Bloomberg Journalist Subpoenaed in Platinum Partners Securities Fraud Trial

The criminal trial of Mark Nordlicht and his team of executives at hedge fund Platinum Partners is looking like it’s going to be a knock out fight between the federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York and Nordlicht’s celebrity attorney Jose Baez. The hedge fund defendants stand accused of operating a billion dollar Ponzi Scheme via securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud that includes inflating assets to earn more fees. Nordlicht’s threw the first punch by having his attorneys subpoena Bloomberg journalists for trial because they were allegedly tipped off to the government’s investigation before Nordlicht was arrested by the DOJ’s lead attorney who brought the case. That attorney is Winston Paes who left the EDNY in 2017, before the case got to trial, to go make more money at big law firm Debevoise Plimpton LLP. Attorney Paes was the deputy chief of the EDNY business and securities fraud group and has been accused, by Nordlicht, of leaking information known to the grand jury. According to a person familiar with the case the Bloomberg reporters being subpoenaed are microcap reporter Zeke Faux and long time Business journalist Patricia Hurtado. Christine Smythe, who is now an associated editor at trade publication The Insurance Insider, is also suppose to be subpoenaed. Smythe says she isn’t aware of any subpoena. Smythe worked with Zeke Faux when she was at Bloomberg to break news that the FBI and Postal Inspectors raided the New York office of Platinum Partners on June 22, 2016, which was nearly 6 months before the hedge funders were arrested. In a letter to the judge the DOJ has already complained about journalist being subpoenaed.

Smythe and Faux reported the raid was due to an investigation by the EDNY over problems with the hedge fund’s business. Their story described the scene in Platinum Partner’s lobby when the raid was happening so it looks like they were either tipped off to go see it or someone at the government told them what happen. The attorneys at the Eastern and Southern district of New York have a habit of tipping off their favorite reporters to raids in an attempt to get a visual perp-walk into the news before a defendant is even charged. It’s the same pattern of legal maneuvering we saw in the SDNY’s long running insider trading investigation into Stevie Cohen and friends at SAC capital. After the raid at Platinum, Zeke Fauk reported on August 11, 2016 that the EDNY investigation was focused on illiquid assets the fund held that were investments in oil fields. Faux reported the drops in the oil market and production didn’t match up with what Platinum was posting as returns on their oil investments. How Faux figured out Platinum asset valuation problems and the EDNY legal strategy to charge Nordlicht and team has been front and center of Nordlicht’s defense.

According to court filings and a person familiar with the case Nordlicht got a hold of internal DOJ emails and text messages between attorney Winston Paes and the Bloomberg reporters by forcing the DOJ to hand them over via a Freedom of Information filing. Because the emails showed attorney Paes was talking to the Bloomberg reporters and even met for drinks with Christine Smythe the night before the raid; Nordlicht has argued it was Paes and his team who leaked information from his investigation to Bloomberg. Nordlicht’s attorney Jose Beaz has been screaming that this is misconduct by the DOJ and the case should be thrown out. Attorney Beaz argues by tipping off journalist the DOJ forced Platinum’s investors to rush to redeem and forced the fund into Bankruptcy, basically crippling the defendants in the case before they were even arrested. According to a person familiar with the communications Paes would regularly reach out to female reporters Smythe and Hurtado.

Nordlicht’s lawyers said in opening arguments this week they don’t know for sure what info the government tipped off to the journalist or who did it but wants a chance to put people involved on the stand to prove their theory. The judge isn’t buying the DOJ misconduct theory though and ruled team Nordlicht couldn’t use that as a strategy before the trial started. Attorney Jose Beaz side-stepped that decision in his opening arguments on Tuesday and brought up the idea of DOJ misconduct in a move that got his theory in the juries mind and the DOJ is freaking out. Letters to the judge filed in the last few days show the DOJ is trying to get the judge to ‘punish’ Nordlicht’s lawyers. Additionally team Nordlicht has subpoenaed a lawyer at the law firm attorney Winston Paes is now working at. There is a motion to squash the subpoena and the judge has not decided on it as of press time. The Debevoise lawyer subpoenaed, Micheal Mukasey, did a due diligence review for Platinum in 2013. It was designed as a third party review to give institutional investors confidence in the returns and asset values Nordlicht was posting. Team Nordlicht would likely want to argue that Winston Paes violated some kind of DOJ conflicts policy by going to work for a law firm who previously represented Platinum but the judge has made statements it doesn’t matter because the DOJ actions don’t have anything to do with the crimes being argued. The DOJ misconduct strategy could be used if Nordlicht’s case goes to appeal.

A few months prior to the Bloomberg stories in question, Reuters investigative journalist Lawrence Delevingne was first to report how is was very curious that Platinum got bond holders in Black Elk Energy to vote to give Platinum, an equity investor, money from the sale of assets. Bond holders always get paid before equity in the capital structure. Delevingne figured out that the voters in the bond ran a fund called Beechwood and had previously worked for Platinum. When the DOJ eventually charged the Platinum executives, the questionable actions Delevingne highlighted in his reporting were front and center in the DOJ complaint.

What Delevingne didn’t report in his April 2016 story (we are going to assume because he didn’t know it), was the money Platinum got from the alleged bond rigging vote was desperately needed to keep returns up and payoff redemptions to some of Platinum’s favorite investors. At least that’s what the DOJ says happen and now they have to prove it at trial. Nordlicht and his co-conspirators have plead not guilty and said in press reports they look forward to trial so they can clear their names.

The idea that Winston Paes colored outside the lines in his work at the DOJ isn’t surprising to anyone who has covered one of his investigations. Attorney Paes showed signs of being a media whore through out his career at the DOJ. He was actively seeking to get his name in the press like the glowing profile Christine Smythe reported on his rule at the EDNY a year before Nordlicht’s arrest. Paes like to go after Wall Street indictments that would make splashes and was involved in multiple cases he never finished at the DOJ. He acted as a lead attorney at the end of the NIR Group hedge fund fraud case and then was part of the EDNY lawyers that failed to build a case to charge NIR Group’s leader Corey Ribotsky for securities fraud. (I reported for years on Ribotsky’s fraud which led to the SEC civil securities fraud charge against Ribotsky and was in the court room when the EDNY attorneys admitted they failed to build a criminal case against Ribotsky even though they had secured a conviction against Ribotsky’s right hand man Daryl Dworkin.) I reported in 2014 for the trade publication I was working for called Growth Capitalist, that the EDNY also leaked me information about their investigation strategy into Ribotsky and his fund. The government lawyers use to call me looking for witnesses they could use to build a case. If the witnesses wanted to talk I did connect them DOJ lawyers. It was how I was able to confirm a criminal investigation was going on and pass muster to report it with my editors at DealFlow media and MarketNexus Media. If the subjects of my stories had tried what Nordlicht is doing, subpoena me to reveal sources in a criminal investigation, I wouldn’t do it and would be willing to be held in contempt. But in the case of the DOJ I don’t consider them a source especially given the fact that any seasoned investigative journalist knows they are only giving you info to prejudiced a jury before they have a chance to get to court. In my NIR Group reporting I didn’t go seeking DOJ help they proactively came to me.

With the Nordlicht case it could be someone not even working for the government that was helping reporters with research, like others familiar with the fund, who were trying to warn investors to get their money out before the fund folded or they were just pissed at Nordlicht. And the stories that were not assisted by the DOJ could be the cause of the rush to redemptions and the fund’s bankruptcy. But we don’t see Nordlicht’s lawyers arguing that. I have always been uncomfortable with the way the DOJ has some magical bat line to pubs like the Wall Street Journal who get tips to show up at dawn to video a Wall Streeters arrest then report the DOJ’s side of a story while the defendant is left being forced into silence because his lawyers have warned him not to talk. But that’s not happening with Nordlicht because he is fighting back in a very public way, which is why this case is an incredible view for reporters and their readers to see how the sausage gets made at the Department of Justice. It’s a unique chance to view the dirty tactics the DOJ is allowed to execute in the name of justice regardless of if the defendants likely did what they were accused of.

John Marzulli, press guy for the EDNY, has refused comment on this story and won’t answer basic questions like how DOJ conflict rules work. Zeke Faux did not respond did not to a request for comment. We will be watching to see if the judge allows journalist to testify and Bloomberg’s legal team will likely fight the subpoena. Nordlicht’s lawyer would not comment on the case.

This story is updated

UPDATE 5.1.19: Chris Roush of Talking Biz News got a senior press woman at Bloomberg to respond to the news their journalist have been subpoenaed. She admitted it happen and said if Nordlicht doesn’t withdraw the subpoenas Bloomberg will file a motion to squash. The DOJ has about four weeks to present their case, so the Bloomberg journalist won’t be called as defense witnesses for about a month. As of now Nordlicht is not withdrawing the subpoenas so it’s in Bloomberg’s court to put an argument into the public court docket about why their Journalist shouldn’t be forced to testify and to fight for source protection. Keep in mind the sources they’d be protecting, according to Nordlicht’s court filings, are allegedly the DOJ and FBI. Bloomberg public relations was silent today when I asked them to respond for comment.


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