Andres Piedrahita sits down with a Journal reporter and denies knowing anything. He sold, got rich, and never questioned a thing. Smart guy, just like Corina’s dad.
After graduating from B.U., Mr. Piedrahita knocked around New York working variously as a commodities broker, selling penny stocks and as an investment adviser. His budding financial career was almost clipped in the early 1980s. At the time, Mr. Piedrahita, who was working for a small commodities dealer then called Balfour Maclaine, got a number of his father’s Bogota friends interested in investments that quickly went south. Many of his investors “stayed quiet and lost their money with dignity,” says one of the investors. “They valued their friendship with the father over their investment.”
But one investor didn’t. He says he asked Mr. Piedrahita frequently for information on how his investment was doing. Mr. Piedrahita avoided the issue, even claiming on one visit to Bogota from New York that he had forgotten to bring along the client’s accounts. Growing suspicious, the client says he hopped a plane to Manhattan, went to Mr. Piedrahita’s office and confronted his boss, asking for the information Mr. Piedrahita had avoided providing. “It was catastrophic,” the client says, remembering the state of his account.
Bottom line: Mr. Piedrahita lost his job, says the client, who recovered all his money. Mr. Piedrahita says eight clients lost a total of about $600,000. “Everybody has some bounces,” he says. “I sold something that turned out to be bad. I sold it with the best intentions, and it didn’t work. That’s the nature of commodities.” He disputes the client’s claim that he was fired from Balfour. “Not true,” he says. “I moved to Prudential Bache.”
Here’s an intriguing bit of history:
Friends say Mr. Piedrahita settled down after his marriage to Ms. Noel. He merged Littlestone with Fairfield Greenwich in 1997. Shortly after, he moved to London to a mansion on Chester Square. In Madrid, where he moved in 2003, Mr. Piedrahita’s lifestyle became even grander. He commuted between Madrid and London on a private Gulfstream jet which was parked at a military base close to Madrid. He was invited to a costume party at a Russian estate where everyone dressed up as czarist-era aristocrats. He went hunting for pheasants with the cream of Spanish society.
Relatives of Piedrahita have told me that he “had to leave Greenwich” and then “had to” flee London. Why? So far, no one’s talking.
But here’s the bottom line. The man was dirt poor, living above a delicatessen in New York, and sold penny stocks. No one sells penny stocks who isn’t a crook because, by their very nature, those securities are solely vehicles for fraud and price manipulation. So a poor, penniless crook meets up with Walter Noel, starts peddling Madoff “investments” and within a few years is flying around in Gulfstream II jets and hunting with the aristocracy. When crooks get rich, I suspect the worst, but Piedrahita denies everything:
“I look at myself in the morning, and I’m very proud of what I have done, and so are my partners,” says Mr. Piedrahita. Then he adds, referring to the Madoff scam: “Nobody knew anything about anything.”
Somehow, I think litigation and criminal investigations will eventually prove otherwise.