investors in convertible bonds are hedge funds that actually intend to increase their bets against the companies that they are financing.

A convertible bond is debt that can be “converted” into stock. A hedge fund lends a company, say, $100 million. As repayment, the hedge fund can either receive the $100 million plus interest at maturity, or instead it can receive, say, 10 million shares in the company.

If the share price is $8 at the time of the loan, those 10 million shares would be worth $80 million. But if the share price rises to $20, the hedge fund can convert his $100 million loan into $200 million worth of stock. If the hedge fund manager is a value investor who wishes the company well, he will make his loan and wait for the stock to rise.

But there are various ways that convertible bonds can be put to malevolent use. Suppose a group of hedge funds have launched a full scale short selling attack against a company, but the hedge funds want to short sell even more stock.  To do that legally, the hedge funds must first locate more stock to borrow, and then sell it. But sometimes there is simply no more stock available for short sellers to borrow.

Now, suppose the share price has already been significantly hammered, so the company can no longer raise money through the stock market. The hedge funds know this. And the hedge funds are important clients of an investment bank. So the hedge funds and the investment bank hatch a plan.

It works like this: the investment bank tells the victim company that it can resolve the company’s cash problems by brokering a convertible bond offering. If the company agrees, the investment bank says, “great, but there’s just one hitch – you, the company, have to lend us, the investment bank, the shares that the company would normally keep on hand in case the bond holders convert.

To assuage any fears, the investment bank might promise the company that it will not re-lend those shares to short sellers, but will merely sell them to long buyers – people who want to invest in the company. The company says, “fine,” and issues, say, $100 million worth of debt convertible to 10 million shares. The company also agrees to that “hitch” — so now the investment bank has wangled a “stock loan” agreement that gives it exclusive rights to borrow those 10 million shares until such time as the bond holders convert.

Meanwhile, the investment bank returns to that group of hedge funds, who agree to buy the convertible bonds as a means to extricating those 10 million shares from the company. Once the investment bank is in possession of those shares, it cannot (at least according to its agreement with the company) lend them to the hedge funds for purposes of short selling. But it can do one better. It can broker swap contracts that oblige counterparties to pay the hedge funds a certain amount of money in the event that the company’s stock price decreases in value.

Then, the investment bank dumps those 10 million shares into the market all at once, causing the stock price to further collapse. Meanwhile, the hedge funds and the investment bank might be engaging in naked short selling – selling stock that has never been borrowed by anybody (i.e. stock that does not exist).

If anyone asks about this illegal naked short selling, the hedge funds say they thought they had “a locate” on stock that they could borrow and deliver. If anyone asks the hedge funds to be more specific, the hedge funds say that they had “located” and planned to borrow those 10 million shares that the investment bank had borrowed from the victim company. If the SEC notes that the investment bank had an agreement not to lend those shares to short sellers, the hedge funds say they didn’t know about that.

Of course, the SEC rarely asks any of these questions, but the convertible bonds provide some immunity, just in case.

As the stock price hits rock bottom, the company depletes the cash it raised from the bond offering. And the only way for the company to receive new funding is to issue more convertible bonds to the hedge funds, or do one of those dreaded “death sprial” PIPE deals.

If this were a game of chess, it would now be “check” for the hedge funds. The company knows that its stock price and its financing depend entirely on the hedge funds, which are put in the position of being able to drive (and trade ahead of) the company’s business decisions. This scheme might even allow a set of hedge funds to take control of, say, a $700 million company, for a $100 million loan.

With the exception of the naked short selling, most of this scheme’s elements can be found in the standard PowerPoint presentations that some banks deliver to their hedge fund clients behind closed doors. The investment banks market the scheme as a way to profit from volatility in the stock. When the stock crashes, the hedge funds make money from the swaps and their short selling. If the stock subsequently increases in value, the hedge funds can convert their bonds and use some of the proceeds to pay the counterparties to the swaps.

But sometimes the hedge funds intend to fully destroy the company. They make plenty on their short positions and swaps, and their bonds pull in some money during the bankruptcy proceedings. Sometimes, during bankruptcy, the hedge fund lenders get their hands on company assets (such as blockbuster medical treatments) that are actually worth considerably more than what they spent on their bonds.

At other times, the ultimate goal is not to destroy the company outright, but to crash the stock, and then accumulate shares, giving the hedge funds still more influence over company decisions, and perhaps paving the way for a hostile takeover.

I do not know for certain the motivations of the hedge funds that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds. I do not know if they engaged in naked short selling. After all, the identities of the naked short sellers and the real amount of failed trades they are generating are, as far as the SEC is concerned, still a big secret. Remember that the SEC says that releasing information about (illegal) naked short sales would reveal the (criminal) hedge funds’ “proprietary trading strategies.” And the SEC cannot have that.

I do know, however, that nearly every one of Dendreon’s convertible bond holders are connected in important ways to Michael Milken or the seven affiliated hedge fund managers who held large numbers of put options in Dendreon prior to the strange occurrences of March 2007. This raises the suspicion that the convertible bond holders were not typical investors (that is, investors who put in capital hoping that the company would prosper).

Instead, the fact that the buyers of the converts were part of the same network that was placing large bets against Dendreon (and taking steps, with help from Milken’s “philanthropy”, to derail Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer) raises the possibility that these bond investments were made as part of a strategy to manipulate Dendreon’s stock price down,  during which time members of this network would (with help from Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation) pump up the stock prices of Dendreon’s “competitors” – the companies controlled by Milken and his friends.

In the two years that these shenanigans were going on, 60,000 American men died of prostate cancer, which seemed to be of no concern to this particular network of miscreants. But once the competing, Milken-connected companies had been thoroughly pumped, and then dumped (on the news that their treatments were worthless), it would perhaps be time to exert greater control over the one company–Dendreon–that actually had a treatment that could extend lives.

As we will see, members of the Milken network – some of the hedge funds that bought the convertible bonds, and some of the seven hedge funds that were betting big against Dendreon in 2007 – have, as a group, recently become the company’s largest shareholders. Their precise intentions, however, remain a mystery.

While we do not have photo-perfect pictures of what was going on behind the scenes of Dendreon’s bizarre trading (the SEC does not let that get public), we do know that this paradoxical play of participating in a convertible bond in order to further a manipulative scheme against a company, is in fact a standard play on Wall Street. Given this, we would be remiss  not to name the colorful hedge funds that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds.

* * * * * * * *

As we have covered, Milken crony Carl Icahn founded the options department at Gruntal & Company, which owed its existence to Michael Milken and was one of the more disreputable trading houses on the Street. Ultimately, Gruntal was found to have employed several traders with ties to the Mafia, and soon after, it was charged with a massive fraud and forced to pay what was then one of the largest fines in Wall Street history.

Many of Gruntal’s former employees ended up working for White Rock Capital, which was run by the alleged Russian mobster, Felix Sater, the fellow who was allegedly behind the threat to have Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne murdered if he did not end his crusade against naked short selling and the “deep capture” of important institutions.

As we also know, when Icahn left Gruntal, he handed over direction of the options department to Milken crony Ron Aizer. The first trader Aizer hired was Steve Cohen, who was reportedly investigated by the SEC for trading on inside information provided by Milken’s shop, and later became “the most powerful trader on Wall Street” — the fourth of those seven hedge fund managers prescient enough to bet big against Dendreon before Milken’s other cronies derailed the company in 2007.

The second trader hired by Aizer was a man named Andrew Redleaf, who later went on to co-found two hedge funds — Deephaven Capital Management and Whitebox Advisors.  According to a media account posted on Whitebox’s website, Redleaf’s family kept its investment accounts at Drexel Burnham Lambert, where Michael Milken was then running his stock manipulation and junk bond empire. Redleaf was recommended to Aizer by Andy Stillman, who was then managing Drexel’s propriety options trading.

In later years, Redleaf became well-known for investing in Sun Country Airlines in partnership with Tom Petters, who was recently arrested at gunpoint amid allegations that he had orchestrated a massive Ponzi fraud in cahoots with a fellow named Michael Catain. Catain’s father, Jack Catain, was a Genovese Mafia enforcer and loan shark who had been involved, along with Michael Milken, in ZZZZ Best, a fraudulent carpet cleaning company run by Barry Minkow.

Minkow was eventually imprisoned for the ZZZZ Best fraud, and when he was released, he began a career as a self-described “fraud investigator.” He works in partnership with Sam Antar, the convicted felon who masterminded a massive fraud in the 1980s at an appliance retailer called Crazy Eddie. Antar, who is close to Milken and his network (members of which once tried to help Antar seize control of Crazy Eddie) now spends most of his time on the Internet, smearing and threatening people who work to expose the crime of naked short selling.

For example, Antar once posted on the Internet the names and address of Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley’s young children. Antar writes with almost daily regularity that Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne is running a fraudulent company (Overstock.com), though he has produced nothing to support his claims, and every reputable person who has examined his arguments has concluded that they are absurd.

Meanwhile, Antar has littered the Internet with all manner of falsehoods about me—stating, for example, that I’m a drug addict and was fired from my last job. Ever the charmer, Antar has also let it be known that he is friendly with violent people, including those who once ambushed me, punched me in the face, and suggested that I should stop working with Patrick Byrne.

It is interesting to note that, these facts notwithstanding, in 2008 Fortune magazine saw fit to grace its pages with a highly flattering 2,738 word profile of Antar (“It Takes One to Know One”). Fortune did this even as it acknowledged that, “As would-be fraudbuster, Sam E. [Antar] has yet to notch his first kill. (Although in fairness he doesn’t hold himself out to be a full-time 10-Q detective. ‘I don’t have 40 people working for me like the SEC,’ he says.) He hasn’t brought any companies down or caused any regulators to open any investigations.”

That is, concerning a notorious swindler and convicted felon who threatens little girls, smears other journalists, is denounced by public officials, and who has not actually been the source of any credible investigation that Fortune can cite, Fortune published a perfectly complimentary puff piece.

As for the above-mentioned Andrew Redleaf, I noted that he is a founding partner in Deephaven Capital Management. In 2006, Deephaven was sanctioned by the SEC for short selling 19 public companies (almost all biotech firms) on inside information that his hedge fund colleagues were giving the companies “death spiral” PIPEs finance.

As you will recall, similar schemes have involved Milken crony Carl Icahn (the founder of Gruntal’s options department); Jeffrey Thorp (son of the Mafia-linked card counter who was the most important figure in Milken’s stock manipulation network during the 1980s); Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald (who used to run the Mafia-linked D.H. Blair, the president of which was Milken’s former national sales manager); and Gryphon Partners (which was tied to the Mafia-linked, nine-fingered Anthony Elgindy, a naked short seller who is now serving an 11 year sentence for stock manipulation schemes and bribing two FBI agents).

My apologies for the repetition, but there are some who are new to this, and it is difficult for even the well initiated to keep track of so many miscreants, so permit me to remind the reader that Gryphon’s founder and Lindsay Rosenwald were among the seven colorful hedge fund managers who bet big against Dendreon in March 2007, just before the company was derailed by strange occurences engineered by Milken’s cronies. Also among those seven hedge fund managers was Steve Cohen, who was, earlier in his career, investigated for trading on inside information provided by Milken’s shop, and was the first trader hired at Gruntal by Milken-crony Ron Aizer.

Andrew Redleaf, the second trader hired by Aizer at Gruntal, is, remember, not just a co-founder of Deephaven Capital (sanctioned for short selling on inside information that companies were to receive dubious financing), but also the proprietor of Whitebox Advisors.

And Whitebox Advisors is among those hedge funds that bought convertible bonds issued by Dendreon, a company that suffered a two-year, sustained naked short selling attack while trying to bring to market a treatment for dying cancer patients.

* * * * * * * *

A hedge fund called DKR Management also bought convertible bonds issued by Dendreon. DKR was founded by Barry L. Klein and Gary S. Davis. Previously, Klein worked for Michael Milken as the President of Drexel Burnham Lambert Trading. Davis also worked for Milken at Drexel.

In later years, Klein and Davis founded the predecessor to AIG Trading Group, a unit of American International Group. AIG Trading Group was later run by Joseph Cassano, who had also been a Milken employee at Drexel.

While at AIG, Cassano sold tens of billions of dollars worth of credit default swaps (contracts that pay out if a company defaults on its debt) to hedge funds and investment banks.

Rolling Stone magazine’s Matthew Taibbi, who is one of the mainstream media’s finest journalists, was among the first to establish that AIG Trading Group and Milken crony Cassano destroyed AIG, which ultimately had to be nationalized by the U.S. government – greatly contributing to the collapse of the financial system last fall. Since then, several reports have also implicated Cassano’s Milken-tied predecessors, Klein and Davis.

Meanwhile, various government investigations are seeking to know whether short sellers acquired and manipulated the prices of AIG’s credit default swaps as a way to weaken their target companies – including Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.  The question that remains unanswered is whether the short sellers that bought credit default swaps from Milken cronies Cassano, Klein and Davis were also members of the Milken network (which would mean that some members of the Milken network wrecked the world while the other members of the network bet that they would).

Another highly significant factor in the collapse of the financial system – as can be discerned from statements by countless officials and by reports in virtually every newspaper in the land, though the newspapers seem content not to investigate the matter or state this explicitly – was the naked short selling of AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and hundreds of other companies.

In the years leading up to the financial cataclysm (and during the time when Dendreon was under attack by naked short sellers), certain hedge funds orchestrated an effective public relations campaign aimed at covering up the crime of naked short selling. As part of this public relations campaign, the hedge funds would regularly trot out a certain Yale professor, who would do his utmost to defend the criminals.

This professor’s favorite stratagem was to divert discussion away from illegal naked short selling, and repeat, over and over, that legal short selling was good for the markets–a fact that was never in dispute. The professor’s capacity for obfuscation was unmatched, but he nonetheless became a favorite source for some members of the media. He appeared regularly on CNBC and was quoted in dozens upon dozens of articles – all of which communicated the non sequitor that illegal naked short selling is not bad for the markets because legal short selling is good for the markets. Of course, this is like arguing that sexual harassment is not bad because sex is good.

The name of this professor is Owen Lamont. To this day, the professor is still sought out by the press, which dutifully regurgitates his baloney. But the professor does not work for Yale anymore.

Now he works for the above-mentioned DKR Management, one of the Milken-connected hedge funds that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds while Dendreon was brutally attacked by criminal naked short sellers.

* * * * * * * *

There are interesting stories to be told about most every hedge fund that bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds. One of them, Eagle Rock Capital, run by an Iranian fellow named Nadir Tavakoli, was once a controlling investor in the International Fight League, a promoter of ultimate fighting matches. The other controlling investor in the International Fight League (which went bankrupt amidst allegations of ultimate fighting’s connections to the Japanese Yakuza and stories that fighters were committing suicides and murders at alarming rates) was a “Russian whiz kid” (according to the media) named Dmitry Balyasny.

The first things to know about Dmitry Balyasny are that he is closely affiliated with Steve Cohen and he is the seventh of those seven hedge fund managers who were betting big against Dendreon by holding put options on the company’s stock, after the FDA advisory panel had recommended that Provenge be approved, and before Milken’s cronies successfully lobbied the FDA to ignore that recommendation. So I will return to Balyasny soon.

But first, let’s continue with our list of hedge funds that held Dendreon’s convertible bonds.

One was GLG Partners. As we know from emails acquired in a lawsuit, GLG Partners received updates on Steve Cohen’s attack on Canadian insurer Fairfax Financial, so it would be unsurprising if GLG was also clued in to Cohen’s attack on Dendreon.

Recall also that (shortly before GLG bought Dendreon’s convertible bonds) French authorities fined GLG  for being part of an insider trading ring that included UBS O’Conner (a unit of UBS investment bank, which, until March, 2007, was led by former Milken employee Ken Moelis) and Meditor Capital, a hedge fund (also, of course, with ties to Steve Cohen) that had just made a large investment in Novacea, the prostate cancer company that was then being promoted (by Milken’s fund and Milken’s “philanthropy”) as a competitor to Dendreon. In short, GLG was “in the mix.”

Another outfit that bought lots of Dendreon’s convertible bonds (shortly after it was caught running an insider trading ring with Meditor and GLG Partners) was…UBS O’Conner.

Then there was Quattro Partners, which bought Dendreon bonds convertible into a more than a million Dendreon shares. The founding partner of Quattro is named Michael Baldock. He had a long career in biotech investing after spending time as an investment banker at Michael Milken’s Drexel Burnham Lambert.

* * * * * * * *

Another of the big investors  in Dendreon’s convertible bonds was Forest Investment Management, a hedge fund controlled by a man named Michael Boyd. Prior to founding Forest, Boyd was a partner in an outfit called Forum Capital Markets. Boyd’s co-founder in Forum was C. Keith Hartley, yet another of Milken’s disciples from Drexel, Burnham Lambert.

Boyd was also the co-founder of a brokerage called McMahan Securities. One of his partners in that operation was Santo Maggio, who later became chief executive officer of Refco Securities, the brokerage that was allegedly processing the phantom stock sales of Rhino Advisors, which illegally naked shorted companies after providing them with finance brokered by Milken crony Carl Icahn’s Ladenburg Thalmann. When Refco was found to be fraudulently hiding $400 million worth of liabilities (liabilities that many believe were related to naked short selling), Maggio pled guilty to two counts of securities fraud, one count of conspiracy, and one count of wire fraud.

Another of Michael Boyd’s many accomplishments is his son, Roddy. Refco employed Roddy as a trader, perhaps as a favor to his father’s former partner, the criminal Santo Maggio.

But Roddy soon abandoned the securities business to become a business journalist – first at the New York Post and now at Fortune magazine. Roddy Boyd is a key figure among the small coterie of journalists who turn up repeatedly in Deep Capture‘s analyses.

Like all members of the coterie, Roddy has spent several years trying to cover up the naked short selling scandal, ridiculing anyone who mentions the crime or the remarkable coincidence of companies appearing on the Reg Sho list (the SEC’s list of companies suffering from naked short selling) when those companies are the targets of a select group of hedge funds whose names will be familiar to the reader who has made it this far.

In addition to covering up naked short selling crimes, Roddy writes hatchet jobs on the public companies targeted by this same select group of short selling hedge funds. The sources of the information in Roddy’s stories are, of course, the short sellers themselves, and most of the short sellers are, as has been explained over and over, tied to Michael Milken or his close associates.

For example, Roddy spent a great deal of time working with a soon-to-be arrested criminal named Spyro Contogouris, who had been hired by a subsidiary of Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital, to sabotage, harass, and trash Fairfax Financial.

As mentioned, we have obtained a great number of emails between Cohen, Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates, and others in the network that was attacking Fairfax. In one email, hedge fund manager Chanos writes to journalist Roddy Boyd, “your courtesy was a boon to me. Thank you!”

With the exception of Roddy’s particular clique of journalists, it is not typical for reporters to receive thank you notes for the “courtesies” that they have extended to help hedge funds make money.

Another holder of Dendreon’s convertible bonds was CNH Partners, run by Todd Pulvino, who used to work for Grosvenor Capital. Grosvenor is managed by Scott Lederman, who was the grad school roommate of Steve Cohen and later the chief operating officer of Cohen’s SAC Capital. While Pulvino was presenting himself as a legitimate investor in Dendreon’s debt, was he in touch with Steve Cohen, who had bet big against Dendreon right before Provenge was derailed by the unprecedented lobbying effort of Milken’s other cronies?

We can’t say. And we can’t say who was illegally naked short selling Dendreon’s stock. That, remember, is a big secret – “proprietary trading strategies.”

* * * * * * * *

On October 12, 2007, Dendreon, still desperate for capital to continue clinical trials that might eventually help its cancer treatment receive FDA approval, signed the paperwork on its first PIPE deal. A dreaded PIPE – the sort of deal that dilutes equity and tends to attract naked short selling that sends a company’s stock into a “death spiral.”

The provider of this PIPE finance was the Azimuth Opportunity Fund, managed by an outfit called Acqua Wellington Asset Management.

Acqua Wellington is controlled by a “prominent” investor named Isser Elishis. In an otherwise flattering article, Herb Greenberg – a journalist whose entire career was devoted to granting “courtesies” to hedge funds in the Milken network – described Elishis as the “banker of last resort.”

Herb, who disappeared from public sight after he was exposed by Deep Capture,  now owns a company that ostensibly sells financial research to hedge funds in the Milken network (or, arguably, merely receives payment from them for the extensive string of “courtesies” that Herb extended while working as a journalist).

Among Azimuth’s first forays into the markets was an investment in a company called SulphCo, which claimed to have a method for turning sulphrous crude into clean-burning oil. Elishis collaborated on this deal with SulphCo’s principal investor, Zev Wolfson, who, you will recall, was the investor who financed Milken cronies Carl Icahn, Saul Steinberg, John Mulheren, and various brokerages tied to the Mafia, naked short selling, or both.

SEC data shows that on the day that Dendreon signed its PIPE deal with Azimuth, naked short sellers flooded the market with more than 2 million phantom shares. During the following week, more than a million Dendreon shares “failed to deliver” every day, despite (or perhaps because of) the news that Dendreon had enrolled 500 patients in a trial to confirm its earlier positive results, putting Provenge back on the track to FDA approval.

* * * * * * * *

In the late 1980s, a fellow named Jeffrey Yass and his two friends, Eric Brooks and Kenneth Brodie, set up a partnership to place bets at horse racing tracks across the country. On one single day at Sportsman Park in Chicago they pulled in winnings of more than $600,000. This seemed somewhat excessive, so Sportsman Park banned the three friends from its premises. The punters filed a lawsuit claiming that Sportsman Park had violated their rights to visit a public facility.

At any rate, Jeffrey Yass and Eric Brooks eventually abandoned the business of betting on horse races and instead pursued careers on Wall Street. Now they are “prominent” investors, the proprietors of a mid-sized investment and trading house called Susquehanna International.

In the spring of 2008, Susquehanna was introduced to Dendreon by a placement agent, Lazard Capital Markets. It is not clear why Dendreon would want to do business with Lazard. After all, Lazard was home to the singing Joel Sendek, who had been busily trashing Dendreon in his research reports.

Sendek had also been trumpeting Dendreon’s competitor, Cougar Biotechnology, as the next big thing in cancer treatment. In turn, Cougar Biotechnology (the company then controlled by Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald, formerly of the Mafia-affiliated pump-and-dump shop D.H. Blair) had been quoting Sendek in its SEC filings.

Sendek’s endorsement, Cougar seemed to be suggesting, was evidence that the company was making progress toward bringing its prostate cancer treatment to market. This was odd, because most pharmaceutical companies use data collected from clinical trials to demonstrate this, not quotes from singing Wall Street analysts.

Meanwhile, it was widely understood that Lazard’s stock loan department was one of the go-to shops for hedge funds looking to short sell Dendreon’s shares. We cannot say that Lazard was loaning phantom stock to the short sellers (if it were, that would be a big secret), but Lazard’s coziness with short sellers ought to have given Dendreon pause.

There was also the fact that Lazard Capital had only recently been spun off from Lazard Ltd. Given that the two operations remained closely affiliated (sharing business and so forth), it might have been of some concern that the chairman of Lazard Ltd. was Bruce Wasserstein, a close associate of Michael Milken.

In “Den of Thieves,” James Stewart, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, quotes a criminal named Denis Levine as saying that Wasserstein was “owned” by Milken’s famous co-conspirator, Ivan Boesky. Given that Denis Levine was indicted for participating in Boesky’s insider trading schemes, one would think he knew of what he spoke, but there is no hard evidence to support his allegation.

In any case, Dendreon followed Lazard’s advice, and did a “registered direct offering” with Capital Ventures International, an affiliate of Susquehanna, the firm founded by Yass and Brooks. A “registered direct offering” is similar to a PIPE, the difference being that the securities sold to the investor are registered with the SEC and immediately tradable.

For most of March 2008, naked short sellers were failing to deliver less than 500,000 shares per day. As negotiations for the “registered direct offering” were underway, the amount of phantom stock gradually increased. And on the day the deal was signed, April 3, at least 1.6 million phantom shares had been sold into the market and remained undelivered.

For the next two months, more than one million Dendreon shares remained “failed to deliver” every day. This despite (or perhaps because of) the fantastic news, on March 12, 2008, that the FDA had agreed to an amended “Special Protocol Assessment,” which would enable the company to release, one year ahead of schedule, the results of an “IMPACT” trial that seemed likely to confirm the company’s Phase 3 trials showing substantial evidence that Provenge was safe and effective.

As Dendreon’s enemies must have known, it would soon be impossible to stymie the company with arguments about data, but stock manipulators were not yet ready to end their campaign against the company.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….Click here for Chapter 13.

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