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.]