Thursday, March 13, 2008

A set of lurid, rapacious, plastic dolls

Last evening Malcolm was trying to make some kind of sense of the Spitzer screwing, this tale of greed, lust and vanity ... without toppling over into full conspiracist mode.

New dawn, new melodrama: Alexander Cockburn has a whole cast of new villains. Even the basic plot-line has changed.

Until now the official version had been that Spitzer's $10,000 cheque had raised curiosity at an unnamed bank, who had passed the tip to the Treasury Department, under the rules for copping money-launderers.

This is the line still being peddled, not least by today's Wall Street Journal:

The genesis of the Spitzer investigation remains hazy, but the reports on his banking transactions seem to have emerged from the financial surveillance system in an ordinary manner. Banks routinely file Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, when bank systems point out unusual transactions. Every SAR filed by banks in the New York metropolitan area is read by agents of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Division, federal regulators and money-laundering experts say. "So if someone mentions a prominent official in a SAR, it is going to be noticed," said bank-compliance expert Charles Grice of the New York firm CRI Compliance.

That raises an eyebrow or two, if only because:
  • Even the WSJ admits the origins of the investigation are "hazy" (which is often journo code for "Don't believe it");
  • Spitzer must have known those rules; and was effectively setting himself up to be caught; and
  • it is curious that Spitzer's, and only Spitzer's name came to the fore.
Version 2.0 is different; and it starts a long way back.

Spitzer's previous office had been, for eight years, New York's Attorney General. In that time he had taken $13 billion, yes -- billion -- in settlements prosecuting company crime. The fleeced included the former Chairman of the NYSE, Richard Grasso, for gross over-remuneration: that charge also named the NYSE Board members who authorised those payments, who included the in-coming Chairman, one Ken Langone. New York Magazine had an article with Langone shouting his intentions:
Gesticulating with his big hands, he looks at me and says pointedly, “One way or another, Spitzer is going to pay for what he’s done to me and the havoc he’s caused in the New York business climate.”

A lot of people say things like that when they’re angry, but most of them are not billionaires... Langone is launching a counteroffensive that could cost tens of millions. His plan, he says, is “to make sure everyone knows that Eliot Spitzer isn’t fit to be governor of New York State or any other office, for that matter.”

So Ken Langone is quite explicitly a long-time enemy of Spitzer, not even bothering to disguise full-blooded hatred. He has wealth beyond the dreams of Arfer Rice:he once attempted to buy out the New York Stock Exchange. Phew!

Last summer the New York Times went looking for vox pop, and Langone's voice was loud and first in the field:
“Mr. Spitzer has been manipulating the press and the law to disparage decent people for years, and it’s about time that he’s been held accountable,” said Kenneth G. Langone, a billionaire founder of Home Depot whom Mr. Spitzer accused of misleading fellow Stock Exchange members about the exchange’s rich compensation.
Cockburn sniffs a smoking gun. It seems he takes most of his story from The Huffington Post, which has the CNBC transcript from which Cockburn quotes, together with a video from Red Lasso. So Langone's gloat is already on the CNBC record:

Few have bayed for Eliot L. Spitzer’s blood more loudly than Kenneth Langone. The former New York Stock Exchange director, who battled the former New York attorney general over Richard Grasso’s pay, gloated over Mr. Spitzer’s fall to CNBC Monday night.

Among his choice quotes: “I hope his private hell is hotter than anyone else’s.”

Now Cockburn extracts a bit more:

CNBC: "Would you say that you were surprised by this news?"
Langone: "Not at all... I know for sure he went himself to a post office and bought $2,800 worth of mail orders to send to the hooker... I know somebody who was standing in back of him in line..."

Cockburn suggests that this can only mean that Langone and/or others had gumshoes snooping on Spitzer.

It also means that
  • the original suspicion did not come from an anonymous bank; and
  • Langone wants the world to know who was behind the hit.
Malcolm's comment:

Isn't it nice to know how much nobler than spiteful playground bullies are these Masters of the Universe? Sphere: Related Content

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