Daily Archives: March 24, 2010

European justice

13 years, 10 months for hacking a man to pieces with an axe and stashing him in the freezer. We may be too harsh here in the US, but if I were a German citizen, I wouldn’t sleep well knowing that this 28-year old student will be out on the streets in just a few years (they parole early over there, too.)

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Zucchini – it’s what’s for (the last) supper!

A reader sent this link along: Hong Kong: man attempts suicide by ramming zucchini up his rear end.

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This ought to be fun

Who, me?

The Republicans are offering amendments to the ObamaCare bill, just to grab sound bites for November’s election. Tom Coburn, for instance, has proposed banning convicted sex offenders from getting free prescriptions for Viagra. The joke, of course, is that the Democrats must vote against all these amendments or the bill goes back to the House for a full vote. So they have to vote “for” giving perverts juice pills, against motherhood and apple pie and anything else the Republicans can dream up. How about a resolution endorsing the capture of Bin Laden? Condemning 9/11? The world’s your oyster, guys – go for it!!

It reminds me of that wonderful story about LBJ who, as a rapacious Congressman, instructed an aide to spread a rumor that his opponent fucked pigs:

“But that’s just not true, Mr. Congressman”, his aide protested.

“I don’t care,” LBJ replied, “I just want to hear the son of a bitch deny it.”

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Dang! Robert Culp is dead, at 79

My father finally relented and let us have a television in 1965, and I Spy was one of the first shows I watched. It was rather witty, naturally, since Bill Cosby co-starred, and fun.

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Teri Buhl investigates Greenwich hedge fund

Plainfield Asset Management Co-Founder Leaves while D.A. Investigation Ongoing

By Teri Buhl 

A Greenwich hedge fund, Plainfield Asset Management, who is being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney, has recently lost its co-founder Niv Harizman.  

News of Plainfield’s troubles with its corporate borrowers and the Manhattan D.A. was first reported by Katie Benner at Fortune Magazine. The Fortune story lists multiple lawsuits against Plainfield and says its borrowers are also working with the Manhattan D.A. over violations involving lending fraud. When the news broke in late January, Greenwich Time reported that the Connecticut Attorney General would look into Plainfield and determine if the fund had violated any laws that affected Connecticut investors. After the Fortune story was printed, Plainfield admitted it was cooperating with the D.A. on the investigation. No charges have been filed yet. 

Harizman has started a new hedge fund called Tyto Capital Partners. At Plainfield, Harizman was the head of corporate finance. His LinkedIn profile states he is no longer with Plainfield. Questions are mounting if Harizman left over worry about the D.A. investigation into the fund he helped start and the unusual mafia like tactics its president Max Holmes has been taking in an attempt to silence borrowers who are working with the D.A. on its investigation.  

A few weeks after the troubles at Plainfield were reported across the national media, it appears the executives at Plainfield got to work to try and cover its tail. According to a settlement agreement seen by this reporter between Plainfield and one of its borrowers, we learned the fund offered to dismiss litigation against the borrower if it signed an agreement that allowed Plainfield to control the flow of information the borrower gave the authorities. In fact, this borrower, who used Confidential Security and Investigations’ Robert Seiden to build its case against Plainfield, was also asked to fire Seiden and turn over all documents, names, phone numbers, and communications the private investigator had turned up about Plainfield. Plainfield even demanded the borrower get back any evidence the investigator had given to the media, regulators or government agencies and give it to the hedge fund.

According to the settlement, the hedge fund also wanted all communications to Benner at Fortune or the Watt Guerra Craft law firm, who according to people familiar with the situation is working on a class action suit against Plainfield. 

Confidentiality agreements between parties who are suing each other are often requested in lawsuits, but what Plainfield tried to get signed borders on interference with a criminal investigation.

The settlement agreement reads under Agreement and Release 3(d):

    If any person or entity requests or demands that [redacted borrower name] supply information regarding Plainfield, [they] will decline comment and refuse to provide any such information. If the inquiry is made under force of law (e.g., a subpoena), neither [borrower] will provide such information without first notifying Plainfield within 24 hours of receiving such inquiry and providing Plainfield with an opportunity to respond to the inquiry and participate in the crafting of any response by [borrower].   

Ron Geffner, partner at Sadis & Goldberg, whose New York-based firm represents more than 600 hedge fund clients and was a former SEC enforcement lawyer, reviewed the language Plainfield used in the settlement agreement for this story.

Geffner told this reporter, “It looks like Plainfield received some bad legal guidance. First – It is highly unusual to ask a counterparty not to respond to a subpoena for information. Second – It is highly irregular for a counterparty to be required that their response be vetted by opposing party. Third – In most investigations it is bad form for information to be shared among witnesses and potential defendants because it exacerbates the investigation and creates an appearance of collusion.” 

Plainfield executives did not respond to multiply request for comment over the nature of the settlement agreement. But I did receive an email from a person currently working for Plainfield that said, “Homes is livid, you and Benner have put some chinks in his armor. Narcissists like him don’t especially like it when they are called out in public. Where there is smoke, there is fire.” 

 
This reporter spoke briefly with the borrowers’ attorney about the settlement but chose not to comment on the record from fear of retaliation by Plainfield. According to people involved in the transaction, the settlement is not signed and I am told the borrower would not consider signing such terms that silence him from speaking freely with a government investigator. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was shown the settlement agreement, but would not comment on what he thought of a local billion dollar hedge fund trying to interfere with a government investigation.
 

Harizman did not return a request for comment. It will be interesting to see if Harizman can separate himself from the troubles at Plainfield and successfully raise money for his new hedge fund.

[This is a news report by Teri Buhl who is a freelance investigative journalist. Teri has written for: Trader Monthly, New York Post, Dealbreaker, Housingwire, The Mortgage Lender, and Greenwich Time.]
 

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Price reductions can move a property

49 North Stanwich, five acres way up off Taconic, dropped from $5.2 million to $2.9 and is under contract today. I’m guessing it will sell for close to its appraised value (70% 2005 market value) of $2.5.

30 Crescent has not sold yet, but its owners cut its price today to $1.650 – they paid $1.760 for it in 2004, in a bidding war. Wrong move.

19 Knoll Street cut its price from $1.795 (2008) to $1.495  and has a contract. Two years to figure that out?

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Democrats’ ancestor found?

I'm voting for Fudrucker!

A fourth species of almost – humans may have been found in Siberia, dating back maybe 40,000 years. No explanation how they migrated to Washington from Siberia. Interesting discovery.

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Short sales

They’re moving like molasses but a few are about to emerge into the sunlight and when they do, they’ll be dragging comparable prices down. I’m aware of one in our office that should close in three weeks for $600,000 less than it sold for in 2005 – about a 1 /3 drop. That will certainly hurt the values of houses in its immediate Riverside neighborhood, and there are plenty more like it coming.

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As California goes ….

Housing sales begin the dreaded double dip out west. Not everything there is applicable to Greenwich, of course, but the factors the author cites as responsible for the drop – negative equity, the slow process of clearing foreclosures, etc. are present here, too.

Organic sales — me selling a house to you and the true gauge of the health of the housing market — have stabilized at very low levels due to epidemic effective negative equity while foreclosure-resales languish due to the artificial lack of supply. In addition, median prices are again trending lower, as organic sales remain depressed and over the past couple of months, distressed sales have picked up slightly as a percentage of total sales.

In Feb, new Notices-of-Default outpaced sales by 10%, meaning the supply pool is filling quicker than it’s draining, and the mid-to-high end market continues to fall. Lastly, comps were easy in Jan and Feb and the tough comps begin in March through year-end — the first two months of 2010 were only a taster.

We are running out of sellers and buyers quickly, as HAMP has kept distress inventory at extremely low levels relative to last year and epidemic effective negative equity — not enough equity to sell (pay a Realtor and put a down payment on a new house) and re-buy — has trapped 10s of millions in their houses across the nation.

Additionally, flip-resales that have provided a noticeable boost in sales counts due to double-counting will diminish in 2010 due to the heavy handed foreclosure prevention in 2009, providing a further drag that few are looking for.

What now? With foreclosures artificially depressed for the past year due to HAMP and other aggressive initiatives, houses that are most in demand are becoming scarce.

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From the people who now control your health care

TARP watchdog says Obama housing plan useless at best and more likely harmful.

The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to help homeowners risks failure by, “merely spreading out the foreclosure crisis,” a top government watchdog said Tuesday.

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the $700 billion financial rescue package, slammed the administration’s housing program for having ill-defined metrics and for helping far fewer homeowners than originally proposed.

“The program risks helping few, and for the rest, merely spreading out the foreclosure crisis,” Barofsky said in a report. The program encourages companies to modify the terms of home loans so that borrowers can attempt to avoid foreclosure. Mounting foreclosures continue to weigh heavily on a weak housing market, which began declining more than three years ago.

I’m not saying they should have asked me, but they could have.

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Amazing price drop

No, I can’t tell you right now, but a price cut just came through that makes this particular house the best value in Old Greenwich, I think, despite its location. I’ve emailed it to  clients of mine and if they aren’t interested, I’ll post it here. Money first, you know.

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Who says Social Darwinism has no place in modern society?

840 pound man too heavy to lift into ambulance.

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Sell your house, if you can, now

Nationally, new home sales hit a record low in February. Down in Washington, they’ve just passed a huge tax increase on the few people still able to afford to buy a home and in Hartford the Demmerkrats are poised to pass a 10% penalty tax, retroactively, on salary bonuses. And that’s just a warm up.

We’re well on the way to making America, and Connecticut in particular, a dreadful, expensive place to try to earn a living. When we drive out the accomplished and the willing, who’ll be left to buy your house?

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I’m an orphan!

Definition of chutzpah, and all that. I sat in on part of the P&Z hearing last night, just to get a flavor of what’s going on in town, and witnessed a fellow ( friend of mine, in fact) arguing against a proposed commercial project in Riverside on the Post Road because it would, as they always say, “increase traffic”. Turns out, his family had sold a portion of their land to the developer precisely so that he could build this thing!

Once bought, stays bought was the old definition of an honest judge. It should still be the gauge.

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ObamaCare -latest shot in the war against the middle class

The NY Times thinks this is grand, of course. Basically, a family of four with an income above $88,000 is now fair game for Obama and his crowd. I find that disturbing – you may not.

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Well I should hope so!

Bye, bye Baby!

Infant slings recalled for safety

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