This article originally appeared in the New York Post.
What does it take to get prosecuted in this town?
Just how many federal regulators have pored over financial documents and calling records, dissected trading ledgers for suspicious money movements and probed years of voice mails and e-mails, to no avail?
Oh, to be sure, a few investigations have resulted in civil fines being paid with the caveat of not admitting or denying any wrongdoing. It’s less than a slap on the wrist.
All of which brings us to the latest prosecutorial pronouncements.
Just last week, we had federal regulators of all stripes tripping over themselves to launch investigations into Jamie Dimon’s handling of a possible $5 billion in trading losses at JPMorgan’s London derivative-trading operation, and James Gorman’s Morgan Stanley and its handling of the Facebook IPO and whether the firm provided differing information to its clients on the social medium’s revenue prospects in the near term.
Will anything come of these investigations? Will Dimon and his reckless band of traders face any real punishment? Will Morgan Stanley execs face a court for allegedly duping the average investor?
I can say this after reading two headlines this past week. One announced that Securities and Exchange Commission investigators have concluded their probe of Lehman Brothers and likely will not recommend any enforcement actions against former Lehman executives including Dick Fuld.
The second said that disgraced former New Jersey Gov. and Sen. Jon Corzinetook home more than $3 million in the last year as he was running MF Global into the ground. In what may be the 2011 prize for chutzpah, Corzine made it a point that he would not press for $12.1 million in severance payments from what is now a corpse of a company. Gee, thanks, Jon.
In case you’re counting, it’s been seven long months since Corzine’s firm was forced to file for bankruptcy, leaving 3,200 people without jobs. That’s about the number who work at Facebook.
Since then, not a penny of the billion-plus in “missing” funds has been recovered. Mr. “I Don’t Know Where the Money Is” hasn’t even been hit with civil charges, after he assured Congress late last year that he “never intended” to break any rules.
Perhaps not. But in the commodities pits in Chicago, the anger is palpable. “Someone at MF Global made the decision to swipe customer money,” John Roe, head of the Commodities Customer Coalition, told the Financial Times. “If nothing happens, this means people can misuse customer funds and have no criminal liability.”
If Corzine didn’t order the transfer of assets, he should be forced to testify about who did and why he didn’t supervise the transactions.
Many industry executives have now resigned themselves to the idea that there will be no charges forthcoming, despite the massive losses incurred by upwards of 30,000 customers.
Little wonder. Corzine, who is considered one of President Obama’s most effective “bundlers” of campaign contributions, used his influence with laser-like focus before the firm’s demise.
So it’s not a big stretch to imagine Corzine continuing to do the same now that MF Global is no more. Not only did Corzine work his connections to help MF become a primary dealer of Uncle Sam’s debt obligations (a growth business if there ever was one), but also a recent PBS “Frontline” program reports that Corzine personally lobbied for permission to let MF borrow from customer accounts through internal repurchasing agreements. This was so he could fund all his firm’s leveraged bets on things like the prospect of the improving health of Europe’s economy. The gamble on that boneheaded assumption is why thousands have lost so much money.
Time was, not so long ago, when accusations of such blatant fraud by a CEO weren’t swept under the rug. It’s a thought that must enter Corzine’s mind at least once in a while when he walks through the lobby of 950 Fifth Ave. The building — one of the most exclusive in the city, with just seven apartments and drop-dead views — will live in infamy as the address where former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski hung his artwork and his $6,000 shower curtain.
It was the artwork, not the shower curtain, that led to Kozlowski’s downfall. When the Manhattan DA’s office launched an investigation into whether the Tyco tycoon paid sales taxes on his art (he did not), the probe led to a broader prosecution of corporate fraud on the part of Kozlowski and his CFO, Mark Swartz. They were found guilty by a New York jury.
This weekend, Kozlowski is in a halfway house on 110th Street, 34 blocks from his former palatial digs. He hopes for parole next year, after serving seven years.
In 2019, seven years from now, it will be interesting to see if those who showed similar reckless hubris in the wake of the global financial meltdown will find themselves in the same situation as Kozlowski is now. I fear the answer is no.