We’ve been pointing out for a long time that the really (potentially) explosive issue raised by former SEC investigator Gary Aguirre was not the now-officially dismissed suspicions on insider trading by Pequot Capital or illegal tipping by John Mack, but the still largely univestigated charges of favoritism at the SEC. Recall that Aguirre claimed he was fired from the SEC for trying to subpoena John Mack, who was then about to become the top man at Morgan Stanley. Now the mainstream media, for reasons of its own, has enjoyed playing up Mack’s connections to the Bush administration but a more relevant fact is probably his status as the head of a major Wall Street bank. This raises the fear that the SEC has been captured by the very industry its supposed to regulate. (By the way, even this might be too optimistic, since the words “been captured” imply that the regulatory agency was not created, owned and operated by the largest investment banks right from the start.)
In today’s Wall Street Journal, the Senate’s Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley says that this is precisely the matter on which the committees investigation is focused.
Your Dec. 8 editorial “The Pequot ‘Scandal’” leaves the impression that Gary Aguirre and I are the only two people concerned about the way the SEC handled the Pequot investigation. In fact, Mr. Aguirre’s concerns have been echoed by both former and current SEC officials, who provided candid testimony to our committees.
The focus of the Senate investigation I’m conducting with Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) isn’t John Mack and Pequot; rather, it is whether the SEC retaliated against one of its lawyers and whether it wields an even hand in looking out for investors big and small. Our review is evidence-based, and so far the evidence suggests the Pequot investigation was fraught with problems, Mr. Aguirre’s termination is suspect, and the inspector general failed in his duty to conduct a thorough and independent inquiry.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa)
Committee on Finance
An SEC Investigation Fraught With Problems [Wall Street Journal]
Well, we sure went through a lot for this result. Fired SEC investigators, charges of political favoritism, hearing before the Senate. And now this: the SEC has cleared Morgan Stanley bossman John Mack in its (second) investigation into allegations of insider trading at Pequot Capital, according to the official word from Morgan Stanley. This isn’t exactly surprising news. Charlie Gasparino reported that the SEC had cleared Mack close to two months ago.
What is surprising is that it took so long for the official word to come down. Pequot itself was cleared a while back. And if Pequot was engaged in insider trading, no amount of tipping from Mack (assuming for the sake of argument there was any) would amount to a crime.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission formally cleared Morgan Stanley (MS.N: Quote, Profile , Research) Chairman and Chief Executive John Mack in the commission’s insider trading probe against hedge fund firm Pequot Capital Management, a bank spokeswoman said on Friday.
Morgan Stanley spokeswoman Jeanmarie McFadden said the SEC advised Mack in a letter “a few days ago” that it would not pursue any enforcement action against him. She declined further comment.
Morgan Stanley says SEC clears Mack in Pequot probe [Reuters]
The New York Sun thinks that the allegations made against Pequot Capital and Morgan Stanley chief John Mack have been getting a little too much ink from the New York Times. And they think they know why.
Mystified New Yorkers were left wondering what could possibly explain the Times’s fascination with this story. Some might say it’s Mr. Mack’s connection to Mr. Bush, but it could just as easily be Mr. Mack’s connection to Morgan Stanley. That is the bank that, earlier this year, withheld its proxy votes for members of the board of the New York Times Co. to protest the Sulzberger family’s preferential voting status. A Morgan Stanley analyst complained at the time that the Times was underperforming as a business in large part because of the ossified management perpetuated by the ruling family’s use of super-voting shares to control the Times despite a relatively puny stake in the Times company.
It’s a scandal about the scandal! And just insanely paranoid enough to possibly be true!
‘A Full Airing’ [New York Sun]
[Disclaimer: John Carney has written for the New York Sun and the Times, and he's friendly with a couple of the girls at both papers. Morgan Stanley was a client on several deals he worked on. He's never met John Mack or anyone named Sulzberger. George Bush won't return his phone calls.]
Morgan Stanley is saying that chief executive John Mack has also been cleared by the SEC of the insider trading allegations raised by a former SEC investigation, CNBC’s Charlie Gasparino reported a few moments ago.
Former SEC investigator Gary Aguirre has said that he was investigating insider trading at Pequot Capital when he was abruptly fired after he sought to depose a top Wall Streeter. The SEC launched an inquiry after Aguirre went public with his charges, testifying before a Senate committee looking into hedge funds.
We should note that clearing Pequot and Mack of insider trading doesn’t make the allegations of political interference with Aguirre’s initial allegations go away. Those allegations were made under oath and penalty of perjury, and so far we haven’t seen any evidence that they’ve been seriously investigated.
Just because John Mack wasn’t engaged in insider trading doesn’t mean someone in the Bush administration didn’t try to protect him from an investigation.
The Score: Pequot and Mack: in the clear. The Sec: still an open question.
The allegations againnst Pequot were pretty explosive. But now it seems that once again the SEC has decided not to pursue a deeper investigation after reviewing the evidence collected so far.
Hedge fund Pequot Capital Management said on Thursday that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had informed it that the regulator will not recommend enforcement action against the fund or its employees.
Pequot said in a letter addressed to clients and friends that the SEC had not closed the matter but that its staff had informed Pequot that no enforcement action would be taken.
Pequot says SEC will not recommend enforcement action [Reuters]
Well, we guess it’s nice that the SEC is considering today letting Senate investigators interview SEC staffers about the allegations that it fired an investigator looking into insider trading allegations at Pequot Capital when his probe started towards Wall Street’s highest echelons. All along we’ve thought that everyone involved wasn’t treating these allegations seriously enough—the Senate committee charged with overseeing the SEC seemed to take a pass, the SEC barely even shrugged it off and most media outlets haven’t paid enough attention to the story. Especially after the Senate judiciary committee finally brought in the fired SEC investigator, Gary Aguirre, and the allegations were made under oath and penalty of perjury, the charges deserved better than the treatment they initially received.
A few weeks ago, Senators finally started paying real attention to the charges but the SEC stalled, saying it needed the full commission to vote on whether the Senate could look into the charges. If the SEC does anything but vote to fully comply with a Senate investigation, it will be time for the President to become involved. Perhaps the Justice Department needs to appoint a special prosecutor. You wouldn’t think that these were the kind of charges the SEC would want to investigate internally—not if it wants to retain any credibility. But then you don’t work for the SEC.
SEC May Vote On Sharing Hedge Fund Probe Info With Sens [Dow Jones Newswire]
We’ve been spending some time trying to clear away the murk and shine some light into the shadows of Jeffrey Epstein’s financial dealings in an effort to provide some, uhm, actual financial reporting related to the sex candal encircling the mysterious money manager. There’s not much that is publicly available but we’re still digging.
What we have discovered, however, is a brief document amending a credit agreement for RELIANT PHARMACEUTICALS, INC. The amendment replaces the administrative agent for the credit. But what caught our eye was the confluence of three DealBreaker subjects all in the same documents.
The signature pages include lines for Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, who is scheduled to appear before the SEC in connection with allegations of insider trading at Pequot Capital, as well at Jeffrey Epstein, who signs as trustee of the Wexner Children’s Trust II, part of the financial empire of The Limited founding family. And the agent who is being replaced? Goldman Sachs, where alleged insider trading crooks Eugene Plotkin and David Pajcin worked (not to mention the alma mater of that other DealBreaker obsession, Hank Paulson).
Now this is no doubt just a coincidence, and not really a conspiracy to make our heads explode. We should probably just take a deep breath and then post a Venn Diagram illustrating the connections but our diagramist is in meetings off-site.
One additional thought: this is probably the last time you’ll see Epstein’s name coupled with the words “trust” and “children” any time in the near future.
Reliant Consent, waiver and amendment [SEC]
Jenny Anderson’s New York Times profile of Pequot Capital founder Arthur Samberg describes the voyeuristic physical fitness facilities of the hedge fund.
He is best known for his competitive spirit on the basketball court or playing tennis. Pequot’s office in Westport, Conn., has a basketball court built into the center of the building. Its Manhattan office has a glassed-in gym with video games, an unusual installation that allows visitors to watch Pequot executives maintaining their competitive edge away from their desks.
A glassed-in gym? We’re not sure what the point of this is but it’s totally hot. Anyone have pictures? Email to tips(at)dealbreaker(dot)com.
[Oh. And yes. That picture is SNL's Andy Samberg. Not Arthur. We couldn't find a picture of Arthur Samberg.]
Inquiry Clouds Future for a Hedge Fund Survivor [New York Times]
We’re actually starting to feel bad for Garry Aguirre, the former SEC laywer who ran the Pequot investigation and is claiming that he was fired when he attempted to seek testimony related to the case from Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack. Why are we feeling bad? Because you can already feel the smear campaign ginning up against the guy, hints that he was fired for incompetence or, maybe, for just being weird. This is what big institutions do to whistle-blowers, and it’s a sure fire way to win over our sympathies.
Fortunately, it seems that Aguirre will soon get his moment to defend himself and vindicate his allegations in public. Charlie Gasparino is now reporting on SquawkBlog that Aguirre is scheduled to appear at this week’s hedge fund hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
From Whistleblower To Witness [SquawkBlog]
We were early in reporting the skepticism about the Pequot Capital insider trading allegations raised in the New York Times last week, and now Jeff Matthews is voicing even more reasons to be skeptical.
Now, $18 million sounds like a lot of money—and for a lot of hedge funds it might be—but given that the fund in question had, we are told, $7 billion in assets at the time of the Heller deal….then the Heller-related profits amounted to something in the range of two-tenths of one per cent of the value of the fund.
Right. And we all know that hedge funds never worry trade worth two-tenths of one percent of their value. Except that a lot of times they do. Hedge funds make lots of trades, and a lot of them aren’t ones that grow their value in leaps-and-bounds. A lot of hedge fund profits are made through lots and lots of small, incremental gains. We’re not sure “too big to be dishonest” is a very good guide to figuring out what’s going on here. We’re getting skeptical about the skepticism here.
All the So-Called News That’s Fit to Print [JeffMatthewsIsNotMakingThisUp]