by Gilles d'Aymery
"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."
(Swans - February 9, 2009) BERNIE MADOFF, as predicted, had a lot of confrères in the swindling business. With spring approaching, Mini Bernies are mushrooming all over the fertile land of gullibility, aka the USA. Take Nicholas Cosmo, a fraudster who had been jailed in 1999 for securities fraud: He enticed investors with the promise of a 48 to 80 percent return a year. All that was needed was to invest a minimum of $20,000 in his fund. Imbeciles contributed to the order of $380 million -- most of it gone. The name of his firm was Agape World, a serendipitous reminder that the feast of wonderment and spiritual love (check your dictionary) brings people into a trance. Just imagine making a 14 percent return in just 72 days, as he claimed. Who would not fall for such bounties?
THEN THERE IS this "man of god" in Florida who wanted to help the Haitian community. George Theodule, himself a Haitian, convinced his flock that he could double their money every 90 days. They did flock to his scheme -- all people of modest means. Result: $19 to 23 million vaporized. Or what about this guy in Atlanta who promised a 10 percent monthly return? You simply had to invest a minimum of $100,000. Result: he pilfered $25 million from some 120 investors. In Sarasota, FL, the 76-year-old Arthur Nadel is charged with a $300 million fraud. Hey, like Bernie-boy, Nadel was a philanthropist! Another guy in Atlanta, GA, even promised a 20 percent monthly return and had enough greedy idiots to invest another $25 million -- gone. And on and on...
IF IT WERE NOT so pitiful one could laugh. Take this swindler, Rod Cameron Stringer of West Texas. With such a name you'd assume that people would think twice, but no, Stringer managed to defraud 31 mostly elderly investors alleging that he was running a $45-million hedge fund that returned 61 percent a year. The hedge fund did not exist. The man had no securities license and was not registered with the SEC. The 43-year-old Stringer was a used-car salesman who also worked as a crop-dusting pilot, a truck driver, and a bail bondsman! The location of the money he "managed" is, in the lingua franca of the SEC, "presently unknown."
WHEN THINGS GET really out of hand, you can take the escape route like the 38-year-old Marcus Schrenker who operated a financial firm in Indianapolis, the Heritage Wealth Management, Inc. According to the firm's Web site:
Heritage Wealth Management provides customized personal solutions for even the most demanding investors. We are value hungry advisers, constantly driven to get maximum returns for the lowest amount of risk. We are constantly looking for undiscovered possibilities rather than following the crowd to familiar and overvalued markets. We love a challenge.
Since no two clients have the same needs, no two clients should have the same portfolio. That is why Heritage Wealth Management provides comprehensive and personalized financial solutions to meet your specific needs. Our advisers look beyond the horizon while staying grounded with the latest cutting-edge research and technology.
THE "CHALLENGE" became a bit overwhelming. The money having apparently evaporated in the ether, Schrenker decided to "disappear" in his private one-propeller plane -- a Piper Pawnee Brave. He flew south and upon reaching the Florida swamps transmitted a Mayday signal: windshield exploded...seriously wounded...bleeding profusely... Silence. He then opened the door and parachuted safely to the ground, hoping that the plane put on autopilot would crash in the ocean. Confident that his stratagem was working he got rid of his parachute and walked up to a police officer to report that he had been involved in some kind of canoeing accident, identifying himself with his real driver license. However, the plane crashed on land and the authorities found the open door, no broken windshield, and no trace of blood. He escaped on a motorcycle and was eventually arrested at a Florida campground, semi-conscious after slitting his wrist, his third attempt to escape the mess he created proving equally unsuccessful. His investors trusted him. He was such a clean young man, always answering phone calls, very bright, and blah, blah, blah -- the usual story of all these Mini Madoffs.
HANDING OVER a real driver license to a constable in the midst of a disappearing scheme does not smack as a mark of brightness, but then again those investors were not particularly bright either with their belief that the moon is made of green cheese. As the French would say colorfully: Ces cons ont pris des vessies pour des lanternes! How many greedy fools got caught in that gigantic web of deception? Hardly quantifiable... The Madoff sting fills 162 pages of individual names and organizations. However, one needs to bring some contextual texture to the phenomenon: We've lived through a 30-year-long period in which the dominating motto was "Greed is Good" -- nothing one could not have, nothing one did not deserve. Nothing, or prudence, got estranged from the vocabulary as true nothingness and emptiness (cerebral or otherwise) carried the day. Tip your hat to the baby boomers. They were going to change the world and in the process of doing so laid waste all over the periphery.
BACK IN THE BOARDROOMS where the bigger Ponzters and fraudsters operate, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times had a little tidbit about Sanford Weill, whom I briefly covered in my last Blips -- a man very much behind the Citigroup debacle. Wrote Dowd ("Well, That Certainly Didn't Take Long," February 3, 2009):
The New York Post revealed that Sandy Weill, former chief executive of Citigroup, took a company jet to fly his family for a Christmas holiday to a $12,000-a-night luxury resort in San José del Cabo, Mexico. No matter that the company just got a $50 billion federal bailout and laid off 53,000 worldwide.
The interior of the 18-seat jet, as described by The Post, is posh, with a full bar, fine-wine selection, $13,000 carpets, Baccarat crystal glasses, Cristofle sterling silver flatware and - my personal favorite - pillows made from Hermès scarves.
THE NYT JOAN OF ARC ended her Op-Ed with a rallying cry: Aux barricades! she shouted, dreaming of bringing back the guillotine to take care of our highly-compensated Ponzters once and for all. Instead, all we got is a "stimulus package," which amidst all the squabbling in Congress is tough to put in plain words.
MY UPHILL NEIGHBOR, Wallen Summers, sent me an explanation. He could not tell who the author of the gem was. It was not him, he assured me, and it certainly is not me either -- but I have a clue that it originated with some "evil" European Trojan horse. (The clue? All the punctuations, which I have edited, were spaced out in the European fashion -- e.g., "What's this ?" instead of "What's this?" -- get it ?, hmm, sorry, get it?). Here it goes:
This year, taxpayers will receive an Economic Stimulus Payment. This is a very exciting new program that I will explain using the Q and A format:
Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.
Q. Where will the government get this money?
A. From taxpayers.
Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?
A. No, they are borrowing it from China. Your children are expected to repay the Chinese.
Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.
Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of China?
A. Shut up.
Below is some helpful advice on how to best help the U.S. economy by spending your stimulus check wisely:
If you spend that money at Wal-Mart, all the money will go to China.
If you spend it on gasoline it will go to Hugo Chávez, the Arabs, and Al Queda.
If you purchase a computer it will go to Taiwan.
If you purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala (unless you buy organic).
If you buy a car it will go to Japan and Korea.
If you purchase prescription drugs it will go to India.
If you purchase heroin it will go to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
If you give it to a charitable cause, it will go to Nigeria.
And none of it will help the American economy.
We need to keep that money here in America. You can keep the money in America by spending it at yard sales, going to a baseball game, or spend it on prostitutes, beer (domestic ONLY), or tattoos, since those are the only businesses still in the U.S.
THAT CREATIVE European vulgarizer missed an essential activity of American businesses, the Ponzi Schemers. Maybe it was a willful omission since the 162-page Madoff list is filled with European names that were feeding at the same hog trough as were Americans.
OUR EUROPEAN friends, by the way, ought not to rejoice about the current American travails. Take it from the German Der Spiegel. They forecast that the downturn -- a friendly metaphor -- will last well into 2010. Corporate debt in the Euro zone, measured at $11 trillion, is equal to about 95 percent of its economy, compared to US corporate debt (about 50 percent of US GDP, or $7 trillion). Banks are falling apart faster than in the U.S. (have you checked the economic situation in England lately?) and unemployment rates are rivaling, when not surpassing, those of the U.S. Their economies are reeling, though admittedly, it's not as bad as it has become in California, my state of residence, where we are so far over the cliff that the state is mandating bi-monthly unpaid furloughs to its work force (over 200,000 people), thus kicking the ball down the road and depressing the local economy even further by, as a result of the furloughs, cutting paychecks by almost 10 percent.
FOLKS, whichever language(s) you speak and understand, we are all in this mess together...except for the wealthy, who evidently do not read Swans.
YES, running to the barricades would be apropos. Too bad the American Valium-loaded polity, scared of its own shadow and fearful of its highly violent constabulary, cannot emulate the tentative social movements that are trying to make waves in Europe. Where is Obama when we need him? Or do we?
AS PHILIPPE SOLLERS recently said, la connerie se porte bien.
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.