On Jan. 21, in a mostly empty hearing room in the Roundhouse, drab, serious men described how a global network of corruption allegedly drained more than $286 million from the retirement savings of New Mexico teachers and other public employees.
It was the most blunt public statement yet by former Educational Retirement Board Chief Investment Officer Frank Foy. Foy has filed two lawsuits alleging appointees of Gov. Bill Richardson had pressured him to make bad investments that benefited Richardson’s campaign contributors. The first case involved Chicago finance companies under the name Vanderbilt.
“When we filed this lawsuit, we suspected that the fix was in on some of these investments,” Foy told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But we had no idea that these lost investments were part of a much larger scheme: a bribery ring that operated in New Mexico, with connections to New York and California and Texas and Illinois.”
Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos did not return an email request for comment. Richardson’s office has denied Foy’s claims, casting him as a disgruntled ex-employee and his attorney, Victor Marshall, as a Republican partisan.
Foy and Marshall were invited to speak by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cisco McSorley, D-Bernalillo.
The hearing revealed there are costly consequences to the case backlog at the 1st Judicial District Court.
“The Vanderbilt case is now in front of [District Judge Stephen] Pfeffer, who’s a fine judge—but he’s on the criminal docket, and criminal cases take precedence,” Marshall told the senators.
State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, calls the delays a perfect example of the consequences of underfunded courts.
“It’s backed up because we’re not giving the judges the tools they need. [This case] needs a judge coming in and saying, ‘We’re going to force this discovery.’”
Discovery is the legal process for providing evidence. Until discovery happens, important questions may never be answered, such as: Where did the teachers’ retirement money go?
Some $5 million—$22 million, if you count other investments he handled—went to Marc Correra, the son of a former Richardson adviser, in the form of “third-party marketing” fees on the investments. On Dec. 26, the Albuquerque Journal reported that the younger Correra and his wife have left Santa Fe for Paris.
“The Securities and Exchange Commission has finally said that third-party marketing fees are ‘thinly disguised’ kickbacks. I’d drop the modifier,” Marshall said.
Those alleged kickbacks were a fraction of the hundreds of millions in investments under scrutiny.
On Jan. 22, attorneys for Vanderbilt Financial notified Judge Pfeffer that the company had dissolved after paying off its creditors. It was, they wrote, “adversely affected by market conditions.” Vanderbilt’s financial advisory arm remains in business.
Vanderbilt is owned by Pioneer Global Asset Management, in Boston, which is owned by the UniCredit Group, based in Milan, Italy, a bank with billions in annual profits.
In affidavits, Pioneer’s top legal officer and UniCredit’s general counsel claim Vanderbilt is separately managed.
The companies also have challenged the constitutionality of the law that allowed Foy and Marshall to file suit: the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, which lets whistle-blowers recover damages on behalf of taxpayers, with the damages going to the state, minus a cut for the plaintiff and his attorney.
“We are the attorneys for the state under this lawsuit,” Marshall explained.
In his testimony, Foy alleged Richardson’s administration “is using more taxpayer money to cover up the bribery and kickbacks for as long as they can.”
Specifically, Marshall cites delays by the State Investment Council.
“Everybody’s papering [the case] to death. We served subpoenas on the SIC in the Vanderbilt case way back when, and they moved to quash those subpoenas,” Marshall tells SFR. “They’re also stonewalling us on the documents we need to build our case against the big Wall Street firms.”
SIC general counsel Bryan Otero told the Judiciary Committee on Jan. 25 that the agency is not stonewalling and, in fact, hopes that Foy succeeds in recovering money for taxpayers.