Audit Notes: The Milken Memory Hole, The Ax Murder and the NotW, Yahoo

Mother Jones’s Nick Baumann catches the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press in some poor journalism. A businessman gives $10 million to UCLA, which names a new program after him. Who’s the businessman? Lowell Milken.

The Milken name ought to raise red flags for editors, obviously, but neither the AP’s brief nor the LAT’s longer piece note that Lowell, brother of Michael, has a checkered past. MoJo remembers, though:

Lowell Milken was never convicted—it was widely reported that prosecutors dropped the charges as part of Michael’s plea deal—but he was banned for life from working in the securities industry, and the New York Stock Exchange also banned him. Michael and Lowell “were the brain trust at Drexel Burnham,” says William Black, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who was a top investigator of the savings and loan scandals in the 1980s. “Lowell was the legal side, which is to say ‘legal’ in quotation marks.” Lowell was also a main character in Pulitzer prizewinner James B. Stewart’s Den of Thieves—the definitive account of the rise and fall of Drexel Burnham, and a book you should buy. “I think the public record is what it is,” Stewart said in a phone interview Monday. “It’s amazing to me that people do seem to forget history so quickly. I mean, it’s barely history.”

It’s bad enough that UCLA named its Institute for Business and Law Policy after a guy who was banned from his business for life for legal problems. That’s compounded when the press lets it get by with it without even mentioning Milken’s shady past, calling him an “Education reform advocate and philanthropist.”

Baumann’s terrific lede nails it:

If, 20 years from now, a major public university were to name a program after one of the most controversial figures in the financial scandals of the late aughts—say, for example, the Angelo Mozilo School of Finance, or the Joseph Cassano Department of Economics—would anyone notice? Would anyone care? A little-noticed event last week suggests not.

— In Murdoch hacking scandal news, the BBC’s Adrian Goldberg has a must-hear half hour of radio on the 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan and News of the World’s connections to Morgan and the suspects, who include(d) Jonathan Rees, the criminal (convicted and imprisoned for conspiring to plant cocaine on an innocent woman) the newspaper paid to hack phones.

A witness in the case alleged at the time that Morgan was planning to go to the NotW with a police scandal story. He wound up dead a week later with an axe in his head. The police covered up Morgan’s murder and one of the detectives later became Rees’s partner. Goldberg:

Now Mr Watson is keen to explore the connections between Mr Rees and Alex Marunchak, who was the News of the World’s crime editor in the late 1980s, and who later became the paper’s Ireland editor.

He says he has seen evidence that the two men stayed in contact even when Mr Rees was sent to prison for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in 2000.

BBC Radio 4’s Report programme has also seen evidence suggesting that a week before Daniel Morgan died, he said he was taking a story exposing police corruption to Mr Marunchak, and was promised a payment of £40,000.

Recall this Guardian report on what happened after new Scotland Yard detective announced in 2002 that he was reopening the case:

A Guardian investigation suggests that surveillance of Detective Chief Superintendent David Cook involved the News of the World physically following him and his young children, “blagging” his personal details from police databases, attempting to access his voicemail and that of his wife, and possibly sending a “Trojan horse” email in an attempt to steal information from his computer.

Listen to the whole thing.

— Yahoo Sports dropped another blockbuster scoop on college sports this week with an investigation into the University of Miami’s athletic department. It’s a devastating report.

Charles Robinson spent eleven months on this story interviewing and verifying the allegations of Nevin Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi schemer serving a twenty-year sentence in prison. Check out the reporting that went into this piece:

In 100 hours of jailhouse interviews during Yahoo! Sports’ 11-month investigation, Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro described a sustained, eight-year run of rampant NCAA rule-breaking, some of it with the knowledge or direct participation of at least seven coaches from the Miami football and basketball programs. At a cost that Shapiro estimates in the millions of dollars, he said his benefits to athletes included but were not limited to cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.

In an effort to substantiate the booster’s claims, Yahoo! Sports audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources - including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach - corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro’s rule-breaking.

Miami will be lucky if the NCAA allows it keep its football program. Fantastic work by Yahoo Sports.

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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 Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,