Is it my imagination, or does every week bring news of another financial scandal? No, it’s not my imagination.
First up: Peregrine Financial Group. This long-running fraud, which has apparently been going on almost as long as the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, came to light when the firm’s founder and longtime chief executive, Russell Wasendorf Sr., tried to commit suicide a few weeks ago. (He failed.) Helpfully, he left a lengthy note that laid out what he had done. Peregrine, you see, is a commodities broker, and Wasendorf had been stealing the money that customers had on deposit with the firm. As you’ll no doubt recall from the very similar MF Global scandal, where $1.6 billion in supposedly segregated customer funds went missing as the firm careened toward bankruptcy, this is supposed to be the sin of sins for a commodities brokerage. Sinful it may be, but not all that difficult, it would appear.
Peregrine, which is based in Cedar Falls, Iowa, didn’t operate on the kind of scale as MF Global. But what it lacked in heft, it more than made up for in imagination. In his note, Wasendorf said that, over the years, he had used the money, among other things, to build the company’s $18 million headquarters and to “pay Fines and Fees charged by the regulators.” At the point at which the fraud was discovered, the firm was supposed to have more than $200 million on deposit for customers. Instead, it had $5 million.
And where were the regulators? Fooling them was child’s play, he said in his note. Or words to that effect.
Next up: HSBC. Who knew that the British bank was the favored institution of money launderers everywhere? As it turns out, the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee knew. This week, it released a 335-page report and held a scorching daylong hearing, excoriating a half-dozen of the bank’s executives.
Perhaps because we’re bank-scandaled out, this story hasn’t gotten the attention it truly deserves. . . .
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