Tag Archive | "Inspector General"

Notes on David Einhorn: The Predator in a Cute T-Shirt

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Notes on David Einhorn: The Predator in a Cute T-Shirt


I received an email a while back from Jim Brickman, a crony of short selling hedge fund manager David Einhorn, demanding that I post the Securities and Exchange Commission inspector general’s report on the commission’s investigation of Allied Capital. According to Brickman, the report proves that Einhorn was right about Allied being a massive fraud. Moreover, says Brickman, the report definitively establishes that Einhorn did not seek to drive down Allied’s stock price. The report, which I gladly post below, does nothing of the sort. I will discuss the report in further detail, but first a little history.

Eight years ago, Michael Milken, the famous financial criminal, appeared in the offices of a top Allied Capital executive. “You know,” Milken told the executive, “I already am quite a large shareholder of your stock – but my name will never show up on any list you’ll see.”

This might have been a reference to a practice called “parking stock” (owning stock but “parking” it in the accounts of friends with whom one has made under-the-table arrangements), a practice that figured in the high-count indictment that sent Milken to prison in the 1980s. It appeared to the Allied executive that Milken was fishing for inside information about Allied and threatening an attack. For a variety of reasons, short-side stock manipulators in the Milken network often accumulate large numbers of shares in the companies that they seek to destroy.

Not long after Milken’s strange appearance, David Einhorn was at a hedge fund luncheon, sitting next to Carl Icahn, one of Milken’s closest cronies. Einhorn launched his career working for Gary Siegler, who was formerly a top partner in Icahn’s investment fund, and is certainly part of the Milken network. So, it was not surprising to Allied’s executives when, halfway through the luncheon, Einhorn declared that “Allied Capital is going to zero!”

For the next eight years, Einhorn led a vicious campaign against Allied, loudly and publicly pronouncing that the company was a massive Ponzi scheme and an all-around fraud that could be as big as Enron. Of course, Einhorn’s vituperative remarks had nothing to do with the massive profits that Einhorn stood to earn from short selling Allied’s stock. Rather, Einhorn was just doing his duty as a concerned citizen – or so his slick public relations operation would have us believe.

I will give Einhorn credit. He is a master of spin. In 2008, he published an aptly titled book, “Fooling Some of the People All of the Time”, wherein he provided an ingeniously self-serving portrait of himself as a tenacious hero doing battle against not only the evil Allied Capital, but also powerful Washington insiders, financial journalists, and government regulators – i.e. all the people who reviewed his “evidence” and concluded that Allied was by no means a massive fraud.

Really, Einhorn’s book should be placed in a glass case at the Museum of Contemporary Propaganda, as it is such a work of art. Anyone familiar with the world of abusive short selling will read this book and see that Einhorn engaged in all manner of shenanigans to obtain inside information and drive down Allied’s stock price. But the dark genius of Einhorn’s book is that it manages to portray his malefaction as par for the course – just another day in the life of a noble fraud-buster.

For example, Einhorn admits in his book that he invested in a fund run by a man who had recently served as the chairman of Allied Capital’s board of directors. Could this investment have been a bribe? Was Einhorn seeking inside information about Allied? Certainly not. The investment was purely incidental, Einhorn assures us. And you, dear reader, should be ashamed of yourself for even asking such questions. Indeed, your suspicions make you part of the problem. You are an ignorant thug who wants to “intimidate” Einhorn and other short selling “critics” who selflessly do battle with public corporations.

In his book, Einhorn notes the SEC initiated an investigation into his short selling of Allied Capital. In the course of this rather cursory investigation, an SEC official sought to determine whether Einhorn was colluding with other hedge funds, including William Ackman’s Gotham Partners (now called Pershing Square Capital) and Whitney Tilson’s T2 Partners, to drive down Allied’s stock. The official asked this question:  “Mr. Einhorn, have you ever compensated [short selling hedge fund] Gotham Partners…for providing you with an investment idea?”

Einhorn answered, “Except in-kind, no.” Then Einhorn consulted with his lawyer and changed his mind. He went back to the SEC official and said, “I think the more correct answer to your question is that there’s been no compensation for the ideas.” The moral of this story, according to Einhorn’s book, is that the investigator was a bumbling idiot for asking such a question. And, you, dear reader – don’t even think of asking the same question. If you do, you’re part of the problem. You’re trying to “intimidate” Einhorn.

You see, it is perfectly natural for hedge funds to share ideas. Of course, hedge funds must not be required to report their short positions to the SEC or otherwise disclose their “proprietary trading strategies.” Hedge fund trading is top-secret so far as the public is concerned. But, says Einhorn, when we hedge funds “share ideas,” it’s just us pros talking shop. Really, says Einhorn, you can trust me…and, oh, did I say “payment in-kind”? Oops — slip of the mind.

Is it possible that hedge funds exchange “ideas” because it is profitable for them to do so? Surely not. Is it possible that these “idea” exchanges are nothing more than collusion – hedge funds agreeing to pile on to the same companies to put downward pressure on stock prices? How dare you ask such a question. Allied Capital asked that question. And Allied is very bad, says Einhorn — Allied tried to “intimidate” me!

Really, Einhorn says this all the time – people tried to “intimidate” him. He was hurt. But he’s a hero. He stood up to the critics. And, he assures us in his book, it was perfectly natural for him to collude (sorry, “share ideas”) with not just Tilson and Ackman, but also Eastbourne Capital’s Jim Carruthers. You see, Carruthers is really smart guy who does good research.

What Einhorn does not mention in his book is that Carruthers has sometimes spelled his name with a ‘K’ to disguise his identity while passing himself off as a friendly private investigator in order to deceptively acquire inside information from companies like Allied Capital. But let’s not criticize Carruthers. We don’t want to “intimidate” him. We don’t want to be part of the problem.

And shame on the SEC for having the temerity to investigate Einhorn. In fact, the SEC did nothing but ask Einhorn a few questions. Meanwhile, Einhorn convinced the SEC to launch an investigation of Allied. Then Einhorn all but directed this massive but ultimately misguided investigation for a period of three long years.

As Einhorn admits in his book, his hedge fund partner had a “social” relationship with William Donaldson, then the Chairman of the SEC. That’s how Einhorn got the investigation of Allied started. As the investigation progressed, Einhorn says, SEC officials even asked him to be their “cartographer” – outlining all the ways in which Allied was supposedly a massive Ponzi scheme, and also failing to mark its assets to “fair value” (i.e. the arbitrary value at which Einhorn believed the assets could be sold in a fire sale).

Clearly, Wall Street miscreants like Einhorn had captured the SEC to the point where the Wall Street miscreants were virtually running the place. But in the upside down reality presented by Einhorn’s book, the fact that a few SEC officials doubted the hedge fund manager’s sincerity is proof that the commission had been corrupted, not by Wall Street miscreants, but by corporate executives who wanted to “intimidate” Einhorn.

That’s right, the SEC, following Einhorn’s orders in microscopic detail, conducted an investigation of Allied that was so huge that Allied had to create a “Department of Investigations” to handle all of the commission’s requests for new information. But it was Allied’s executives, not Einhorn, who were peddling influence at the SEC. You don’t believe it? Read Einhorn’s book – agitprop at its best.

As for the media – well, Einhorn is deeply disappointed. Of course, Einhorn heaps praise on journalists such as Jesse Eisenger, then of The Wall Street Journal; Carol Remond of Dow Jones Newswires; and Herb Greenberg, formerly of MarketWatch.com and TheStreet.com. These journalists wrote multiple negative and false stories about Allied Capital, precisely mimicking Einhorn’s allegations that the company was a massive fraud.

As it happens, these are the same journalists that Deep Capture has shown to have had too-cozy, and in some instances, outright corrupt relationships with a select crew of short selling hedge fund managers, including David Einhorn. Indeed, it is fair to say that Einhorn and others in his network had captured some of the biggest names in financial journalism to the point where the hedge fund managers were able to virtually dictate the journalists’ stories.

But Einhorn was disappointed – the media failed him. That is to say, a number of honest journalists looked at Einhorn’s “evidence” and concluded that it was balderdash of the highest order. But, no, these journalists were not honest. They were ignoramuses. They are part of the problem. They should be publicly shamed. One of them even investigated Einhorn. This was an outrage. It was hurtful. It was “intimidation.”

Look, lying and cheating short-sellers are essential watchdogs, they add liquidity to the markets, and they are really very fragile people. Nice people, too. They don’t even care about money. You don’t believe me? Read Einhorn’s book. “I remember Grandpa Ben…,” Einhorn writes on page one, and after that he regales with countless folksy anecdotes and assorted other bullshit that – well, believe me, it brings tears to the eyes.

Einhorn even lets us know that he is going to donate some of the proceeds from his short selling of Allied to needy children. “I have been waiting,” he writes, “but the children should not have to wait.”

As far as I know, the children are still waiting. Although Einhorn has made enormous profits from his short selling of Allied, he has provided no evidence that his contributions to charity have significantly increased. But it is clear that the purpose of his book was not to tell the truth. It was to inoculate himself from public criticism and regulatory scrutiny in preparation for his next big project – the destruction of Lehman Brothers.

In May 2008, soon after releasing his book on Allied Capital, Einhorn’s launched his attack on Lehman in a speech that he gave at an event that was ostensibly held for the purposes of – what else? – raising money for needy children. Einhorn began this speech by discussing his supposedly philanthropic fight with Allied. He then  proceeded to give a grossly exaggerated account of Lehman’s problems, suggesting that Lehman was a massive fraud for precisely the same reasons that Allied was a massive fraud – namely, that it had failed to mark down its real estate assets to “fair value,” with “fair value” defined not by any reasonable metric, but by Einhorn himself.

Lest there still be any doubt that Einhorn really was a crusading crime-fighter, rather than a profit-seeking hedge fund manager, he hired an expensive lobbying outfit called the Gordon Group to orchestrate an astounding public relations campaign. The Gordon Group, whose key clients seem to be Einhorn and Einhorn’s network of hedge fund managers (including the above mentioned William Ackman and Whitney Tilson) is staffed by real professionals. Their Einhorn campaign was marked by the sort of hype that normally accompanies the launch of a new teen-idol band.

But it wasn’t just hype. It was also a particularly greasy sort of deception – imagine a pimp marketing a cheap 42nd Street hooker. Really, she’s not in it for the money. She’ a virginal college undergrad who loves her teddy bear.

Well, the media swooned for the cuddly Einhorn. This was the same media that Einhorn had accused of bungling idiocy, but never mind that – now he had glowing profiles in many of the top news publications, and a three-hour appearance on CNBC.  Half-way through his CNBC debut, Einhorn put on a cute t-shirt painted by his young kids — just to show that he was a regular guy and a lover of children, as opposed to a marauding hedge fund manager seeking to obliterate one of America’s largest investment banks.

In all his media interviews, Einhorn reminded journalists that Allied Capital had “intimidated” him. He said he had stood up to the bullies and proven that Allied was a massive fraud. Then he smoothly transitioned into a discussion of Lehman Brothers, suggesting to the journalists that Lehman was just like Allied, a massive fraud. He said Lehman was trying to “intimidate” him, but he would fight on in the name of truth and justice. The journalists swallowed this nonsense without an ounce of skepticism.

I do not mean to suggest that Lehman Brothers was a clean bank. Clearly, it engaged in some shady accounting, including its now notorious Repo 105 transactions. Its brokerage probably catered to criminal market manipulators. But while Lehman was a deeply troubled bank, it is also true that it was subjected to a wave of false rumors, each one accompanied by illegal naked short selling. With all the manipulation that accompanied the attack on Lehman, it was difficult to know what the truth about the company really was.

In the midst of the attack on Lehman, Adam Starr, the manager of hedge fund Gulfside Partners, was moved to write a letter to Lehman’s CFO, stating, “I have never witnessed more disruptive behavior than that displayed over the past year by David Einhorn.” In a recent interview with Reuters, Starr said that Lehman had clearly had serious problems, but that was besides the point. The point, Starr said, was that Einhorn was up to no good – “manipulating the market and running a high publicity business is just not appropriate behavior and disruptive to free and open markets.”

As for Einhorn being “right” about Lehman, it is important to note that the court-appointed examiner’s report on the Lehman bankruptcy does not support Einhorn’s principal claim – that Lehman’s executives fraudulently and massively overvalued the bank’s commercial real estate assets. “With respect to commercial real estate,” says the report, “the Examiner finds insufficient evidence to conclude that Lehman’s valuations of its Commercial portfolio were unreasonable as of the second and third quarters of 2008.”

Lehman’s valuations might have been high, but Einhorn’s shrill exaggerations and insinuations of fraud were clearly designed to induce panic. And sure enough, panic ensued. With potential business partners wondering whether Lehman was, in fact, massively overstating the value of its commercial real estate, the bank was unable to raise new capital.

To protect itself, Lehman sought to spin off the real estate assets, but by that time it had come under a brutal and criminal naked short selling attack, with more than 30 million of its shares failing to deliver. The plummeting stock price and continuing false rumors in the marketplace derailed Lehman’s other efforts to protect itself and triggered a run on the bank that ended with Lehman’s demise.

In short, Lehman was a bad bank. Regulators should have forced it to reform. Instead, they and the media allowed short selling “vigilantes” like Einhorn to manufacture a much bleaker reality and bring a major investment bank to its knees. It is quite possible that if it weren’t for Einhorn and other dissembling investor “activists”, Lehman would have survived, and the financial system would have had a much softer landing.

Lehman has subpoenaed records from Einhorn and his close colleague, Steve Cohen of SAC Capital,  in hopes of determining the extent to which the hedge fund managers had a hand in its demise. Perhaps those subpoenas will give us a clearer picture of what really went down, but meanwhile we can expect Einhorn’s PR machine stay “on message” – constantly repeating that Einhorn was “right” about Lehman, just as Einhorn was “right” about Allied Capital.

Which brings us to the inspector general’s report on the SEC’s investigation of Allied. Given that Einhorn, his minion Jim Brickman, and the rest of his PR machine are waving this report with glee, and no doubt preparing to use it as cover for Einhorn’s next attack on a public company, it is important that we subject the contents of the report to close scrutiny.

The report concludes that “serious and credible allegations against Allied were not initially [my emphasis] investigated” by the SEC, but contrary to Einhorn’s ridiculous claims that nobody listened to him, the inspector general notes that the SEC did ultimately conduct “a lengthy examination of Allied as a result of Einhorn’s allegations…”

SEC officials met with Einhorn on multiple occasions to review his allegations. They also scoured through millions of Allied emails and the cart-loads of other documents that Allied supplied every time Einhorn came to the SEC with a new set of accusations.

Having conducted this gargantuan investigation, the SEC concluded that most of Einhorn’s allegations were bogus. Allied was fined for having mildly inadequate accounting methods that might have overvalued some of the company’s assets, but the SEC determined that Allied certainly was not the “massive fraud” that Einhorn claimed it to be.

In addition, Allied was not, as Einhorn claimed, a massive Ponzi scheme. Einhorn had made the smarmy suggestion that Allied was a Ponzi because it supposedly raised money from the markets to pay its dividends. An SEC official told the inspector general that this claim was patently false – it was perfectly obvious that Allied legitimately paid dividends out of earnings.

The inspector general’s report notes that one SEC official claimed to have gotten “push back” when she tried to dig deeper into the Ponzi scheme allegation. But nowhere in the report does the inspector general conclude that any such Ponzi scheme existed. Clearly, Einhorn is no Harry Markopolos. Markopolos uncovered a $50 billion fraud (that of Bernie Madoff). Einhorn blew the whistle on a crime that didn’t exist. Yet, Einhorn’s slithering PR effort never ceases to amaze – somehow he has managed to attach himself to Markopolos, and even wangled a deal to write the introduction to Markopolos’s blockbuster book.

The inspector general seems to believe that the investigation of Allied could have been more thorough in some respects. For example, SEC officials didn’t visit Allied’s offices, and one SEC official was a bit too quick to believe that Allied was innocent just because former SEC officials worked for the company. But, again, the inspector general does not state that the SEC was wrong to conclude that Allied was innocent of any major crime.

The inspector general’s most damaging conclusions about Allied concern the company’s efforts to lobby the SEC. Apparently, some Allied lobbyists secured an unusual meeting with SEC officials and managed to convince these officials that Allied deserved a lighter fine. It also appears that a former SEC official went to work as an Allied lobbyist and might have gotten his hands on Einhorn’s phone records.

The inspector general is right to suggest that Allied’s lobbyists crossed the line. It is not kosher for a public company to pry into a private citizen’s phone records. But given that Einhorn had all-but moved his offices into SEC headquarters, and given that Einhorn had his own private investigators going to unknown lengths to dig up “dirt” on Allied (he admits in his book that he hired Kroll, a private investigative agency that owes its existence to Michael Milken, who was its first big client), Allied can hardly be blamed for taking steps to defend itself.

In any case, the inspector general’s report is more an indictment of the SEC than of Allied’s lobbyists. The overall picture that emerges is one of a government agency split into two factions, one populated by friends of Allied’s lobbyists, the other populated by officials who were basically taking orders from hedge fund managers like David Einhorn. It seems that nobody at the SEC was capable of conducting an investigation without having his or her hand held by some self-interested party. But it is clear from this case and many others like it that the hedge fund faction won the day.

The inspector general states in his report that it was Allied’s lobbyists who convinced the SEC to investigate Einhorn. The report concludes that the SEC initiated this investigation “without any specific evidence of wrongdoing.” That might be so, but officials do not generally obtain “specific evidence” unless they seriously look for it. And it is clear from the contents of the inspector general’s report that the SEC’s investigation of Einhorn was an unmitigated joke, even though officials had good reason to suspect that Allied’s stock was being manipulated.

The report notes, for example, that the SEC subpoenaed Einhorn’s client list in response to Allied’s complaints and discovered that Einhorn had a certain “celebrity client”, whom the inspector general does not name. Could this “celebrity client” have been Michael Milken? We cannot know for certain, but it seems like a good guess, given that the discovery of this “celebrity client” followed Allied’s complaint to the SEC, and given that Allied had complained that Einhorn might be colluding (sorry, “sharing ideas”) with one specific celebrity – Michael Milken.

In any case, it appears from the inspector general’s report that the SEC did nothing to determine how Milken, who is banned from the securities industry, became “quite a large” shareholder of Allied’s stock. Nor did the SEC seek to determine what Milken was doing that day in Allied’s offices.

Meanwhile, some SEC officials seemed to believe that Einhorn was colluding with other hedge fund managers to drive down Allied’s stock. To see whether the hedge fund managers called each other and then placed their trades at precisely the same time, the SEC subpoenaed Einhorn’s phone records. But according to the inspector general’s report, Einhorn did not bother to comply with this subpoena. He never handed over the phone records, and nobody at the SEC seemed to notice or care. Which is funny, because Einhorn states in his book that he did hand over his phone records. Indeed, he goes to great lengths to describe how hurt he felt about this. The SEC was “intimidating” him.

Perhaps because it was weary of “intimidating” hedge fund managers, the SEC also apparently did nothing to investigate illegal naked short selling of Allied’s stock. From the moment that Einhorn declared that Allied was “going to zero”, and for many months afterwards, Allied’s stock “failed to deliver” in massive quantities – a sure sign of criminal naked short selling. We do not know that Einhorn, others in the Milken network, or their brokers were committing this crime. Maybe it was someone else. Either way, it was not beyond the pale for Allied to ask the SEC to investigate. Or maybe it was. After all, the SEC wouldn’t want to “intimidate” criminals.

It is also notable that literally minutes after Einhorn declared that Allied was “going to zero”, the corrupt law firm Milberg Weiss filed a class action lawsuit against Allied that almost precisely mimicked Einhorn’s allegations. Indeed, Milberg filed a class action lawsuit against nearly every company attacked by short sellers in the Milken network.

A couple of years ago, Milberg’s top partners went to jail after prosecutors determined that the partners routinely bribed the plaintiffs in such lawsuits and knew in advance that some event would collapse the stock prices of the companies named in the lawsuits. Einhorn claims that the timing and contents of Milberg’s lawsuit were coincidences. We’ll never know the truth because the SEC doesn’t want to “intimidate” short sellers and corrupt law firms.

There were other “coincidences”. For example, supposedly “independent” financial research shops, such as Off Wall Street Research and Farmhouse Equity Research, published reports that closely paralleled Einhorn’s negative analysis of Allied Capital. The Motley Fool reported in 2007 that Einhorn’s confederate Jim Brickman helped Farmhouse write its research on Allied, and received a copy of at least one of these research reports one week prior to its publication.

Brickman, who is a bit of a mystery character (he refused to provide me with any information about his background), told the Motley Fool that he and Einhorn didn’t see the advance copies of the reports because of “travel constraints.” Allied complained to the SEC that the research shops were helping Einhorn manipulate its stock price and illegally trade ahead of their research. Einhorn said Allied was trying to “intimidate” the research shops. Who was right? It was all so confusing. The deep thinkers at the SEC picked their noses and tried to figure it all out. Then they went to lunch.

The inspector general has been on a mission to expose ineptitude at the SEC, and for this he deserves praise and gratitude. However, given the facts, I think his report on the investigation of Allied Capital was a bit too kind to David Einhorn. The inspector general notes that his office “conducted a comprehensive investigation of the allegations in Einhorn’s book.” But the report offers no solid verdict as to the accuracy of those allegations, and fails to acknowledge the extent to which the SEC had been manipulated by Einhorn and affiliated Wall Street hedge funds.

It should be noted that not only the SEC, but also the Department of Justice, the Small Business Administration, federal courts, attorneys general, and other government bodies investigated Einhorn’s allegations against Allied. All of these investigations yielded the same conclusion: Einhorn’s allegations were, for the most part, eminently ridiculous.

The only criminal fraud discovered by any of these investigators was committed by executives of Business Loan Express, a subsidiary that represented a tiny fraction of Allied’s overall portfolio. The BLX executives were apparently handing out Allied’s money to unqualified borrowers who were their cronies. In other words, Allied was the victim of this fraud. That anyone at the SEC still gives credence to David Einhorn is, therefore, rather odd.

But this story has a happy ending. Last October, Allied Capital was purchased by Ares Capital Corporation, a company that was founded by Anthony Ressler and John Kissick – both partners in the private equity firm Apollo Management. The head of Apollo is none other than Leon Black, who is Michael Milken’s closest business crony. That could be a coincidence. Or it could be that Einhorn’s attack on Allied was meant from the beginning to drive down Allied’s stock price to the point where it would be ripe for a takeover by Milken’s pals.

In any case, Einhorn mysteriously ended his “crusade” agains Allied as soon as Allied was purchased by his friends. So, for the time being at least, we don’t have to listen to his blather. And we promise – never again will we “intimidate” Einhorn. Really, no more “intimidation” — not from us. Mr. Einhorn, you are noble man. You did it for the children. You did not deserve to be “intimidated.” And, Mr. Einhorn, one more thing — boo!

Oops, did it again.

* * * * * * * *

Click here to read the inspector general’s report

Posted in Featured Stories, The Mitchell ReportComments (159)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Our Watchdogs and the Financial Scandal of the Century


“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”

That’s the motto of the Government Accountability Office, and it almost makes you believe that there really is a functioning watchdog – somebody, aside from us Internet loons, to investigate and report on the incompetence and malfeasance that pervade our public institutions.

Certainly, there were high hopes when the GAO began investigating the Securities and Exchange Commission’s oversight of the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC), a black box Wall Street outfit that is at the center of one of the great financial scandals of our era.

Alas, the GAO has completed its “investigation” and issued a report on its findings. After reading this report, and considering once again that the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) is the last line of defense against government miscreancy, I have concluded, and am obliged to inform you, that we are, without a shadow of a doubt, totally screwed.

The report begins with an explanation: “An effective clearance and settlement process is vital to the functioning of equities markets. When investors agree to trade an equity security, the purchaser promises to deliver cash to the seller and the seller promises to deliver the security to the purchaser. The process by which the seller receives payment and the buyer, the securities, is known as clearance and settlement.”

In other words, people who sell stock need to deliver real stock. That’s kind of important to the“functioning of equities markets.” If you think it is strange that the GAO ( “Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) needs to clarify this point, you can begin to understand the scope of a scandal that has helped bring us to the brink of a second Great Depression.

The problem is that many hedge funds and brokers engage in illegal naked short selling – selling stock and other securities that they have not yet borrowed or purchased, and failing to deliver stock within the allotted 3 days. They do this to drive down stock prices and destroy public companies for profit.

Emmy Award-winning journalist Gary Matsumoto reported on the Bloomberg newswire last week that naked short selling is one of Wall Street’s “darkest arts” and contributed to the demise of both Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. SEC data shows that an astounding 32.8 million shares of Lehman were sold and not delivered to buyers as of last September 11, days before the company declared bankruptcy.

The collapse of Lehman, of course, triggered the near-total implosion of our financial system.

How could this have been allowed to happen?

One answer lies within that black box – the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation. The DTCC is a quasi-private, Wall Street owned and operated organization that is charged by Congress and the SEC with ensuring that securities trades are cleared and settled. As is evident from the cases of Lehman, Bear, and hundreds of other companies, however, the DTCC often fails to do its job.

In fact, it enables naked short selling to go unpunished. Rather than track individual trades to ensure that delivery occurs, the DTCC merely calculates a net total of sales and purchases at the end of each day. So we know how many shares of a given company fail to deliver each day, but the DTCC won’t tell us which hedge funds or brokers are responsible.

Meanwhile, the DTCC maintains something called the “Stock Borrow Program,” whereby it purportedly borrows a bundle of shares from cooperating brokers and uses the shares to settle failed trades. These shares are not on deposit with the DTCC, and the DTCC records a trade as “settled” with a mere electronic entry — i.e. by pushing a button on a computer rather than exchanging an actual certificate. So it is unclear that the Stock Borrow Program is actually delivering stock. Moreover, trade volume data suggests that the Stock Borrow Program might be using its bundle over and over again, settling multiple trades with the same “shares,” and generating what is, in effect, massive amounts of counterfeit, or “phantom” stock.

While enabling hedge funds and brokers to engage in their dark art, the DTCC also goes to lengths to deny that illegal naked short selling occurs and to smear the reputations of people who say otherwise. It has orchestrated this vicious public relations campaign in cahoots with a crooked Portfolio magazine reporter named Gary Weiss, who has worked closely with a motley cast of Mafia-connected hedge fund managers and convicted criminals.

There is indisputable evidence showing that Weiss, while posing as a journalist, not only worked inside the DTCC’s offices, but also went so far as to seize total control of the Wikipedia entries on “naked short selling” and “Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation.” Yet, to this day, Weiss flat-out denies that he has ever worked with the DTCC and insists that he has never edited any Wikipedia page, much less the fabulously distorted entries dealing with naked short selling.

That the DTCC facilitates and seeks to cover up naked short selling is not surprising given that it is owned by the very brokerages who profit from catering to hedge funds who commit  the crime. The DTCC’s board of directors has included several market makers – including Peter Madoff, brother of Bernard Madoff, the $50 billion Ponzi schemer with ties to the Mafia — who made a tidy profit from naked short selling.

At any rate, the SEC is responsible for overseeing the DTCC and ensuring that it is doing all it can to enforce delivery of shares and other securities. But the SEC conducts examinations of the DTCC only once every two years, and former SEC officials have admitted to Deep Capture that these visits entail nothing more than “investigators” asking a few courteous questions. Indeed, a number of former SEC officials have told us that the nation’s securities regulator doesn’t even understand what the DTCC does.

Enter the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”). Ostensibly, the GAO was going to determine whether the SEC was properly monitoring the DTCC. However, the GAO’s “investigation” entailed nothing more than visiting the SEC and asking a few courteous questions. In response, the SEC told the GAO that there is nothing to worry about, and the GAO duly issued a report that concluded that the SEC had told the GAO there is nothing to worry about.

Really, that, in essence, is what the report says.

It notes, for example, that the SEC examines the DTCC only once every two years, but offers no opinion as to whether this is sufficient oversight of an organization that processes securities transactions worth $1.4 quadrillion – or 30 times the gross product of the entire planet – every year.

And here’s what the report has to say about the DTCC’s Stock Borrow Program:

“…in response to media criticism and allegations made by certain issuers and     shareholders that NSCC and DTC [units of the DTCC] were facilitating naked short selling through the operation of the Stock Borrow Program, OCIE [a unit of the SEC] also incorporated a review of this program into the scope of its 2005 examination. These critics argued that the Stock Borrow Program exacerbated naked short selling by creating and lending shares that are not actually deposited at the DTC, thereby, flooding the market with shares that do not exist. As part of their review, OCIE examiners tested transactions in securities that were the subject of the above referenced allegations or had high levels of prolonged FTD. The examination did not find any instances where critics’ claims were validated. However, we did not validate OCIE’s findings.” [Emphasis mine]

In other words, the SEC claims to have examined the Stock Borrow Program once – in 2005 — but the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) has no idea what that examination entailed. The SEC claims to have “tested transactions” in securities that had “high levels of prolonged” failures to deliver, but offered the GAO no credible explanation as to why so many companies have seen millions of their shares go undelivered nearly every day since 2005.

The SEC says it looked into the “critics’ claims” and found them to be without merit. The GAO duly notes this as if what the SEC has to say were the final say in the matter. As to whether the SEC’s own claims might have been without merit, the GAO says only that it “did not validate” the SEC’s findings.

Isn’t the job of the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) to “validate” – or, as it were, invalidate – the SEC’s findings? It is not exactly an “investigation” to merely ask the SEC what it has to say and then publish a report confirming that that is, in fact, what the SEC had to say.

Last year, more than 70% of all failures to deliver were concentrated on a select 100 companies that short sellers had also targeted in other ways (planting false media stories, issuing false financial research, filing bogus class action lawsuits, harassing and threatening executives, engaging in corporate espionage, circulating false rumors, pulling strings to get dead-end federal investigations launched, etc.), but the SEC told the GAO that the failures to deliver could be mostly the result of “processing delays” or “mechanical errors.”

Billions of undelivered shares – most of them concentrated on 100 known targets of specific short sellers. Many of those shares left undelivered for months at a time. The SEC tells the GAO that this might be due to “mechanical errors.” And what does the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) do? It transcribes the SEC’s claims, offers no opinion as to whether the SEC might be full of it, and then acknowledges that it is in no position to have such opinions because it “did not validate” anything.

In a written response to the GAO, the SEC noted happily that the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) “made no recommendations” in its report.

“We appreciate the courtesy you and your staff extended to us during this review,” the SEC told the GAO.

* * * * * * * *

Far better is a report issued last week by the Office of the Inspector General at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Inspector General David Kotz, charged with conducting independent oversight of the SEC, is a heroic figure – an honest man in government. He has consistently lambasted the SEC for corruption and incompetence, and now he has investigated the SEC’s regulation of naked short selling. He found the regulation to be fairly abysmal and offered concrete recommendations for how the commission could reform itself.

The report concludes:

“The OIG received numerous complaints alleging that [SEC] Enforcement failed to take sufficient action regarding naked short selling. Many of these complaints asserted that investors and companies lost billions of dollars because Enforcement has not taken sufficient action against naked short selling practices.”

“Our audit disclosed that despite the tremendous amount of attention the practice of naked short selling has generated in recent years, Enforcement has brought very few enforcement actions based on conduct involving abusive or manipulative naked short selling…during the period of our review we found that few naked short selling complaints were forwarded to Headquarters or Regional Office Enforcement staff for further investigation…”

“Given the heightened public and Commission focus on naked short selling and guidance provided to the public leading them to believe these complaints will be taken seriously and appropriately evaluated, we believe the ECC’s current policies and procedures should be improved to ensure that naked short selling complaints are addressed appropriately.”

As for the SEC’s claims that naked short selling isn’t really a problem, or that failures to deliver could be the result of “mechanical error,” the OIG nicely contrasts this blather with the SEC’s own decision last fall to take “emergency” action against naked short selling (because naked short sellers were contributing to the toppling of the American financial system) and the SEC’s statement that “we have been concerned about ‘naked’ short selling and, in particular, abusive ‘naked’ short selling, for some time.”

In response to the OIG’s rightfully scathing report, the SEC wrote a letter in which it flatly refused to abide by most of the OIG’s recommendations.

The SEC did not thank the OIG for its “courtesy.”

* * * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, that other watchdog – the media – continues to ignore the problem of naked short selling. After Gary Matsumoto’s rather earth-rattling Bloomberg report that naked short selling destroyed Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers – and, by extension, destabilized the entire financial system – there were a total of two mainstream media stories on the subject.

The first was in Portfolio magazine. Actually, this wasn’t really a story. It was one of those question and answer things. And the Q&A was not with some credible expert. Instead, a Portfolio magazine reporter interviewed another Portfolio magazine reporter about the Bloomberg reporter’s story. Even more shocking to those who believe there is hope for balanced media coverage of this issue, the interviewee was none other than… Gary Weiss, the crooked reporter who sidelines as a flak for the DTCC.

Weiss, of course, smeared the messenger, suggesting that Matsumoto was a “conspiracy theorist.” He cited no data or evidence, but repeated the SEC and DTCC nonsense that failures to deliver might be caused by mechanical errors (which just happen to show up overwhelmingly concentrated in those firms targeted by the hedge funds who serve as Gary Weiss’s sources). And he asserted that naked short selling isn’t a problem because the SEC says that naked short selling isn’t a problem (except when the SEC says that naked short selling is an “emergency”).

Read the full interview here. You’ll get a sense of the way Weiss deliberately employs straw man arguments to distort the truth, though as an example of Weiss’s dishonesty, this is rather mild.

* * * * * * * *

The other magazine to report on the Bloomberg bombshell was the Columbia Journalism Review, which is the most prominent watchdog of the watchdogs – an outlet for serious media criticism. As Deep Capture‘s regular readers know, I used to work as an editor for the Columbia Journalism Review. I spent ten months preparing a story for that publication about dishonest journalists (including Gary Weiss) who were deliberately covering up the naked short selling scandal.

In the course of working on this story, I was threatened and, on one occasion, punched in the face. Then, in November 2006, shortly before the story was to be published, a short selling hedge fund that I was investigating announced that it would henceforth be providing the Columbia Journalism Review with the funding that would be used specifically to pay my salary.

The hedge fund that bribed the Columbia Journalism Review is called Kingsford Capital. It has worked closely with criminals, including a thug named Spyro Contogouris. In November 2006, a couple weeks after Kingsford bribed the Columbia Journalism Review, an FBI agent arrested Spyro. This was the same FBI agent who was investigating a cabal of short sellers – SAC Capital, Kynikos Associates, the former Rocker Partners, Third Point Capital, Exis Capital — who were then working with Spyro to attack a company called Fairfax Financial.

Spyro had harassed and threatened Fairfax executives, so he was going to feature prominently in my story. The centerpiece of my story, however, was to be that cabal of short sellers, not only because the Fairfax case was quite shocking, but also because these short sellers and a few others were the primary sources to dishonest journalists (especially MarketWatch reporter Herb Greenberg and CNBC personality Jim Cramer) who were then whitewashing the naked short selling scandal. Moreover, nearly every company known to have been targeted by these short sellers had been victimized by naked short selling, with millions of shares going undelivered, often for months at a time.

Emails in my possession show that Kingsford Capital is closely connected to that cabal of short sellers. Moreover, one of Kingsford’s managers at the time, Cory Johnson, was, along with Herb Greenberg and Jim Cramer (the journalists who were going to feature most prominently in my story) a founding editor of TheStreet.com. (Johnson removed Kingsford from his online resume after I revealed the relationship in “The Story of Deep Capture.”).

For a number of years, Kingsford Capital was partnered with Manuel Asensio, who was one of the most notorious naked short sellers on the Street. Prior to his work with Kingsford, Asensio worked for First Hanover, a Mafia-affiliated brokerage whose owner later became a homeless crack addict.

I was investigating Kingsford and Asensio primarily because they appeared to be among the favorite sources of Gary Weiss, the crooked journalist who was then secretly doubling as a flak for the black box DTCC. Asensio, for example, helped Weiss write “The Mob on Wall Street,” a 1995 BusinessWeek story that was all about the Mafia’s infiltration of Wall Street stock brokerages, but which deliberately omitted reference to Mafia-connected naked short sellers, even though the brokerage that featured most prominently in the story, Hanover Sterling, was at the center of one of the biggest naked short selling fiascos in Wall Street history.

According to someone who knows Weiss well, Asensio was also a source for a Weiss story about the gangland-style murder of two stock brokers, Al Chalem and Meier Lehmann. Chalem was tied to the Mafia and specialized in naked short selling. Multiple sources say that Russian mobsters killed Chalem in a dispute over the naked short selling of stocks that were manipulated by brokerages connected to the Russians and the Genovese organized crime family.

One of these sources – a man who worked closely with Chalem – says that he tried to tell Weiss the true story, but Weiss refused to listen to anybody who would pin the murders on the Russian Mob or accuse Chalem of naked short selling. Instead, Weiss wrote a false story describing Chalem as a “stock promoter” and suggesting that he had been killed by people tied to the Gambino crime family, which was then a fierce rival of the Genovese and the Russians.

On another occasion, the current principals of Kingsford Capital sent Weiss a fax containing false negative information about a company called Hemispherx Biopharma. Another source, who was sitting in Weiss’s office at the time, says that he tried to tell the reporter that Kingsford was working with Asensio, that Asensio might have ties to the Mob, and that Asensio was naked short selling Hemispherx stock. Weiss ignored this information and wrote a negative story about Hemispherx. Hemispherx’s stock promptly plummeted by more than 50%.

Remember, Gary Weiss is the Portfolio magazine reporter who just who just told Portfolio magazine that only “conspiracy theorists” believe that abusive short selling is a problem.

* * * * * * * *

It is too much for me to believe that Kingsford Capital’s managers (along with Gary Weiss and Asensio?) could be influencing the Columbia Journalism Review’s stories, but I do know that the magazine is now an ardent defender of short sellers and has written favorably about several of the dishonest journalists – including Gary Weiss –who were to appear in my story.

And, in its recent piece about Matsumoto’s Bloomberg bombshell, the Columbia Journalism Review cast doubt on the theory that naked short selling wiped out Lehman – never mind those 30 million shares that didn’t get delivered.

The Columbia Journalism Review reporter, who receives a salary thanks to the beneficence of Kingsford Capital, wrote this:

“Now, I don’t have a dog in the naked-shorts fight. I can’t tell you if this is being done illegally on a large-scale and having a real impact on companies. I just don’t know.”

“But one of the first things that comes to mind here is—wouldn’t you expect fails-to-deliver to soar for a company teetering on the brink of bankruptcy under an avalanche of bad news? I’d expect there would be a rush to short a stock like Lehman, which was about to collapse anyway. So, people who usually could expect to borrow shares to short might have found that they couldn’t because everybody else was doing the same thing.”

In other words, people who “could expect to borrow shares,” but “found that they couldn’t” went ahead anyway and sold 30 million shares that did not exist. This was a gross violation of securities regulations that require traders to have “affirmative determination” that a stock can, in fact, be borrowed. Assuming the intent was to manipulate the stock, it is a jailable offense.

It is true that by mid-September of last year, Lehman was on the brink of bankruptcy. Partners backed out of deals and there was a run on the bank. But people got nervous and pulled their money only because hedge funds bombarded Lehman with rumors (which are currently the subjects of a federal investigation) while simultaneously naked shorting the stock to single digits.

In July of 2008, the SEC issued an emergency order designed to prevent just this eventuality. For a few weeks, the order stopped naked short selling of Lehman Brothers and 18 other big financial companies. At this time, Lehman was not on the brink of bankruptcy.

But in early August, the SEC lifted its order and Lehman immediately came under a massive naked short selling attack. On the day the SEC lifted the order, Lehman’s stock was trading at around $20. A few weeks later, the stock was worth around $3 – a fall of 85%.

Only after this precipitous fall did Lehman’s partners begin pulling their money, making bankruptcy inevitable.

But, apparently the Columbia Journalism Review believes that it is perfectly natural for a stock to fall 85%, even though no new information (aside from unsubstantiated rumors) had entered the marketplace. According to the Columbia Journalism Review (which has, no doubt, plowed Kingsford Capital’s money into a thorough investigation of this issue), it is perfectly natural that people who “found they couldn’t” borrow stock nonetheless proceeded to flood the market with 30 million phantom shares.

The truth is, that 30 million share “mechanical error” helped bring this nation to its knees.

That’s one reason why I do have a dog in this fight.

* * * * * * * *

Posted in The Mitchell ReportComments (85)

  • Popular
  • Latest
  • Comments
  • Tags
  • Subscribe

Related Sites