Remember the Valukas Report?
That court-appointed bankruptcy examiner’s investigation into the collapse of Lehman Brothers found a number of colorable claims (prosecutable) against Lehman executives, including CEO Dick Fuld. The Repo 105 scam was designed to mislead investors about the state of Lehman’s balance sheet, making it look healthier than it really was.
But two years later, nothing has come of the Valukas evidence. The SEC hasn’t brought charges, and neither has the Department of Justice.
Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, who had an excellent report a few months ago on the lack of accountability for financial crisis fraud, does us another service by getting Anton Valukas on camera for the first time.
Valukas is clearly baffled that charges haven’t been filed:
Anton Valukas: It certainly, in our opinion, was against civil law if you will. There were colorable claims that this was a fraud, yes…
Anton Valukas: They’d fudged the numbers. They would move what turned out to be approximately $50 billion of assets from the United States to the United Kingdom just before they printed their financial statements. And a week or so after the financial statements had been distributed to the public, the $50 billion would reappear here in the United States, back on the books in the United States.
Steve Kroft: And then the next financial statement, they would move it overseas again, and file the report, and then move it back?
Anton Valukas: Right.
Steve Kroft: It sounds like a shell game.
Anton Valukas: It was a shell game. It was a gimmick.
Valukas knows more than just about anyone else, perhaps excepting Fuld, about Lehman Brothers.
But in another score, Kroft gets Lehman whistleblower Matthew Lee, a relatively senior Lehman executive last seen by The Audit getting unfairly dumped on in an Andrew Ross Sorkin column, to sit down for an interview. When Kroft asks him about a whistleblowing letter he wrote to senior executives in May 2008 and what activities were “unethical and unlawful,” Lee tells him he “could have written laundry lists.”
Journalists constitutionally inclined to focus on what’s happening today or tomorrow, not what happened way back when. This story—the financial crisis—unfortunately is growing long in the tooth. We’re six years into the housing crash and four years past the collapse of Bear Stearns. The Lehman, AIG, and Fannie/Freddie collapses will be four years old in September. But knowing what happened then—and what hasn’t happened since—is critically important for what happens in the future.
So it’s important when journalists, particularly ones with major platforms like Kroft’s, continue to cover this story.
Unfortunately, it looks like this is the last time Kroft himself will be covering it.
In a very interesting behind-the-scenes interview for a Web feature, Kroft talks about why he went after the Lehman and Countrywide stories:
I don’t think that there’s been any accountability. So many people who were totally irresponsible walked away with so much money, and some people were taken totally to the cleaners.
It was a disgrace. It was a disgrace.
By the end of the video, though, even Kroft is throwing up his hands.
I think this is the last story I’ll do about nobody being held accountable, because I’ve really sort of given up. i don’t think that the federal government—either the SEC or the Justice Department— are going to bring any cases against individuals. I just don’t think they’re going to.
Cue ticking stopwatch.Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: 60 Minutes, fraud, Lehman Brothers, Repo 105, Steve Kroft