This is Chapter 7 of a multi-chapter series. On your right is a Table of Contents to all chapters published so far.
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In earlier chapters of this series, we learned about an incredible enterprise known as the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which was operated by oligarchs with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood in partnership with governments that were among the Muslim Brotherhood’s principal state sponsors. We also learned that the BCCI enterprise operated with the consent and protection of Washington even though it not only counted among its partners numerous mobsters and global terrorists, but was also operating what amounted to a transnational organized crime syndicate involved in everything from the trafficking of narcotics and nuclear weapons components to terrorism and the perpetration of destructive financial crime.
In addition, we learned that BCCI counted among its most important business partners some of the leading figures of the American establishment, including Michael Milken, who was, during the 1980s, the most powerful financial operator on Wall Street. As we know, Milken and some of his closest associates, in league with the BCCI enterprise, perpetrated the “bust-outs” of numerous savings and loan banks, thereby contributing to the devastating savings and loan crisis that began in the late 1980s, and which ultimately cost taxpayers more than $2 trillion in bailouts—a portent of bigger and better things to come.
Also involved with these “bust outs” were (see earlier chapters of this series) some of the nation’s leading organized crime figures, such as Carlos Marcello, who was then the top Mafia boss in the city of New Orleans. Meanwhile, we know, BCCI was involved with a global network of brokerages, most of them operated by people with ties to organized crime, and most of them specializing in the “bust outs” of small to medium-sized publicly listed companies. As a judge remarked after BCCI shut its doors in 1991, the BCCI enterprise singlehandedly “shattered the integrity of the global financial system.”
And history did not end in 1991, when BCCI was shut down.
Most of BCCI’s former principals and their partners (“the larger BCCI enterprise”) continued in the years that followed to involve themselves with similar enterprises, the only difference being that the enterprises came to include some new and younger players, while the enterprises innovated new and more destructive financial schemes. Indeed, we will see that people formerly involved with the BCCI enterprise, along with their newly acquired business partners, contributed significantly to the great meltdown of 2008, and are presently threatening to deliver a repeat performance.
This might be one reason why the president of the United States was recently moved to take the unprecedented step of declaring a state of “National Emergency” in response to certain conditions that currently prevail in the American markets. See Chapter 1 of this series for more on the “National Emergency,” but I will remind readers that in the summer of 2011, President Barack Obama, in explaining why he had declared a “National Emergency,” stated that there was a clear “nexus” between transnational organized crime syndicates, the intelligence services of several unnamed countries, and the world’s leading terrorist organizations.
In addition, the president explained that transnational organized crime syndicates (and, we can confirm, others in the “nexus,”) had “penetrated” the “legitimate financial sector” (i.e. Wall Street). Not only that, but the president stated that this was a “National Emergency” because transnational organized crime syndicates with ties to terrorist organizations (presumably with help from the “legitimate” financial sector on Wall Street) were “undermining markets” to such an extent that they now posed a serious and imminent “threat to stability of the global financial system.”
Unfortunately, officials in Washington have yet to prosecute any of the people (e.g. mobsters, terrorist financiers, and miscreants on Wall Street) who account for our present “National Emergency.” Indeed, as was the case in the 1980s, when BCCI and its partners owned many of America’s leading politicians (including multiple U.S. presidents), it presently seems to be the case that Washington has been “deep captured” by a network (or “nexus,” as the president calls it) that includes the world’s leading mobsters, billionaires with ties to terrorist organizations, and the “legitimate” miscreants on Wall Street who do business with mobsters and terrorists.
In addition, officials in Washington have done little to crack down on the sorts destructive financial weapons (e.g. the “bust outs” of major banks and associated schemes, such as manipulative short selling, self-destruct CDO’s, mortgage fraud, death spiral finance, toxic debt, etc.) that nearly destroyed the world in 2008, and which are now, once again, threatening to collapse the global financial system.
Later chapters of this series will discuss in much greater detail the “global bust-out” that accounts for our current predicament, but first it will be useful to review a bit more history so far as it concerns the network of Michael Milken, formerly known as the most powerful man on Wall Street, later known as one of history’s most destructive financial criminals, and presently known (to readers of the major U.S. newspapers and officials in Washington) as one of Wall Street’s all-time greatest heroes and a “prominent” fixture of the American establishment, worthy of our respect and admiration.
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When Michael Milken was indicted in 1989, the major U.S. news organizations reported that he and one of his co-conspirators, Ivan Boesky, were the central figures in a nationwide “insider trading” network. In addition, the major U.S. news organizations reported that Milken was indicted thanks mostly to the fact that Boesky had cooperated with the government, providing the key evidence that allowed prosecutors to expose the “insider trading” network. It was true that Milken and Boesky were involved in “insider trading,” but the reports by the major U.S. news organizations contained some important omissions.
For starters, Milken and his network were involved in much more than “insider trading.” As we know from earlier chapters of his series, Milken and his closest associates, including Boesky, conspired with the BCCI enterprise and some of the nation’s leading organized crime figures to “bust out” (i.e. loot and destroy) many of the nation’s leading savings and loan banks. We also know that Milken was involved with numerous brokerages (some of them linked to the BCCI enterprise) that specialized in perpetrating the “pump and dump” bust-outs of small to medium-sized publicly listed companies.
In addition, a careful reading of Milken’s 99-count indictment (with many of those counts pertaining to his “bust-outs” of savings and loan banks and other companies, though he pled guilty to only seven counts) reveals that Boesky provided little of the information that was used to prosecute Milken. Instead, the government obtained the vast majority of the evidence used against Milken (and Boesky) in a 1989 raid of a major investment and brokerage operation called Princeton Newport, which had been a key component of the Milken network, involved not only in insider trading, but also the full panoply of other schemes that Milken and his network perpetrated during the 1980s. At the time, Princeton Newport was operated by man named Edward O. Thorpe, who was most famous for having worked with the Genovese Mafia family to develop a method for beating the black-jack tables in Las Vegas (Thorpe has never been charged with any crime, and he is presently one of the nation’s most prominent hedge fund managers).
Pulitzer Prize winning author James Stewart similarly reported in “Den of Thieves” (the seminal work on the government’s prosecution of Milken) that Boesky provided little information to the government. According to Stewart, Boesky told the government that he could not testify against Milken because he was afraid of what might happen to him. As Boesky put it, Milken had “friends in Vegas” – an apparent reference to the Mafia. As Stewart also reported, soon after Boesky expressed his fears, one of Milken’s closest associates, John Mulheren, got into his car and headed towards Boesky’s house. Police officers had been watching Mulheren, and knew that he had a gym bag in his car loaded with two handguns, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a .233 caliber Galil assault rifle.
Suspecting that Mulheren planned to murder Boesky, the cops arrested Mulheren and put him in jail, where Mulheren spent most of his time conversing with Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, who had been the top boss of the Genovese Mafia family until he was jailed on charges of manslaughter. Mulheren himself was investigated for his alleged role in Milken’s network, so it is possible that Mulheren thought about killing Boesky to keep Boesky from providing the government with information about his own (Mulheren’s) activities. Alternatively, it is possible, as some have reported, that Mulheren was simply on the wrong psychiatric medications and didn’t know what he was doing.
Either way, Mulheren was never charged for his suspected role in Milken’s insider trading (and “bust out”) network, and nor was he charged for trying to kill Boesky. He was quickly released from prison, and he subsequently reconciled with Boesky. Contrary to the message put forth by Milken’s public relations machine (which maintains that Milken despises Boesky, and that Milken was convicted only because Boesky was a dirty rat who provided the government with false information about Milken’s activities), Milken also reconciled with Boesky, and after Milken was released from prison (he served two years of a ten year sentence), he and Boesky began again to do business together.
Meanwhile, Mulheren c0-founded, with a trader named Izzy Englander, a hedge fund called Millennium Management, and though Mulheren died in 2003, Millennium is presently one of the most powerful hedge funds in the nation.
In 2010, the media began reporting that the FBI was once again investigating what the FBI described as a “network” of financial operators who were involved in “insider trading.” According to the FBI, this was, in fact, the biggest “insider trading” investigation in FBI history. This investigation is presently ongoing, and a key focus of the investigation, according to media reports, is the giant hedge fund SAC Capital, which is run by Steve Cohen. Back in the 1980s, Cohen was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for allegedly trading on inside information that he received from Milken’s shop at Drexel Burnham Lambert, and back in the 1980s, Cohen and all the others in Milken’s insider trading “network” were, of course, involved in much else (e.g. manipulative short selling, the “bust-outs” of publicly listed companies, etc.) besides insider trading.
Similarly, the “insider trading network” that the FBI is presently investigating has been involved in much else besides insider trading. Previous DeepCapture stories have provided ample evidence that SAC Capital and other hedge funds in its “network” have perpetrated a great deal of manipulative short selling, and they have, along with others, including Michael Milken (who is. to this day a key figure, along with SAC Capital and others, in an “insider trading” network), perpetrated the “bust-outs” of publicly listed companies. Cohen himself has not been charged with any crime, but multiple traders have been indicted for insider trading that they conducted while working for SAC Capital, and the media has reported that prosecutors are hoping to indict Cohen and SAC Capital, though the media continues to report that SAC Capital’s only alleged offense has been to trade on inside information.
Meanwhile, it is clear from SEC filings that SAC Capital and a larger “network” of other hedge funds (many of which employ former SAC Capital traders, and many of which have ties to Milken going back to the 1908s) regularly trade in the same stocks, and many of these hedge funds have not only coordinated their manipulative short selling attacks, but have also come under closer scrutiny during the course of the FBI’s investigation into what the FBI continues to describe as a “network” of financial operators.
One hedge fund in this “network” is Millennium Management, the outfit that was founded by Mulheren and Izzy Englander. The FBI has not publicly implicated Millennium in the “insider trading” network, but Millennium has acknowledged that it is concerned about the greater scrutiny. Indeed, soon after the FBI investigation became big news, Millennium hired an advisory board whose job is to make sure the hedge fund remains in compliance with regulations. Millennium’s advisory board includes former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former SEC enforcement division chief Stanley Sporkin, and former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt (who has been a leading advocate of reform to address the problem of manipulative short selling).
Hopefully that advisory board will keep Millennium in compliance with the rules, and it will certainly keep Millennium immune from further scrutiny on the part of the FBI and the SEC, but it is clear that Millennium and SAC Capital, along with others in their “network” of hedge funds, have continued to collaborate with Milken, investing in companies that Milken was promoting, and attacking companies that Milken was seeking to undermine or destroy. Some details can be found in my recently published book (title: “The Dendreon Effect: How Felons, Con-men, and Wall Street Insiders Manipulate High-tech Stocks”) which also provides other information about the techniques used by a network of powerful hedge funds (and Michael Milken) to undermine the markets and hurt individual investors.
As we will see in later chapters of this series, this same crowd (i.e. Milken and the “network” that the FBI is now investigating, though so far with no prosecutions of any big fish) contributed to the meltdown of 2008, and continue to pose a threat to the markets today.
For our present purposes, we need to stress that Boesky was right when he said that Milken had “friends in Vegas.” Milken’s best friend in the world, according to Milken, is Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino mogul. Meanwhile, Wynn’s friends, according to Scotland Yard, have included the dons of the Genovese Mafia family. Indeed, according to a declassified report written in the late 1980s by Scotland Yard investigators, Wynn had “been operating under the aegis of the Genovese Mafia since he first went to Las Vegas in the 1960s.” Scotland Yard noted that both Wynn and his father had a long standing relationship with Genovese Mafia boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno (the mobster with whom Mulheren spent most of his time convening during his stint in jail).
Wynn, however, denies any relationships with the Mafia, and he has won a defamation lawsuit against a Las Vegas newspaperman who published a book (title: “Running Scared”) that advertised itself as “explaining why a confidential Scotland Yard report calls Wynn a front man for the Genovese crime family.” Wynn also filed a suit against the book’s publisher, Lyle Stuart, who had published other controversial books, such as the “Anarchist Cookbook,” and “Turner Diaries,” which is a fictional account of home-grown rebels overthrowing the “Zionist” government of the United States. In explaining why he had filed a lawsuit against the publisher, Wynn said, “I want to put Lyle Stuart out of business. Every law enforcement agency has always vouched for me that any suggestion of me and organized crime is preposterous. I know one thing: If anybody says any different, they’re a fucking defendant.”
It is true that law enforcement agencies (other than Scotland Yard) have vouched for Wynn. Indeed, former FBI Director Louis Freeh (the same fellow who is employed by Millennium Management) is presently employed by Wynn. Freeh is helping Wynn investigate one of Wynn’s former business partners, a Japanese billionaire named Kazuo Okado. Meanwhile, Wynn has won multiple other defamation lawsuits against people and journalists who have accused him of having ties to the Mafia. For example, Wynn has successfully sued Joe Francis, creator of the “Girls Gone Wild” porn empire. Francis had said that Wynn wanted to “hit me in the back of the head with a shovel and bury me in the desert.” Wynn said that was a “terrible lie,” and that his friend, the Dalai Lama, taught him to be a man of peace and calm.
The takeaway, we must conclude, is that Wynn has no ties to the Mafia. As for Milken’s other closest friends and business partners, however, there can be no doubt that many of them have ties to the Mafia. As we know from earlier chapters of this series, Milken’s closest business partner is Gene Phillips, who was the central figure in the junk bond merry-go-round that Milken operated in the 1980s, and which was a key component of the larger operation to “bust-out” savings and loan banks. Phillips operated (and still does operate) an outfit called Southmark Corporation, which was the largest recipient of Milken junk bond finance in the 1980s. The largest subsidiary of Southmark in the 1980s, meanwhile, was San Jacinto Savings and Loan, which was “busted-out” with help from such Mafia luminaries as Herman Beebe and Carlos Marcello (the top boss of the New Orleans Mafia).
The man whom Gene Phillips appointed as the chief loan officer of San Jacinto Saving and Loan was named Joseph Grosz. Aside from being a banker, Grosz was a leading mobster, affiliated with the Chicago Syndicate, according to prominent journalist Pete Brewton, who is one of the nation’s leading experts on the involvement of organized crime in the savings and loan crisis. Brewton has also reported that San Jacinto’s parent, Southmark, was “used as a mob dumping ground to buy the investments of mobsters,” including not only Herman Beebe and Carlos Marcello, but also organized crime figure Harry Wood, and Morris Shenker, a former lieutenant of Meyer Lansky, then the most powerful mobster in the nation.
In 2000, Phillips was arrested and charged with manipulating stock prices in league with other leading figures in La Cosa Nostra. More specifically, Phillips was arrested as part of Operation Uptick, which was described by FBI spokesmen as the largest Mafia bust in U.S. history. More than 120 people, all with ties to organized crime, were arrested in Operation Uptick, and FBI officials described them as being part of nationwide “network” of stock manipulators, some of whom had committed various other crimes, which included (according to an FBI statement): “controlling and infiltrating broker-dealers…and employing tactics of violence, including threats, extortion, physical intimidation, and the solicitation of murder…”
Some of the 120 people arrested in Operation Uptick were members of Russian organized crime syndicates, while others were, variously, described by the FBI as having ties to each of La Cosa Nostra’s five major families—Genovese, Colombo, Gambino, Bonanno, and Lucchese. Among the 120 defendants, aside from Phillips, were: Robert “Little Robert” Lino, a capo in the Bonanno crime family; Anthony Stropoli, a soldier in the Colombo crime family; Frank “Frankie” Persico, a Colombo Mafia family capo; Sebastian “Sebbie” Rametta, an associate of the Colombo crime family; Robert Gallo, an associate of the Genovese crime family; and John Black, an associate of the Lucchese crime family.
The DOJ charged that Phillips, in league with various members of La Cosa Nostra, had manipulated the stock of one of his companies, an outfit called Transcontinental. Aside from Phillips, the largest shareholder in that company was Michael Milken. Meanwhile, the Dallas Business Journal reported that Phillips “allegedly met with two associates of New York’s legendary Bonanno organized crime family to discuss a plan to bilk a couple of ‘very friendly’ union pension funds through the sale of inflated stock.” However, Phillips was acquitted on all charges. In addition, most of the other people who were arrested as part of Operation Uptick got off with nothing worse than small fines, though this was the biggest Mafia bust in history, according to then FBI director Louis Freeh (who, of course, is now employed by Wynn and Millennium Management).
That same year, 2000, the media reported that an outfit called Sinex Bank was linked to the Bank of New York scandal, which saw the Bank of New York laundering upwards of $10 billion ($3.9 billion of which passed through Sinex Bank) for organized crime syndicates. The syndicate most closely linked to that scandal was the Mogilevich organization, the leader of which was (and is) a Russian (actually Ukranian, but he is a Russian citizen) named Semion Mogilevich, widely known as “the most dangerous mobster in the world.” What the media did not report was that the money laundering involved a network of brokerages that first invested dirty cash into the “bust outs” of publicly listed companies, with the money coming out partially cleaned as short selling profits that were delivered onwards to cooperative banks, including Sinex Bank and the Bank of New York.
Also linked to that money laundering was a brokerage called Sinex Securities, which was a subsidiary of Sinex Bank. Sinex Securities was controlled by Gene Phillips, though it was registered in the name of his son, Brad Phillips (Sinex changed its name to National Alliance Securities when it was linked to the Bank of New York scandal). SEC filings show that Transcontinental (the Phillips outfit whose largest shareholder was Milken, and which was at the center of the Operation Uptick charges) had placed more than 700 thousand of its shares with Sinex as “collateral for borrowings”. That is to say, a chunk of the cash that went through Sinex was delivered, as collateral, to Transcontinental shareholders. However, neither Sinex nor Phillips were charged with any crime related to the Bank of New York scandal.
With the exception of Mogilevich himself, nobody else of any significance was charged with any crime related to the Bank of New York scandal, and Mogilevich (“the most dangerous mobster in the world”) subsequently hired a lobbyist in Washington. Mogilevich’s lobbyist is William Sessions, formerly director of the FBI. The FBI still lists Mogilevich as one of the “Ten Most Wanted” criminals in the world, but there is no evidence that the FBI has ever tried to arrest Mogilevich, and others in the Mogilevich organization continue to this day to operate openly in the United States.
Some of them, we will see, are key figures in the Milken network.
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Back in the 1980s, another of Milken’s closest business associates was Fred Carr, who, like Phillips, was a central figure in the junk bond merry-go-round that was part of the larger scheme (that had help from BCCI) to “bust out” numerous savings and loans banks. Fred Carr used Milken junk bond finance to seize control of Executive Life, and that financial institution (like most of the other savings and loans that Milken’s closest associates took over with Milken junk bond finance) was subsequently looted and demolished (that is, “busted out”).
Prior to taking control of Executive Life, Carr had been a principal with Investors Overseas Service, which had ties to BCCI, and which was, at the time, the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. Investors Overseas had been founded by a financier named Bernard Cornfield, and later involved a criminal named Robert Vesco, who subsequently fled to Cuba and became involved (according to CIA reports) in trafficking drugs with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. (Castro later claimed that Vesco had been imprisoned in Cuba).
One of Investors Overseas Services’ key “feeders” (that is, one of the people who “fed” the Ponzi much of its money) was Sylvian Ferdman, a Genovese Mafia courier, who routed money into the Investor’s Overseas racket from clients in South America. Another Investors Overseas feeder was John Pullman, whom the U.S. government had named as a close associate of Genovese Mafia boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno. That’s the same “Fat Tony” who was later conversing with Mulheren in prison, and whom the Scotland Yard report linked to Wynn (The Scotland Yard report, however, was false, according to Wynn, and U.S. law enforcement officials have not accused Wynn of having ties to organized crime).
Another key component of Milken’s junk bond merry-go-round in the 1980s was MDC Global, an insurance and savings and loan company that (see Chapter 6 of this series) had been co-founded by a BCCI subsidiary. MDC Global, meanwhile, controlled a brokerage called Blinder Robinson, which specialized in “busting out” small to medium-sized publicly listed companies. MDC Global, of course, was itself “busted out,” and in 1989, Blinder Robinson was indicted, along with its founder, Meyer Blinder.
Blinder Robinson was known as “Blind’em and Rob’em” because it was not only a key player in a nationwide stock manipulation network, but also among the most crooked brokerages in America. Among the miscreants who manipulated stocks in league with Blinder Robinson were (according to various indictments) Thomas Quinn and Arnold Kimmes, both of whom (as we know from earlier chapters) had operated a number of brokerages linked to BCCI. Quinn, recall, was an associate of the Genovese Mafia family, while Kimmes had been identified in a 1973 FBI report as a “major organized crime figure.”
When Kimmes was arrested, he escaped prison by ratting on Meyer Blinder, who did not escape prison (though he was quickly released). In 2000, Richard Walker, then the SEC’s director of enforcement, gave testimony to Congress in which he described Blinder Robinson as being part of a “network” of brokerages — including D.H. Blair, Rooney Pace, FN Wolf, A.R. Baron, and many others – that were tied to organized crime. Most of these brokerages had been financed by Michael Milken and/or his close associates.
The proprietor of Rooney Pace, which was financed directly by Milken, was Randolph Pace, who was later indicted for running a $200 million stock manipulation scheme with a man named Judah Wernick. Many of the other brokerages mentioned in the SEC’s Congressional testimony – including D.H. Blair, A.R. Baron, and FN Wolf — were financed by Zev Wolfson, a Milken business associate who also financed Millennium, the hedge fund co-founded by Boesky’s prospective assassin John Mulheren.
D.H. Blair was particularly close to Milken. It was founded by Morty Davis, and run with help from Davis’s son-in-law, Lindsay Rosenwald, who served as vice chairman. After Milken went to prison in 1991, one of Milken’s top Drexel Burnham employees, Richard Maio, became president of D.H. Blair. In 2000, D.H. Blair was charged on multiple counts of stock manipulation and forced to shut its doors. To describe the full extent of D.H. Blair’s relations with La Cosa Nostra and Russian organized crime, I would have to bore you with a list of names so long that this story would begin to read like a telephone directory. But to give you just a small sampling, I will mention that the people indicted in just one of the hundreds of stock manipulation schemes perpetrated by D.H. Blair included: Frank Coppa, a capo in the Bonanno Mafia family; Edward Garafola, a soldier in the Gambino Mafia family; Daniel Persico, a capo in Colombo Mafia family; and Ernest Montevecchi, a soldier in the Genovese Mafia family.
After Milken got out of prison, he hooked up again with D.H. Blair’s former vice chairman, Lindsay Rosenwald, who is now one of the most powerful hedge fund managers in America, and perhaps the single biggest player in the world of biotech stocks. As described in my book (“The Dendreon Effect”), Milken and Rosenwald have sought to destroy biotech companies that were developing promising medicines while promoting dubious companies (financed by Rosenwald and Milken) whose medicines were killing people.
Many other powerful hedge fund managers operating today got their start in the 1980s working for Milken-financed brokerages with ties to organized crime. SEC filings and other evidence compiled by DeepCapture show with perfect clarity that all of the hedge fund managers in this network regularly trade in unison, investing in (or, more often, attacking) the same companies.
This does not mean that they have necessarily broken any laws, but, again, press reports suggest that some of the biggest players in this “network” are currently the targets a massive FBI investigation said to be targeting a “network” of financial operators suspected of insider trading. As I mentioned, one of them is SAC Capital’s Steve Cohen, who was investigated in the 1980s for trading on inside information that he allegedly received from Milken’s shop at Drexel. Cohen has been described by BusinessWeek magazine as “The Most Powerful Trader on the Street.”
When Cohen was investigated for trading on inside information that he received from Drexel, he was not yet a famous hedge fund manager, but he was among the select traders who effectively ran Gruntal & Company , a Mafia-tied brokerage that received much of its finance from Michael Milken.
There were just a few other traders who had special partnership agreements with Gruntal, and who effectively ran the place. I will name most of them, beginning with Maurice Gross, who handled the accounts of the Gambino Mafia family. Gross later founded his own operation with a Pakistani trader and former BCCI figure named Mohammad Ali Khan, who (according to a case filed by the New York attorney general) alighted with some of the Gambino family’s cash. This was no doubt much to the dismay of Gruntal CEO, Howard Silverman, who had come to depend on the Mafia’s good graces.
As of 2008, Silverman was running one of the nation’s biggest “dark pool” trading platforms, an outfit that enabled his hedge fund clients to conduct trading in total anonymity. It should be a matter of concern that a guy who once ran a brokerage with ties to the Mafia went on to run a major “dark pool”–especially since experts such as the authors of a report (see Chapter 1 of this series for details) commissioned by the Department of Defense say that such platforms could easily be deployed to do serious damage to the markets.
One of the people Silverman brought in to help run his brokerage – another of the select traders with special partnerships at Gruntal – was a fellow named Felix Sater, who was (and is) a Russian mobster and a member of the Mogilevich organization (controlled by Semion Mogilevich, often described as the “most dangerous mobster in the world”). While still at Gruntal, Sater was charged with stabbing a Wall Street trader in the face with the broken stem of a wine glass (actually, it was martini glass, according to a man who witnessed the attack).
While still at Gruntal, Sater and several other former Gruntal traders founded a brokerage called White Rock Partners. Most of White Rock’s employees were former Gruntal employees, and there is no doubt that White Rock’s partners all had ties to organized crime. In 1996, the FBI discovered a locker at a Manhattan Mini-Storage in Soho that belonged to Evgeny Klotsman, a White Rock principal who was formerly among the select traders who had effectively run the Milken-financed Gruntal & Company. The FBI announced that the locker contained guns and documents that linked Klotsman and Sater to a “global market manipulation and money laundering network controlled by Russian organized crime.”
In 1999, White Rock (renamed State Street Capital Partners) was indicted for orchestrating stock manipulation schemes in league with the above-mentioned D.H. Blair and A.R. Baron (financed by Zev Wolfson) and five members of La Costa Nostra, including a Genovese Mafia soldier named Ernest Montevechi, and Danny Persico, a capo in the Colombo Mafia family (and the son of Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico, the top boss of the Colombo Mafia family). White Rock’s principals, in fact, included some of the top bosses of the Colombo Mafia family, among them not only Danny Persico (who was arrested, along with Gene Phillips, in Operation Uptick), but also a Colombo Mafia capo named Greg Scarpa, to whom we will return.
According to one of Felix’s White Rock partners (and according to The New York Times, which lent credence to the story), Felix escaped indictment (he was named only as an unindicted co-conspirator in the White Rock case) because Felix and his other partner, Evgeny Klotsman , had ties to the Russian intelligence services, and promised the U.S. government that they could work with Russian intelligence to buy Osama bin Laden’s stockpile of Stinger missiles (thereby preventing Al Qaeda from using the missiles to shoot down commercial airlines).
It should not be surprising that Felix Sater, a member of the Mogilevich organization, would have ties to Russian intelligence, and it is equally unsurprising that he would be capable of cutting a deal with Al Qaeda. As the White House national security staff made clear in August 2011, when the president announced that organized crime had “penetrated” the financial system (thereby inspiring the president to officially declare an “Emergency Order”), the Mogilevich organization has close ties to both the Russian intelligence services and to multiple terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda.
A 1996 classified FBI report (since made public) noted that the Mogilevich organization was involved in everything from major league market manipulation to prostitution, Afghan heroin, and trafficking in nuclear weapons materials. This is why Semion Mogilevich sits high on the FBI’s list of “Ten Most Wanted” criminals. But, of course, Mogilevich has a good lobbyist (i.e. a former director of the FBI, the outfit that publishes that “Most Wanted” list), and few, if any, members of the Mogilevich organization are presently in jail. Many of them are residents of the United States, and we will see that many of them, including Sater, remain active in the U.S. markets.
Multiple reports from law enforcement, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations in Russia, and the mainstream media in London (distinct from the mainstream media in the United States, which has a peculiar reluctance to publish anything interesting) state unequivocally that members of the Mogilevich organization have been selling conventional weapons to Al Qaeda for many years. On at least one occasion, the Mogilevich organization tried to sell highly enriched (nuclear bomb grade) uranium to Al Qaeda. This is a matter of dispute for some “experts”, but European Union officials confirm that it is true, and there is evidence that members of the Mogilevich organization did, at a minimum, claim in meetings with Al Qaeda operatives in Europe that they could obtain the nuclear materials.
Felix, through Russian intelligence, was prepared to cut a deal with Osama bin Laden, but the CIA balked when Klotsman demanded that the U.S. government pay him and Felix $3 million for each Stinger missile. Nonetheless, Felix escaped doing jail time, and some of his other associates say that this is because he and his Russian intelligence associates promised that their relationship with Al Qaeda would eventually be put to use for the U.S. government. However, if American officials believe Felix is helping the U.S. government, they are certainly mistaken. Indeed, it is a bit unsettling that this dangerous criminal is still on the loose. Not only was Felix once charged with stabbing a Wall Street trader in the face with the broken stem of a wine glass (actually, a martini glass), but Felix has also threatened to kill multiple other people. For example, Felix Sater has threatened to kill DeepCapture founder Patrick Byrne.
According to one of Felix’s White Rock partners (who has written about this in a book called “The Scorpion and the Frog”), Felix also once threatened to kill a short seller named Alain Chalem, who then ran a brokerage called Taluca Pacific in partnerships with DeCalvacante Mafia capo Phil Abramo, who was widely known at the time as “The King of Wall Street.” As we know from earlier chapters of this series, Abramo had formerly been involved with brokerages linked to the BCCI enterprise.
Felix’s partner says that Felix did not ultimately kill Chalem, and we should assume that he did not, but soon after the threat (in late 1999), Chalem was, in fact, murdered, execution-style, in his New Jersey mansion. The FBI has yet to prosecute anyone for the murder, but media reports have suggested that one suspect was Danny Persico, the Colombo Mafia capo who was a partner in Felix’s White Rock Partners. Other media have reported that the FBI believes the murder was related to Chalem’s dealings with Russian organized crime.
In later years, Felix co-founded a real estate and mortgage outfit called Bayrock. As we will see in later chapters, Bayrock played a role in the larger “bust out” of the mortgage markets, but for the purposes of this chapter, I will note that Bayrock’s former CFO, Jody Kriss, has alleged that Bayrock is a massive money laundering operation. In 2009, Kriss filed a lawsuit to this effect, and noted that Felix had once threatened to have him (Kriss) tortured and then murdered.
One of Bayrock’s co-founders was Tevfik Arif. In 2011, Arif was arrested in Turkey after Turkish commandos raided a party that Arif was holding on a yacht that had once belonged to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founding president. Arif, a native of Kazakhstan, was arrested along with a small harem of prostitutes and some unnamed government officials from Central Asia. (It is unclear why the commandos raided the yacht; the media has reported that Arif was charged only with illegally hiring prostitutes, a crime that does not usually result in commando raids).
Another Bayrock partner was Tamir Sapir, a billionaire real estate investor whose real estate portfolio was managed by a man named Frederick Contini, whom the government has named as an associate of the Genovese Mafia family. In 2008, Contini entered a secret plea to racketeering. He has also faced charges for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a broken wine glass. It seems to be the thing to do.
As Tamir Sapir himself has admitted, he spent his formative years running a company that specialized in selling high-tech electronics equipment to KGB operatives in New York. As Sapir has not admitted (though public records show that it is true), Sapir’s partner in his espionage operation was Semyon Kislin, who was (according to the FBI) a “member” of the Russian organized crime syndicate run by Vyacheslav Ivankov, then the top boss of the Russian mafia in the United States. In 2009, Ivankov was assassinated on a Moscow street, but not before admitting that his organized crime syndicate (which had close ties to the Mogilevich organization) had long been employed by the Russian intelligence services.
It is clear that Felix Sater has maintained relationships that he developed while working as a trader for Gruntal & Company. For example, he remains a close associate of SAC Capital’s Steve Cohen, and a man involved with a private investigation of Felix’s Bayrock says that Felix has laundered money for Cohen and other hedge fund managers. (Cohen presumably would deny this, and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing).
Meanwhile, Bayrock has had partnerships with several investment funds, nearly every one of which is controlled either by Milken’s former top employees at Drexel Burnham, or by others among the small band of people who are Milken’s closest associates. One of Bayrock’s partners, for example, is Apollo Real Estate, part of Apollo Management, a private equity fund controlled by Leon Black, who is one of the most powerful investors in America. Leon Black is the son of Eli Black, who was, in the 1970s, the head of United Brands, formerly known as United Fruit, a company that was accused of everything from bribing tin-pot dictators to dealing with La Cosa Nostra and funneling money to Latin American narco-terrorists.
In 1975, Carl Lindner, another of Milken’s closest associates and a key participant in Milken’s junk-bond merry-go-round and “bust out” scheme , used Milken finance to take over United Brands. In the midst of this takeover, Eli Black crashed through a plate glass window on the 44th floor of the Pan Am Building in New York, and fell to his death (the death was reported as a suicide). After this incident, Eli’s son, Leon Black, was named head of mergers and acquisitions at Drexel Burnham, the investment bank effectively controlled by Milken. The two men became friends, and after Milken’s criminal indictments, Black insisted that Drexel defend his friend at all costs. Even after Milken’s indictments resulted in Drexel’s collapse, Black continued to insist that Milken was innocent, and today the two men are close friends, involved together in multiple business ventures (some described in my book). Milken’s son, Lance, is a partner at Apollo, the Leon Black fund.
Another of the most powerful financiers in America (and also among Milken’s closest associates) is Carl Icahn. In the early 1980s, Icahn was the head of the options department at Gruntal & Company (the outfit whose key clients included the Gambino Mafia family, and whose key traders, such as Felix Sater and Evgeny Klotsman, were major Russian organized crime figures). After leaving Gruntal, Icahn started his own investment outfit, funded mostly by Michael Milken and Zev Wolfson (Wolfson being the guy who funded Mulheren and the above-mentioned Mafia-tied brokerages, which were indicted for schemes they perpetrated with La Cosa Nostra and Felix Sater).
As soon as he launched his investment fund, Carl Icahn hired several key employees: Harvey Houtkin, Allen Barry Witz, Gary Siegler, and Alan Umbria. Meanwhile, Umbria, who represented Icahn on the floor of the American Stock Exchange, served as the front-man for the Genovese Mafia in a New York restaurant called Crisci’s, which was featured in the movie “Donnie Brasco”—a movie about an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates the Mob. Umbria was also the Mafia’s front-man in another New York restaurant — The Court of the Three Sisters.
One day in the late 1980s, Umbria’s close business associate walked into The Court of the Three Sisters and found Umbria presiding over a meeting in one of the restaurant’s private rooms. The business associate was asked to leave before he could hear what was discussed at this meeting, but the businessman knows who was in attendance – namely, Alan Umbria, a collection of Genovese Mafia thugs, and Louis Micelli, who was a stock broker until his untimely death in 2005. In addition to being a stock broker, Micelli was a major league narco-trafficker with deep connections to the drug cartels of Colombia, and to a Paraguay cell of Hezbollah, the jihadist outfit that takes its directions from the regime in Iran.
It was the Paraguay cell of Hezbollah that helped Iran blow up a synagogue in Argentina, and for a long time, this cell trafficked in cocaine from bases in Ciudad del Este and other cities in the “tri-border” region where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet. That region has since come under greater scrutiny, so Hezbollah’s drug kingpins have moved deeper inside Paraguay, but they continue to traffic coke, working with Hezbollah jihadis resident in North America – especially in Toronto, Detroit, New York, and my hometown, Chicago. Hezbollah’s trafficking operation continues to be a partnership with La Cosa Nostra, the Russian mafia, and (yes) some stock brokers, more of whom we will meet later.
* * * * * * * * *
Back to Gruntal & Company, the brokerage that was financed by Milken.
As we know, there were just a few traders who had special partnerships with Gruntal, and who effectively ran the place. In addition, we know, all of these traders had close ties to Milken. One of them, of course, was Steve Cohen, future founder of SAC Capital. Another was the Russian crime figure Evgeny Klotsman. And yet another, of course, was the Russian mobster Felix Sater, who, along with Klotsman, was, in 1996 linked to what the FBI described as a “global market manipulation and money laundering network controlled by Russian organized crime.” Other key figures in that “global market manipulation and money laundering network” were, of course, members of La Cosa Nostra, several of whom were involved, along with Felix, Klotsman and other Gruntal principals, in White Rock Partners.
There were just a few other traders who effectively ran Gruntal, and one of them was Andrew Redleaf, whose wealthy family did a lot of business with Milken’s operation at Drexel. Redleaf got his job at Gruntal on Milken’s recommendation. After leaving Gruntal, Redleaf invested in Sun Country Airlines in partnership with Tom Petters, who was arrested in 2008 and indicted for orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme in cahoots with Michael Catain, the son of a famous Genovese Mafia enforcer named Jack Catain. Redleaf currently runs a large hedge fund called Whitebox Partners, another of the hedge funds that regularly trade in unison with SAC Capital and others in the network. (Neither Whitebox nor its principals has been charged with any crime).
Another one of the hedge funds in this network is the massive and eminently powerful Cerberus Capital, run by Stephen Feinberg and Ezra Merkin. In the early 1980s, Feinberg was one of Michael Milken’s top employees at Drexel Burnham. In the mid-1980s, Milken asked Feinberg to move to Gruntal & Company to help the others (namely, Russian mafia boss Felix Sater, Evgeny Klotsman, Gambino Mafia broker Maurice Gross, and Steve Cohen, among a few others) oversee Gruntal’s operations, which had become important to Milken’s nationwide network. But aside from the SEC’s investigation of Steve Cohen, regulators did not catch on to Gruntal’s criminality until the mid-1990s, when it was forced to pay the largest fines in SEC history after a series of scandals that saw some of its other managers charged with embezzlement and cooking the books. By then, the traders who really ran the place in the 1980s had moved on to much bigger projects, one of which, we know, was Feinberg’s Cerberus Capital.
In 2006, Mainichi Shimbun, Japan’s most respected business newspaper, reported that Cerberus was tied to the Japanese Yakuza. Feinberg said it wasn’t true and he sued the Japanese newspaper for libel, but there is no doubt that Mafia outfits worldwide are becoming more closely intertwined, and I think we would be justified in asking whether Feinberg came into contact with various Mafia outfits while working for Gruntal & Company (which was effectively controlled by a select number of traders, some of whom were mobsters). Feinberg’s partner in Cerberus, Ezra Merkin, meanwhile, has been charged with civil fraud for his role in the massive “Ponzi” scheme (in fact, it was not just a “Ponzi” scheme, but more on that later) perpetrated by the infamous Bernie Madoff. One of Merkin’s other funds, Ascot Partners, was the second biggest “feeder” to the Madoff criminal operation.
Other big “feeders” to Madoff’s operation were, according to court documents, “made” members of the Mafia. One of them was Ralph Mafrici, who had a joint account with Madoff’s investment fund in the name of Eleanor Cardile, a relative of Madoff’s right hand man, Frank DiPascali. Mafrici was a Genovese Mafia capo who allegedly ordered the assassination of another Mob boss named Albert Anastasia. Since Anastasia was getting his hair cut at the time, the assassination was famously dubbed “The Barber Shop Hit.” In fact, Madoff’s operation had extensive ties to organized crime, as we will see in later chapters, wherein we will also see that Madoff’s brokerage was a key component of the Milken network (and had, in the 1980s been a key component of the larger BCCI enterprise). First, though, let us meet some of the other characters in the “network” that will feature in our later discussion of the 2008 meltdown.
Another of the traders who, in the 1980s, effectively ran Gruntal & Company was Sam Israel, who later became the proprietor of a criminal hedge fund called Bayou. When Israel was indicted in 2008, Bayou was said to be the “biggest Ponzi scheme in history.” Before that, the biggest Ponzi schemes in history had been the Ponzi schemes run by the above-mentioned Fred Carr and Tom Petters. Unfortunately, in December of 2008, Sam Israel’s Ponzi was topped by Bernard Madoff, who turned himself in to the FBI and announced that his “Ponzi” scheme (which absconded with upwards of $65 billion) was bigger.
When it came time for Israel to show up for prison, Israel instead parked his car on a bridge and left a note in the window that said, “Suicide is Painless.” Then he ran away.
After that, Israel had second thoughts and decided to turn himself in. Meanwhile, it emerged that Israel had been in business with Robert Booth Nichols, whom the FBI had identified as a close associate of both the Gambino and Genovese Mafia family and perhaps the key U.S. contact for the Japanese Yakuza. Back in the 1980s, Nichols had been involved with BCCI, and he was tied to a big scandal surrounding a software program called Promis.
The developers of Promis alleged that the software was stolen from them by the U.S. government, which (according to the developers) modified it so that it included a back door feature that would allow the U.S. government to access information on computers that had installed the software. At the time, the media gave considerable credence to this story, and suggested that the U.S. government had sold Promis software to multiple foreign governments. What has not been widely reported is that Mafia-tied Robert Booth Nichols also managed to gain rights to sell Promis software, and Nichols handed those rights to the famous Saudi arms dealer and market manipulator Adnan Khashoggi, who had been a key figure in the larger BCCI enterprise.
As a document obtained by DeepCapture shows, Khashoggi, in turn, licensed the software to Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, then the largest shareholder of BCCI and executive director of the bank. (Recall from earlier chapters of this series that Sheikh Mahfouz was, until his death in 2009, also one of Osama bin Laden’s most important business partners). Mahfouz proceeded to sell this software to major banks around the world, raising the question of whether he used its back-door feature to obtain confidential information from the computer systems of banks that used the software.
The bizarre nature of the business that Nichols and Israel later did together has been reported in an entertaining book called “Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con,” which suggests that Israel was conned by Nichols into believing that he, Israel, could recoup his hedge fund losses by tapping into a “secret market” that was, according to Nichols, controlled by 13 powerful families who also controlled the whole world. The book, of course, casts doubt on the notion that the 13 families actually control a secret market, much less the whole world, and the book reports further that Israel was scammed by Nichols into paying a large sum of money to get his hands on U.S. Treasury notes with a face value worth billions.
The Treasury notes were said to be linked to “Yamashita’s gold,” which was reputed to be gold that had ostensibly been stashed in the Philippines by the Japanese just prior to the end of World War II, and later recovered by a secret U.S. government operation. This, too, seems an unlikely proposition, but there might, in fact, be more to this story than a tale of a hapless hedge fund manager (Sam Israel) who lost millions to a clever con-man (Nichols). Which is not to say that 13 families actually control the world (though, of course, anything is possible), but as court documents obtained by DeepCapture show, Nichols and Israel had, in fact, obtained U.S. Treasury notes valued at $250 billion (as in a quarter-of-a-trillion dollars).
Israel and Nichols told people that their $250 billion in Treasury notes were secured by 2,500 metric tons of gold (serial number SC 3040-20) at the Atlanta Federal Reserve. In fact, physical gold in this quantity was not sitting with the Federal Reserve, but Nichols and Israel said the Atlanta Federal Reserve had issued a serial number in confidence that the gold would be forthcoming, much of it from the Philippines.
More specifically, Nichols and Israel told people that many of their $250 billion in Treasury bonds were secured by “Yamashita gold” that had been located years earlier by then Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who had moved the gold to a new hiding place in the jungles of Mindanao, an island at the south end of the Philippine archipelago. According to Nichols, Adnan Khashoggi (who was once indicted for laundering money on behalf of Imelda Marcos, then widow of the former dictator) had reported that this gold was now in the possession of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group on Mindanao, and that his associates were traveling to the Philippines to retrieve the gold.
Nichols later changed the story and said that the $250 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds were related to long-standing U.S. government obligations to the offspring of Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. Specifically, Nichols said the obligations had been confirmed by Tansri Teong, a representative of the Maiwah family, descendents of Chiang Kai-shek who lived in Luxembourg. However, Nichols began telling the Chiang Kai-shek story after Israel was arrested, perhaps to distract investigators from the fact that their scheme revolved primarily around Khashoggi’s assurances concerning the Yamashita gold in the Philippines.
In either case, while Khashoggi had spoken of this gold in the past, many considered the story to be rather implausible. Of course, anything is possible, but it is equally possible that the $250 billion Treasury bonds were a fake. Nonetheless, according to journalist Cheryl Seymour (who first reported parts of this story, though not the information about the gold in the Philippines), bankers around the world were convinced that the Treasury notes were real. And, again, they had a face value of a quarter trillion dollars—which is around 60% of what the U.S. government pays each year in interest on the national debt. It’s also around 60% of the U.S. government’s annual defense expenditures. Moreover, Nichols and Israel circulated the story about this supposed massive obligation just as the U.S. financial system was beginning to weaken.
That is, just as the system was weakening in 2008, Israel and Nichols claimed that they were going to cash in notes that would (if it they were real) effectively bankrupt the U.S. government and fuel panic with regard to any major banks that had liens on Treasury notes. As one banker told Seymour, this “shook the financial foundation around the world.” Other bankers reiterated that statement: Sam Israel’s claim (whether true or false) to have $250 billion in Treasury bonds linked to a stash of gold in the Philippines actually rocked the global financial system (though, of course, there were other activities that did quite a lot more to rock the global financial system).
After Israel was arrested, he and Nichols filed lawsuits against each other. Soon after, in 2009, reports emerged that Nichols had been found dead in Switzerland. People close to Nichols insist that Nichols faked his own death, but the truth remains unknown. It is also unlikely that we will learn whether the U.S. Treasury notes were fake because soon after Nichols and Israel filed their lawsuits, the notes vanished. They had been briefly entered into the public record, but they are not there anymore. There is no doubt, though, that the notes (whether they were counterfeit or not) did exist. And some bankers apparently did take them seriously.
No doubt I will be ridiculed as a conspiracy theorist simply because I have told this true (albeit weird) story, but I have been accused of worse, and I will note that an almost precisely similar story (though with a different set of protagonists) was recently discussed on the floor of the British parliament.
* * * * * * * *
Before he got involved with the bizarre $250 billion Treasury note scheme, and after he left Gruntal & Company, Israel spent time working for one of Michael Steinhardt’s hedge funds. In that capacity, Israel helped Steinhardt corner the market for U.S. Treasuries, posing a threat to economic stability until the government threatened to press criminal charges, convincing Steinhardt to back off.
John Lattanzio, the manager of Steinhardt’s hedge fund, was extremely secretive. There wasn’t much information on him until a court case revealed that Lattanzio once proposed marriage to a Russian hooker and gave her a $289,275 diamond ring. Nothing wrong with that (marriage is a wonderful thing), but the interesting development in this case was that the lovers quarreled, Lattanzio wanted his ring back, and the prospective wife told the judge that Lattanzio had big-time Mafia connections. She also said that Lattanzio “would not hesitate to use [the Mafia] to harm me.” Which is not surprising because the man who launched Lattanzio’s career, Michael Steinhardt, also has big-time Mafia connections.
When it became evident that Steinhardt’s ties to the Mafia might become public, Steinhardt preemptively published a book in which he revealed (as if were no big deal) that his father, Sol “Red” Steinhardt, had done time in Sing-Sing prison because he was, in the words of a Manhattan district attorney, the “biggest Mafia fence in America.” In fact, as noted in earlier chapters of this series, Steinhardt’s father was effectively the chief financial officer for the Genovese Mafia family. In his book, Steinhardt admitted that the first and most important investors in his first hedge fund were: the Genovese Mafia family; Ivan Boesky (Milken’s most famous criminal co-conspirator); and Marc Rich (who then shared office space with Boesky).
In previous chapters of this series, I discussed Marc Rich’s ties to BCCI and the Iranian regime, noting that Steinhardt’s lobbying helped convince President Bill Clinton to pardon Rich from his indictment for illegal trading with Iran. Although Rich was pardoned, he still owes the U.S. government taxes, so he lives in Switzerland, where his palatial home is guarded by a private army of mercenaries.
Rich has done quite a lot of business with companies, such as Highland Capital, that were under the control of Russian organized crime boss Semion Mogilevich, and Rich was linked to the late 1990s scandal that saw Russian organized crime syndicates (most notably the Mogilevich organization) launder more than $10 billion through the Bank of New York. This was the same scandal that involved Sinex, which handled around $3.9 billion of that money, most of it belonging to the Mogilevich organization. Rich was not charged in the Bank of New York affair, and nor were any of the other oligarchs (many of them previously linked to the BCCI enterprise) who were implicated in the Bank of New York affair.
Of course, Steinhardt was also among Milken’s closest associates. Nowadays, Steinhardt runs a big exchange traded fund (ETF) outfit called Wisdom Tree Investments. His partner in that operation is Jonathan Steinberg, son of Saul Steinberg, who was a key player in the junk bond “bust out” scheme that Milken ran in the 1980s. Steinberg used Milken junk bonds to seize Reliance, a giant insurance and financial services firm, which was subsequently looted and destroyed (i.e. “busted out”). Steinberg was not charged with any crime.
As noted in Chapter 6 of this series, a Wall Street Journal story published in 1985 (read it, as it was the last serious investigative report on short-side market manipulation published before the media started describing these miscreants as heroes worthy of our admiration) identified Steinhardt as being part of a “network” of short sellers who regularly attacked public companies using unscrupulous tactics, such as posing as journalists to obtain inside information and conspiring to cut off victim companies’ access to credit.
Among the others identified as being part of that “network” was Jim Chanos, who is now the proprietor of a famous hedge fund called Kynikos Capital, and the head lobbyist for the hedge fund industry. Chanos is also a favorite source for the New York financial media, one reason why the media no longer publishes stories about short-side market manipulation (which does not occur, according to the lobby headed by Chanos). When DeepCapture first started reporting on Chanos’s ties to Michael Milken and associates, Chanos went to lengths to distance himself from Milken, telling journalists that he had identified the fraud at Milken-financed companies.
In an email to some of his associates (the email was obtained by lawyers for the Canadian financial institution called Fairfax Financial, and later obtained by DeepCapture), Chanos outlines the party line, suggesting to the recipients of the email (namely, a long list of Milken-tied hedge fund operators and billionaires, such as Carl Icahn, who owed their careers to Milken) that they communicate the fact that he, Chanos, had been a short seller of companies financed by a “certain junk bond king” (i.e. Milken). But while Chanos, Steinhardt, and others in their “network” were certainly short sellers of Milken-financed companies, their short selling was always beneficial to Milken, and was simply the tail-end of the “bust-out” schemes that I have described, noting that every “bust-out” ends in a wave of short selling.
Indeed, as was revealed in the 1985 Wall Street Journal story, Chanos got his big start by shorting a company called Baldwin United. According to this story, Chanos went so far as to go to Baldwin’s bankers with false information that convinced the bankers to cut off Baldwin’s access to credit. As a result, Baldwin went bankrupt, and Milken got himself named as the advisor to the bankruptcy. According to a well-known and highly respected businessman who was involved in the bankruptcy proceedings, Milken abused his advisory role and ensured that all of Baldwin’s assets were delivered to his cronies at firesale prices. This success brought Chanos to the attention of Michael Steinhardt.
At the time, Chanos (who is now revered by The Journal) was working for a Mafia-tied brokerage called Gilford Securities. In 2000, five Gilford brokers were arrested (along with Phillips) in Operation Uptick, which was, of course, then the biggest Mafia bust in the history of the FBI. Gilford’s brokers were charged with manipulating stocks in league with ten members of La Cosa Nostra and a corrupt New York cop. By then, though, Chanos had left Gilford to start his own hedge fund, receiving his initial finance from Steinhardt (son of the biggest Mafia fence in America) and Steinhardt’s limited partner, Ivan Boesky (Milken’s most famous co-conspirator). Steinhardt’s other limited partner, Marty Peretz, introduced Chanos to Dirk Ziff, another powerful hedge fund manager (Och-Ziff Capital and Ziff Brothers), and for a while Chanos ran his hedge fund out of Ziff’s offices.
While Chanos was launching his hedge fund, future CNBC reporter Jim Cramer (who had once planned to work in partnership with Boesky) was running a hedge fund out of Steinhardt’s offices. Later, Cramer and Chanos were the biggest fundraisers for the political campaign of New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, who had been Cramer’s college roommate. For a time, Spitzer’s favorite hooker, “Ashley Dupree” lived (rent free) at Jim Chanos’s beachside villa. She called him “Uncle Jim.” As Patrick Byrne once said, Ashley should be ashamed of herself for associating with this crowd.
SEC filings make it clear that Chanos regularly trades in league with other hedge funds in the Milken network, and in 2006 they were attacking Fairfax Financial, one of the largest financial institutions in Canada. Fairfax filed a lawsuit against others in his “network,” including SAC Capital, and some of its affiliates, such as Exis Capital and Sigma Capital. (A judge has ruled that SAC Capital should be dropped from the suit, but Sigma and Exis are still in litigation, and Fairfax has appealed the ruling).
Emails obtained by Fairfax’s lawyers make it clear that these hedge funds were using the same tactics (such as trying to cut off the company’s access to credit) that they had been using since the 1980s.In one email, an employee of Exis Capital (a SAC Capital subsidiary) wrote that “the way to get this thing [Fairfax] down is to get them where they eat, like the credit analysts and holders. We’re taking this baby down for the count.” This email was addressed to Jonathan Kalikow, son of Peter Kalikow, who had, in the 1980s, been one of largest investors in Ivan Boesky’s criminal arbitrage fund (or “hedge fund,” as it would now be called).
Kalikow is also a former owner of The New York Post. At the time, the newspapers’ fleet of delivery trucks was controlled by La Cosa Nostra. The operation was run by Bonanno Mafia soldier Richard “Shellack-head” Cantrella. Soon enough, the New York Post delivery fleet began transporting cargos of smuggled weaponry and cocaine, in addition to newspapers. (Kalikow was not charged with any crime, and it is possible he was unaware that his delivery trucks were controlled by the Mob).
At any rate, back in 2006, this network was going to take Fairfax “down for the count.” Fortunately, though, Fairfax was a strong company. Its bankers did not cut off access to credit, and it had the good luck to buy a lot of credit default swaps that massively boosted its profits.
However, two years later, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and other banks were taken “down for the count.” The public attack on Lehman began in May, 2008 with a speech by David Einhorn, a famous short seller who got his start working for Gary Siegler, one of the first people whom Carl Ichan hired after leaving Gruntal & Company. Einhorn is, for all intents and purposes, Ichan’s boy, and when he gave his Lehman speech, he was standing by Icahn’s side, just as he was standing by Ichan’s side when he initiated previous attacks on public companies.
In his speech and subsequent media tour, Einhorn cited data from a strange firm called The Markit Group to support his exaggerated contention that Lehman had improperly accounted for the value of its property and collateralized debt obligation holdings. See my earlier DeepCapture story, “The Markit Group: A Black Box Company that Devastated Markets,” which notes that this company was founded by a few hedge funds, which the company refuses to identify. It was, in 2008, run by two former Canadian bankers and a developer of Bulgarian property, and seemed to cherry-pick its data, which was provided by a few investment banks that are passive investors in the company.
The Markit Group is wholly without transparency, and yet it essentially dictates perceptions of market prices for collateralized debt obligations and other instruments (including credit default swaps) that are important barometers of health in the banking sector. And during the crisis of 2008, it consistently churned out wildly overstated valuations on credit default swaps, while valuing all collateralized debt obligations based on a sampling of CDOs that included only the worst of the worst (or more specifically, the “synthetic” CDOs that had been designed by short sellers to self-destruct).
The Markit Group’s wildly off-base statistics fueled the panic that helped bring down Bear Stearns, and it was a useful tool for Einhorn, when he initiated his attack on Lehman. That attack was akin to the launch of a new Ipod, with much-hyped speeches and a whirlwind media tour handled by a public relations firm, which presented Einhorn as the boy-wonder fraud-buster who had proved his mettle in an earlier battle with a financial services firm called Allied Capital. (See DeepCapture’s story, “Notes on David Einhorn: The Predator in a Cute T-Shirt,” for a fuller deconstruction of Einhorn’s blatantly dishonest attack on Allied Capital, which was perpetrated in league with Michael Milken and Carl Icahn).
While Einhorn was on his media tour, most of the other hedge funds in his network initiated a short selling attack on Lehman. After Lehman’s collapse, the bank’s creditors filed a lawsuit against the above-mentioned Steve Cohen and Dirk Ziff, alleging that the two hedge fund managers (along with Citadel Investment) helped destroy Lehman with manipulative short selling.
To be continued…
Mark Mitchell is a journalist who spent most of his career working as a correspondent for mainstream media publications before joining DeepCapture.com. Mitchell is the author of a recently published book: The Dendreon Effect: How Felons, Con-men, and Wall Street Insiders Manipulate High-tech Stocks, which is available from most major online booksellers.
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