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

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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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The SEC Scandal You Don’t Read About in the Papers


There was an article in The New York Times yesterday about the SEC’s disgraceful ruling that it will take no disciplinary action against the SEC cronies at the center of the Gary Aguirre scandal. Read through the Times’ false veneer of objectivity, and it seems that reporter Walt Bogdanich is trying to say that it’s pretty damn strange that a corrupt SEC has been allowed to adjudicate its own corruption.

Stranger still, no other journalist has expressed outrage over this. Meanwhile, the nation’s mainstream media (The New York Times included) has yet to deliver a story describing the Aguirre scandal’s most important component – the bit that makes it the greatest scandal in the history of the SEC and which helps explain why the commission failed to stop a crime that later contributed to the near total collapse of the American financial system.

Readers of the mainstream media know only that Aguirre is the former SEC attorney who claimed that he was fired for political reasons after pursuing an “insider trading” case against Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack and a hedge fund called Pequot Capital. The real story – the one you don’t read in the papers – is that Aguirre has, all along, made it perfectly clear that his investigation – the one he says that Mack “stopped in its tracks” – was about much more than the relatively minor crime of “insider trading.”

Aguirre blew this scandal wide open in 2006, when he wrote an 18-page letter to the U.S. Congress. The letter reads: “I believe our capital markets face a growing risk from lightly or unregulated hedge funds just as our markets did in the 1920s from unregulated pools of money — then called syndicates, trusts or pools. Those unregulated pools were instrumental in delivering the 1929 Crash….There is growing evidence that today’s pools—hedge funds—have advanced and refined the practice of manipulating and cheating other market participants.”

Aguirre then described the investigation that he had led at the SEC. “The investigation was two-pronged,” he wrote. One prong concerned “insider trading.” However, the second, and far more important prong, concerned “market manipulation.” Specifically, Aguirre and his colleagues were investigating “two suspected violations: wash sales and naked shorts.”

“My colleagues,” Aguirre wrote, “believed [the naked short selling] held a greater potential to severely injure the financial markets.”

That is, Aguirre and his colleagues believed that naked short selling (hedge funds selling stock that they have not yet purchased or borrowed in order to drive down prices and destroy public companies) ranked high among the tactics that “were instrumental in delivering the 1929 Crash” – a repeat of which now seemed entirely possible since the tactic had been “refined” by hedge funds intent on “manipulating and cheating other market participants.” But the SEC rank-and-file’s attempt to investigate this crime was “stopped in its tracks” by SEC leaders who had been corrupted by Wall Street fat cats.

At the time when Aguirre released his letter, a small clique of influential journalists with close ties to certain Wall Street fat cats were going to great lengths to whitewash the crime of naked short selling (see “The Story of Deep Capture” for details). Unsurprisingly, some of these journalists quickly sought to discredit the SEC whistleblower. They reported that Aguirre’s investigation concerned only the minor infraction of insider trading, and that he had failed to present evidence that this minor infraction had occurred. The journalists also declared that Aguirre was untrustworthy – an eccentric who had been fired for poor performance.

After a year long investigation into the matter, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee completely vindicated Aguirre. It noted that Aguirre had been fired just two weeks after his supervisors had raved about his “unmatched dedication” in glowing written evaluations of his performance. It presented clear evidence that Mack’s lawyers were given special access to meetings in which Aguirre’s investigation was discussed. While the SEC was busy quashing the investigation and firing Aguirre for complaining about it, Paul Berger, then the SEC associate director of enforcement, was interviewing for a job at Mack’s law firm.

The Senate investigators concluded that they were “deeply troubled” by the SEC’s failure to look into Aguirre’s claims. “At worst,” the Senate report said, “the picture is colored with overtones of a possible cover-up.”

As part of this cover-up, the SEC eventually claimed that although Aguirre had been fired, the commission had nonetheless pressed forward with its “insider trading” investigation, finding no evidence that Pequot or Mack and committed any violations. However, the SEC has yet to reveal whether its rank-and-file were allowed to complete their investigation into the naked short selling that had the greater potential to “seriously injure the financial markets.”

SEC leaders remained uninterested in the crime until this past summer. Data for June showed that “failures to deliver” (phantom stock sold by naked short sellers) had peaked at more than 2 billion shares – an all time record. More important, the SEC’s cronies on Wall Street were now victims of the very crime that they had perpetrated and covered up. An avalanche of naked short selling, timed to coincide with a false news report on CNBC, had sparked the run on the bank that took down Bear Stearns. Now, other Wall Street institutions (including, yes, Morgan Stanley) were getting similarly clobbered. In mid-July, the SEC pronounced that naked short selling had the potential to “seriously damage” the financial system. It issued an “emergency order” protecting 19 big financial institutions (including Morgan Stanley) from the crime.

That kept the big banks safe for a time. But ultimately, short-sellers proved to be more skilled at cronyism than their former accomplices at the big banks. In August, under pressure from the short seller lobby, the SEC lifted its “emergency order.” In the next three weeks, a half-dozen major financial institutions were eliminated or nationalized. Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack (no doubt regretting that he had quashed the Aguirre investigation) hollered that he was next — that law-breaking short sellers were taking down his bank. The SEC responded by banning short selling outright in 900-plus companies. Meanwhile, everyone from Hillary Clinton to John McCain implicated naked short selling in the biggest financial cataclysm since 1929.

A few weeks later the SEC inspector general issued a 191-page report vindicating Gary Aguirre. The otherwise detailed report conspicuously failed to mention the naked short selling component of Aguirre’s investigation, but it contained many of the same findings that the Senate had described. The report, compiled over many months, concluded that Mack’s interference with Aguirre’s investigation raised “serious questions about the impartiality and fairness” of the SEC. The inspector general recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Aguirre’s supervisors, including SEC Director of Enforcement Linda Thomsen.

But last Friday, having spent no more than a few days reviewing the evidence, an SEC administrative judge declared that the SEC did not mishandle the Aguirre case, and that no disciplinary action would be taken. As Bogdanich’s story in The New York Times makes clear (though in not so many words), the ruling stinks to high hell.

For one, it remains unclear why in the world an SEC judge, as opposed to an independent court, is ruling on this matter. For another, it seems that the judge, Brenda Murray, was not even acting in the capacity of a judge. Rather, she issued her not-guilty verdict in the capacity of “an individual” who was asked by the SEC executive director to evaluate the inspector general’s findings.

In other words, there is good evidence that the leaders of our nation’s market regulator are as corrupt as Banana Republic cops on the brothel beat – that they have engaged in a cover-up that might have helped rock the very foundations of the American financial system – but this evidence will be evaluated in no court. There will be no legal proceeding whatsoever. Instead, an “individual” at the SEC, as a favor to the SEC executive director, says the SEC did no wrong…and that’s it – end of story.

Really, end of story. Because, aside from Walt Bogdanich at The New York Times (a paper that won’t call an “outrage” by its proper name, and which seems incapable of printing the words “naked short selling”), no mainstream journalist seems to give a flying hoot.

* * * * * * * *

Contact Mark Mitchell at mitch0033@gmail.com

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The SEC Scandal You Don't Read About in the Papers


There was an article in The New York Times yesterday about the SEC’s disgraceful ruling that it will take no disciplinary action against the SEC cronies at the center of the Gary Aguirre scandal. Read through the Times’ false veneer of objectivity, and it seems that reporter Walt Bogdanich is trying to say that it’s pretty damn strange that a corrupt SEC has been allowed to adjudicate its own corruption.

Stranger still, no other journalist has expressed outrage over this. Meanwhile, the nation’s mainstream media (The New York Times included) has yet to deliver a story describing the Aguirre scandal’s most important component – the bit that makes it the greatest scandal in the history of the SEC and which helps explain why the commission failed to stop a crime that later contributed to the near total collapse of the American financial system.

Readers of the mainstream media know only that Aguirre is the former SEC attorney who claimed that he was fired for political reasons after pursuing an “insider trading” case against Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack and a hedge fund called Pequot Capital. The real story – the one you don’t read in the papers – is that Aguirre has, all along, made it perfectly clear that his investigation – the one he says that Mack “stopped in its tracks” – was about much more than the relatively minor crime of “insider trading.”

Aguirre blew this scandal wide open in 2006, when he wrote an 18-page letter to the U.S. Congress. The letter reads: “I believe our capital markets face a growing risk from lightly or unregulated hedge funds just as our markets did in the 1920s from unregulated pools of money — then called syndicates, trusts or pools. Those unregulated pools were instrumental in delivering the 1929 Crash….There is growing evidence that today’s pools—hedge funds—have advanced and refined the practice of manipulating and cheating other market participants.”

Aguirre then described the investigation that he had led at the SEC. “The investigation was two-pronged,” he wrote. One prong concerned “insider trading.” However, the second, and far more important prong, concerned “market manipulation.” Specifically, Aguirre and his colleagues were investigating “two suspected violations: wash sales and naked shorts.”

“My colleagues,” Aguirre wrote, “believed [the naked short selling] held a greater potential to severely injure the financial markets.”

That is, Aguirre and his colleagues believed that naked short selling (hedge funds selling stock that they have not yet purchased or borrowed in order to drive down prices and destroy public companies) ranked high among the tactics that “were instrumental in delivering the 1929 Crash” – a repeat of which now seemed entirely possible since the tactic had been “refined” by hedge funds intent on “manipulating and cheating other market participants.” But the SEC rank-and-file’s attempt to investigate this crime was “stopped in its tracks” by SEC leaders who had been corrupted by Wall Street fat cats.

At the time when Aguirre released his letter, a small clique of influential journalists with close ties to certain Wall Street fat cats were going to great lengths to whitewash the crime of naked short selling (see “The Story of Deep Capture” for details). Unsurprisingly, some of these journalists quickly sought to discredit the SEC whistleblower. They reported that Aguirre’s investigation concerned only the minor infraction of insider trading, and that he had failed to present evidence that this minor infraction had occurred. The journalists also declared that Aguirre was untrustworthy – an eccentric who had been fired for poor performance.

After a year long investigation into the matter, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee completely vindicated Aguirre. It noted that Aguirre had been fired just two weeks after his supervisors had raved about his “unmatched dedication” in glowing written evaluations of his performance. It presented clear evidence that Mack’s lawyers were given special access to meetings in which Aguirre’s investigation was discussed. While the SEC was busy quashing the investigation and firing Aguirre for complaining about it, Paul Berger, then the SEC associate director of enforcement, was interviewing for a job at Mack’s law firm.

The Senate investigators concluded that they were “deeply troubled” by the SEC’s failure to look into Aguirre’s claims. “At worst,” the Senate report said, “the picture is colored with overtones of a possible cover-up.”

As part of this cover-up, the SEC eventually claimed that although Aguirre had been fired, the commission had nonetheless pressed forward with its “insider trading” investigation, finding no evidence that Pequot or Mack and committed any violations. However, the SEC has yet to reveal whether its rank-and-file were allowed to complete their investigation into the naked short selling that had the greater potential to “seriously injure the financial markets.”

SEC leaders remained uninterested in the crime until this past summer. Data for June showed that “failures to deliver” (phantom stock sold by naked short sellers) had peaked at more than 2 billion shares – an all time record. More important, the SEC’s cronies on Wall Street were now victims of the very crime that they had perpetrated and covered up. An avalanche of naked short selling, timed to coincide with a false news report on CNBC, had sparked the run on the bank that took down Bear Stearns. Now, other Wall Street institutions (including, yes, Morgan Stanley) were getting similarly clobbered. In mid-July, the SEC pronounced that naked short selling had the potential to “seriously damage” the financial system. It issued an “emergency order” protecting 19 big financial institutions (including Morgan Stanley) from the crime.

That kept the big banks safe for a time. But ultimately, short-sellers proved to be more skilled at cronyism than their former accomplices at the big banks. In August, under pressure from the short seller lobby, the SEC lifted its “emergency order.” In the next three weeks, a half-dozen major financial institutions were eliminated or nationalized. Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack (no doubt regretting that he had quashed the Aguirre investigation) hollered that he was next — that law-breaking short sellers were taking down his bank. The SEC responded by banning short selling outright in 900-plus companies. Meanwhile, everyone from Hillary Clinton to John McCain implicated naked short selling in the biggest financial cataclysm since 1929.

A few weeks later the SEC inspector general issued a 191-page report vindicating Gary Aguirre. The otherwise detailed report conspicuously failed to mention the naked short selling component of Aguirre’s investigation, but it contained many of the same findings that the Senate had described. The report, compiled over many months, concluded that Mack’s interference with Aguirre’s investigation raised “serious questions about the impartiality and fairness” of the SEC. The inspector general recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Aguirre’s supervisors, including SEC Director of Enforcement Linda Thomsen.

But last Friday, having spent no more than a few days reviewing the evidence, an SEC administrative judge declared that the SEC did not mishandle the Aguirre case, and that no disciplinary action would be taken. As Bogdanich’s story in The New York Times makes clear (though in not so many words), the ruling stinks to high hell.

For one, it remains unclear why in the world an SEC judge, as opposed to an independent court, is ruling on this matter. For another, it seems that the judge, Brenda Murray, was not even acting in the capacity of a judge. Rather, she issued her not-guilty verdict in the capacity of “an individual” who was asked by the SEC executive director to evaluate the inspector general’s findings.

In other words, there is good evidence that the leaders of our nation’s market regulator are as corrupt as Banana Republic cops on the brothel beat – that they have engaged in a cover-up that might have helped rock the very foundations of the American financial system – but this evidence will be evaluated in no court. There will be no legal proceeding whatsoever. Instead, an “individual” at the SEC, as a favor to the SEC executive director, says the SEC did no wrong…and that’s it – end of story.

Really, end of story. Because, aside from Walt Bogdanich at The New York Times (a paper that won’t call an “outrage” by its proper name, and which seems incapable of printing the words “naked short selling”), no mainstream journalist seems to give a flying hoot.

* * * * * * * *

Contact Mark Mitchell at mitch0033@gmail.com

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Deutsche Bank Sold Massive Amounts of Phantom Stock


A couple of days before Lehman fell and all hell broke loose on Wall Street, Floyd Norris, the chief business correspondent of The New York Times, published a blog (headline: “Short Sale Conspiracies”) wherein he implied that I was mentally insane for suggesting that Deutsche Bank Securities had been caught selling “massive amounts of phantom stock.”

I promise to take this up with my psychiatrist, but first let me tell you a bit more about the peculiar case that led the New York Stock Exchange to hand Deutsche Bank Securities the largest fine in history for violations of SEC rules designed to prevent the creation of what the chairman of the SEC has called “phantom stock.”

The NYSE’s disciplinary order states that Deutsche Bank’s traders “effected an unquantified but significant number of short sales…without having borrowed the securities.” Indeed, the traders sold the shares “without having any reasonable grounds to believe that the securities could be borrowed for delivery when due…”

This is a clear-cut case of abusive naked short selling – traders selling stock without bothering to even check whether the stock could be obtained. In other words, Deutsche Bank’s traders were selling phantom stock, and it appears that they were doing this systematically over the course of the 22 month time period (ending in October 2006) that the NYSE investigated.

I asked NYSE spokesman Scott Peterson how much stock Deutsche Bank sold without knowing that the stock could be borrowed. He said, “We’re not saying how much, but let me put it this way: It was A LOT.” (The emphasis was his.)

Interestingly, however, the NYSE pointedly did not include the words “naked short selling” anywhere in its written disciplinary action. And the Big Board’s spokesman went to great lengths to suggest that Deutsche Bank was not engaged in naked short selling. “This is a case of failure to locate stock,” the spokesman said. “We’re being careful not to call it ‘failure to deliver’ stock.”

Mr. Peterson referred me to a section of the NYSE’s disciplinary order where it says that “according to [Deutsche Bank’s] delivery records,” there were “only two failures to deliver.”

So Deutsche Bank systematically failed to even locate the stock that it sold, but the NYSE isn’t calling it “naked short selling,” and Deutsche Bank managed to deliver the stock in a timely fashion in all but two instances.

Does this seem strange to you? It should.

SEC rules give short sellers three trading days to borrow and deliver real shares. If the stock is not produced within three days, it is called a “failure to deliver.” If a company’s shares “fail to deliver” in excessive quantities, the SEC puts the company on the so-called “threshold” list of publicly listed firms that are likely victims of improper naked short selling.

When I pressed Mr. Peterson, the NYSE spokesman, he conceded that there were not “only two cases of failure to deliver.” In fact, Deutsche Bank routinely failed to deliver specific securities–all of which appeared on the SEC’s threshold list. When I asked how much stock Deutsche Bank failed to deliver, Mr. Peterson said, again, “a LOT.”

So what was this “only two cases of failure to deliver”? It turns out that there were only two instances (among the sample of questionable trades for which it was charged) where Deutsche Bank still had not delivered the stock after thirteen days. Surely the NYSE must have known that failures to deliver of three to thirteen days are considered by the SEC to be improper naked short sales. At the time of the Deutsche case (the rules have since been changed slightly) day thirteen was the point at which the SEC would hand the delinquent naked short sellers a pathetically light penalty, forcing them to forfeit their short positions by buying back (rather than borrowing) shares.

In practice, this 13-day rule only encouraged stock manipulation. Some traders, correctly reckoning that the SEC would do nothing, simply left stock undelivered for weeks or months at a time. But a great deal of abusive naked short selling involved traders who sold phantom stock and (obviously) failed to deliver it on day three, and then absorbed the “penalty” on day 13 – purchasing (rather than borrowing) the stock and delivering it.

As soon as they closed out their “short” positions (which were fake positions since they never intended to borrow the stock), the traders would immediately sell another batch of phantom stock and leave that undelivered until day 13. By the end of each of these 13 day periods, the phantom shares had, of course, diluted supply and watered down the price (at which point it was hardly a “penalty” to have to buy back the stock).

A great number of the companies that appear on the SEC’s “threshold” list have been subjected to precisely this pattern of abuse. And if I understand the NYSE spokesman correctly, this is what Deutsche Bank was up to – short selling phantom stock with no intention of borrowing shares, waiting to buy (rather than borrow) the cheaper shares at day thirteen, and then selling more phantom stock, targeting the same threshold-listed company, the very next day.

Deutsche Bank did this week after week for at least two years.

Predictably, the SEC has not gone after anyone in the Deutsche Bank case. Instead, it leaves the NYSE to render its “largest ever” fine – a mere $500,000, which is many millions, if not billions, of dollars less than what the bank earned from its illegal activity.

And the question remains: Why is the NYSE failing to call this illegal activity by its proper name: “naked short selling”?

When the NYSE levied its fine at the end of August, the scandal of naked short selling was beginning to receive nationwide attention. Indeed, the SEC had just lifted a temporary emergency order designed to prevent the crime – three weeks after stating that abusive naked short selling had the potential to topple the American financial system.

Moreover, Deutsche Bank had recently become embroiled in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit filed by shareholders alleging that Deutsche and several other banks were involved in a “conspiracy to engage in illegal naked short selling of Taser International Inc. and to create, loan and sell counterfeit shares of Taser stock.”

Clearly, Deutsche Bank had reason to keep its involvement in naked short selling under wraps. I asked Mr. Peterson whether the NYSE had cut a deal with Deutsche Bank, whereby Deutsche agreed to pay the fine, and the NYSE agreed to portray its case as something other than a clear-cut instance of abusive naked short selling.

Mr. Peterson told me to put my question in writing. I did this, and waited for several weeks for a response. No response was forthcoming.

Another interesting question is whether Deutsche Bank’s prime brokerage (which services hedge fund clients) was involved in the naked short selling. If it was, this would suggest that the bank was helping its hedge fund clients manipulate stocks, including, perhaps, Taser International, whose shareholders had filed that multi-billion dollar lawsuit.

The NYSE disciplinary actions makes it seem like only Deutsche Bank’s proprietary traders (who trade for the bank, not for any hedge fund clients) had broken the rules. When I asked Mr. Peterson about this, he said, yes, the prime brokerage was not involved.

However, the NYSE’s disciplinary action said, in legalese, with no explanation, that at least two of the five Deutsche Bank proprietary trading desks investigated by the NYSE “failed to adhere to the independent trading unit aggregation requirements.” This was a reference to SEC “unit aggregation” rules, outlined in Regulation SHO, which prohibit prime brokerage units and proprietary trading units from coordinating their short-selling activities.

In other words, it seems possible that Deutsche Bank’s proprietary trading unit was washing naked short positions for its prime brokerage, which had placed phantom stock sales on behalf of market manipulating hedge fund clients.

I asked Mr. Peterson if this was the case. He said to put the question in writing. I did this, and waited a few weeks for a response. No response was forthcoming.

Apparently, Mr. Norris, the chief financial correspondent of the New York Times, spoke to the NYSE, because he regurgitates its party line, almost verbatim. He says the case against Deutsche Bank is “largely about the failure to locate shares before they were sold short…But there do not seem to be many cases of sustained failures to deliver.”

He goes on to improperly define “failures to deliver” as occurring on day 13. He buys into the suspect claim that Deutsche Bank’s prime brokerage wasn’t involved. And he implies that the case could be a matter of “record keeping violations,” apparently unaware that these “record keeping violations” were in fact brazen failures to deliver of unborrowable stock – typically lasting right up to day 13, when the traders “penalized” themselves by buying back the shares, no doubt at a steep discount to the price at which they had sold them.

Mr. Norris concludes, “I don’t know if Mr. Mitchell’s suggestion [that Deutsche Bank sold massive amounts of phantom stock] is nutty or prescient, but I do not see how it is supported by what the Big Board says it found.”

Of course, what the Big Board says it found might be quite different from what the Big Board did find. That a prescient nut case has to point this out to the presumably sane chief financial correspondent of the New York Times speaks volumes about the media’s coverage of the naked short selling scandal and the state of America’s public discourse.

* * * * * * * *

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