From this week’s news, it almost appears as if there had been some kind of an unannounced competition for most outrageously fraudulent or corrupt scheme. First, there was Marc Dreier’s incredibly brazen plot to peddle bogus notes to hedge funds using assumed identities. Then there was Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s apparent attempt to flog Barrack Obama’s vacant Senate seat for personal enrichment. And finally there was New York financier Bernard Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme, which may have taken investors for as much as $50 billion.
The scale of the corruption and deception involved in these schemes is almost incomprehensible. It could be said of the three perpetrators of each of these scandals, as Time Magazine said (here) of Blagojevich, he is “either delusional, stupid or some combination of both.” But as astonishing as these developments may all be, they really don’t represent anything new.
Buried underneath the week’s headlines were the latest developments in an older but equally unsavory tale, which may serve as a reminder that there is, regrettably, nothing new about massive schemes of deception and corruption.
According to a December 12, 2008 Bloomberg article entitled “Siemens Agrees to Pay Fine to Settle Bribery Charges” (here), Siemens AG has agreed to plead guilty to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations and pay $800 million to settle U.S. charges that it paid $1.36 billion in bribes to government officials in at least a dozen countries.
The FCPA Blog (here) has an extensive review of the charges against Siemens, as well as links to the supporting documents, including the criminal information filed against Siemens and the DoJ’s sentencing memorandum. As the FCPA Blog puts it, the criminal charging documents detail “years of systematic and intentional violations of the internal controls and books and records provisions. It's a story of fraud, deceit and concealment -- filled with phony contracts, fake invoices, slush funds, and a boardroom feigning ignorance. “
A hearing on the deal under which Siemens would pay a $450 million fine and forfeit $350 million in profits will take place on December 15. If accepted, the penalty would be by far the largest FCPA penalty ever, far eclipsing the prior record payment of $44 million in the Baker Hughes case (about which refer here).
The Siemens case is a reminder that, as startling as this past week’s revelations have been, there is nothing new about fraudulent schemes or deceptive behavior. In the timeless words of the Book of Ecclesiastes (here), “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Next Up: The Litigation: One inevitable byproduct of the developments like those of the past week is litigation, and so it comes as no surprise that a lawsuit against Bernard Madoff and his firm has already emerged.
On December 12, 2008, an investor initiated a purported securities class action lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York against Madoff and his firm (BMIS), on behalf of “all persons and entities who purchased securities sold by or through” Madoff and his firm, “from the early formation of BMIS in the 1960s until December 12, 2008.” Refer here for news coverage of the lawsuit.
The complaint (reproduced below) alleges that its claims arise “from one of the most damaging Ponzi schemes in the history of Wall Street and the United States,” and that the defendants “swindled investors out of monies estimated to exceed $50 billion.” The complaint alleges breaches of the federal securities laws, civil RICO violations, and related state and common law violations.
Meanwhile, other plaintiffs’ firms have announced (for example, here) that they are investigating the alleged “massive fraud.” UPDATE: Please refer here to access my regularly updated list of all Madoff investor litigation, including in particular "feeder fund" lawsuits.
The filing of this lawsuit may not be surprising, and there may be further litigation yet to come. As detailed in the lead story in the December 13, 2008 Wall Street Journal (here), the victims of Madoff’s scheme include a host of institutional investors, hedge funds, and funds of funds. It may well be that these entities’ investors, eager to recoup losses as well as to assign blame, will also file lawsuits in a daisy-chain of litigation based on the Madoff firm’s collapse.
Hat tip to the Dealbook blog (here) for the text of the Madoff class action complaint, which can be viewed here:
Another Friday Night Special: December 12, 2008 was a Friday, and that can only mean one thing – after the close of business, the FDIC announced another round of bank closures.
First, the FDIC announced (here) that state banking regulators had closed, and the FDIC had been appointed receiver of, Haven Trust Bank of Duluth, Georgia. Next, the FDIC announced (here) that state regulators had closed, and the FDIC had been appointed receiver of, Sanderson State Bank of Sanderson, Texas.
These two closures represent, respectively, the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth bank failures so far this year. The FDIC’s complete list of failed banks during the period October 2000 to the present can be found here. Haven Trust is the fifth Georgia bank to close this year, which represents the highest total for any one state. The Sanderson bank’s closure is the second in Texas this year.
As I have noted before (here), the pace of bank closures has accelerated as the year has progressed. Of the 25 bank closures in 2008, 21 have taken place since July 1, eight of them just since November 1. The trend certainly suggests that there will be further bank closures in the weeks and months to come. And, pertinent to the preceding discussion, there likely will also be further bank-related litigation (refer here).