Tag Archive | "SEC"

Three short hours inside the SEC

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Three short hours inside the SEC

I’m usually a real optimist. Sometimes to a fault, according to my more balanced wife. But when it comes to financial market reform, I’ve devolved into a deeply cynical pessimist.

Too many stinging disappointments, I suppose.

Too many instances of people behaving badly, to be certain.

But as they say, there’s some value in expecting the worst…you’ll never be disappointed.

And so it was with today’s second and concluding session of the SEC’s roundtable on securities lending and short selling: I expected the absolute worst, but in the end was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t quite as bad as I feared.

That’s not the same as proclaiming it a good thing, because it was not. Indeed, I stick by yesterday’s characterization of the event as farce with a pre-determined outcome.

Having said that, I was deeply impressed by two surprises I clearly had not anticipated. And I’ll get to those in a moment.

But first, an overview.

There were two panels. The first examined proposed pre-borrow and hard locate requirements — keys to closing two of the most dangerous remaining loopholes in the US stock settlement system. The second panel examined proposals requiring enhanced disclosure of short selling data — a good idea but ultimately one that would be much less necessary were the proposals discussed in the first panel enacted.

I’ll start with the second panel, which surprised me by coming down overwhelmingly in favor of more transparency in short selling.

Georgetown University Professor James Angel pointed out that greater disclosure would essentially be doing legitimate short sellers a favor, by vindicating them in cases when they are incorrectly accused of manipulation in response to stocks dropping in value.

David Carruthers, of short selling analytics firm Data Explorers, supported greater transparency in short selling where the goal was to “prevent market abuse and prevent the development of a false market, or to prevent situations where market participants take advantage of a vulnerable company.”

Richard Gates, founder of short selling hedge fund TFS Capital, denied that shorting exacerbated the onset of the current financial crisis, but went on to concede that there should be greater disclosure parity on the short and long sides of market activity.

Michael Gitlin of investment manager T. Rowe Price echoed the position of Professor Angel in saying real time reporting of short versus long sales would result in the “demystification of short selling,” adding, “The ongoing debate of what caused an individual security to decline would largely disappear with this added level of transparency.”

As the lone issuer represented on the panel, Jesse Greene, Vice President of Financial Management at IBM, was enthusiastically in favor of a general overhaul of the SEC’s short selling regulatory framework, including public disclosure of short positions, in order to “improve market stability and restore investor confidence.”

Joseph Mecane, Executive VP at NYSE, noted that market fragmentation has made it more difficult to detect manipulation, requiring regulators have access to more short selling data in order to better conduct market surveillance.

In other words, the second panel was a slam dunk in the right direction.

The first and ultimately more meaningful panel, on the other hand, was the Yin to the second panel’s Yang.

Appropriately enough, Managing Director of the Equities Division at Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) William Conley kicked things off, lamenting that “both the pre-borrow and hard locate requirement would require significant infrastructure builds on the part of the industry as well as its participants.”

By “infrastructure builds”, Conley is referring to the development of new software able to track down real shares for short sellers to borrow. He seems to have forgotten three things:

  1. When there’s money to be made, Goldman Sachs has a rare talent for developing extremely complicated software. Could it be that Conley never met former co-worker Sergey Aleynikov?
  2. LocateStock.com, then a bootstrapping startup, developed software that accomplishes precisely the same task Conley regards as so burdensome, on a shoestring budget.
  3. If Goldman Sachs has enough cash on hand to spend nearly $12-billion in employee bonuses this year, it can probably set a couple hundred thousand aside to write some crumby software.

As I predicted yesterday, much of the balance of Conley’s mic time was spent echoing the anti-reform talking points currently being circulated on Capitol Hill by his employer’s army of lobbyists — in some cases, verbatim.

William Hodash, Managing Director at DTCC, took us on a trip to his organization’s mindset circa 2005 by pointing out that fails to deliver are not necessarily evidence of naked short selling. With one foot remaining firmly in 2005, another in 2009 and a third in a pile of his own illogic, Hodash then said that the reduction in fails observed before and after the SEC’s implementation of Rule 204 “may be relevant to the discussion of whether naked short selling remains a problem.”

No, you didn’t miss anything. That’s what he said, with all remaining panelists basically pleading some variation of the on his and Conley’s approaches.

With one very prominent exception: Dennis Nixon, Chairman of International BancShares Corporation (NASDAQ:IBCA).

Looking at the program, I had assumed that IBCA’s role on the panel was that of a broker or other market intermediary. Well I was very wrong. IBCA was there in the role of an issuer targeted by naked short sellers, and Nixon very poignantly expressed the anguish of someone in his position, after a 45-day long bear raid removed $1.2-billion in IBCA shareholder value.

“And I think it was all attributed to this predator-type short selling that goes on in this market today that’s uncontrolled. It’s unbelievable,” Nixon said.

That was the first surprise.

The second surprise came from an even less likely source: Commissioner Elisse Walter.

Mostly silent throughout the previous day’s panels, today Walter made it clear that she’s not buying the excuses offered by industry representatives insisting this problem is too much for them to tackle.

“I’m sort of surprised that the industry hasn’t come up with a solution, particularly as this controversy has continued to swirl and does not go away,” Walter said, adding that by failing to address the issue, the industry is essentially passing the cost of non-compliance on to the SEC’s own Division of Enforcement.

I think she’d make a stronger case had the Enforcement Division brought more than two cases against naked short sellers in its entire history, but that’s a topic for another post.

The bottom line is, this panel was undeniably stacked against any additional meaningful steps to limit illegal naked short selling, but the contributions of Dennis Nixon and Elisse Walter were as welcomed as they were unanticipated.

The entire affair could have been much better, but also could have been much worse.

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Eight long hours inside the SEC

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Eight long hours inside the SEC

The view from the Lincoln Memorial.

Deep Capture goes to Washington.

(Washington, DC) The SEC’s roundtable on securities lending and short selling got started today, and Deep Capture was there.

What follows is my assessment, based on my observations thus far.

In the simplest terms, I’d say the situation at the SEC is one of extreme disconnection. This is an agency that has completely lost track of its founding mission.

The day consisted of four panels, all dedicated to examining different aspects of securities lending. The panelists included one academic, one public employees’ pension fund manager, the CEO of FINRA, and 20 representatives of hedge funds and brokerages or companies that provide services to hedge funds and brokerages.

Not a single representative or advocate of retail investors had a voice on any panel, and the substance of the panelists’ comments was consistent with the thinking that obviously called them all together: the discussion never got beyond reforms to benefit the institutions that get rich from lending out the shares entrusted to them by the rest of us.

Nor did retail investors get any more than a passing reference in any other context. The industry was there to talk about the needs of industry. Period.

The result was eight hours of possibly the least interesting discussion I’ve voluntarily endured. In fact, it more resembled two dozen high school book reports on a handful of facets of a single industry, as the same thing was said over and over in the lest interesting way possible.

For eight hours.

Meanwhile, the subject that really matters: illegal naked short selling, is scheduled for just three hours tomorrow (including a break!), with panelists hailing from four hedge funds, Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), DTCC, the Security Traders Association, NASDAQ, NYSE, one academic, and one fish-out-of-water from IBM.

Is there any question how those panels are going to come down on the issue?

This entire exercise, I’m nearly prepared to declare, is little more than a farce.

Lest I leave you with the impression that everything was devoid of meaning, allow me to recount one of those moments of cosmic synchronicity that make days like today all worthwhile.

It happened during the fourth panel. Specifically, during the opening remarks given by Leslie Nelson (yes, a male, but sadly no, not the guy from The Naked Gun movies), Managing Director of Global Securities Lending at Goldman Sachs.

Just as Mr. Leslie Nelson was beginning to talk, about 15 of you emailed me a link to Matt Taibbi’s recent post where he announced that naked shorting will be a major component of his upcoming piece in Rolling Stone.

Included in that post was a link to a pamphlet apparently being circulated broadly on Capitol Hill by Goldman Sachs lobbyists, intent on preserving the status quo with regard to loopholes permitting illegal naked short selling. Trusting my audio recorder not to miss anything, I decided to tune Mr. Nelson out slightly to read the words of his notorious employer.

In the Goldman pamphlet, the first sub-point of bullet point one reads:
“Rule 204 of Regulation SHO has been effective at reducing fails in the marketplace.”

At precisely the same time read that line, I heard Nelson read the following from his prepared statement (prefatory to what — consistent with the rest of the day’s panel — had nothing to do with delivery failures):
“Rule 204 has been undeniably effective at bringing US equities fails to levels that are truly de minimis.”

See…I read and heard those lines at precisely the same moment.

It was as though the Goldman Sachs government relations team had briefly hijacked my eyes and ears.

It’s also indicative of how very seriously Goldman is taking this challenge to what is likely one of that company’s most plumb sources of revenue.

Finally, I’d say it’s predictive of the message what we can expect to hear repeated over and over again as the issue makes its was earnestly through Congress and flaccidly through the SEC.

You know, I do not drink, but if I did, I’d suggest everybody take a shot whenever they hear that phrase repeated during the three short hours (including a break) of the roundtable’s second and final day. That might just make the thing tolerable.

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Blue Kryptonite and naked short selling

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Blue Kryptonite and naked short selling


The Bizarro World Code

Within minutes of my introduction to the world of short selling hedge funds, I encountered the analogy that remains the best suited to describe the truth to which they subscribe: Bizarro World.

A planet that appears from time to time in the DC Comics universe, Bizarro World is noteworthy for its utter opposition to everything associated with reality on Earth (in fact, another name for Bizarro World is Htrae – “Earth” spelled backwards).

Bizarro World made very infrequent appearances in the DC Comics universe; however what few insights we’ve been able to gain have been telling.

For one, we know that the residents of Bizarro World adhere to a simple moral code: “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!”


Bizarro Superman

For another, consistent with its black-is-white nature, the alpha-superhero of Bizarro World – a Superman-like figure appropriately named ‘Bizarro’ – is in fact a super villain, and one of many.

Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately, the Bizarro World of short selling hedge funds sits side-by-side with our own. Yet, true insights into how it actually operates have been startlingly rare.

Possibly the best behind-the-curtains view came in December of 2006, with Jim Cramer’s infamous admission as to how short selling hedge funds do (and indeed, according to Cramer, “must”) operate, moving the Bizarro World citizenship of that group from theory to undeniable fact.

See for yourself:

Cramer: “You can’t foment. You can’t create yourself an impression that a stock’s down. But you do it anyway because the SEC doesn’t understand it. So that’s the only sense that I would say that it’s illegal.”

Bizarro translation: “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us can break law to make money because regulator not understand regulations!”

Cramer: “Look what people can do. I mean that’s a fabulous thing! The great thing about the [stock] market is that is has nothing to do with the actual stocks. Look, over maybe two weeks from now the buyers will come to their senses and realize everything they heard was a lie…”

Bizarro translation: “Us hate beauty! Us pervert capital markets to make them hostile to small, promising businesses and technologies! Us stock market has nothing to do with actual stocks!”

Cramer: “These are all what’s really going on under the market that you don’t see. What’s important when you’re in that hedge fund mode is to not do anything remotely truthful – because the truth is so against your view, that it’s important to create a new truth to develop a fiction.”

Bizarro translation: “Us love ugliness! Us hate truth! Us prefer fiction!”

Cramer: “I think that it’s important for people to recognize the way that the market really works is to have that nexus of ‘hit the brokerage houses with a series of orders that can push it down’, then leak it to the press, and then get it on CNBC (that’s also very important), and then you have kind of a vicious cycle down. It’s a pretty good game.”

Bizarro translation: “Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World! Us make money by wrecking public companies! And here on Bizarro World, Jim Cramer not even pretend to be friend of small investor! Oh yeah…CNBC official network of Bizarro World!”

(Lest any suppose these clips have been taken out of context, I strongly encourage everybody to download and view the 10 minute conversation in its entirety.)

On Bizarro World, villains are treated like celebrities while the law-abiding are scorned and ostracized. So it should come as no surprise that on CNBC (the official network of Bizarro World), short selling hedge fund managers are called “titans” while those who question them are dismissed with a wink and a smirk.

Of course, this would seem consistent with the seemingly inverted reality that is short selling, where – as opposed to traditional investors who earn profits when they buy low and later sell high – shorts aspire to do the same by first selling high and then buying low.

While on the surface short selling might appear to have been invented on Bizarro World, that’s not true. Shorting is (as has been stated time and again on this blog) a healthy part of a normal market.

What was invented on Bizarro World, however, is shorting’s insidious doppelganger: naked short selling, which is a practice ripped straight from the Bizarro World welcome guide. Unlike legitimate short selling, which requires first borrowing the shares one sells short, naked shorting skips that step, allowing criminals to sell not only something they do not own, but something that does not even exist, except as a tradable electronic ledger entry which they themselves conspire with corrupt brokerages to create.

This, in turn has the effect of artificially increasing the supply of a company’s shares. In other words, on Earth, only companies get to issue stock, whereas on Bizarro World, it’s the naked short sellers that issue shares of a company’s stock, with impunity, sometimes in quantities rivaling the number of legitimate, company-issued shares in circulation (with the expected impact on share price).

Or, should I say, naked short sellers used to be able to do this.

The truth is, since shortly after the onset of the economic crisis naked short sellers themselves helped to spark, naked shorting has become an increasingly difficult crime to commit.

The result?

Despite the fact that we’re in the midst of an epic bear market – when one would normally expect short sellers to thrive – the biggest short selling hedge funds are getting hammered.

Today, Reuters business writer Svea Herbst-Bayliss has a shocking overview of the breadth of the situation, which she begins by comparing to Waterloo – the battle which forever put an end to Napoleon’s aspirations of world domination.

Based on insiders’ insights into forthcoming letters to investors explaining their performance over the first and second quarters of 2009, Herbst-Bayliss predicts that “To anyone considering hedge fund investments in the coming months, the data will illustrate that these managers who cashed in on last year’s financial markets crash now rank as the $1.4 trillion hedge fund industry’s worst performers.”

Specifically, Herbst-Bayliss notes, “In the first six months of 2009 [short selling hedge funds] lost 9.38 percent, compared with the 9.55 percent that other hedge funds gained.”

Most notably, the story quotes Brad Alford, a professional hedge fund advisor and investor, who says, “Every few years short-sellers have their day in the sun. Then things revert to normal where the markets rise and life becomes so difficult for them that many just go out of business,” he added.

In case you missed it, you might want to re-read Alford’s quote to make sure you catch what makes it so telling: that a rising market can be bad for short sellers.

But how can that be, given the recently-ended bull market – possibly the greatest in economic history – saw short selling hedge funds such as SAC Capital, Kynikos Associates and Third Point Capital experience mind-boggling growth, while a month-long rise in what is otherwise shaping up to be one of the greatest bear markets in economic history (when the shorts should be thriving) may prove to be their ultimate doom?

Talk about Bizarro World investing!

The difference, I suspect, is naked short selling: a crutch-like tool that allowed the shorts to defy gravity while the market soared, the effective removal of which has left them atrophied and uncoordinated when forced to fend for themselves in a market where capable, legitimate short sellers should thrive.

Blue vs. Green Kryptonite Click to see full version.

Blue vs. Green Kryptonite: Click to see full image

Or maybe a more apt metaphor is that of Kryptonite, the green version of which makes Superman weak and Bizarro strong, while the blue version has the opposite effect. For a long time, a captured media and SEC equipped short selling hedge funds with a big, fat slab of green Kryptonite, which their own hubris has caused to be replaced by a bit of the Bizarro-toxic blue stuff.

Will July of 2009 be the short sellers’ Waterloo?

Will short selling hedge funds’ greed simply assume another form?

Will the economy recover before it’s too late to matter?

Find out what happens in the next episode of Deep Capture!

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The Pendulum Swings

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The Pendulum Swings

Pendulum_animationBack in college, where the combination of free time and that university mojo so often lend themselves to this sort of thing, a friend and I challenged each other to cram the most undeniable truth into complete sentences of the fewest possible words.

In the end, we settled on the following:

“Entropy increases” and “The pendulum swings.”

The first sentence is a reference to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The second sentence is a reference to the fact that cultural trends will always increase in pervasiveness and acceptance until some limit is broached, at which time opposing forces will be applied that cause society to respond with increasing negativity toward that trend. And, as with an actual pendulum, the higher the upswing, the more forceful the push back will be.

How true both are.

I first encountered the market reform movement near the end of 2005. Over the months that followed, I witnessed the following:

  1. An SEC staffer in San Francisco subpoenaed the communications of Jim Cramer, Herb Greenberg, Bethany McLean, Carol Remond and a handful of other “journalists” suspected of colluding with Gradient Analytics and short selling hedge fund Rocker Partners, only to have SEC Chairman Chris Cox personally sabotage the effort. This was followed up almost immediately by the SEC vindictively subpoenaing Patrick Byrne.
  2. FOIA requests filed with the SEC intended to give some sense of the scope of the delivery failure problem were regularly denied or spitefully filled with minimal accompanying explanation.
  3. Numerous brutal articles were published attacking opponents of naked short selling – Byrne primarily among them – under the bylines of (surprise) Jim Cramer, Herb Greenberg, Bethany McLean, Carol Remond, Joe Nocera, and Roddy Boyd.
  4. Audio tape captured by a market reform operative who covertly accessed a panel discussion featuring Herb Greenberg, Joe Nocera and Dan Colarusso (then Roddy Boyd’s editor) hosted by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. The theme of the discussion was essentially “How do we deal with these lying anti-naked short selling bloggers who are so critical of us?” Among other things, the tape caught Joe Nocera saying (to loud applause) he felt life was too short to bother understanding whether naked shorting is actually a problem, and Dan Colarusso saying he and his newspaper had the capacity to “crush” Patrick Byrne.
  5. An all-out PR offensive launched by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) attacking opponents of naked short selling.
  6. The emergence of Gary Weiss, an ostensibly credible former business journalist and blogger, bursting onto the scene, proclaiming naked short selling beneficial and its opponents crazy.
  7. The hijacking and distortion of the Wikipedia article on naked short selling by whom we would soon learn was none other than Gary Weiss. Given journalists’ well-documented over-reliance on Wikipedia, this was undoubtedly a key factor in our difficulty getting them to provide more balanced coverage of the issue.
  8. A special session of the Utah Legislature which, catching the banks flat-footed, resulted in passage of a law requiring brokerages with operations in Utah to promptly disclose stock delivery failures. But before it could go into effect, and after the prime brokers managed to rally their armies of lobbyists, the law was handily repealed.
  9. Unprecedented growth of companies on the Reg SHO Threshold Securities list, indicating that, contrary to the intended aim of Regulation SHO, naked shorting was becoming increasingly prevalent.

On balance, it was a very dark time for the market reform movement, as every charge was followed by a blistering counter-charge, and every lunge answered by a quick parry. More than once, I recall hearing even the staunchest market reformers openly question the capacity of a rag-tag band of revolutionaries to counter the enormous influence and resources brought to bear by the hedge funds and prime brokers who were getting rich from the practice of manipulative naked short selling, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’d picked the wrong battle.

That’s not to say I ever doubted the correctness of the cause – only the correctness of my decision to join a fight that sometimes seemed impossible to win and certain to result in damage to my reputation as it had to Patrick Byrne’s and so many others’.

But in those moments of doubt, I’d remind myself of an eternal truth: the pendulum swings.

In other words, as dark as those days were, there would invariably be restraining forces applied to help slow – and eventually stall and even reverse – the momentum built up by decades of Wall Street villainy and the deep regulatory capture of the institutions intended to counter it.

What we could not have realized – as such perspective only comes with time – is that we (meaning, you, me, and everybody else who’s taken steps to do something about illegal naked short selling) were in fact the very restraining forces so many of us were expecting to arrive, cavalry-like, from some unknown quarter, and that as dark as those days seemed, they appeared quite bright to those who had endured the 1990s and early part of the current decade, when the practice persisted, without restraint, like a drunken orgy.

Of course, the event that finally brought the pendulum to a decisive halt and reversal was the current economic crisis, which saw the term “naked short selling” dragged into the popular lexicon (as determined by Yahoo! listing it as one of its five most popular search terms in September of 2008).

Since then, as the link between naked short selling and the beginning of the crisis itself has been solidly established, valiant members of Congress – most notably Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman – have dragged the issue of naked short selling into the political lexicon, as well.

Where are we today?

  1. The SEC recently enacted permanent restrictions on illegal naked short selling, which include greatly enhanced disclosure of delivery failures and shorting activity.
  2. Today, the SEC brought its first enforcement cases against illegal naked short selling.
  3. Also today, FINRA expelled a member firm for engaging in illegal short selling.
  4. Jim Cramer has been deeply and publicly shamed. Herb Greenberg is now a ‘consultant’. Bethany McLean has left business journalism. Dan Colarusso continues looking for steady employment. Roddy Boyd, Carol Remond and Joe Nocera all retain their former positions, but seem to steer clear of anything resembling the issue of naked shorting.
  5. The DTCC is mum on the issue as well.
  6. Gary Weiss – since abashed and banned from Wikipedia – sinks ever deeper into obscure irrelevance while the Wikipedia article on naked short selling that he once controlled has been liberated and made to read nearly as it should.
  7. Substantive legislation with the capacity to end illegal naked short selling and other short-side market abuses once and for all is currently working its way through Congress.
  8. As of today, the Reg SHO Threshold Securities list is 23% shorter than it was on the day I met Patrick Byrne (and 90% smaller than it was at its height in July of 2008), and is nearly devoid of the kinds of promising, well-capitalized companies whose inclusion used to be a sure sign of an impending bear raid.

These are all developments that seemed impossible in the dark days of 2006.

But here we are.

Yes, the pendulum is now unambiguously swinging in our direction, but the job is not done. Indeed, we can only be assured of progress to the extent that we each recognize our responsibility to continue pushing.

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

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

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

Click here to read PART 1

Click here to read PART 2

Click here to read PART 3

Click here to read PART 4

Click here to read PART 5

Click here to read PART 6

Click here to read PART 7

Click here to read PART 8

Click here to read PART 9

Click here to read PART 10

Click here to read PART 11

Click here to read PART 12

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only there were a pattern.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 14.

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 10 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 10 of 15)

What follows is PART 10 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

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

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

Finally, we had learned that on April 13, 2007, The Cancer Letter, a newsletter with a record of publishing information leaked from the FDA in the service of select Wall Street hedge funds, published another FDA leak. This leak was a letter written to the FDA from a doctor named Howard Scher, who was a board member and executive of ProQuest Investments and the chairman of the “Therapeutic Consortium” of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation. In that letter (an unprecedented attempt to lobby the FDA after an advisory panel had already voted), Dr. Scher argued vehemently that Dendreon’s treatment should not be approved.

One of Dr. Scher’s principal arguments against Dendreon was that the FDA advisory panel had improperly “changed the question” regarding the efficacy of Dendreon’s treatment. As we saw in Chapter 9, that claim was false, and Dr. Scher’s other arguments were specious.

But Dendreon’s enemies continued to whisper in reporters’ ears about this issue of “the question,” and the unprecedented lobbying of the FDA continued.

Now we meet another conflicted doctor and the sixth of those seven hedge funds that bet big against Dendreon right before the lobbying began….

* * * * * * * *

On April 20, three weeks after the advisory panel vote, and one week after Dr. Scher’s missive appeared in The Cancer Letter, Forbes journalist Matthew Herper published a story arguing that there was a good chance the FDA would not approve Dendreon’s cancer treatment outright. “If the agency wants to ask Dendreon for more data, it certainly has some outs,” Herper wrote. “The FDA changed the wording of the question…”

Three days later, Dr. Maha Hussain, one of the panel doctors who had quickly voted “No” on the bogus question, wrote a letter to the FDA arguing that Dendreon’s treatment should not be approved. This letter, like Dr. Scher’s, was addressed to FDA commissioners and was presumably confidential. And this letter, like Dr. Sher’s, found its way to The Cancer Letter, which posted it for all to see just three days after it was written.

Dr. Hussain’s arguments were precisely the same as those employed by Dr. Scher and the whispering folks on Wall Street. “The recommendations for approval…are based on data that can only be characterized as best as ‘suggestive’ of possible benefit,” she wrote. “From the scientific and procedural aspects, in general, it would seem that at the end of the day what should determine a positive verdict in any therapeutic trial is the strength of the evidence as critically reviewed by an Advisory Committee…with clear guidance on the question posed to the committee within the framework of the regulatory guidelines and requirements of the FDA for approval.” [Italics mine]

That is, Dr. Hussain—like Dr. Scher, the singing Sendek, and whoever was feeding the journalist Matthew Herper–was suggesting that the FDA panel had voted on the “wrong question.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Aschoff, the physician-impersonating financial analyst who’d set a target for Dendreon’s stock price to reach a mere $1.50, was telling journalists that the FDA panel would not have voted to approve Dendreon’s treatment if it weren’t for the “substantial” rewording of “the question.” On April 25, Aschoff issued another damaging report, this one asserting, once again, that the FDA would ignore its panel because the panel had voted on the “wrong  question.”

By this time Dendreon supporters were busily circulating transcripts showing that the FDA panelists had, in fact, voted on the legal question. The supporters had also discovered Dr. Scher’s ties to Novacea, Cougar Biotechnology, Proquest, and Michael Milken, and began explaining to all and sundry that ProQuest and Novacea would cash in if Dendreon were not approved. Moreover, the supporters had revealed that Dr. Hussain, the second letter writer, had also done work for the Milken-invested Novacea, and was a member of the “Therapeutic Consortium” of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation.

On April 26, Matthew Herper of Forbes published another article – this one repeating the arguments in Dr. Hussain’s letter. Herper, who had been told about Scher’s conflicts of interest, had apparently decided to investigate. This investigation seemed to have involved nothing more than asking Dr. Scher if he had any conflicts of interest. In his April 26 article, Herper  reported that Scher’s spokesman said “that Scher had nothing to do with his letter leaking [and appearing in The Cancer Letter], and that he knew of no family members who would benefit financially either way if Provenge were approved.”

To reinforce Scher’s credibility, and to make Dendreon’s supporters look silly, Herper added that the supporters had alleged that “Scher’s wife works for a hedge fund that might be short Dendreon…This is not true. She works in human resources for a nursing home company that could not conceivably benefit materially from any news about Dendreon.”

Aside from ignoring Scher’s ties to Milken’s ProQuest Investments, which would profit handsomely if Dendreon were not approved, Herper misconstrued the information about Scher’s wife. The truth was, Dendreon’s supporters had revealed that Scher’s wife had a cousin, Barry Lafer, who was a hedge fund manager. Phone records legally obtained by Deep Capture show that Scher called Lafer, at his office, on April 23, while Herper’s article was in the works.

But the main point of Herper’s article was that “all this debate” (i.e. the Wall Street whispering and the conjectures of two conflicted doctors) made “Dendreon an even riskier stock than other biotechs.” Herper added that according to unnamed “others,” Dendreon’s “studies do not rise to the level usually required for approval.”

Besides being false, this was another way of suggesting that the FDA panelists, all experts in their field, voted in favor of Dendreon because they had misunderstood the standards for approval. They had been asked the “wrong question.”

On April 29, Bloomberg News reported that Dendreon’s shares were being sold at “a record pace” as investors “bet the company’s experimental prostate-cancer drug will fail to win approval from U.S. regulators.”

Then, on May 4, there was yet another letter.  This one was from a University of Washington biostatistician named Dr. Thomas Fleming. It is perhaps noteworthy that Fleming had done work for Gerson Lehrman, an outfit that is owned by former hedge fund managers.

Gerson Lehrman has a remarkable business model which can best be described as “institutionalized bribery.” Clients, mostly hedge funds, hire Gerson to put doctors and other experts on the payroll. In exchange for the payments, the doctors agree to provide hedge funds with “insight” (some say they provide inside information) about clinical trials of drugs that are marketed by public companies. The doctors also agree to talk to reporters (and perhaps also to the FDA) about these drugs. In at least one case it has been clearly established that these hired sources lied (which could well explain, of course, why they were hired).

Like the letters from Dr. Scher and Dr. Hussain, within days of its creation Dr. Fleming’s missive miraculously ended up in the hands of The Cancer Letter, which eagerly published it.

“Reportedly Scher felt motivated to write the letter after being kept awake the night following the [advisory panel],” wrote Dr. Fleming. “I also was kept awake the night following the panel.”

In addition to knowing about Dr. Scher’s sleeping habits, Dr. Fleming shared Dr. Scher’s concern that approving Dendron’s treatment might derail Asentar, the drug that was being developed by Milken’s Novacea. How “could one defend internal consistency at FDA if [Provenge] were to be approved before the [Asentar] trial?” Fleming asked.

By this time, Dendreon’s supporters (a rambunctious bunch) were screaming and howling about the dishonesty of those who had suggested that the advisory panel had been asked the “wrong question.” So the party line changed a bit. Now it was that the panelists who had voted in Dendreon’s favor must have been somehow confused. Dendreon trials did not “provide ‘substantial evidence of efficacy’, Dr. Fleming wrote. “Rather at best, these trials provide plausibility of efficacy…”

I’ll leave it to the reader to parse the difference between “plausibility” and “substantial evidence.” But clearly, this letter was yet another strange occurrence.

Four days later – May 8, 2007 — the FDA told Dendreon that it was rejecting the company’s application for Provenge, a paradigm-shattering vaccine for those terminally ill with prostate cancer.

* * * * * * * *

The SEC’s partial data shows that more than 12 million Dendreon shares “failed to deliver” on May 10, 2007.  Traders are given three days to produce stock before their trades are registered as “failures to deliver,” so it is clear that hedge funds had sold the 12 million shares of phantom stock on May 7 — the day before the FDA made its decision. This suggests that somebody was aware of this imminent decision. We don’t know who engaged in that naked short selling because, as far as the SEC is concerned, it’s a big secret.

But we do know that a mere 10 hedge funds held large numbers of put options (a bet that the stock price would fall) as of March 31, a few days after the advisory panel’s nearly unanimous vote in Dendreon’s favor. Obviously, these were hedge funds with remarkable foresight concerning a long-shot event (the FDA’s decision to go against the overwhelming recommendation of its advisory panel to approve a drug for terminally ill cancer patients). Seven of those hedge funds belong to a mischievous Wall Street network that is known for its foresight – and for attacking companies that, coincidentally, are victims of illegal naked short selling.

Five of these hedge funds I have already named. All have ties to Michael Milken or his close associates. Some have ties to the Mafia. They are: Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, Perceptive Advisors, Millennium Capital, Steve Cohen’s Sigma Capital, and Pequot Capital.

In preparation for naming the sixth, we need to hearken back to September 2001, when two airplanes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth dove into a field in Pennsylvania. On the day before that attack, a short seller named Anthony Elgindy called his broker and ordered him to liquidate one of his accounts, giving the explanation that a big event was about to occur. Mr. Elgindy said that on the following day (that is, on September 11, 2001) the market was going to  lose two-thirds of its value.

After the 9-11 attacks, that broker notified the FBI of Elgindy’s eerie prediction, and the FBI launched an investigation. In the course of this investigation, the government learned  that Elgindy had sold massive amounts of phantom stock, and that he routinely blackmailed and threatened companies that he was selling short. The government also learned that Elgindy had ties to terrorist outfits in the Middle East, and for a time prosecutors argued in court that Elgindy had advance knowledge of the 9-11 disaster.

Ultimately, though, Elgindy was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison for the more demonstrable crimes of stock manipulation and paying bribes to two FBI officials who fed him information from the FBI’s National Crime Information System (one of those FBI agents actually kept Elgindy informed of the progress of the investigation into Elgindy’s connection to the 9-11 attacks). In June, 2009, it was learned that the SEC’s inspector general had begun investigating SEC officials who are also alleged to have collaborated with Elgindy, either by providing inside information on commission investigations, or launching destructive, dead-end investigations of companies that Elgindy was selling short.

Elgindy, like Bernard Madoff  (the Dendreon short and Ponzi schemer who helped write the SEC’s rules on naked short selling), is believed to have ties to organized crime. He once worked for a now-defunct Mafia-connected brokerage called Blinder Robinson (known on the Street as Blind’em, Rob-em), and a source close to the Elgindy investigation has told Deep Capture that, shortly before Elgindy appeared for sentencing, Russian mobsters forced Elgindy to saw off the tip of one of his own fingers as a reminder not to squeal on other members of his network.

There is evidence – including transcripts of Elgindy’s private Internet message board – that shows that Elgindy routinely attacked public companies in collaboration with certain hedge fund managers. A significant number of these hedge fund managers were part of the Milken network.

One of them was Jeffery Thorp, whose father once worked with the Genovese organized crime family to develop a method for cheating Las Vegas casinos. The government’s investigation of Elgindy eventually led to Thorp, who was charged in 2006 with providing fraudulent “death spiral” PIPEs financing to 22 companies. The SEC’s case, one of the rare instances in which the commission has identified a naked short seller by name, makes it clear that Thorp sold massive amounts of phantom stock, ultimately destroying the 22 companies that had received his fraudulent PIPEs.

Recall that similar “death spiral” PIPEs were arranged by Carl Icahn’s Ladenburg Thalmann, ending in the phantom stock ruination of more than 20 companies. Icahn is the “prominent” investor who owes his status as a billionaire to Michael Milken and the Mafia-connected Zev Wolfson. Icahn is also the “prominent” investor who, along with Ziff Brothers and Steve Cohen, called ImClone immediately before The Cancer Letter published the “leaked” news of an FDA decision.  Icahn is also the “prominent” investor whose former employee was the last man to see Alain Chalem (a Mafia-connected naked short seller) before Chalem’s head was riddled with bullets by Russian mobsters.

Do you still not believe that this network has ties to the Mob? Consider that Thorp’s father, in addition to working for the Genovese organized crime family, was the single most important player in the stock manipulation network that Milken operated in the 1980s.

The father, Edward Thorp, ran a hedge fund called Princeton-Newport. The FBI eventually raided that operation, hauling away phone recordings and documents. Thorp was not ultimately charged, but the evidence that the FBI retrieved that day featured prominently in the prosecution’s 98-count indictment of Milken. Indeed, people who worked on the case say that the Princeton Newport evidence was far more important to the prosecution than the testimony of Milken’s more famous co-conspirator, Ivan Boesky.

Do you still not believe that people in this network employ precisely the same ruthless tactics? Consider that when the FBI investigated Elgindy, it also stumbled upon a hedge fund called Gryphon Partners. One of Gryphon’s portfolio managers, Jonathan Daws, was eventually charged with participating in various short selling schemes hatched by Elgindy and his bribed FBI agent. In pleading guilty, Daws said, “others at Gryphon made trades in some of the relevant stocks, independent of me, and not at my direction.” Daws was convicted.  No charges were immediately filed against Gryphon.

However, in 2006, the SEC sued Gryphon for providing fraudulent “death spiral” PIPEs financing to 35 companies. Like Thorp and the hedge funds introduced by Carl Icahn’s Ladenburg Thalmann, Gryphon provided its PIPEs financing knowing that it would cause stock prices to fall. The hedge fund then hammered the companies with naked short selling, sending their stocks into “death spirals.” Most of the 35 companies were destroyed.

So, at this point in the story, we have identified more than 70 companies that have been vaporized by “prominent” investors, all part of the same network.

At any rate, Gryphon Partners, the Elgindy-connected, PIPEs-financing, 35 company-destroying SEC-sued death spiral finance house, was founded by G. Stacy Smith and Reid S. Walker, two “prominent” investors who have since gone on to greater things. They now run a hedge fund called WS Ventures.

And WS Ventures is the sixth of our seven “colorful” hedge funds that had the foresight to own large numbers of put options in Dendreon at the end of March 2007, just after the seemingly fantastic news that the advisory panel had voted overwhelmingly in Dendreon’s favor, and during the period when Dendreon was awash in illegal naked short sales, and just before the disastrous news that the FDA had rejected the advice of its own advisory panel.

A few months later, Dendreon, on the verge of collapse and desperate for money to support its sabotaged prostate cancer treatment, went ahead and signed a deal to receive its first “death spiral” PIPEs finance.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued….Click here for Chapter 11.

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 6 of 15)

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Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and the Story of Dendreon (Chapter 6 of 15)

What follows is PART 6 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

Where we left off, we had learned that CNBC’s Jim Cramer had declared Dendreon to be a “battleground stock.” And we had learned that Dendreon subsequently came under attack by criminal naked short sellers, right at the time that its promising treatment for prostate cancer had been endorsed by an FDA expert advisory panel, and right before that treatment was to be derailed by some strange occurrences.

While it is impossible to know who was responsible for the illegal naked short selling (the SEC keeps that a big secret), we know that the people who orchestrated those strange occurrences (which I will describe in due course) and at least seven of the ten hedge fund managers who held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company) are tied to Michael Milken, the famous criminal who is now considered to be a “prominent philanthropist” with a special focus on prostate cancer.

Now we learn a bit more about this network and the attack on Dendreon, a company with a promising treatment for prostate cancer…

* * * * * * * *

When the FDA’s advisory panel voted in favor of Provenge, most Wall Street research analysts were predicting a bright future for Dendreon. But as naked short sellers piled on with ever increasing gusto, hedge fund managers continued to whisper in reporters’ ears. And two Wall Street analysts did more than whisper – they shouted, day after day, that Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer was doomed.

One of these analysts is named Jonathan Aschoff, and he works for a financial research outfit called Brean Murray Carret & Co.  The day after the advisory panel vote, in an interview with Reuters, Aschoff made the long-shot prediction that the FDA would not approve Provenge, but would instead ask Dendreon to supply additional data showing that the treatment was safe and effective–a process that could take years. Soon after, Aschoff told other media outlets that the FDA would set a “dangerous double standard” by approving Provenge because the treatment “did not meet its primary goal in two Phase III trials.”

During the first days of April 2007, Aschoff was everywhere, continuously repeating this notion that the FDA would set a “dangerous double standard” by approving Provenge.  On April 9, Aschoff reiterated his “sell” rating for Dendreon, setting a target for the stock at a mere $1.50, which implied that the stock would lose more than 90 percent of its value by the end of the year. Reuters, Associated Press, CNBC and other media dutifully reported Aschoff’s comments as though they shed  light on the merits of Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment.

Aschoff’s performance raises a few basic questions. The first is, how did a Wall Street analyst know that it would be “dangerous” to approve a medical treatment? It is an odd day, indeed, when the media turns to Wall Street for wisdom on matters of science and health.

The second question is, why was Aschoff so confident that the FDA would not approve Provenge? Given that the FDA had followed its advisory panels’ decisions in 97% of cases, and in 100% of cases involving drugs for dying patients, Aschoff’s prediction seemed rather far out. What did he know that the rest of the world did not know?

The third question is, who is Jonathan Aschoff?

* * * * * * * *

In 2003 – back when journalists still occasionally investigated stories, rather than parroting whatever hedge funds and Wall Street analysts whispered in their ears – The Wall Street Journal won a Pulitzer Prize for a story that nailed Jonathan Aschoff for being a fraud.

According to the Journal, Aschoff often impersonated doctors in order to acquire inside information on the status of drug trials underway at his target companies. A certain Dr. Cunningham, who worked at a cancer center in Dallas, told the Journal that he initially believed that Aschoff was a doctor. But he discovered that he was dealing with a fraud when he mentioned to Aschoff that an experimental treatment had caused some reduction of the “lymphadenopathy.”

“What’s that?” asked Aschoff.  He didn’t have a clue, even though “lymphadenopathy” is a  common medical term. It means, “swollen lymph nodes.”

Nonetheless, some years later, the Associated Press, Reuters, and other media outfits were willing to believe that Aschoff knew enough about medicine to be quoted as a reliable source – a source who had, for some reason, concluded that Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer was “dangerous.”

What reason did Aschoff have for reaching that conclusion?

* * * * * * * *

One more question: Which hedge funds were paying Aschoff’s bills?

There is one particular network of hedge fund managers that is known to pay “independent” financial research shops to publish biased or false negative reports on companies that they are selling short.

Former employees of “independent” financial research firm Gradient Analytics have provided sworn affidavits that hedge fund manager David Rocker–once the largest outside shareholder of TheStreet.com; former employee of  Milken-Boesky crony Michael Steinhardt (who is the son of “the biggest Mafia fence in America) and Steve Cohen–now “the most powerful trader on Wall Street;” reportedly once investigated by the SEC for trading on inside information provided to him by Milken’s shop Drexel Burnham–heavily influenced, edited, dictated, and in some cases actually wrote Gradient’s false, negative research about public companies. That means, of course, that Cohen and Rocker had copies of “Gradient’s” research before it was published, which is also highly improper.

And emails acquired by Deep Capture show that Cohen and hedge fund manager Jim Chanos, among others in their network, received and traded ahead of biased reports published by a research outfit called Morgan Keegan. After Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley broke this story, the SEC began (but will probably never conclude) an investigation into the matter.

Were hedge funds in this network dictating Aschoff’s research, too? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is worth noting that after the SEC sanctioned Aschoff for impersonating doctors, he went to work for an outfit called Sturza’s Institutional Research, which was owned by a fellow named Evan Sturza.

The SEC has launched (but of course never completed) multiple investigations of Sturza’s companies, which catered to a particular network of short sellers by publishing negative commentary on biotech companies. For example, in 1996, the SEC began (but has never completed) an investigation into whether Sturza conspired with the above-mentioned Michael Steinhardt and a firm called Gilford Securities to take down the stock of a biotech company called Organogenesis.

In the 1980s, Gilford Securities employed Jim Chanos (the above-mentioned fellow who is now under SEC investigation for trading ahead of biased research reports). Chanos manages a few hedge funds, the most famous of which is called Kynikos Associates. He is also the head of the short seller lobby in Washington, and a much favored source of information for the New York financial press.

In 1985 – back when Chanos was still at Gilford; back when journalists did investigations rather than parrot whatever Jim Chanos whispered in their ears – way back then is when The Wall Street Journal published a front page story about a “network” of short sellers said to include Jim Chanos and Michael Steinhardt. The story suggested that this network destroyed public companies for profit and described some of the more egregious tactics – espionage; impersonating journalists to get inside information; conspiring to cut off companies’ access to credit; spreading dubious information – that were employed by Chanos and others in his network.

At the time, Chanos made some effort to publicly distance himself from Michael Milken. And he recently told one reporter that lawyers threatened him in the 1980s because he was selling short companies that had been financed by Milken’s junk bonds. However, the truth is that Chanos’s short selling in the 1980s tended to support Milken’s machinations, and in later years Chanos remained very much a part of the old Milken network.

Chanos got his big break in the 1980s by short selling and ultimately destroying a company called Baldwin United. As part of this effort, Chanos and his colleagues at Gilford Securities went so far as to meet with Baldwin United’s bankers, and (through all manner of horror stories) convinced the bankers to cut off Baldwin’s access to credit. Soon enough, the company went bankrupt, and Michael Milken quickly got himself hired as advisor to the bankruptcy.

According to a well-known businessman who was involved in the bankruptcy proceedings, Milken abused his advisory position, handing out confidential information to his network, which ended up owning much of Baldwin’s assets.

As the story goes, Chanos’s take down of Baldwin impressed Michael Steinhardt (the short-seller whose father was the “biggest Mafia fence in America”) and Steinhardt introduced Chanos to his key limited partners – including Ivan Boesky (later indicted for manipulating stocks with Milken) and Marty Peretz (a Milken and Boesky crony who would later co-found TheStreet.com, along with Boesky crony Jim Cramer and a few hedge funds in this network).

Peretz, an aristocrat who has long been a part-time professor at Harvard, introduced Chanos to one of his former students, Dirk Ziff, who manages a hedge fund called Ziff Brothers Investments. The emails cited above show that Ziff Brothers, like Chanos and Steve Cohen, was receiving advance copies of those Morgan Keegan reports.

Dirk Ziff is part of the network of which I write. Indeed, Chanos launched his first hedge fund out of Dirk Ziff’s offices. This was a few years after Chanos left his position at Gilford Securities, which had a few key clients, one of whom was Michael Steinhardt, son of “the biggest Mafia fence in America.”

In the 1990s, five Gilford Securities traders–Chester Chicosky, Todd M. Nejaime, Lawrence Choiniere, Kevin P. Radigan, and William P. Burke – were arrested as part of Operation Uptick, the biggest Mafia bust in FBI history. Although some of these traders had left Gilford by the time they were indicted, they were charged with crimes allegedly committed while they were still working for Gilford. Specifically, the Gilford traders were charged with accepting bribes from a Mob-run brokerage called DMN Capital, and for helping to manipulate stocks with a cast of characters that included ten Mafia soldiers and a former New York police detective.

I asked H. Robert Holmes, who was Chanos’s boss at Gilford, whether he had any comment on the  Mafia’s infiltration of his firm. He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about? This is bullshit.” He also said he was completely unaware that any Gilford traders had been arrested for accepting bribes and manipulating stocks with a large cast of Mafia goons and Mafia associates. That is, he claimed to be unaware of an event in his company that had been vigorously publicized by the FBI and the SEC.

By the time of Operation Uptick, of course, Chanos was no longer with Gilford. He was then a “prominent investor” – a member of the world’s most powerful network of financial operators, a network whose members are portrayed by the press as geniuses and heroes, never mind that this is the very network that has been destroying companies since 1980s – the very network that is (as should by now be apparent) comprised of the criminal mastermind Michael Milken and his Mafia-connected cronies.

As a member of this network, Chanos is, of course, on close terms with Jim Cramer, the CNBC personality who once planned to run his hedge fund out of Milken co-conspirator Ivan Boesky’s offices. It was owing to Cramer that Chanos became the largest donor to the political campaigns of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was Cramer’s best friend and former college roommate. When Spitzer was caught with a hooker and forced to resign, it emerged that the hooker, “Ashlee Dupre”, had been living rent-free in Chanos’s beachside villa. Ashlee called Chanos “Uncle Jim.”

I tell you all this only to show the relationships that bind some particularly destructive short sellers and miscreants. It is this network that attacked the big banks last year, helping trigger the collapse of the financial system. And members of this network are the most “prominent” players in the biotech space.

One of those players is Jonathan Aschoff, the doctor-impersonating fraud who was, in the Spring of 2007, making the long-shot prediction that the FDA would not approve Dendreon’s “dangerous” treatment for prostate cancer. As we know, Aschoff previously worked for Sturza’s Institutional Research, run by a fellow who faced multiple SEC investigations (none of which led to any action) for allegedly publishing false information to help short sellers (such as Michael Steinhardt) manipulate stocks.

Under the strain of those investigations, Sturza shut his operation down. Now Sturza helps manage a hedge fund called Ursus. Ursus is owned by Jim Chanos, the Steinhardt protégé who housed the hooker of Cramer’s former college roommate, Eliot Spitzer.

Ursus specializes in shorting biotech stocks. There are Wall Street brokers who say that Ursus was short selling Dendreon while Sturza’s disciple, Jonathan Aschoff, was bashing the company and others in this network were looking to cash in.

But it is difficult to know for sure whether Ursus was selling short. It is difficult to know who was responsible for flooding the market with at least 9 million (and maybe tens of millions of) phantom Dendreon shares. It is difficult to know because the SEC does not require hedge funds to disclose their short positions, and does not release information on who is selling stock and failing to deliver it.

As far as the SEC is concerned, it’s all a big secret.

But we do know that Aschoff was predicting that Dendreon’s stock would sink to $1.50 right after Dendreon received an overwhelmingly positive vote from the FDA’s advisory panel, and right before Dendreon was derailed by some singularly strange occurrences. In addition, we know that at this time only ten hedge funds on the planet held large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), and that at least seven of those hedge funds can be tied to the famous criminal Michael Milken or his close associates.

Michael Milken, of course, is not just a criminal, but also a “prominent philanthropist” whose Prostate Cancer Foundation has received much acclaim from the world at large. But, as we will see, it was not just those seven hedge funds, but Michael Milken himself, who stood to earn a tidy profit from the strange occurrences that were to derail Dendreon, a company with a promising treatment for prostate cancer.

* * * * * * * *

To be continued…Click here for Chapter 7.

If this article concerns you, and you wish to help, then:
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2) go here for additional suggestions: “So You Say You Want a Revolution?

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Naked short selling – redefining systemic risk

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Naked short selling – redefining systemic risk

This is the newest video from Deep Capture Productions, examining the attack on Sedona Corp, and applying the insights gained from it to the broader market — including the possibility that the federal government has recently been spending billions of dollars to take the liability of accumulated failed trades off the books of broker-dealers.

Pressing the “embed” button will provide you with the code you need to embed this video on other sites. Kindly spread the word.

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SEC Enforcement Chief Linda Thomsen Joins Davis Polk. Somebody Call Kreskin.

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SEC Enforcement Chief Linda Thomsen Joins Davis Polk. Somebody Call Kreskin.

As a rule, I avoid criticizing individual public servants. Elected officials are fair game, in my view, but not public servants. They do not wake up and go into work wanting to do a bad job, I know, and I have had too many tailwinds in life to criticize wantonly people who devote themselves to public service of any kind, simply as a matter of principle.

For recently retired SEC Enforcement Director Linda Thomsen, however, I’ll make an exception. (As Mr. Buffett says, “There are times when a man has to rise above his principles.”)

The first story I would like to tell about this Enforcement Director concerns an investigation that the SEC’s San Francisco office was conducting a few years into collusion among short-sellers and crooked journalists who shilled for them using ammunition provided by “research shops” which were fed their material by those same hedge funds, in a kind of “serpent-eating-its-tail” of financial hooliganism. It was a hard scheme to miss: any company shorted by Stevie Cohen (SAC), David Einhorn (Greenlight), Dan Loeb (Third Point), David Rocker, or a handful of others, could count on coming under the “where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire” journalistic scrutiny of such worthies as Jim Cramer and Dave Kansas, Gary “Scaramouche” Weiss, BethanyLong, Slow ThingMcLean and Roddy Boyd (both of Fortune Magazine), Carol Remond and Karen Richardson (both of DowJones), Floyd Norris and Joe Nocera, (both of the New York Times), and Herb Greenberg (MarketWatch), that “smoke” often being supplied by research shops of which those same hedge funds were clients. Invariably they’d be naked shorted as well, and show up on the Reg SHO Threshold List, and anyone noticing this constellation of facts occurring over and over with complete regularity could be counted on to be declared “wacky” by these same journalists.

I learned about this investigation because I was invited to a meeting by the SEC investigators conducting it. I’m pretty sure that “invitation” came in the form of a federal subpoena, but I am not completely clear on that, having over the last few years received enough such paperwork to wallpaper my bedroom. In any case, I arrived at the appointed hour, and was sworn in. My deposition was conducted by a man named “Mark” and overseen by his boss, Tracy, both of whose last names I see no reason to reveal. They both were the kind of federal employees that make one swell with pride: They displayed neither favor nor enmity, but simply, white collar professionalism such as has largely been lost in Corporate America. They were prompt, prepared, and business-like, and, without being rude, challenged me fairly aggressively while revealing to me as little as they could.

That said, try as they did, it was impossible for them to be as blank to me as they wished. After all, if someone asks, “What do you know about the possibility that Colonel  Mustard killed his victim in the library with a rope?”, then it is resonable to infor that the utterer suspects that Colonel Mustard may have indeed killed someone in the library with a rope. In this fashion, I became reasonably confident that while the New York financial press was bleating about how wacky I must be to notice patterns that many sane observers had noticed, those same patterns had been noticed by others better placed to do something about them than I. (Incidentally, normally I would be loathe to reveal the contents of such a deposition, but given that this is all moot now, yet tied to today’s news, and the bad guys are using FOIA requests to get this stuff anyway, it seems like the right thing to do.)

Somewhere around this time, Jim Cramer and others of the journalists mentioned above  received their own subpoenas. All hell broke loose, because they made it break loose (see for example “Herb Greenberg, The Worst Business Journalist in America, on the Conspiracy“). Of course, in a world where editors still had integrity, it would have been considered somewhat unseamly to have journalists reporting on an investigation of which they, themselves, had become the targets (I’m not sure why I mention that: I suppose it seems like it should be germane or something). But as a result, that investigation was promptly shit-canned. There’s no other way to describe it: the investigators were summoned to Washington, publicly crapped upon from a great height by SEC Chairman Chris Cox, the Enforcement Director who signed those subpoenas stood by idly while this happened to her staff, and we returned to our regularly scheduled programming of Muzak and bromide business reporting interrupted occasionally by B-list actors pitching Grandmother-Safe financial products and narcissistic hustlers promising that this time they really wanted to make you money, Mad Money!

Interestingly, not all the press backed up their brethren: editorials by Loren Steffy of the Houston Chronicle spring to mind in this regard. But by and large, the profession of business journalism stood mute while the reporting on a federal investigation was dominated by folks who were themselves the targets of that investigation.

The second story I would like to tell about this SEC Enforcement Director concerns some comments she made in 2008 in a keynote address before the United States Chamber of Commerce. In a pattern that observers of this issue have seen before, when asked about naked short selling, the Enforcement Director avoided the question by simply talking about the virtues of short selling, an issue which is not in contention. This pattern of avoiding the subject of naked short selling has been used time and time again by apologists for the practice (imagine someone being asked about sexual harassment, and answering with a response about the virtues of sex). Unfortunately for the Enforcement Director, her interlocutor, who was standing in the front row, directly in front of her podium, using a microphone that broadcast his voice loudly to the whole room (and you will see in a moment why that is relevant) pressed her on the distinction in a way that we would never see happen in any of the captured business media such as CNBC, New York Times, or Fortune.  The Enforcement Director’s subsequent answer (she blamed the victim companies and excused the crime) is instructive because it confirmed, as though further confirmation were necessary, that there are in fact two and only two plays in the apologists’ playbook: first, conflate naked short selling with short selling and discuss the benefits of short selling; second, blame the victim companies and excuse the crime.

3:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Regulatory Keynote Address: A View from the Division of Enforcement: Perspectives and Priorities
Linda C. Thomsen, Director of the Division of Enforcement, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Introduced and moderated by: Michael J. Ryan, Senior Vice President and Executive Director, Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “You spent a lot of time talking about insider trading and penny stock fraud, but you failed to mention an issue that’s of great concern to the Chamber, and that is naked short selling and the unsettled trades that can result from that. How can the Commission claim that it is serious about enforcement when millions of trades fail to settle every day and companies remain on Reg SHO Threshold Lists for years and years? And, second part of the question, why is the new rule 10b-21 necessary when, as Commissioner Casey pointed out, it makes illegal activity that is already illegal?;

SEC ENFORCEMENT DIRECTOR: “Um… I didn’t hear all of it, unfortunately, but as to the issue of short selling, we recognize that short selling is -“

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “My question was not about short selling. We all know that short selling is legal, and a necessary and efficient part of the market process. I’m talking about naked short selling-the selling of shares one does not have in inventory and probably has no intention of locating or borrowing.”

SEC ENFORCEMENT DIRECTOR: “As to naked short selling, and more generally market manipulation generally (sic), it is an area we are focused on. We have seen fewer cases in that arena because, often times, this is not necessarily with respect to naked shorts, but shorting or market manipulation more generally, because often the components of something that might look to be manipulative are all legal trades as you point out. So it’s a hard case to bring, which is not to say that it isn’t something that we don’t investigate, because we do. So I .. hear and understand the frustration of many on the subject of short selling generally. When we hear complaints about short selling-and, frankly, it is both short and naked short, it is a combination of both-we routinely hear from companies who’ve come in, who worry that they’re being shorted in an illegal way. We routinely take all that information in and look into it. And often times, as I think many defense counsel would be happy to tell you, when we dig in, what we find is that some of the information that has caused people to be shorting is actually true as to the company, and we may very well be confronted with two issues, one on the company and its disclosure side as well as on the trading side. But they’re very difficult cases, which is not to say that we aren’t focused on them and interested in them and indeed this new focus that we have on some smaller companies and smaller issuers will wrap some of those concerns into their focus as well.”

As you may have gathered, that SEC Enforcement Director was Linda Thomsen.

That would be the same Linda Thomsen who, for the entire 14 year duration of her service in the Enforcement Division of the SEC (the last four as Director), missed the $67-billion-and-counting walking Ponzi scheme/human brown stain known as Bernie Madoff, though concerned citizen Harry Markopolis not only did the work for the Enforcement Division, he all but spray-painted his findings on the lovely Italian marble of the SEC’s posh new DC headquarters.

That would also be the Linda Thomsen who, regarding Mr. Markopolis, acquitted herself so handily in this now-famous exchange with New York Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman.

That would be the same Linda Thomsen against whom the SEC’s Office of the Inspector General recommended disciplanary action for her role in hanging out to dry SEC Senior Investigator Gary Aguirre, due to his impertinence in trying to subpoena Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack simply because a trail of clues in “the most important insider trading case in 30 years” led directly to him.  Aguirre had failed to regonize that the law of the land does not apply to Mr. Mack because he has too much “juice“, as Aguirre’s boss Robert Hanson put it while shutting down the investigation. According to a subsequent report of the United State Senate Judiciary Comittee, by “juice” Hanson meant, “meaning they could directly contact the Director or an Associate Director of Enforcement. That Director was, again, Linda Thomsen, and the Associate Director was Paul Berger, who was, at the time of these events, negotiating for a job with Mr. Mack’s law firm, Debevoise Plimpton, a job which Mr. Berger ultimately took. That report by the US Senate Judiciary Committee summarized the culture of Enforcement Division under Director Linda Thomsen:

Staff Attorney Gary Aguirre said that his supervisor warned him that it would be difficult to obtain approval for a subpoena of John Mack due to his ‘very powerful political connections.’ Aguirre’s claim is corroborated by internal SEC emails, including one from his supervisor, Robert Hanson. Hanson also told Aguirre that Mack’s counsel would have ‘juice,’ meaning they could directly contact the Director or an Associate Director of Enforcement.

SEC management delayed Mack’s testimony for over a year, until days after the statute of limitations expired. After Aguirre complained about his supervisor’s reference to Mack’s ‘political clout,’ SEC management offered conflicting and shifting explanations.

The SEC fired Gary Aguirre after he reported his supervisor’s comments about Mack’s ‘political connections,’ despite positive performance reviews and a merit pay raise.

After being contacted by a friend in early September 2005, Associate Director Paul Berger authorized the friend to mention his interest in a job with Debevoise & Plimpton. Although that was the same firm that contacted the SEC for information about John Mack’s exposure in the Pequot investigation, Berger did not immediately recuse himself from the Pequot probe. Berger ultimately left the SEC to join Debevoise & Plimpton. When initially questioned, Berger’s answers concerning his employment search were less than forthcoming.

“The SEC’s Office of Inspector General failed to conduct a serious, credible investigation of Aguirre’s claims.”

That would be the same Enforcement Director to whom the SEC’s new Inspector General was obliquely referring, in page after page, for 55 pages, in a report explaining how three well-organized  6th graders could have handled the nation’s naked shorting complaints better than did the SEC Director Linda Thomsen’s Enforcement Division.

That Linda Thomsen is the same one whose resumption of employment with white-shoe law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell (I say “resumption” because Ms. Thomsen worked at Davis Polk until she joined the SEC in 1995) was announced today in this gem (“SEC Enforcement Chief Joins Davis Polk“) from the Blog of Legal Times (“Law and Lobbying in the Nation’s Capital”).

The announcement reads, with no detectable irony:

Linda Thomsen, who headed the SEC’s enforcement division until February, is starting as a partner in the firm’s white-collar defense and government investigations and enforcement practices in June. She will be joining former SEC commissioner Annette Nazareth, who started at Davis Polk last year, and Robert Colby, who joined the D.C. office this year after serving as deputy director of the SEC’s trading and markets division…

Thomsen practiced in Davis Polk’s New York office before joining the SEC in 1995. She started at the commission as assistant chief litigation counsel and went on to become head of enforcement in 2005. After leaving the SEC earlier this year, Thomsen says, “I had no preconceived ideas about where I was going to go, or what I was going to do.”Translation: “I swear, it never occurred to me to go work for the law firm defending wealthy clients against whom I was overseeing cases until weeks ago.”

At the firm, Thomsen will advise clients on internal investigations and defend them against SEC probes.Comment: Probes such as those ones she was overseeing weeks ago.

After serving at the agency for 14 years, Thomsen says she understands the kind of questions clients should be asking themselves to stay out of trouble with the commission. “I think I know and can see the kind of issues that get people into trouble, and the kinds of processes that cause them to, perhaps, ignore warning signs,” says Thomsen. Comment: Yes, I am sure Ms. Thomsen is one of the world’s most recognized experts on the subject of processes that cause people to ignore warning signs.

Thomsen headed the enforcement division as it came under fire for failing to catch Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, as well as problems that contributed to the meltdown on Wall Street. In response to critics, Thomsen vehemently defends her former division. “I think the professionalism in the division of enforcement is really unparalleled,” she says. ‘If you look at the totality of the enforcement efforts…it’s really a record that I know I’m proud of.”

Considering the world-historic implosion of the US capital market occurring to vamp-til-ready accompaniment of Ms. Thomsen’s blind-piano-player-in-the-cathouse Enforcement Division,  I’m at something of a loss for words with which to comment upon Ms. Thomsen’s “pride”.

But it is nice she landed on her feet.

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The short heard ’round the world

This is the first anniversary of the destruction of Bear Stearns.

For a while there, just after it happened, everybody was talking about the role of short selling, both legal and illegal, in Bear’s rather violent passing.

Since then, the big question has gone from “who the hell set this fire?” to “how did this place devolve into such a firetrap, anyway?” and “how the hell do we get out of this burning building?”

Finding answers to all three questions is vitally important. Yet, I’m a little bothered by the fact that these days, so little attention is being focused on the first.

And so, exactly one year after criminal arsonists set a match to the over-leveraged heap of oily rags that was Bear Stearns, I offer up this video examination of that event, and those that would follow.

While I hope you will all enjoy and help circulate it, I should point out that this video was not primarily made for the frequent readers of DeepCapture.com (as everything in it has already been examined in these pages). Instead, it’s for those who’ve yet to understand why they should be outraged at what’s going on.

In other words, it’s primarily for future readers of DeepCapture.com.

Yet, I need you regulars to take a look, and then help get this out there. Plus, the music is pretty cool, so it’ll be worth your time to watch anyway.

Windows Media (85 mb).
Ipod compliant .mv4

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