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Mark Mitchell




11/22/10 at 5:09 PM CST



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Michael Milken Redux: Insider Trading Indictments on the Horizon for SAC Capital and Others in its Destructive Network

It’s been a long time coming, but the guys with guns and badges might soon be slapping handcuffs on some of Wall Street’s most destructive miscreants. According to a report posted over the weekend on The Wall Street Journal’s webpage, “Federal authorities are preparing insider-trading charges that could ensnare consultants, investment bankers, hedge-fund and mutual-fund traders and analysts  across the nation…”

The New York Times on Sunday followed up with its own report, quoting Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, who bemoaned “the lengths to which corrupt insiders will go to misuse confidential information for their own personal gain.” As the Times noted, the rhetoric is reminiscent of the 1980s, when the Feds busted the massive stock manipulation and insider trading ring led by the famous financial criminal Michael Milken – and, indeed, it might not be a coincidence that this weekend’s announcement of imminent indictments came exactly 20 years after Milken was sentenced to prison.

The names of some of the hedge funds mentioned in the press as likely DOJ targets – hedge funds like SAC Capital and Ziff Brothers – will be completely familiar to readers of DeepCapture.com. In fact, this website was founded in large part to expose the depredations of precisely this network – a network that has its origins (at least to some extent) in the criminal enterprise that Michael Milken built in the 1980s.

As we have long explained, this network not only regularly trades on inside information, it has pioneered new variations of the practice by, for example, manufacturing information (often false) which they can front-run in the market, employing abusive (and likely illegal) short selling techniques to manipulate the stock of public companies; and “capturing” some of the institutions this nation relies upon to curtail such behavior.

Most notable among these institutions are the financial press (large swaths of which have grown inappropriately close to precisely this network of hedge fund managers), and the SEC, which has not only failed in its regulatory duties, but has often assisted the hedge funds’ schemes by launching misguided (and go-nowhere) investigations of the companies the hedge funds have targeted, and providing the hedge funds with confidential information about those investigations.  All of this has been thoroughly documented within the pages of Deep Capture.

It was more than five years ago that Overstock.com CEO and future Deep Capture founder Patrick Byrne first gave a famous public conference call that he dubbed “The Miscreants Ball”. With more than 500 Wall Street executives and a few journalists listening in, Patrick outlined the existence of a “network” of miscreant hedge funds and “independent” financial analysts that he said was using underhanded methods to trade on privileged information and do serious damage to the financial markets.

In “The Story of Deep Capture”, we sought to explain the origins of the Deep Capture project by telling the tale of our extensive (and at times, arguably over-the-top) investigation of this network of hedge funds – a network that included SAC Capital (whose founder, Steven Cohen, was investigated by the SEC in the 1980s for trading on inside information given to him by Milken’s shop at Drexel, Burnham), Ziff Brothers, and others. This story was (I admit) exceedingly  long – it demanded its readers’ patience – but it provided plenty of detail of how the network operates.

Among the tactics we cited in that story was the use of so-called “independent” experts – experts who had been hired by hedge funds to ferret out inside information about companies targeted by the hedge funds, or to badmouth companies the hedge funds were selling short. It now appears that the Feds have themselves independently discovered how these “expert networks” actually operate and, as a result, some of these “experts” seem to be looking at possible jail time.

Another tactic we detailed at length was the use of supposedly “independent” financial research shops, such as Gradient Analytics, which were, in fact, in the business of publishing spurious reports for the benefit of their hedge fund clients, which would obtain the reports before they were made public and place trades that would profit from the effect that the reports would have on stock prices. Over and over again we noted how the false information in these reports ended up regurgitated in stories written by a small clique of journalists who appeared to have developed exceedingly close relationships to a small circle of hedge funds, and had come to depend on the hedge funds’ bogus analysis to the exclusion of all dissenting views.

The journalists (some of whom worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, whose editors must have swallowed hard before publishing this weekend’s stories announcing the imminent indictments) had, like the SEC, been “captured” by the hedge fund managers.

Some of these journalists even went to lengths to cover up the hedge funds’ shenanigans, insisting all along that their favorite hedge fund managers were innocent of any crime – indeed, insisting that the hedge fund managers were heroes and the smartest people on Wall Street. (The hedge fund managers were clever, to be sure, but apparently not clever enough to avoid becoming targets of what now appears to be the biggest criminal investigation in the history of Wall Street.).

In January 2009, in a story titled “Hedge Funds Reading Tomorrow’s Headlines Today”, Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley provided indisputable evidence that SAC Capital, Ziff Brothers, and some of the network’s other major figures, such as James Chanos of Kynikos Associates, received advance copies, and traded ahead of bogus financial research produced by Morgan Keegan, a supposedly “independent” research shop that was, in fact, working for those same hedge funds.

Even after this evidence was posted for all to see, the press continued to use these hedge fund managers as sources, and never once cast doubts as to whether they really were wholesome geniuses who deserved the final say on the health of public companies. Meanwhile, James Chanos, who heads a hedge fund lobby, could be found regularly roaming the halls of the SEC, where he successfully convinced regulators to flinch from enforcing the rules against manipulative trading that he and his associates were skirting.

Some time ago, Deep Capture published another treatise titled “Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and The Story of Dendreon.” In this book-length story (which might, indeed, have been the longest blog post ever published), we provided excruciating detail about the lengths that the Milken network of hedge funds – including SAC Capital – went to obtain (and manufacture) inside information about biotech companies.

We noted in that story that the hedge funds and  Michael Milken apparently even managed to “capture” doctors working for the Food and Drug Administration – prominent doctors who abandoned their duty to the public and served the interest of the most destructive network of financial operators in America. And we explained in that story that the hedge funds did not just trade on inside information, they also deployed their information advantage and abusive short selling to hobble public companies that were developing medicines that could have saved lives.

During the many years that Deep Capture has sought to expose these miscreants, we have struggled with our despair – our belief that the system might be so thoroughly corrupted that justice would never see the light of day.  In our view, the DOJ officials and FBI agents who are now going after this network of hedge funds deserve medals. They are “public servants” in the true meaning of the phrase.

If the indictments are indeed imminent, they are proof that there are some officials who will do what is right for the country in the face of great pressure — pressure from the media, which insisted on defending the hedge funds, and from an immensely powerful hedge fund lobby that had a lot of regulators and politicians on its side.

And make no mistake: the hedge funds that the Feds are targeting are not just “insider traders” – a term that makes it seem as if they are nothing more than outsized versions of Martha Stewart. These hedge funds’ tactics have damaged the integrity of the markets. And they have hobbled – perhaps even destroyed –  countless public companies. They even helped bring about our current economic troubles.

Indeed, it might not be a coincidence that the hedge funds named as likely to be facing indictments – SAC Capital, Citadel, Ziff Brothers, and others in their network – are the same hedge funds that attacked Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, the collapse of which contributed mightily to market cataclysm of 2008.

Bear Stearns executives reported seeing the managers of SAC Capital and Ziff Brothers celebrating the demise of that bank at a special breakfast meeting days after its collapse. The creditors of Lehman Brothers are suing some of these same hedge funds — SAC Capital, Och-Ziff (run by Dirk Ziff, also of Ziff Brothers) and Citadel –  because they seem to be the  most likely suspects in the illegal short selling and rumor mongering that helped topple or almost topple, not just Lehman, but multiple other pillars of the American economy.

Yes, make no mistake – these hedge funds are not just small-time insider traders. I do not even think it is a huge stretch to say that some of these hedge funds are a threat to the security of our nation.

As it happens, it is on this subject – the threat that some traders pose to national security – that Deep Capture is now on the verge of publishing an immensely long and detailed piece of research. For now I will refrain from revealing too much of the article’s contents except to alert you that it includes excruciating detail about this Milken network, shocking facts about some traders who are dangerous in every sense of the word, and a tremendous amount of information regarding some singularly ruthless organized crime groups and people tied to the world’s most violent terrorist outfits.

Given this, readers will understand if I remind them that immediately before Deep Capture published my work on Dendreon, Patrick Byrne posted a short piece, “Coming Attraction: Michael Milken, 60,000 Deaths, and The Story of Dendreon“. In it, he wrote:

Incidentally, I feel it only prudent to mention that, on the remote chance that anything happened to interrupt the serialization of this piece on DeepCapture (say, for example, a power failure), then arrangements have been made for it to receive immediate publication, in full, in a way that would reach 20 million people, instantly.  In addition, the whole package is already in the hands of some politicians who care.  Lastly, over the last couple of years I constructed a Doomsday Machine (and of course, there’s no point in having a Doomsday Machine if you keep it a secret). The reader who gets but a few pages into it will understand why I make this cautionary mention.

We will begin publishing this new story as a series in a few weeks. We apologize to our regular readers for not updating the Deep Capture site regularly during recent months. And we thank our readers for having the patience to wade through our previous stories, and for staying tuned for what will be by far our longest and most comprehensive story to date.

In other words – more bad news on the way.

Mark Mitchell is a reporter for DeepCapture.com. He previously worked as an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal in Europe, a business correspondent for Time magazine in Asia, and as an assistant managing editor responsible for the Columbia Journalism Review’s online critique of business journalism. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Email: mitch0033@gmail.com

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