The New York Times fronts an excellent story on the Steven Rattner scandal this morning. If you wondered why Andrew Cuomo, New York’s attorney general and governor-elect, is pursuing Rattner so fervently, now you know.
Louise Story and Michael Barbaro get cooperation from Cuomo’s office and not much from Rattner, which tilts this story toward the Cuomo side. But that’s no knock. It’s hard to imagine how Rattner can explain away this stuff, which is probably why he didn’t talk to the Times even though he’s trashed Cuomo in friendlier press forums:
The notes reveal a previously undisclosed 2007 meeting in which Mr. Rattner first provided his account to Mr. Cuomo’s investigators about how his private equity firm, Quadrangle Group, had obtained a $150 million investment from the pension fund. That account, investigators said, was later undercut by Mr. Rattner’s own e-mails, enraging Mr. Cuomo, who had extended Mr. Rattner deference and immunity from criminal prosecution.
“He lied,” Mr. Cuomo, 53, said in an extensive interview with The Times. “The word is lied.”
It’ll sure be hard to argue with that. The evidence Cuomo has is damning:
Rather than issuing a subpoena, Mr. Cuomo invited Mr. Rattner to provide e-mails and information about Quadrangle’s business dealings with pension fund officials and associates of Mr. Hevesi. Mr. Rattner agreed to meet with Mr. Cuomo’s investigators at the attorney general’s office in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 20, 2007, and his lawyers prepared him for the session, the notes shared with The Times suggest…
The notes prepared by Mr. Rattner’s in-house lawyer for Sept. 19, the day before the meeting, are illuminating: they offer tips for Mr. Rattner, a sometimes brusque man, to keep in mind as he is questioned. “Be patient” is one of them. Another suggests he remind himself as he faced investigators that “what they’re doing is important.”
But the fifth tip would eventually prove troubling to Mr. Cuomo’s investigators: “They have not seen the e-mails,” it read.
“The emails” wouldn’t be turned over to Cuomo until two years later after Rattner had joined the Obama administration and his former Quadrangle partners got spooked and forked them over.
Lo and behold:
Those e-mails undermined Mr. Rattner’s claims, in the view of Mr. Cuomo’s investigators: in one, the chief executive of Good Times Entertainment told Mr. Rattner that she was inclined to “take a pass” on the “Chooch” deal. Mr. Rattner later wrote back that the executive should nevertheless “dance along” with the idea. Another e-mail indicates that the pension official’s brother received a favorable “discount” on the film deal, casting additional doubt, among investigators, on Mr. Rattner’s claim that the arrangement was commercially reasonable.
Here’s what Rattner had told Cuomo about why he bankrolled a dog of a film that happened to be made by a pension-fund exec’s brother:
According to notes of the meeting kept by Mr. Rattner’s lawyers and since turned over to the attorney general’s office, Mr. Rattner told investigators that the distribution deal was “commercially reasonable,” suggesting it was not a favor to Mr. Loglisci or his brother. To underscore his point, Mr. Rattner told them, he would have abandoned the idea if Good Times Entertainment executives, who were experienced in such deals, had told him the project did not make sense.
Ouch. What can you say to that?
What I want to know is whether Rattner can be criminally charged for the kickbacks themselves (He’s already settled with the SEC for $6 million). Does Cuomo’s immunity deal with him in 2007 preclude prosecution (other than for the hard-to-nail perjury charge)? Why doesn’t Rattner’s apparent lying violate the immunity deal and render it moot? We’re not told. For that matter, where’s the Justice Department on this? Are they investigating a former top member of Obama’s administration (even if the matter happened before Obama was elected)? If not, why not? Seems like a nice angle.
From where it stands now, it seems likely that a Wall Street bigshot will get out of a jail term by forking over a small portion of his (at least partially) ill-gotten gains.
One more thing: I like how the Times throughout the piece illustrates the small world of the power elite:
At parties and political events, allies of Mr. Rattner approach Mr. Cuomo, questioning his zealousness in pursuit of one of New York City’s most prominent business leaders….
The situation is awkward for the many businesspeople, socialites and politicians whose lives intersect with Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Rattner.
“Nobody wants to takes sides on this one,” said John A. Catsimatidis, the billionaire who owns the Gristedes supermarket chain and has known the two men for years. “Everyone wants to see how the pebbles fall.”
This suggests another answer to Andrew Ross Sorkin’s question of why the small fry have been getting nailed while the big boys go untouched.
That’s all the more reason to appreciate Cuomo for going after him.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: Andrew Cuomo, Obama, Steven Rattner, The New York Times, White Collar Crime