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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 3 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 3 of 15)

What follows is PART 3 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

Where we left off, CNBC’s Jim Cramer had declared Dendreon to be a “battleground stock,” and Dendreon had been attacked by naked short sellers who illegally flooded the market with phantom stock, right at the time when the FDA’s advisory panel delivered the fantastic news that it had voted in favor of approving Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment.  We had learned that it is impossible to know who was responsible for the phantom stock (the SEC keeps that a big secret), but we do know that, thanks to an SEC loophole, phantom stock was often created by “marrying” a market maker’s naked short sales to put options.

We had also learned that in the days after the FDA’s vote, only ten hedge funds on the planet held significant numbers of  Dendreon put options (bets against the company). We had learned that the criminal Michael Milken or his close associates had connections to seven of those hedge funds, and  we had begun to ask whether those seven “colorful” hedge funds knew anything about the strange occurrences that were soon to derail Dendreon, and whether those strange occurrences had anything to do with the “philanthropy” of Michael Milken.

Now we begin to learn the identities of those seven hedge funds…

* * * * * * * *

The first of the seven “colorful” hedge funds that held Dendreon put options (right when Provenge was on the fast track to FDA approval) was Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, managed by the Mafia-connected criminal who orchestrated a $50 billion Ponzi scheme while helping the SEC write a short selling rule that came to be known as the “Madoff Exemption.”

According to SEC filings, Madoff owned put options on 180,000 shares of Dendreon as of March 31, 2007, which was two days after the FDA’s advisory panel voted in Dendreon’s favor. That is fewer than the numbers of put options bought by the other six hedge fund managers, but again, the SEC does not require hedge funds to disclose their short selling, so we do not know whether Madoff had a larger short position in Dendreon, along with these puts.

In any case, Madoff’s bet against Dendreon was significant. Given the positive data Dendreon had released and the subsequent vote of the FDA advisory panel, the trading position was not only counterintuitive, it was also (given some strange events which occured shortly thereafter), prescient to a degree one could only describe as “improbable.”  The trade was all the more significant when you consider that only ten traders on the planet owned more than 150,000 Dendreon put options at the time, and at least seven of those traders, including Madoff, are part of a tight-knit network of people who have worked intimately with Michael Milken or his close associates.

It has been widely reported in the media that Madoff’s criminal activity was confined to his fund management business, and that this business did not execute any real trades — that Madoff merely pocketed the money of his investors, all of whom were “victims.” According to the media reports, Madoff’s market making operation was legit.

These claims may well be false. Again, the fact that Madoff was one of only ten people on the planet who owned large numbers of put options in Dendreon suggests a certain degree of foresight (especially when one understands those subsequent strange occurrences, which we will be getting to in due course).  The trade was so counterintuitive, and timed so precisely to coincide with Dendreon’s triumphant news (and the brutal naked short selling attack that accompanied it), that the claim  that Madoff was merely pocketing investors’ money and falsely reporting random trades seems unlikely, given how remarkable this one trade turned out to be.

Madoff had to have meditated on the Dendreon trade. He had to have had information – some reason to record a bet against Dendreon at a time when there was every reason to be optimistic for Dendreon. And if Madoff thought about making this long shot bet against Dendreon enough to report it in his SEC filings, it is likely that he did, in fact, place the bet. That is, he probably purchased those put options. If so, the theory that his Ponzi fund did not execute any trades is false.

A Deep Capture source who has seen some of Madoff’s records says that Madoff’s fund management business was, in fact, executing a great number of trades. According to the source, the fund would place buy orders, and these orders would be filled by Madoff’s market making operation, which would sell  stock to the fund without first borrowing or purchasing it.

In other words, it is probably correct to say that Madoff  stole a lot of his investors’ money, but he seems to have used at least some of that money to generate phantom stock. Why would he do this? There is one obvious explanation: to drive down prices, adding to his short selling profits, and contributing to the profits of his short selling friends.

It is reasonable to speculate that Madoff’s market making operation derived business from executing manipulative naked short sales for unscrupulous hedge funds. After all, remember, the SEC exemption allowed market makers, such as Madoff, to engage in naked short selling. Madoff had a reason for advocating for that exemption. Perhaps he knew that it would allow him to help high-paying hedge funds create married puts – the phantom stock “bullets” that market makers and hedge funds have used to obliterate stocks.

Consider also that Madoff’s prosecutors note in their case that Madoff funneled at least $250 million from his investment fund to his market making division. I can think of only three reasons for his doing so:

  1. the money was used to buy securities — trades that weren’t executed, according to the press; or phantom stock, according to our source;
  2. the money came from hedge funds who, far from being victims, were paying off the market maker for helping them generate phantom stock; or
  3. the money was used to buy stock that Madoff used to cover some of his open naked short positions.

The authorities have been rather slow to provide details of Madoff’s fraud, but there is other evidence to consider. For example, Madoff’s secretary recently wrote in Vanity Fair magazine that Madoff’s stock loan operations (the division of his brokerage responsible for locating and borrowing shares to be sold short – or, more likely, responsible for  not really locating or borrowing those shares) — was segregated in an area that Madoff called “the cage” – on the 17th floor of the Lipstick building.

Stock loan operations are integral parts of brokerage businesses. One would normally expect Madoff’s stock loan operations to be housed in his brokerage. But Madoff’s brokerage business was on the 14th floor of the Lipstick building, separate from “the cage” on the 17th floor, which was home to Madoff’s “Ponzi” fund management business.

Multiple reports (including a recent story in Fortune magazine) state that Madoff was maniacally secretive about the activities on the 17th floor, and kept the employees who worked there strictly isolated from visitors and other employees. This is because the 17th floor was the heart of Madoff’s criminal enterprise. The secretary’s information seems to indicate that this criminal enterprise involved both the fund management business and the stock loan cage (i.e. the division that helped manufacture phantom stock by not actually borrowing shares that were sold short).

As for Madoff’s “victims,” it is clear that some of his investors and “feeders” were to a significant extent participants in his fraud. As Madoff’s chief lieutenant, Frank DiPascali, seems prepared to testify,  Madoff conspired with a few “special” clients to alter the returns that they received on their “investments.”  However much the “special” clients wanted to earn in a given month, Madoff would give it to them.

DiPascali identified one particularly “special” client:  Jeffry Picower, who seems to have  netted around $5 billion from the Madoff scam. Picower gained some renown in the 1980s. At the time, nobody had any idea who he was or where he got his money. He was a big mystery.

Then, one day, it was learned that he was the single largest limited partner in the arbitrage fund run by Ivan Boesky, who was later jailed for being a principal co-conspirator in the stock manipulation frauds of a famous criminal.

That famous criminal is now a “prominent philanthropist,” too.  And his name is Michael Milken.

* * * * * * * *

By most accounts, Madoff had just a few key “feeders”– hedge funds and individuals who raised money to “feed” his  $50 billion Ponzi scheme. For some time, the press suggested that these “feeders” were “victims” of Madoff’s fraud, but in an increasing number of cases, authorities are suggesting otherwise.

A lawsuit filed by the State of Massachusetts against “feeder” fund Fairfield Greenwich makes it clear (by supplying copious transcripts of phone conversations, etc.) that Fairfield had more than an inkling of what was going on in Madoff’s shop. And on June 22, 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged several Madoff “feeders” with securities fraud related to their participation in the Madoff Ponzi. One of those charged was Robert Jaffe, who was also a partner with Madoff in a brokerage called Cohmad Securities. Earlier in his career, Jaffe was found to be running money for the Anguilo brothers, the Boston dons of the Genovese Mafia family.

Madoff’s other key “feeders” have not yet been charged with wrong-doing. Perhaps, they will never be charged. But it is interesting to note that a number of them were close associates of a famous criminal and “prominent philanthropist” named Michael Milken.

One of the most important Madoff “feeders” was Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet, a French aristocrat who worked on deals in the 1980s with Drexel Burnham Lambert, which was the headquarters of Milken’s junk bond and stock manipulation empire. During this time, Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet came to know not just Milken, but also Leon Black, who was the head of Drexel’s mergers and acquisitions department.

Most every account of those days suggests that Black was Milken’s closest ally at Drexel. Black argued vehemently that Drexel should not cooperate with Milken’s prosecutors and he defended Milken to the end. Today, there are few people closer to Milken than Leon Black.

After Milken’s crimes bankrupted Drexel, Black joined forces with Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet to launch an investment fund called Apollo Management. As you will recall, a certain Apollo Medical was one of the ten hedge funds that owned large numbers of put options in Dendreon. I have not yet been able to determine whether Apollo Management is affiliated with Apollo Medical. Neither Black nor Apollo Medical manager Brandon Fradd returned my phone calls seeking comment.

But we do know that Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet provided the initial capital to Leon Black’s Apollo Management. And in its early years, the French aristocrat was Apollo’s biggest fundraiser. Indeed, it is correct to say that in addition to being one of Madoff’s most important “feeders,” Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet was Milken crony Leon Black’s single most important business partner.

Unfortunately, in December 2008, soon after the Mafia-connected Madoff turned himself in to the authorities, Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet was found in his Madison Avenue office – dead.

They said it was a suicide.

* * * * * * * *

Another of Madoff’s most important “feeders” was J. Ezra Merkin, who managed the Ariel Fund, which seems to have been designed specifically to raise money for Madoff’s fraudulent investment business. In this regard, the New York attorney general has described “Merkin’s deceit, recklessness, and breaches of fiduciary duty…”

While Merkin was “deceitfully” feeding the Madoff Ponzi, he was also a co-owner, along with Steve Feinberg, of Cerberus Capital Management, a fund named after the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell.

Previously, Feinberg was a top trader for Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert. After Drexel, Mr. Feinberg moved (on Milken’s recommendation) to a brokerage called Gruntal & Company.

Gruntal owed its existence to the generous junk bond finance that its parent company, the Home Group, received from Michael Milken. Its options department was founded by Carl Icahn, who later became a “prominent” billionaire owing to the junk bond finance that he received from Michael Milken.

When Icahn left Gruntal, he was replaced by a Milken crony named Ron Aizer, who proceeded, on the recommendation of Milken, to hire two traders.

The first trader hired by Aizer was, according to a reliable source, investigated by the SEC for trading on inside information that he received from Milken’s operation at Drexel Burnham Lambert. This trader is now a “prominent” billionaire and the manager of a well-known hedge fund. The second trader hired by Aizer is now also a “prominent” hedge fund manager, though he is not quite a billionaire. Both of these traders play important roles in the story of Dendreon. Carl Icahn, the founder of Gruntal’s options department, has a cameo role, too.

So I will return to all three – the two former Gruntal traders and Icahn – in upcoming chapters.

* * * * * * * *

I know people who used to work at Gruntal. They are honest people who have gone beyond the call of duty to contribute to Deep Capture’s reporting. They also confirm that Gruntal’s New York operation (as opposed to some of its offices in other states) was among the more disreputable brokerages in America. As Fortune magazine once put it, Gruntal was firmly situated on the “shabby side of the Street.”

Gruntal’s senior vice president, Maurice B. Gross, was found to be running money for Thomas Gambino, a capo in the Gambino Mafia family. Another New York Gruntal trader, Samuel Israel III, later launched his own hedge fund, and in 2008, it emerged that this hedge fund was the largest Ponzi scheme in history. Israel was charged on multiple counts of fraud, and briefly faked his own suicide before handing himself over to the authorities.

Soon after, the Mafia-connected Bernard Madoff admitted to running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, so Israel’s Ponzi scheme was no longer the largest in history. It was the second largest. The third largest Ponzi scheme, remember, was orchestrated by Reed Slatkin, the criminal who was a limited partner in Apollo Management, which was one of those ten hedge funds that owned large numbers of put options in Dendreon.

It has been reported that Israel ran his Ponzi scheme with help from “feeders” who had ties to the Genovese Mafia family. So it is perhaps noteworthy that after he left Gruntal, and before he started his own criminal operation, Israel worked for JGM Management, a hedge fund owned by “prominent” investor Michael Steinhardt. As Steinhardt belatedly admitted a few years ago, his father, Sol “Red” Steinhardt, once worked for the Genovese Mafia family. Steinhardt Sr. spent a number of years in Sing-Sing prison after a New York state prosecutor pegged him as the “biggest Mafia fence in America.”

* * * * * * * *

The key limited partners in Steinhardt Jr.’s first hedge fund, Steinhardt Partners, were the Genovese Mafia family, Ivan Boesky, Marc Rich, and Marty Peretz.

Ivan Boesky, was, of course, the famous co-conspirator in many of Michael Milken’s stock manipulation schemes. As noted, Boesky’s biggest investor and limited partner was Jeffry Picower, the mysterious “special” client of the Mafia-connected Bernard Madoff — who authored one of the SEC’s naked short selling loopholes, orchestrated the largest Ponzi scheme in history, and held 180,000 put options in Dendreon.

Steinhardt’s other key limited partner, Marc Rich, was eventually indicted for tax evasion and trading with Iran and Libya. He fled to Switzerland, where he has ever since lived as a fugitive from U.S. law. Rich later received a pardon from Bill Clinton for some of his crimes, but he remains in Switzerland, from where he now runs a securities and commodities trading empire.

According to the Vanity Fair article written by Bernard Madoff’s secretary, Rich was one of the last people with whom Madoff met before handing himself over to the FBI. Given that Rich avoids travel to the U.S. for fear of certain arrest (for those crimes  not covered by Bill Clinton’s generous pardon), it would appear that Madoff, in the days immediately preceding turning himself over to U.S. law enforcement, made time to visit Rich in Europe. Apparently, before going away for what he likely knew would be the rest of his life, Bernie Madoff had something vitally important to discuss with Rich.

Steinhardt’s third key limited partner, Marty Peretz, was later a co-founder, along with CNBC’s Jim Cramer and a certain hedge fund (which I will soon name), of TheStreet.com, a financial news website. Cramer, a former hedge fund manager, once planned to run his business out of the offices of Milken co-conspirator Ivan Boesky. When Boesky was indicted, Cramer instead ran his hedge fund out of the offices of Michael Steinhardt.

A lot of names have been thrown at the reader. But stick with me, for I think you will come to see that these relationships matter. And I think you will come to agree that most of these people –Bernard Madoff, those two Gruntal traders (whom I will soon name), Jim Cramer, Michael Steinhardt, Carl Icahn, Marty Peretz, that hedge fund manager who co-founded TheStreet.com, Michael Milken, and some folks who are tied to the Mafia – deserve prominent mention in the story of Dendreon.

* * * * * * * *

So, again, as far as we can ascertain from public records, there were ten hedge fund managers on the planet who were betting heavily against Dendreon as of March 31, 2007, shortly after the FDA advisory panel put Provenge on the fast track to approval, and during the time that Dendreon was under an unprecedented, illegal naked short selling attack, and right before Dendreon would be derailed by some strange occurrences. Seven of those ten hedge fund managers are quite “colorful,” all are part of the same network, and one of them was Bernard Madoff.

The second of the seven “colorful” hedge fund managers was…as a prelude to introducing the second “colorful” hedge fund manager, it helps to understand some things about a man named Felix Sater, who is alleged (by a former business partner and other reports) to be affiliated with the world’s most murderous organized crime outfit – the Russian Mafia.

In the early 1990s, Sater (who has since changed the spelling of his name to Satter) was charged with aggravated assault after he stabbed a fellow broker in the face with the broken stem of a wine glass. Soon after, he founded, a brokerage called White Rock Partners.

Felix had previously worked as a trader for Gruntal & Company, the brokerage that owed its existence to generous junk bond financing from Michael Milken – the same brokerage whose options department was founded by Milken crony Carl Icahn, later replaced by Milken crony Ron Aizer, who quickly hired two Milken cronies, both of whom, we will see, figure prominently in the story of Dendreon.

In the mid-1990s, several of Gruntal’s top managers were accused of embezzling millions of dollars. The managers were indicted and Gruntal agreed to pay $6.5 million in fines – one of the stiffest penalties that had ever been levied by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Around this time, many of Gruntal’s traders moved to White Rock Partners, the firm run by  Felix Sater. Former Gruntal employees accounted for much of White Rock’s staff, and became White Rock’s top-earning traders.

This information can be found in a book called “The Scorpion and the Frog”.  Also in this book, one of Felix’s partners states that Sater –  given a pseudonym, “Lex Tersa” – is the son of a high level boss in the Russian Mafia. The name of Sater’s father is Mikhail Sater.

Felix’s partner also says that hehe believed that Felix Sater might murder a man named Alain Chalem, who was the boss of Toluca Pacific, a Mafia-controlled brokerage that was then one of the most notorious naked short selling outfits on the Street. Toluca and White Rock had previously worked together, but Sater was angry that Chalem had begun to sell short a stock that Sater was trying to pump.

Fortunately, says the partner, Sater didn’t end up killing Chalem.

But not long after, several men arrived at Chalem’s New Jersey mansion. The men told Chalem to kneel down on the floor. Then the men fired several rounds of bullets – one bullet into Chalem’s chest, one bullet into Chalem’s forehead, one into Chalem’s face, and a number of bullets into each of Chalem’s ears. According to a man who was with Chalem just hours before his death, the murder was the work of the Russian Mafia.

And it involved a dispute over naked short selling.

* * * * * * * *

In the late 1990s, the FBI launched Operation Uptick, which resulted in the arrest of more than 120 Wall Street stock manipulators linked to organized crime – the biggest Mafia bust in FBI history. That effort led to other operations and many more cases that collectively came to be known at the FBI as the “Mob on Wall Street” campaign. In one such case, prosecutors charged that Felix Sater’s White Rock Partners was tied to Russian mobsters and the Italian Mafia and had engaged in multiple stock manipulation schemes.

According to the prosecution’s case (in which Sater was named as an “unindicted co-conspirator”), the Mafia thugs who worked with White Rock included Frank Coppa, who was a capo in the Bonanno Mafia family; Edward Garafola, a soldier in the Gambino Mafia family; and Ernest Montevecchi, a soldier for the Genovese Mafia family. The prosecutors described White Rock as employing threats of physical violence and other forms of thuggery.

Nowadays, Sater is the behind-the-scenes owner of the Bayrock Group, a real estate development company. Among his 11 partners in this venture are a number of  investment fund managers who are tied to Michael Milken. Most notable of Sater’s business partners is Apollo Real Estate Advisors, which is run by Leon Black.

As you will recall, Black was Milken’s closest ally at Drexel Burnham Lambert, and started Apollo Management with considerable help from Monsieur Rene Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet, who was one of the most important “feeders” to the Ponzi scheme run by the Mafia-connected Bernard Madoff (who authored the SEC’s naked short selling loophole and owned 180,000 put options in Dendreon).

In 2005, Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne began a crusade against the crime of naked short selling. A few months later, while working as an editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, I began work on a story about the naked short selling scandal, and started asking a lot of questions about the ties that bind various hedge funds to Michael Milken and his famous co-conspirator, Ivan Boesky.

In the fall of 2006, I received several threats and was once ambushed by three men, punched out, deposited on my doorstep, and told to stay away from Patrick Byrne. Soon after, Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne met with an off-shore businessman who had once worked in the world of Mafia-controlled brokerages, but had since reformed himself and begun to help with our investigation.

This businessman told Patrick that he had received a message. And the message was that the Russian Mafia was going to murder Patrick, and possibly those close to him, if Patrick did not end his crusade against naked short selling.

According to the off-shore businessman, this threat was conveyed by Felix Sater – alleged son of a top Russian Mob boss; former co-owner of the Mafia-infested White Rock Partners; and business partner of Michael Milken’s closest crony, Leon Black.

* * * * * * * *

In their case against Felix Sater’s White Rock Partners, prosecutors noted that the firm not only employed threats and had ties to the Mafia, but also manipulated stocks in close cooperation with other Mafia-affiliated brokerages. According to the prosecutors, White Rock was tied directly to two specific Mafia-affiliated brokerages – A.R. Baron and D.H. Blair.

Again, I apologize for throwing so many names at the reader, but it is worth remembering this name: D.H. Blair.

D.H. Blair was perhaps the dirtiest operator on Wall Street. In various indictments and investigations, the SEC and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan determined that D.H. Blair was at the center of a network of Mafia-affiliated brokerages that included not only Felix Sater’s White Rock Partners, but also Toluca Pacific (the brokerage run by the naked short seller who had bullets shot into both of his ears) and notorious Mafia outfits such as A.S. Goldmen, J.W. Barclay, F.N. Wolf, Stratton Oakmont, Parliament Hill Capital, J.T. Moran, and R.H. Damon.

The founder of D.H. Blair was a man named J. Morton Davis. In his heyday, Davis was known as a “prominent” investor and the “king of penny stocks.” He has yet to be convicted of a crime. But given the subsequent revelations about his firm, it is not surprising that some people now call him the “king of stock fraud.” D.H. Blair was eventually indicted on 173 counts of securities fraud.

Until 1995, the president of D.H. Blair was a man named Richard A. Maio. Prior to joining the Mafia-affiliated D.H. Blair, Maio was a top employee of Michael Milken, the famous criminal and future “philanthropist.” Maio’s deputy at D.H. Blair, Eric Siber, was also a former employee of Milken. At various times both Maio and Siber had been national sales managers for Milken’s operation at Drexel Burnham Lambert.

In 1998, as the FBI was closing in, D.H. Blair went out of business. In 2000, not only was the firm itself indicted on 173 counts, but some of its top executives pled guilty to additional counts of securities fraud. These included two D.H. Blair vice chairmen — Alan Stahler and Kalman Renov — both of whom were sons-in-law of Davis, the founder.

But by then, the Milken boys had scooted. Another top executive of D.H. Blair also avoided prosecution. His name was Lindsay Rosenwald.

Rosenwald was the third son-in-law of D.H. Blair’s founder, J. Morton Davis – the so-called “king of stock fraud.”

Rosenwald was also the third vice chairman and director of finance of D.H. Blair – that is, the third vice chairman of the dirtiest Mafia-affiliated brokerage on Wall Street.

And in March 2007, Rosenwald was the second of those seven “colorful” fund managers who were positioned to profit from the demise of Dendreon, a little company with a promising treatment for prostate cancer.

* * * * * * * *

Lindsay Rosenwald may be the son-in-law of “the king of stock fraud.” And he was once the vice chairman of D.H. Blair, a firm affiliated with the Mafia – a firm that was run by two former top lieutenants of Michael Milken before it found itself at the center of one of the biggest Mafia investigations in the history of the FBI and on the business end of a 173-count federal indictment.

But never mind — Mr. Rosenwald is now a “prominent investor.” In fact, he is not just a “prominent investor”— he is one of America’s biggest biotech investors, if not the biggest biotech investor.

D.H. Blair was known for investing in biotech companies, pumping their stocks, and then short selling them out of existence. Many of those companies were frauds that were nowhere close to producing any medicines.

Rosenwald is more sophisticated. He invests in companies that have real scientists experimenting with real drugs. But in an overwhelming number of cases, these companies prove to have nothing to bring to market. The companies churn out lots of press releases heralding medical breakthroughs, and their stock prices soar. But ultimately they announce that, in fact, their experiments have failed. By the time the bad news hits, Rosenwald will typically have sold all of his stock.

While Rosenwald promotes medical companies that are nowhere near delivering real medicines, hedge funds affiliated with Rosenwald sometimes bet heavily against competing companies that do have medicines. The hope seems to be that the demise of competing companies with promising treatments will increase the market value of Rosenwald’s not-so-promising companies.

That may partly explain Dendreon’s tribulations.

With the exception of big pharma, there are only a few biotech firms that have received significant publicity for developing treatments for prostate cancer. One of these companies, Cougar Biotechnology, was, until last month, controlled by this Lindsay Rosenwald, who aside from running D.H. Blair in cahoots with people tied to the Mafia and Milken’s former national sales managers, is also a close friend of Milken himself. While Rosenwald was in control, Cougar Biotechnology’s scientific advisory board also included four individuals affiliated with Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation – Dr. Eric Small, Dr. Michael Carducci, Dr. Philip Kantoff, and Dr. Howard Scher.

Cougar’s prostate cancer treatment was and is in the early stages of development. It is nowhere close to receiving FDA approval. I believe that the scientists and doctors whom Cougar hired to conduct trials into its treatment are earnest about their work. But judging from Rosenwald’s record, it is possible that Cougar’s business model was not to bring a treatment to market – but rather to exaggerate the importance of data obtained in trials, pump the stock, then sell before the trials proved that the drug did not work.

This plan would benefit from forming a scientific advisory board comprised, with help from Milken’s “philanthropy,” of illustrious medical scientists who might not understand how the stock market game is played.

In any case, Cougar has been promoted (by Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation and Cougar) as having a treatment that is a preferred alternative to Dendreon’s. Any Dendreon achievement would negatively affect Cougar’s stock price. Which might explain why a Rosenwald-affiliated hedge fund mauled Dendreon in the days before and after the FDA’s advisory panel voted that Dendreon’s promising treatment should be administered to patients.

As of the end of March, 2007, a hedge fund called Perceptive Advisors held more than 600,000 put options in Dendreon. Perceptive Advisors is run by a man named Joseph Edelman. As of 2008, Edelman was still identifying himself (when donating to political campaigns, for example) as an employee of Paramount Capital, which was founded by Rosenwald. To summarize: Lindsay Rosenwald founded Paramount Capital, which had an employee named Joseph Edelman, who was simultaneously managing Perceptive Advisors, so we can reasonably surmise that Perceptive Advisors is an adjunct of  the Rosenwald biotech trading empire.

SEC filings show that at the end of March, 2007, Perceptive Advisors held not just puts, but he also held call options on a whopping 6.2 million shares of  Dendreon. Call options are usually a bet that a stock will increase in value. But don’t let this fool you.

According to brokers familiar with his strategy, Edelman worked like this: He bought massive numbers of call options at rock-bottom strike prices. When Dendreon’s stock began to soar in value, Edelman exercised the calls, at which point his broker had to sell him an equally massive number of shares at the rock bottom price. These Edelman would quickly dump, flooding the market with massive selling volume and putting downward pressure on the stock. Meanwhile, according to the brokers, Edelman sold short massive amounts of Dendreon’s stock, profiting from all the selling volume.

I called Edelman and asked him if he was short selling Dendreon while flooding the market with stock from his call options. He did not deny that he was short selling the company, but he hung up on me before I could ask any more questions.

In any case, the strategy I describe above is technically legal. It’s legal so long as Edelman was not colluding with other hedge fund managers, all of whom happened to be generating massive selling volume at precisely the same time. And it’s legal as long as he was not engaged in naked short selling, or, equivalently, conspiring with a market maker to create married puts to synthesize those phantom stock “bullets” that unscrupulous hedge funds spray into the market to drive down stock prices.

As to whether Edelman was in fact either directly naked short selling, or indirectly generating phantom stock by colluding with his option market maker, the brokers are staying mum. The SEC is unlikely to say much either.

As far as the SEC is concerned, remember, illegal naked short selling is a big secret – a “proprietary trading strategy.”

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 4

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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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Naked Shorts Frolic While Financial System Fries

“Morgan Stanley shares have been under extraordinary pressure as of late, for no apparent fundamental reason, as we estimate liquidity, the balance sheet, and long-term earnings, prospects are sound.”

– Fox-Pitt analyst David Trone in a research note, today

Here we go again. A giant bank has some weaknesses, but it is, in all respects, a going concern — except that short sellers are peddling rumors and phantom stock, so the share price is plummeting. With the share price in peril, the rating agencies (perhaps over vigilant after taking so much criticism from short sellers and the media) put the bank’s debt ratings on review for a downgrade.

Meanwhile, short sellers corner the market for the bank’s credit default swaps, and point to the value of the CDS as evidence that the bank is doomed. They feed the media with analyses and bogus indexes that mark the bank’s assets to nothing. They spread the news that the bank’s counterparties and trading partners could bail.

The clients and partners stay with the bank. Up until now they have no reason not to.

But then, there’s more naked short selling, the hedge funds flooding the market with stock they do not possess — phantom stock. Maybe the hedge funds send a fax to CNBC with one last rumor. Over the course of a day or two, the stock price is slashed in half.

Then, suddenly, the stock is in the single digits.

As a result of the low stock price – not as result of the balance sheet – the bank’s partners and clients freak out. This time, they really do pull their money.

End of bank.

And if there are one or two more like this — end of story. The financial system will be fried.

We’ve seen precisely the same scenario with Bear Stearns, Lehman, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual, and IndyMac. A variant of this scenario took down AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and perhaps 200 other companies before them.

Morgan Stanley could be gone by next week.

We have new data for September that shows that there was plenty of short selling of Morgan Stanley (and other companies) even during the SEC’s ban on short selling, which ended Wednesday at midnight. Some hedge funds ignored the ban, and the SEC did nothing.

Worse, in place of the ban, the SEC has offered only tepid new rules (cheered by the short seller lobby) that do little to prevent the sale of phantom stock. Under these rules, short sellers do not have to borrow real stock before they sell it. They merely have to “locate” the stock. The SEC doesn’t say how it’s supposed to know whether a short seller has actually located real stock as opposed to telling his broker, “yeah, I located it, it’s in your mother’s wig” (which is pretty much how these conversations go).

Furthermore, the SEC gives hedge funds three days to deliver the stock they sell. This would be fine if they were required to possess real stock before selling. But since they are not, a hedge fund can offload a large block of phantom stock and let it eat away at the financial system for at least three days.

Sometimes, the hedge funds settle the trade with another block of phantom stock, transferred to them by a friendly broker. But even if they fail to deliver the stock, the SEC stipulates no serious penalties. Meanwhile, it shows no inclination to actually prosecute anyone for the jailable crime of short-side market manipulation.

I’m willing to bet anybody a sizeable amount of money that when the SEC releases its “failures to deliver” numbers for October, they will suggest unbridled illegal naked short selling of Morgan Stanley during this past week, even on days when the ban on all short selling was in place. The data will show that naked short selling rose to unprecedented levels just before somebody floated Wednesday’s false rumor that Morgan Stanley was going to lose its $9 billion deal with Mitsubishi.

And the data will show that after the ban was lifted, the law-breaking shorts went nuclear – with failures to deliver of well over a million shares every day. Ultimately, many millions of Morgan Stanley’s shares will be sold and never delivered, just as hedge funds have yet to deliver more than 10 million shares of Bear Stearns that they sold during that bank’s final days last March.

As I write this, Morgan’s stock price is in the single digits, trading around 7 bucks, down an astounding 70% in the 36 hours since the short selling ban was lifted. A death spiral like that does not happen naturally. Because of the short-battered stock price – and only the stock price (again, this has nothing to do with the balance sheet) — Moody’s today put Morgan’s long-term debt ratings on review for a downgrade.

I suspect another 15% off the stock price, and one more well-placed rumor, will do the trick. There will be a run on the bank. Morgan will be gone. And the global financial fire will blaze still hotter.

It is beyond surreal that our most prestigious financial media continue to allow this to happen. It is beyond comprehension that journalists – in possession of the evidence, and presumably in possession of their faculties – continue to spout the line, originally formulated by short-sellers and now woven into conventional wisdom – that this crisis is only about bad mortgages and bad managers and bad balance sheets.

One can argue that, in the long run, the world is better off without half of Wall Street – without its ponzi schemes and paper profits, the sickening salaries and arrogance. Certainly, anyone with a Shakespearean state of mind will appreciate the fates of Morgan Stanley, Lehman, and Bear – all of which eagerly pimped their dodgy prime brokerage services to the very short sellers who destroyed them.

But it does not require Shakespearean nuance to see that this crisis is not just about scandalous banks. It is about criminals destroying banks that are tawdry, yes, but possessing of some virtue, and capable, if left unmolested, of carrying on and contributing to society – perhaps even staving off a global calamity.

Moreover, these same criminals are destroying many other companies, most of which are run by honest people who labor far from the insalubrious alleyways of southern Manhattan. The SEC maintains a list of companies whose stock has failed to deliver in excessive quantities. As I explained in an earlier dispatch, many victims of naked short selling (including some of the big banks) do not appear on that list. But surely it is a scandal that more than 300 companies, many of them financial firms that have nothing to do with Wall Street, do appear on the list.

Surely, it is an even bigger scandal that around 100 of those companies have appeared on the list chronically, day after day, for months on end, and though the sheriff posts the names of these rape victims on its wall, it has yet to prosecute a single rapist. The SEC tells us that a billion shares remain undelivered on any given day — and yet it doesn’t bother to find out which hedge funds sold the phantom stock.

It might be too late, but if Washington and the financial media really want to save the world, they ought to start by demanding that hedge funds borrow real stock before they sell it. And what the heck: Maybe some newspaper could offer the radical suggestion that the SEC should tell hedge funds that they can either go to jail or close out all unsettled trades – today.

If one hedge fund manager were to get cuffed, all the others with outstanding “failures to deliver” might scramble to buy real stock so they can settle. The markets might soar. The innocent victims might get some relief. And the delinquents on Wall Street would get some time to clean up their acts.

Meanwhile, would anyone care to guess which company the naked short sellers will take down after Morgan Stanley?

And would anyone like to share a bunker with canned goods and weapons?

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If you’d like to place that bet on the Morgan Stanley data (I’ll give 2:1 odds that it will show short sellers offloading massive amounts of phantom stock , with more than a million “failures to deliver” every day) feel free to contact me. Mitch0033@gmail.com.

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A Scandal Unfolds, and the Media Mob Scampers

Three years ago, Deep Capture reporter and Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne gave a famous conference call that he titled, “The Miscreant’s Ball.” His thesis was simple: Some short-selling hedge funds collude to destroy public companies by spreading misinformation, orchestrating government witch hunts, filing bogus class-action lawsuits, and, most egregiously, selling billions of dollars worth of phantom stock.

In the months that followed “The Miscreants Ball” presentation, a clique of journalists with close ties to short-selling hedge funds and CNBC’s Jim Cramer (himself a former hedge fund manager), set out to sully the reputations of Patrick and everyone else who sought to expose short-seller crimes.

Cramer pal Joe Nocera, who is the New York Times’ top business columnist, wrote that Patrick’s crusade against hedge funds that sell phantom stock was “loony beyond belief.” CNBC contributor and Marketwatch columnist Herb Greenberg, formerly an editor with Cramer’s web publication, TheStreet.com, labeled Patrick the “worst CEO in America” for taking on the shorts (ie., the same shorts who are now paying Herb for “independent” financial research). Fortune magazine’s Bethany McLean, who has yet to write a story that was not sourced from a small group of short-sellers connected to Jim Cramer, suggested in an article titled “Phantom Menace” that Patrick should be fired from Overstock for speaking out against the problem of phantom stock.

At the time, I was the editor of the Columbia Journalism Review’s online critique of business journalism. The attack on Patrick was like nothing I’d seen before, so I decided to write a story about the media’s coverage of short-sellers and phantom stock. When Herb Greenberg and Joe Nocera got word of this, they both called my editor demanding that he kill the story. Cramer sent a public relations goon to delay the story. Then a short-selling hedge fund, Kingsford Capital, appeared in my offices and offered to pay my salary.

My successor at the Columbia Journalism Review is now called “The Kingsford Capital Fellow.” One of Kingsford Capital’s managers was a founding editor of Cramer’s website, TheStreet.com. I do not believe that Kingsford’s interest in the Columbia Journalism Review is philanthropic. And I do not believe that the Columbia Journalism Review, “the nation’s premier media monitor” is capable of objectively monitoring the financial media so long as it’s chief writer on the subject is paid directly by this very controversial, Cramer-connected, short-selling hedge fund.

Perhaps facing similar pressures, or perhaps because they are unwilling to contradict Cramer’s influential Media Mob, or maybe because they’re just plain lazy, other journalists have shied away from covering the problem of illegal short-selling. Instead, reporters have incessantly repeated the party line that “short selling is good for the market. Only bad CEOs complain about short-sellers.”

In March, short-sellers destroyed Bear Stearns by spreading false information and selling millions of phantom shares. And now the shorts are going after another major investment bank. In a week of high drama, hedge funds have been circulating blatantly false and hugely damaging rumors that big institutions are pulling their money out of Lehman Brothers. If March SEC data is any indication, the shorts are also selling millions of dollars worth of phantom Lehman stock.

One of the nation’s most important investment banks is down, and another is on the brink. The American financial system wobbles.

And, suddenly, Cramer’s Media Mob is silent. Gone is all of the talk about Patrick Byrne being crazy. Nocera says nothing about the attacks on Lehman and Bear. Bethany McLean recently wrote a favorable review of a book written by David Einhorn, the most prominent short-seller of Bear Stearns and Lehman, but she dares not mention the current market predations.

Herb Greenberg, who used to sing the praises of short-sellers almost weekly, was last heard defending his hedge fund friends in April. CNBC seems to have taken him off that beat. (The network recently dispatched Herb to the San Diego County Fair, where he interviewed a vendor of deep-fried Twinkies).

But Jim Cramer is talking. No doubt to distance himself from the growing scandal, he went on CNBC today and said precisely what Patrick Byrne said three years ago. Noting that short-sellers are colluding to take down Lehman, he said the problem is “the need to be able to get a borrow and see if you can find stock….. no one is even calling to see if they can get a borrow. [In other words, hedge funds are selling stock they don’t have — phantom stock]. It’s kind of like, well listen, let’s just knock it down. It’s very similar to what Joe Kennedy would have done in 1929 [leading to Black Monday and the Great Depression] which is get a couple of cronies together and let’s take it down…”

Too late, Jim. For three years, you, CNBC, and a clique of journalists very close to you have ignored this crime because your short-selling hedge fund cronies claimed that phantom stock is not a problem. Meanwhile, hundreds of companies have been affected. Billions of dollars of value have been wiped out. And lives have been destroyed.

It is one of the most ignominious episodes in the history of American journalism.

Click here to enter the $75,000 “Crack the Cover-up” contest.

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At the time much of the content on DeepCapture.com was written, the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 was either on the verge of happening or had just occurred. In those days, emotions among this publication’s contributors were raw and, in an effort to get their warnings noticed and appropriate blame placed, occasionally hyperbolic language and shocking imagery were employed.

Were we to write these entries today, a different tone would most certainly prevail.

Yet, being a record of a pivotal time in our global economic history, we’ve decided to leave the rawness unedited, with the proviso that readers take the context of the creation of certain posts into account, and that those easily offended re-consider the decision to read them.