Glen Rock, N.J.-- In November 2009, during the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, I was preparing to serve a two-year prison sentence. At the time, everyone was talking about Bernie Madoff, who, after a decade full of red flags to regulators, turned himself in, confessing to running the largest Ponzi scheme in history.
The period saw 401(k)s lose half their value, millions of jobs disappear, and multibillion-dollar bank bailouts required. I often chuckled as I endlessly circled the track at my home for the next two years: Morgantown Federal Corrections Institute. The federal government worked overtime to jail me when I was COO of Monster Worldwide for charges related to non-cash, stock option accounting and meaningless and impossibly vague financial standards that were tossed aside by the FASB in 2005. In effect a nonsensical, zero-dollar, victimless crime. Madoff was "caught" only because he surrendered (and received the 150-year sentence warranted). Meanwhile, the architects of the devastating financial crisis roamed free, government bailout and cash bonuses in hand.
Simultaneously, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, the firm that needed a $10 billion bailout from the US government, was explaining that an investment banker's role was one of "doing God's work."
I worked with many investment bankers in my day, and none would be mistaken for Mother Teresa. Their work was always about the transaction fee. Although today's headlines show that the Feds are belatedly extracting massive financial misdeed settlements from JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citibank, but not so much from Goldman Sachs. Why?
Carmen Segarra, a former senior bank examiner for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, didn't believe Goldman Sachs was doing "God's work," so she filed a wrongful termination suit. She alleged the NY Fed fired her due to her belief that Goldman Sachs' procedures to guard against conflicts-of-interest were lacking. In the banking world, pursuit of fees should not supersede any client's best interest.
It was reported that in one email, Segarra wrote, "Goldman Sachs does not have a conflicts-of-interest policy, not firm wide, and not for any divisions. I would go so far as to say they have never had a policy on conflicts."
I assume Segarra's suit isn't the publicity Blankfein was hoping for, and I wonder what's going on at the NY Fed. When I was at Monster Worldwide, I experienced first-hand Goldman Sachs "doing God's work."
Monster began the year 2000, completing a $618.5 million secondary stock offering that generated $23.2 million in fees for our bankers, a nice chunk for Goldman Sachs. Not long after, the Internet bubble burst, share prices plunged, and bank fees took a hit. Monster held up reasonably well, but we weren't throwing off much investment bank business, despite numerous "good" transactional ideas our bankers continually proposed.
Toward the end of 2000 Goldman pushed me to meet with various of its "stock-buying" clients. Although I wasn't enthusiastic, it was part of the job and it said it would consider it a favor. So in early December, Goldman Sachs introduced me to three notorious short-selling hedge funds: SAC Capital, Galleon Group and Duquesne Capital. I was floored. Each meeting revealed that these funds were not friends to Monster. And they seemed to know too much about what was going on inside the company for my comfort.
I find it ironic that 13 years later, the "bad penny" Feds are raining lighting all around these Goldman trading desk clients -- SAC Capital, which, on Nov. 4, agreed to plead guilty to insider trading violations and to pay a record $1.2 billion penalty and Raj Rajaratnam, Galleon Group's CEO, beginning an 11-year prison term also related to insider trading. The only place Goldman Sachs can be found is Mr. Blankfein being a star Fed witness in a related Galleon Group trial (that of Raj Gupta). Have the Feds declared Goldman "holier than thou?" Not with me!
On the first trading day of 2001, the stock markets plunged, with Monster's share price falling a whopping 25 percent. The next morning, Monster shares were down another 20 percent in 45 minutes. I was baffled. Then I learned that our CEO & Control Shareholder, who apparently supported his lavish lifestyle via stock margin loans, had been called on one. The one at Goldman Sachs. I wondered whether the Goldman-hosted, short-sellers tour, just three weeks earlier, was more than coincidence.
To me, this turn-of-events always seemed more like a textbook example of conflicts-of-interest than a sample of "doing God's work." Godspeed, Ms. Segarra. I'm behind you. I'm just not so sure the Feds are.