John Hempton the excellent Aussie blogger who writes Bronte Capital appears to have a blockbuster of a scoop.
A Connecticut hedge fund called Ponta Negra Group, run by 27-year old Francesco Rusciano has been frozen by the SEC, which accused it of fraud. Hempton was all over this a few weeks ago, but had to take down his posts when Ponta Negra lawyers threatened to sue him. They’re back up now.
But the big news here is Hempton’s discovery that the allegedly fraudulent fund has some, um, oddly coincidental connections to Vice President Joe Biden’s son and brother, who run a firm called Paradigm Global. The firms are run out of the same floor at 650 Fifth Avenue in New York, share the same “marketer,” a guy named Jeffrey Schneider of Onyx Capital LLC, whose website is currently down, and the SEC filing gives a phone number for Ponta Negra that goes through Paradigm’s switchboard.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Bidens’ fund has intersected with an alleged fraudster. Two months ago it was discovered to be entangled with disgraced financier Allen Stanford in a $50 million fund co-branded Paradigm Stanford Fund and marketed by Stanford.
Mr. Schneider was involved in that joint venture, which the Bidens say they made without ever even meeting Mr. Stanford:
A Paradigm marketer, Jeffrey Schneider, confirmed accounts provided by others that he brought in the Stanford business. Stanford would bring clients to the fund and Paradigm would manage it, according to Mr. LoPresti.
Now, I suppose there could just be an amazing amount of coincidences here. Hempton is good on the “to-be-sure” stuff:
I was worried at first that Ponta Negra might be a legitimate fund headquartered in another cubicle on the 17th Floor of 650 Fifth Avenue. It turns out that there are several funds also HQ’d there. Paradigm it seems does all the signage on the floor – but once you get past the couple of Paradigm people on the front desk you find several doors behind which reside several hedge funds – a hedge fund hotel if you want. Most of the offices were empty mid-morning – which was very surprising. These funds are largely marketed by Paradigm.
Still there could be a fund (Ponta Negra) independent of Paradigm on the 17th floor. There could be – they too would need to employ a Jeffrey Schneider as a marketing agent.
But let’s face it:
Ok – by this point you should at least be open to the possibility that the Vice President’s son and brother employ someone who uses the good Biden name and a stolen client list to market Ponzi schemes.
There is no allegation here that the Bidens are involved. Just that their standard of due diligence is low. Very low.
Now the Biden’s hedge fund hotel contains an assortment of other colourful funds. One of them is a SIPC registered broker dealer who also manages client money. This broker dealer does not list their auditor anywhere on their website. However they report startlingly good funds management results for 2006 and 2007 though they have surprisingly failed to update their website to include 2008 results. Their website boasts that their trades will be completed with zero commissions and transaction charges allowing them to focus exclusively on the investments that best meet the needs of the clients without the concern of transaction charges and hidden revenue sharing…
Here’s what Dow Jones says about Rusciano:
According to the complaint, Rusciano previously worked at UBS Securities before forming the Ponta Negra Group, but was later forced to resign after he allegedly misreported certain Brazilian bond transactions and non-deliverable forwards. He now also faces charges by the Federal Reserve that he engaged in illegal trading and banking practices and schemed to defraud UBS by trying to conceal major losses, the complaint said. After starting up his own company, the SEC further claims he never disclosed the Fed’s allegations against him or the reasons why he left UBS.
Not only did Hempton break the news on what he originally called a “Ponzi scheme” before having to take it down under legal threat, he’s put together this Biden family connection.
Just outstanding work.
It wouldn’t be the first time a fraud has been cracked by a blogger before the big media and regulators lumber around to it. Alex Dalmady broke the Stanford scandal, with a big push from Felix Salmon, then at Portfolio—and got disgracefully little credit by the media.
This is going to be a big story. I’ll be eyeballing the press closely to see how it handles attributing the news to the Bronte Capital blog.
(h/t Felix Salmon)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.