Thursday, May 27, 2010

A "Pump and Dump" Stock Scheme and a University's "Incredible Gift"

Here is a new twist on how respected academic institutions have gained from less than respectable donors.  As reported by the Palm Beach (FL) Post,
John David Mazzuto and a colleague stole more than $60 million from his former company and its investors, New York prosecutors said Tuesday afternoon.

... the Manhattan District Attorney said today that, while he was in bankruptcy from 2002 to 2009, he siphoned more than $15 million from Industrial Enterprises, and used the money to support 'a lavish lifestyle using millions of company dollars for homes, travel, and personal expenses.'

They included Mazzuto's 7,715-square foot house at 11503 Green Bayberry Drive. Palm Beach County records show a corporation managed by him bought it for $2.6 million in 2007. No mortgage was recorded, suggesting the company bought it outright.

New York prosecutors said Mazzuto also bought a $3 million home in the exclusive Long Island community of Southampton and spent more than $500,000 to fly on private jets.

Palm Beach Gardens police arrested Mazzuto Thursday and investigators from New York were in a Palm Beach County court Monday to collect him.

The New York indictment alleges Mazzuto and Cleveland, Ohio, attorney James W. Margulies, the corporation's general counsel, illegally issued millions of shares of stock and used fraud to inflate its value and deceive investors.

Mazzuto and Margulies are charged with grand larceny, scheme to defraud, conspiracy, falsifying business records, and violations of New York State's securities fraud law.

The district attorney said the two illegally issued millions of shares to family, friends, and associates.

'The defendants stole from the corporation and legitimate investors, and engaged in a variety of fraudulent accounting and securities practices to disguise the theft and pump up the value of the stock,' the release said. It said one outside investor lost more than $20 million.

'This was the wholesale looting of a public company,' Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said in a statement.

A 2007 class-action lawsuit filed by investors alleged Mazzuto had a long history of unscrupulous business practices.

It also alleged Mazzuto used more than $100,000 from insider trading to buy a Porsche for his girlfriend.

The suit said the federal Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Industrial Enterprises for insider trading and accounting fraud during Mazzuto's tenure. The SEC has declined to comment.

Mazzuto and Industrial Enterprises, saying the accounting mistakes were unintentional, agreed in April to settle the lawsuit for $3.8 million, records show. The settlement still is awaiting the court's approval.

Industrial Enterprises has been negotiating since October for Yale to return a gift that paid for a head coach and a new all-weather baseball practice facility.

Lawsuits alleged the bequest included improperly issued stock worth $1.7 million.

The New York Times added some detail about Mezzuto's dontation to Yale:
The news release called John D. Mazzuto one of the 'greatest supporters' of the Yale University baseball team.

Mr. Mazzuto, a 1970 Yale graduate who played shortstop for the team, had donated to the baseball program about $1.5 million worth of shares in a company he owned. The university rewarded him by naming a new practice facility after him and his wife — the John and Theresa Mazzuto Field — and by adding his family name to the baseball coach’s official title: the Mazzuto Family Head Coach of Baseball.

'John has bestowed upon Yale baseball an incredible gift,' John Stuper, the baseball coach at Yale, said in the release, dated April 17, 2009. 'His support of our program has been absolutely phenomenal.'

Manhattan prosecutors said Tuesday that Mr. Mazzuto’s support of his alma mater was illegal.

Mr. Mazzuto, 61, was indicted on charges of fraudulently inflating the value of a company he owned to mislead investors into buying worthless shares. He gave shares of the company, Industrial Enterprises of America, to family and friends and to companies he controlled, and they sold them on the open market, giving some of the profits to Industrial Enterprises, prosecutors said.

Those profits made Industrial Enterprises seem as though it was in better financial health than it actually was, raising its stock’s value, prosecutors said.

'It’s a new twist on a pump-and-dump,' said Garrett A. Lynch, the assistant district attorney handling the case.

Mr. Mazzuto also gave shares of the stock to Yale, prosecutors said. The university sold its shares before their value plummeted and earned about $1.5 million, prosecutors said.

Yale officials did not know that Mr. Mazzuto was issuing stocks illegally, prosecutors said, although some of the recipients of the shares did conspire with him.

A report in the Wall Street Journal added:
Industrial Enterprises, which was based in New York at one point, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2009. [a month after Yale announced the donation - Editor]

A shareholder lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan in 2007, alleged the company engaged in accounting fraud by 'materially overstating' its revenue between December 2006 to November 2007. The company announced in November 2007 it had overstated revenue by millions of dollars for two quarters that year.

For the sake of fairness, I must emphasize that the allegations against Mr Mezzuto and Mr Margulies are just that. However, there ought to be considerable suspicion that something unethical was going on, at least based on the company's admission of over-stated earnings, Mr Mezzuto's provision of the gift while he apparently was in personal bankruptcy, and (at least in retrospect), the company's filing for bankruptcy weeks after the gift of its stock was announced . Thus, Yale's acceptance of the gift, and its effusive accolades to its donor at best suggest an attitude of "what, me worry."

At best, it seems that our once unimpeachable academic institutions have become so eager to raise money that the provenance of donations is no longer of interest to them.  Furthermore, it seems that anyone who provides a big donation becomes a local hero, regardless of the source of the donation.  Embracing donations arising out of questionably ethical situations implies a tacit endorsement of the means used to provide them.  Our universities ought to remember that their mission is teaching, research, and for academic medical institutions (as Yale is), patient care.  It may be true that if there is no margin, there is no mission, but if margin comes first, regardless of where it comes from, there soon will be no mission. 


Anonymous said...

What's worse though, corrupt donations or spending honest donations on fine wine?

Roy M. Poses MD said...

We discussed this a while back, see: