In an April 1, 2009 administrative complaint (here), Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin accused Madoff feeder fund Fairfield Greenwich Advisors and its Bermuda affiliate of "complete disregard of its fiduciary duties to its investors" and of "flagrant recurring misrepresentations" that "rise to the level of fraud."
If you have not yet seen the complaint, you should take a look, because it contains some rather striking allegations, the most provocative of which are based on the transcript of a telephone conversation in which Bernard Madoff coaches senior Fairfield officials on how to respond to inquiries from the SEC.
At one time Fairfield has a much as $14 billion of assets under management, of which nearly $7 billion was invested with Madoff through its flagship funds. The firm earned hundreds of millions of dollars in fees from investors in connection with the Madoff related investments. (Detailed background regarding the Fairfield group can be found here.) UPDATE: Fairfield’s principals were on track for payouts totalling over $117 million in 2008, before the scandal surfaced, as reflected in documents filed with complaint, according to the Dealbook blog (here).
The complaint alleges that Fairfield’s managers were "blinded by the fees they were earning" and "did not engage in meaningful due diligence" but instead "turned a blind eye to any fact that would have burst their lucrative bubble."
The complaint alleges that in contrast to the due diligence efforts Fairfield claimed in its marketing materials, the firm "neglected to do any meaningful check into whether Madoff was actually making trades he said he was making." The complaint further alleges that "the concept of due diligence was merely part of Fairfield’s marketing pitch, not an activity it meaningfully engaged in with respect to Madoff."
The centerpiece of the complaint is a transcript of a December 2005 telephone conversation between Madoff and several senior Fairfield officials. Fairfield apparently recorded the conversation then apparently unbeknownst to Madoff and produced the recording in connection with the Massachusetts investigation. The transcript of the call can be found here.
The SEC was about to interview the Fairfield officials in connection with the SEC’s investigation of allegations against Madoff by Harry Markopolos. The transcript shows that Madoff opened the call by stating "obviously, first of all, this conversation never took place, okay?"
Madoff then gave the Fairfield officials precise instructions on what to say in response to the SEC’s questions, noting at one point that "the secrecy as to information is the key issue for everybody," even going so far as to say to the Fairfield officials that "the less you know about how we execute… the better you are."
The complaint alleges with respect to this phone conversation that Madoff was "manipulating the flow of information to the SEC" and that as a result of its cooperation, Fairfield helped Madoff "evade SEC detection."
The complaint also alleges that Fairfield’s reliance on the outside audit firm’s audit of Madoff’s investment company was "absurd," and that Fairfield made "patently false representations" about the audit and the auditor even though Fairfield "did not know one thing about this one-person auditing firm."
The complaint also alleges that as 2008 progressed, client redemptions and larger problems in the financial marketplace began to trouble the Fairfield officials. They began to debate internally about "gaps" in their knowledge about Madoff. Their internal communications reflect liquidity concerns as well as concerns about Madoff’s counterparty exposures.
The complaint alleges that the officials did not follow up on these concerns. Instead, in response to Madoff’s anger about increasing fund redemption in the late fall 2008, they tried to support him by marketing against redemptions as well as by placing their own cash in new Madoff funds formed at the eleventh hour.
The complaint seeks a cease and desist order and restitution to all investors who invested in Madoff through Fairfield, as well as disgorgement of related fees and an administrative fine.
In response to the complaint, Fairfield issued an April 1, 2009 statement (here) in which it characterized the complaint as "false and misleading" and asserted that it "conducted vigorous and robust monitoring [of Madoff] on an ongoing basis." The complaint, according to the statement, is based on "nothing more than 20-20 hindsight that supposes that anyone familiar with Madoff’s operation should have determined that it was a Ponzi scheme." But, the statement notes, not one person detected the fraud.
Among the Fairfield officials mentioned by name in the complaint is Andres Piedrahita (a Fairfield partner and son-in-law of Fairfield founding partner Walter Noel), whom the complaint alleges in 2007 alone earned in excess of $45 million. The March 31, 2009 Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating front-page article about Piedrahita entitled "The Charming Mr. Piedrahita Finds Himself Caught in the Madoff Storm" (here), reporting among other things that Piedrahita had once told a friend that his "real job" was "to live better than any of my clients."
Piedrahita, trading on his "outstanding public relations skills," played a key role in "expanding the reach of the Madoff fraud by wooing wealthy Latin Americans and Europeans." Piedrahita is now under investigation with both Spanish and U.S. authorities, and is a defendant in numerous class action lawsuits, along with Fairfield and other Fairfield officials.
Meanwhile, the April 2009 issue of Vanity Fair has a lengthy article (here) about Fairfield founder Walter Noel and his family. The article features a particularly striking photgraph of Noel’s five daughters, one of whom is the wife of Piedrahita. An October 2002 Vanity Fair article focused just on the five daughters can be found here. After awhile, trolling through the backstory on these sidelights to the Madoff scandal begins to create the same sensation as reading an overwritten novel.
A comprehensive list of the Madoff-related lawsuits, including the numerous lawsuit filed against Fairfield and related entities and individuals, can be accessed here. I have added the new Massachusetts complaint to the list.
Hat tip to the Wall Street Journal for the Fairfield Statement.
Other Stories We’re Following: According to news reports (here), a man in Newark, Ohio has been charged with drunk driving on a bar stool. The man apparently had built a motorized bar stool using a dismantled lawn mower. He managed to crash the stool, apparently as a result of the 15 beers he reportedly consumed prior to the accident. Readers interested in seeing this amazing (albeit unexpectedly dangerous) vehicle will want to refer here.
Meanwhile, on March 27, 2009, the Macomb (Ga.) Daily reported (here) that "a woman who sued a city of Warren police dog that she says bit her on the buttocks was ordered by a judge to pay $500 for frivolously naming the dog as a defendant." Frivolous? Has the judge ever been bitten on the butt by a police dog? Incidentally, the dog’s name is "Liberty" which is clearly what the dog took with the plaintiff’s behind
And in world news, Barrack Obama has apparently given Queen Elizabeth II an iPod as a gift in connection with his visit to Buckingham Palace today, as reported here. Alas, it is too late now, but had I been consulted in advance, I would have suggested loading the device with the music of this year’s inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in particular the songs of Run-D.M.C.
The Rock Hall induction, by the way, is this Saturday, April 4, 2009, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Cleveland Rocks, baby.)