Mr. Rattner, the bell tolls for thee

October 14, 2010, 5:42 PM UTC

Back in June, Mike Bloomberg was asked about securities fraud allegations against friend and financial adviser Steven Rattner.

“I don’t think he did anything wrong,” Bloomberg told the Washington Examiner. “I happen to think the charge against him is ridiculous.”

Quite the display of (blind) loyalty. You’ve got to wonder if Rattner pulled Mr. Mayor aside on Tuesday night, during the release party for Rattner’s new book on his time as car czar. Perhaps just to say: “I’m real sorry Mike, but I’m about to admit to playing you for a fool.”

How come? Because the SEC soon is expected to announce a settlement with Rattner, who it believes participated in a kickback scheme to secure public pension money for his private equity firm. That firm, The Quadrangle Group, settled earlier this year and fingered its former partner as the bad actor.

The SEC has not yet released details of the settlement — nor even confirmed that there is one — but the N.Y. Times reports that it will include more than $5 million in restitution and a multi-year ban from the securities industry. If the agency follows its Quadrangle script, then we could see formal charges against Rattner just after 10am, followed by a settlement announcement.

It does not appear that Rattner has yet struck a similar deal with Andrew Cuomo, who originally gave Rattner immunity for his testimony against “placement agent” Hank Morris and pension fund crooks like Alan Hevesi and David Loglisci (this reportedly was before Cuomo found e-mails that made Rattner’s involvement much more explicit).

For the uninitiated, here is a quick rundown of the allegations against Rattner (based on prior SEC and N.Y. AG filings).

  • Rattner secured a video distribution deal for the brothers of New York pension fund CIO David Loglisci, via a (now defunct) Quadrangle portfolio company. The deal was done over the initial objections of portfolio company management.
  • Presumably at Loglisci’s suggestion, Rattner secretly hired Hank Morris as a “placement agent,” in order to secure a $100 million fund commitment for Quadrangle from the New York State Common Retirement Fund. This came after Quadrangle’s legitimate placement agents had only been able to secure between $25 million and $50 million. Morris got Quadrangle the money without ever setting up or attending any meetings with CRF on Quadrangle’s behalf.
  • Morris also helped get Quadrangle $75 million from New York City pension systems, via a third-party who since has pled guilty to securities fraud.
  • One of Loglisci’s brothers put Rattner in touch with potential investors on the West Coast. These included Elliott Broidy, who sat on the board of the Los Angeles Fire & Police Pension Fund. LAFPPF committed $10 million to Quadrangle, and Broidy has since pled guilty to felony charges of rewarding official misconduct.
  • In 2006, Morris allegedly asked Rattner for a contribution to the reelection campaign of State Comptroller Alan Hevesi (Loglisci’s boss, who last week pled guity to fraud). Rattner demurred, saying that he had a policy against making contributions to public officials with oversight over investments, Morris suggested that Rattner contribute the money via a third party. Soon after, Rattner tapped a Democratic donor who subsequently contributed approximately $25k to Hevesi (plus another $25k from the donor’s wife).

Rattner refused to participate in the original Quadrangle settlement, and his intransigence nearly destroyed his former firm (the jury is still out on its ultimate survival). He also has steadfastly refused to comment on the matter in interviews, citing the impropriety of speaking about an ongoing investigation.

So as we wait for official word from the SEC, I’m left with several questions:

  1. What, if anything, will Mike Bloomberg say in response to the settlement? I’ve already asked his spokesman, who said he’d get back to me.
  2. Will the securities ban preclude Rattner from helping to manage Bloomberg’s fortune via Willet Advisors, the asset management formed earlier this year via a spinout from Quadrangle? My assumption is yes, but it’s unclear without details.
  3. Will Rattner finally comment on the matter? Outside of a possible statement within the settlement release, my guess is no. After all, Cuomo may still be after him.
  4. Aside from my questions, I’m also left with a sense of anticipatory satisfaction: Rattner did wrong, in the name of back-scratching “business as usual.” He thought he was above both the letter and spirit of the law, or perhaps didn’t think about it at all. Now he will be punished.

I certainly understand those who will say that a $5 million payout is just a drop in Rattner’s vast bucket. And I also realize that some will see the securities industry ban as little more than an forced vacation for someone who doesn’t need to work. There cert is validity to such sentiments.

But it’s important to remember that Rattner values his reputation to an extraordinary extent. Trust me when I say I know. This settlement, if and when it comes to pass, will tarnish that reputation indelibly.

UPDATE: is reporting that the SEC has “postponed” its vote to approve the Rattner settlement. It was to have taken place at 2pm. No word on the reason for delay, or if the vote has been rescheduled.