Louise Story and Gretchen Morgenson raise a good question in their agenda-setting piece in The New York Times this morning: Why was Fabrice Tourre the only Goldman Sachs employee charged with defrauding investors in the Abacus deal, and why was Abacus the only deal it
prosecuted filed suit over? (Adding: A reader emails to say “prosecuted” implies criminal charges, so I’ve changed that to be clearer that the SEC can only file civil suits)
They use documents and sources to look up the chain at Goldman, and they scoop that Tourre told his attorneys that he had not acted alone and was part of a “collaborative effort.” His attorneys then told that to the SEC, which declined to
prosecute sue anyone else.
Indeed, numerous other colleagues also worked on that mortgage security. And that deal was just one of nearly two dozen similar deals totaling $10.9 billion that Goldman devised from 2004 to 2007 — which in turn were similar to more than $100 billion of such securities deals created by other Wall Street firms during that period.
Story and Morgenson name names here, too. The most prominent mentioned is Jonathan M. Egol, which is interesting because the two have written about him before. Several times.
They led a big piece in December 2009 with Egol. They mentioned him in April of last year when the SEC charged Goldman and Tourre. They mentioned him a day later in a story on Abacus. And Story named Egol the Abacus “mastermind” in a piece two days after that on how “senior bank executives played a pivotal role in overseeing the mortgage unit just as the housing market began to go south.” Egol showed up again a few days later in a story on how the banks manipulated ratings agencies data.
That’s the sound of the NYT saying WTF, SEC.
The Times had the right idea then, and it does today, too. How high did responsibility for the Abacus scandal go? And why is Fab Tourre the scapegoat here when it’s clear there were many other people who were involved in or who knew about the deal?
The paper has a source who explains why the SEC didn’t go after Egol:
Last year the S.E.C. examined Mr. Egol’s role in the Abacus deal in its lawsuit, according to a report by the commission’s inspector general. But Mr. Egol, now a managing director at the bank, was not named in the case, in part because he was more discreet in his e-mails than Mr. Tourre was, so there was less evidence against him, according to a person with knowledge of the S.E.C.’s case.
Funny enough, Virginia Heffernan, writing in the Times a couple of days ago, credited Egol with Goldman’s infamous LDL lingo: “let’s discuss live”:
Goldman’s Jonathan Egol is the first known master. When a trader named Fabrice Tourre described a mortgage investment in e-mail as “a way to distribute junk that nobody was dumb enough to take first time around,” Egol shot back: “LDL.”
Story and Morgenson point out that Goldman’s mortgage desk shared a group email address and that all of them signed off on the Abacus proposal.
And here’s where the story gets very weird. The NYT got access to some of Tourre’s discussions with his attorneys by, well… read this:
These legal replies, which are not public, were provided to The New York Times by Nancy Cohen, an artist and filmmaker in New York also known as Nancy Koan, who says she found the materials in a laptop she had been given by a friend in 2006.
The friend told her he had happened upon the laptop discarded in a garbage area in a downtown apartment building. E-mail messages for Mr. Tourre continued streaming into the device, but Ms. Cohen said she had ignored them until she heard Mr. Tourre’s name in news reports about the S.E.C. case. She then provided the material to The Times. Mr. Tourre’s lawyer did not respond to an inquiry for comment.
You can bet these two paragraphs were lawyered to death. But unfortunately they raise many more questions than they answer, and they’ve already turned into more of a story than the story itself. The paper should have been much clearer on how it got access to the documents and what it actually got its hands on. It says in a statement to New York that it did nothing illegal and that “certain documents were provided to us by a named source,” which implies that it did not have access to the whole computer, as does this Gawker piece, which
reports suggests that it wasn’t Tourre’s computer and reports that the Times only saw one document from it. I’d like to see the paper write a follow-up story explaining what happened here.