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Subpoenas issued in pension fund corruption investigation

May 23, 2009|Michael Rothfeld and David Zahniser

SACRAMENTO AND LOS ANGELES — An ongoing investigation into pension fund corruption across the country intensified Friday as California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown directed subpoenas at politically connected firms and individuals, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Brown issued the subpoenas as part of a probe into "placement agents" who help secure pension fund investment contracts for their clients in return for large sums of money, often millions of dollars.

The subpoenas seek information on the use and disclosure of placement agents and potential conflicts of interest, said sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing an ongoing investigation. Brown's spokesman, Scott Gerber, declined to comment.

The subpoenas for documents were issued to Gold Bridge Capital and Wetherly Capital -- both run by former fundraisers for former Gov. Gray Davis -- as well as former pension official Sean Harrigan, according to sources. It was unclear which of the subpoenas had been served as of late Friday.

Brown pulled back on delivering a subpoena to equity investor and fund manager Elliott Broidy, after he volunteered to talk with the attorney general's investigators, a person familiar with the investigation said. Broidy and Harrigan, both appointees of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, recently resigned their posts on the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions board after they were contacted in a related U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry.

The nationwide probe began in New York, where Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo has indicted six people in an alleged kickback scheme involving placement fees in the New York State pension fund. That investigation spread to numerous other states, including California.

Wetherly Capital, a Los Angeles-based placement firm run by Dan Weinstein, was mentioned but not charged in the New York indictment, which said Wetherly paid $313,000 in fees to companies controlled by Hank Morris, an indicted political aide to former New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Two weeks ago, former Wetherly employee Julio Ramirez Jr. pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to cooperate in the New York investigation.

Gold Bridge, operated out of San Francisco and Sacramento by Darius Anderson, a prominent Capitol lobbyist, and his brother Kirk Anderson, has received at least $5.2 million in placement fees for deals with New York's pension fund and has received fees for investment deals at CalPERS, California's public retirement fund, and CalSTRS, a teachers' fund, documents show. Both Wetherly and Gold Bridge were subpoenaed by Cuomo three weeks ago for documents relating to their licenses.

A spokesman for Wetherly Capital said he was unaware of any subpoena by Brown. A spokesman for Gold Bridge, Dan Newman, said, "Darius Anderson has always acted with the highest possible integrity and intends to work with the attorney general."

Jim McCarthy, a spokesman for Broidy, said his client had not been subpoenaed.

"I have no information on that," McCarthy said when asked about Broidy's offer to meet with investigators.

Harrigan's attorney could not be reached.

Harrigan and Broidy stepped down from the Fire and Police Pensions board after receiving letters from the SEC. The letters asked Harrigan and Broidy to reveal any contact they may have had with three firms under review in the pension inquiry there.

They also were asked to identify all of their income since Jan. 1, 2005, and any money they may have earned from firms seeking business from their board. Broidy and Harrigan said earlier this month that they had committed no wrongdoing but believed they had become a distraction for the pension agency.

Broidy is the co-founder of Markstone Capital Group, a private equity firm in Los Angeles. When he stepped down from the Los Angeles board two weeks ago, Broidy said he was cooperating with various investigating agencies and had "never profited in any way" from his work overseeing the $11-billion investment portfolio.

Harrigan served as president of the Fire and Police Pensions board at the same time that he was working as a private consultant to companies that had business before his and other pension agencies. As a consultant, Harrigan has represented, among others, Wetherly Capital and Yucaipa Cos., an investment firm founded by supermarket magnate Ron Burkle.

Other Harrigan clients included the Chicago-based investment fund Gardner Rich and Co. and Grant & Eisenhofer, a law firm that had been seeking to perform securities litigation work for the L.A. Fire and Police Pensions system.

Harrigan said he recused himself from voting on business involving his clients up to one year after he worked for them. Still, city lawyers were so concerned about Harrigan's conflict that they asked the pension board to rescind a vote that would have made Grant & Eisenhofer one of the agency's five securities litigation firms.

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michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Times staff writer Evan Halper contributed to this report.

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