Did Hudson Castle Facilitate Fraud at Lehman?
Posted by Larry Doyle on April 13, 2010 1:33 PM |
Perpetrating a fraud is never as easy as it may appear. Although in hindsight frauds may appear to be simplistic, there are typically many more moving parts than meets the eye. To this end, the idea that Bernie Madoff perpetrated his massive Ponzi scheme by himself or with merely a few associates is beyond ridiculous. Just as Madoff had outside feeder funds and brokers that provided cover for him, today it appears that the once proud and venerable firm of Lehman Brothers also had an outside firm which enabled it to ‘manage its books.’ Who is this firm? An outfit known as Hudson Castle. Who is Hudson Castle and what was the nature of its relationship with Lehman? Let’s navigate.
The New York Times provides insights into this heretofore largely unknown entity in writing, Lehman Channeled Risks Through ‘Alter Ego’ Firm:
It was like a hidden passage on Wall Street, a secret channel that enabled billions of dollars to flow through Lehman Brothers.
In the years before its collapse, Lehman used a small company — its “alter ego,” in the words of a former Lehman trader — to shift investments off its books.
The firm, called Hudson Castle, played a crucial, behind-the-scenes role at Lehman, according to an internal Lehman document and interviews with former employees. The relationship raises new questions about the extent to which Lehman obscured its financial condition before it plunged into bankruptcy.
While Hudson Castle appeared to be an independent business, it was deeply entwined with Lehman. For years, its board was controlled by Lehman, which owned a quarter of the firm. It was also stocked with former Lehman employees.
None of this was disclosed by Lehman, however.
Entities like Hudson Castle are part of a vast financial system that operates in the shadows of Wall Street, largely beyond the reach of banking regulators. These entities enable banks to exchange investments for cash to finance their operations and, at times, make their finances look stronger than they are.
Critics say that such deals helped Lehman and other banks temporarily transfer their exposure to the risky investments tied to subprime mortgages and commercial real estate. Even now, a year and a half after Lehman’s collapse, major banks still undertake such transactions with businesses whose names, like Hudson Castle’s, are rarely mentioned outside of footnotes in financial statements, if at all.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is examining various creative borrowing tactics used by some 20 financial companies. A Congressional panel investigating the financial crisis also plans to examine such deals at a hearing in May to focus on Lehman and Bear Stearns, according to two people knowledgeable about the panel’s plans.
Most of these deals are legal. But certain Lehman transactions crossed the line, according to the account of the bank’s demise prepared by an examiner of the bank. Hudson Castle was not mentioned in that report, released last month, which concluded that some of Lehman’s bookkeeping was “materially misleading.” The report did not say that Hudson was involved in the misleading accounting.
At several points, Lehman did transactions greater than $1 billion with Hudson vehicles, but it is unclear how much money was involved since 2001.
Still, accounting experts say the shadow financial system needs some sunlight.
“How can anyone — regulators, investors or anyone — understand what’s in these financial statements if they have to dig 15 layers deep to find these kinds of interlocking relationships and these kinds of transactions?” said Francine McKenna, an accounting consultant who has examined the financial crisis on her blog, re: The Auditors. “Everybody’s talking about preventing the next crisis, but they can’t prevent the next crisis if they don’t understand all these incestuous relationships.”
Oh, those dreaded incestuous relationships again.
While America has no confidence in its financial regulators to be able to unearth this incest, when might the Department of Justice and the courts rule whether Lehman, and possibly other firms, engaged in what certainly appears to be the ‘parking’ of securities to manipulate and misrepresent their financial picture?
If it looks like a racket, smells like a racket, feels like a racket, and acts like a racket . . . it’s probably a racket.
High five to MC for bringing this story to my attention.