San Diego County’s pension fund says the assumptions underlying its $1b hedge fund investment are no longer true. The fund’s alpha engine had used hedge funds and derivatives to power its to “alpha,” above-market returns. My piece is now up at Voice of San Diego.
Monthly Archive for December, 2008
Following Monday’s sentencing of defense contractor Mitchell Wade, Sen. Dan Inouye’s spokesman responded to my reporting that the senator was one of the Wade five:
“Senator Inouye has not been contacted by the FBI or any other investigative authority in connection with the cases involving Duke Cunningham, Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade. Speculation and suggestions that a cloud of wrongdoing hangs over him and that he engaged in similar misconduct have no basis in fact.” — Inouye Press Secretary Mike Yuen.
That’s the true meaning of today’s sentencing of defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who supplied former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham with $1.8 million in bribes.
Judge Ricardo Urbina sentenced Wade to 30 months in prison and, unbelievably, imposed a fine of only $250,000. If I’m reading the prosecution’s court filings correctly, that means the judge is allowing Wade to keep most of the wealth his corruption bought.
Prosecutors had asked for a much higher “significant” fine. In court filings, the government said the $250,000 fine Wade’s attorneys were seeking was “far too low” a penalty, noting that it’s only $16,000 more than the mandatory minimum penalty.
“Wade, whose company earned $150 million from Defense Department from 2002-2005, is still a wealthy man. He has the capacity to pay more, and he should pay more,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Sklamberg wrote in a court filing.
Judge Urbina had the tricky task of balancing what prosecutors called Wade’s “mammoth acts of corruption” with the extraordinary assistance he provided the government in its investigation of Cunningham and others. The judge rewarded Wade for his cooperation with reduced prison time.
By failing to impose a significant fine and seize the ill-gotten gains, the judge is assuring Wade can pay his $2 million legal team at WilmerHale and still profit from his corruption.
And here I thought the criminal justice system was supposed to discourage crime.
Mitch Wade, the defense contractor who bribed former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and then helped to swiftly put the congressman behind bars, was sentenced to 30 months in prison today in return for the extraordinary assistance he provided the government. With time off for good behavior, Wade will serve about two years.
Prosecutors had sought four years in prison and a “significant fine” for the $1.8 million in cash, a yacht, a used Rolls-Royce, antiques and the purchase of the congressman’s Del Mar home for an inflated price. Wade’s attorneys had asked for a year of home detention.
Equally significant, Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered Wade to pay a $250,000 fine. That essentially allows Wade to keep much of the money he made bribing Cunningham, who used his positions on the powerful Defense appropriations subcommittee and the House intelligence committee to steer lucrative contracts to Wade’s firm, MZM Inc. Over three years, MZM was awarded more than $150 million in government contracts. In the end, taxpayers are stuck with the bill for Cunningham’s bribes.
Wade also made $78,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Reps. Harris and Goode. (Wade was fined $1 million by the Federal Election Commission, the second-largest fine in its history.) And he provided job offers and other goodies in the Defense Department to ensure favorable treatment for his company.
When his corruption was exposed by Copley News Service reporter Marcus Stern, Wade quickly became the government’s main informant. He was debriefed 23 times and provided a searchable, electronic database of 150,000 documents. It was Wade who handed over the most infamous evidence of Cunningham’s corruption — the “bribe menu.” Wade also testified at the bribery trial of his former boss, Poway defense contractor Brent Wilkes, the man who introduced him to Cunningham.
According to a sentencing memo filed by Wade’s attorneys says he also aided the government in its investigation of “at least five other members of Congress” under investigation for “corruption similar to that of Mr. Cunningham.” Sources with knowledge of the investigation say these five include Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii), Rep. Allan Mollahan (D-W.Va.), Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), outgoing Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.), and former Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla).
The extent of his cooperation is reflected in Wade’s sentence, the lowest of any of the major figures caught in the Cunningham scandal. The former congressman is serving 100 months. Wilkes was convicted at trial and sentenced to 12 years. Thomas Kontogiannis was sentenced to eight years for laundering the congressman’s bribes.
Judge Urbina specifically commended Wade’s $2 million legal team at WilmerHale for their work on the case.
Thomas Medvetz, The San Diego Union-Tribune:
Since the false premises and reckless mismanagement of the Iraq war have become widely known, there has been a great deal of soul-searching about the content of our public debate. But in my view the problem with this soul-searching is that, like the discussion above, it tends to reduce very quickly to a tallying of individual credit and blame rather than an examination of the profound misfirings of institutions. A postgame score card is no substitute for genuine inquiry into the deeper rules of public debate, which at present tend to ensure victory to the holders of the loudest megaphone over the bearers of evidence, to broadcast ratings over journalistic integrity, and to vigorous flag-waving over rigorous analysis.
For a while now I have been on the fence on the inflation/deflation issue – whether the massive monetisation of bad debts by central banks and governments will lead to rapidly escalating inflation as currencies are debased or, alternatively, lead to deflation as bad debts and illiquidity undermine all commercial and financial activity in the economy. I’m now coming down on the side of deflation for a very simple reason: there is no longer any incentive to save or invest, and so debt and investment cannot increase much beyond current bloated levels….
I think it took me so long to feel confident about predicting deflation because the floating currency system under dollar hegemony and Bretton Woods II distorts the workings of both inflation and deflation. Despite the US being the epicentre of all the failed debts, failed securitisations, failed credit derivatives, failed rating agencies, failed banking businesses, failed corporate governance, failed accounting standards, failed capital adequacy models, and failed regulatory forbearance, the US dollar has recently strengthened as deflation globalised. The US exported inflation in the boom years, and now exports deflation in the bust years.
My column on Mitch Wade’s sentencing is up.
If you haven’t heard of the Voice of San Diego, it’s a not-for-profit that The New York Times thinks may represent the future of watchdog journalism.
Michael Kranish, Boston Globe: “The Frank-versus-Shelby argument is a microcosm of the complex politics and competing interests at stake as Congress prepares to vote on the auto loans. It emphasizes what has become a geographic – not just partisan – divide: lawmakers from states with foreign-owned auto plants tend to oppose the measure, while those from the Upper Midwest and strong union states tend to back it.”
Reader Jim A. writes to say that Mitch Wade’s fitness reports in 1989 and 1990 and 1992 from supervisors including future Director of National Intelligence John McConnell aren’t so impressive when you take a closer look:
Naval Reserve officers who came on board active duty commands for two-week annual training periods usually got this very same (or very similar) fitrep, year in, year out as long as they managed to stay out of trouble and not set the place on fire. This sort of inflated fitness report is also a major reason why the Naval Officer Fitness Report system was overhauled a few years later (didn’t work out very well, but that’s a different story). With everyone a superlative water-walker, it was hard to separate the wheat from the chaff and I saw way too much chaff promote up during the 1990’s.
When I read his write-ups (the textual portion on page 2), it appeared to me he didn’t really do all that much during those two training periods. Morocco and Somalia weren’t all that “hot” in July, 1989 (Somalia was not too much later, though). By Dec, 1990 the Pentagon wasn’t “the” place to be for an aspiring junior officer. This was during the final phase of Operation Desert Shield, the buildup to Desert Storm, the first Iraq War, which kicked off the next month. Guys really looking to promote up were out in the fleet or elsewhere in the Middle East, most typically Saudi Arabia. Mitchie-boy was in the rear with the beer. Myself, I was more than happy to be at a small Naval facility in the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia-North Carolina state line at the time.
I guess what I really wonder is didn’t he think someone out here wouldn’t recognize his fitreps for what they are? They’re simply attestations that he spent some time at a particular command on annual training and managed not to incur the wrath of the Chain of Command.
How do I know all this? I was in the Navy from 1973 to 2006, both as an enlisted sailor and as an officer. Not so long after Wade’s visitation there, I also served at that very same JCS/J2, only for two years, not two two-week training periods. I’ve seen more than a few Mitch Wades in my time.
I notice Mitchell Wade’s attorneys left the Sure Foundation off the list of his good deeds. It only took fourteen directors and four advisors to spend a grand total of $390k on the Sure Foundation’s “worldwide projects” over a four-year period.I wonder what happened to the $100k grant for Marion Barry’s wife, Effie, to promote art for children in DC.
As far as I know, no one ever questioned why the Sure Foundation sponsored a White House Fellows trip to an Irish resort which was advertised on the official White House website. The trip was supposed to be for orphans but I don’t know how many orphans, if any, ever made it to camp.
Two former directors and one former deputy chief of staff of the Defense Intelligence Agency served on the foundation’s board of directors and the president was the head of an obscure, loosely monitored, give-away program at the Department of Energy.
I’m “sure” they all enjoyed a lovely day of racing and picknicking at the Foxfield Races in Charlottesville and the “elegant and lively black-tie gala” held in the garden at historic Seven Oaks Farm in Greenwood that followed.
And I’m “sure” the taxpayers picked up the tab for this so-called charitable event.
Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., who’s giving up his powerful post on the House Appropriations Committee and retiring after 14 years, says that he’s leaving with his head held high. By the abysmally low standards in Congress, his tenure was a smashing success. Apparently, a member of the Appropriations Committee is doing well if he or she doesn’t end up in prison.
“I’m going out on top. I’ve seen colleagues voted out or carried out or prosecuted out. It’s a pretty good time to leave,” LaHood told the Peoria Journal-Star in a story published Sunday.
One of LaHood’s colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee was Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Others include Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.; Allan Mollohan, D-W.Va.; and Virgil Goode, R-Va., all of whom have come under scrutiny from investigators for their ties to Cunningham’s briber, Mitch Wade, who’s back in the news as his sentencing next month approaches.
Sometimes departing congressmen give us a rare glimpse of truth. Not LaHood. He says that Randy “Duke” Cunningham “poisoned the well on earmarks.” He has it backwards: the well is poisoned, and it’s making Congress sick.
“I’ve never been embarrassed by an earmark; they all came from people in my district who had a good idea,” LaHood said.
The Man from Peoria has to defend earmarks; he’s one of the biggest porkers in the House. Citizens Against Government Waste scored LaHood at the bottom of all House Republicans in 100 votes that would have reined in government spending in 2007. (Two Democrats scored even lower.) LaHood was also selected by the non-partisan group as “porker of the month” two years earlier
Appropriators protect each other. When Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., dared to try and kill then-Speaker Denny Hastert’s $2.5 million earmark for the Illinois Technology Development Corp. because it was inappropriate for a defense bill, LaHood reminded him — on the House floor — “Do you know who earmarked this money?”
The Journal-Star ran a more insightful story Sunday headlined “LaHood showed 18th District the money.” He sure did:
“The reason I went on the Appropriations Committee, the reason other people go on the Appropriations Committee, is they know that it puts them in a position to know where the money is at, to know the people who are doling the money out and to be in the room when the money is being doled out,” LaHood has said.
This perfectly encapsulates the attitude of the appropriators. They think in terms of getting money, not spending it wisely, and you can forget about saving it. So what if Congress wastes billions of dollars on planes that don’t fly, bridges to nowhere, defense systems the military doesn’t want, monuments to themselves or a hippy museum? Occasionally, an earmark actually helps someone, so that justifies the whole lot.
Through earmarks, Congress is frittering away its most important power of Congress — “the power of the purse.” Nothing comes out of the U.S. Treasury until Congress gives its assent. This is a deliberate check on the president and gives Congress “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people,” as James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers. So in Congress, especially the House, the appropriators are greater among equals: They hold the power.
In the 1980s, appropriators started to skim the cream off the federal budget and send it back home to their districts in the form of earmarks. Lobbyists saw it as a way to guarantee money for their clients, and they flocked to the appropriators like bears to honey. After the GOP takeover, earmarks rose from $31 billion in 1994 to more than $65 billion in 2006, according to Congressional Research Service.
The appropriators were getting high on their own supply, and like all addicts, they rationalized their self-destruction. Earmarks are chump change in the $3 trillion federal budget. And everyone else is doing it, right? It’s going to happen anyway, so “I gots to get mine.” It’s was no different on Wall Street, of course. This is what happens when you have hustlers and showmen running things.
LaHood had a reputation for reaching across the aisle, but it was an unmistakably partisan Ray LaHood who tried to minimize embarrassment to the GOP during the Cunningham scandal. LaHood, like Cunningham, also served on the House intelligence committee. (That’s CIA director George Tenet to the right of LaHood in the photo above.) Cunningham’s actions on the intelligence committee were and remain deeply embarrassing. The panel still hasn’t released an unclassified report detailing how Cunningham manipulated the committee to funnel millions of dollars to Mitch Wade and his company, MZM Inc. Committee members like LaHood didn’t want it to get around that they didn’t know what was going on, didn’t care, or both.
But Democrat Jane Harman, ranking member on the intelligence committee, had the temerity to release a five-page executive summary of the Cunningham report. LaHood was incensed. He got a Democratic staffer on the House Intelligence Committee suspended, and suggested it was political payback. “If the ranking member wants to play politics,” LaHood told Fox News, “there are some of us on the other side that can play politics, and I’m not afraid to do it.”
This is a different Ray LaHood than the one David Broder of The Washington Post tells us will be missed in Congress. LaHood’s decision to retire last year sent “shock waves through the whole chamber,” Broder says. LaHood “embodies the characteristics that make the House work as an institution” — he takes care of constituents, carries a heavier share of the legislative workload, and cultivates relationships on the other side of the aisle.
Broder says it’s a shame when the House lets go of a member like LaHood. I say it’s a shame that the standards of our polity as so low that a man like LaHood who succeeds by not failing may actually may be missed.