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Since Bill Richardson withdrew as Commerce Secretary nominee, citing the investigation into CDR Financial Products, there's been speculation (I know, I know, it's the Spectator) that he might not be the only prominent elected official who received political contributions from the company, and also contracted with it for government business.

And it looks like he isn't.

Recent reports have noted that Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell received significant contributions from CDR founder David Rubin -- whose company's various run-ins with the law are beginning to attract scrutiny.

Today the Pittsburgh Tribune Review puts those contributions at $35,000. But it also reveals that CDR does indeed have a contract - a no-bid contract, to be precise -- with a state agency, which appears to be similar to the one it has with a New Mexico government agency.

The paper reports:

Gov. Ed Rendell was not aware that the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency awarded a $160,000 no-bid contract in 2003 to a California company headed by a member of his transition team for the state Department of Revenue, his spokesman said today.

Since then, CDR Financial Products has collected an estimated $770,000 as financial advisor to the housing agency, said Brian Hudson, the agency's executive director. Its contract is for $45,000, Hudson said.


A story (via nexis) that appeared in The Bond Buyer, a trade publication, in May of 2006 sheds a bit more light on that contract. The story reports that:
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency [will issue] $150 million in single-family mortgage debt starting Wednesday to help fund home loans for residents with low to moderate incomes.

...

CDR Financial Products is the agency's swap adviser.


An earlier statement given to the paper by Rendell's office also described the governor's relationship with Rubin as "tangential". But it did not mention that, as the Tribune-Review noted, Rubin served on Rendell's 2003 transition team when Rendell was preparing to become governor. Rubin is still touting the appointment on his company's website.

As we noted yesteday, CDR was also found to have paid for the then-Treasurer of the city of Philadelphia, Corey Kemp, to attend the 2003 Super Bowl. Kemp is currently serving a jail sentence on a corruption conviction, though CDR was not charged with wrong-doing.

CDR won its contract with the city without a competitive bidding process.

Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia until 2000, though no evidence has yet emerged that the city's contract with CDR dates to his tenure as mayor.

Late update: Hudson tells TPMmuckraker he wasn't contacted by the governor's office in regard to CDR.

Yesterday we noted that, based on his testimony before Congress, SEC Inspector General David Kotz appears to be conducting an aggressive investigation of the agency's failures in connection with the Bernard Madoff case.

But on one crucial point, Kotz's tetimony was much less heartening.

Questioned by lawmakers about his authority to gain access to documents and witness testimony, Kotz admitted that he didn't have the power to subpoena former SEC employees for their testimony. (We'll post the video or the relevant portion of the transcript when it becomes available.)

Here's why that matters. Three SEC enforcement staffers -- Assistant Regional Director Doria Bachenheimer, Branch Chief Meaghan Cheung, and Staff Attorney Simona Suh -- were listed on the "closing document" for the 2006-07 inquiry into Madoff, which has emerged as exhibit A in the case against the agency. According to an SEC enforcement source, only Suh, the most junior of the three, remains at the agency. (A receptionist at the agency's New York office, where all three had been based, confirmed to TPMmuckraker that Bachenheimer and Cheung no longer worked at the SEC.)

So Kotz wont have the power to compel testimony from the two SEC staffers who were perhaps the most central on-the-ground players in the agency's failure to catch Madoff. That may well limit his ability to draw broad conclusions about the SEC's slip-up, and how to avoid similar mishaps in the future.

Buried in a Washington Post story on the incipient infighting between the Obama and Richardson camps about who's to blame for the aborted Commerce Secretary nomination, there's an interesting advance on the deeper story itself.

The Post reports:

The seriousness of the matter became apparent after the FBI began its own background check on Dec. 2.


And a little further down:
FBI agents assigned to comb his background learned independently that an inquiry was underway in New Mexico, the [Justice Department] source said.


In other words, it looks like FBI agents conducting a background check on Richardson for the Commerce job started bumping into their colleagues, who were looking into how CDR, a financial products company with a sketchy past that's donated over $100,000 to Richardson, obtained lucrative contracts advising the state finance authority on bond issues.

That suggests -- though of course, doesn't prove -- that the federal probe of CDR could be looking more directly at the governor himself.

And in that same vein, it was reported yesterday that Richardson had hired a top Albuquerque white-collar lawyer, Peter Schoenburg, in connection with the investigation.

More to come...

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne spent up to $235,000 of taxpayer money on renovations to his office bathroom, the Washington Post reports. The General Services Administration approved the project because the office is in a government building and renovations to aging plumbing would have to have been made eventually. Additions included a shower, refrigerator and freezer, and monogrammed towels. (Washington Post)

The corruption trial of state Sen. Vincent Fumo of Pennsylvania continued Monday with new testimony regarding solicitations made to a phone company. The retired head of Verizon Pennsylvania alleged that Fumo had delivered a list of $50 million worth of demands during deregulation negotiations. Fumo has been indicted on 139 counts of corruption. (Associated Press)

A federal judge has renewed the case of an Islamic charity suing the government over illegal wiretaps. Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation had originally been barred from filing the case due to national security interests but says it now has enough access to evidence to prove it was potentially the target of surveillance under the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The Saudi Arabian charity is currently listed as a terrorist organization. (Associated Press)

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We noted earlier today that Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos over the weekend cancelled his scheduled testimony before a House committee, citing illness. Markopolos had been one of the key witnesses scheduled to appear, so his eleventh-hour withdrawal raised a few eyebrows.

We've now spoken to Markopolos' lawyer, Phil Michael, who assured TPMmuckraker that his client was incapacitated and unable to leave his home, and that Markopolos still intends to find a time to testify in the near future.

We look forward to hearing from him.

Did Madoff violate bail?

The Associated Press reports:

Prosecutors on Monday said disgraced financier Bernard Madoff violated bail conditions by mailing about $1 million worth of jewelry and other assets to relatives and should be jailed without bail.

"The defendant's recent actions amount to obstruction of justice," Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Litt told a judge at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan.

Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin, described the items as heirlooms that included cufflinks and antique watches. He said they were not significant assets. The items were sent to Madoff's children and to unidentified friends vacationing in Florida.


The prosecutor said the case against Madoff "is strong and getting stronger."

SEC Inspector General David Kotz, who is conducting an investigation into the agency's failure to detect Bernard Madoff's alleged "$50 billion ponzi scheme" despite conducting several probes of Madoff's business over the last decade, testified before Congress today.

And from the sound of his opening statement, his inquiry could be worth paying attention to.

Here, paraphrased, are a few highlights from the statement:

- Kotz has asked SEC employees to preserve relevant documents.

- He has sought information from the office of SEC chair Chris Cox, and with senior officials from the agency's compliance section, whose performance is at the heart of concerns that the SEC fell down on the job.

- He has obtained emails sent by former and current employees, both those at the Washington DC headquarters and in the New York and Boston regional offices.

- He hopes to add four new investigators to his team, and is seeking additional office space and administrative help.

- He has scheduled an on-the-record interview with Harry Markopoulos for later this month. Markopolos, who first rasied concern about Madoff's business in a lengthy complaint to the SEC, was scheduled to testify before Congress today but cancelled, citing illness. - He'll probe conflicts of interest at SEC stemming from Madoff's and his family's relationships with SEC officials.

- He'll also look at the overall operations of the enforcement division.

- And his probe will be "independent and as hard-hitting as necessary."

More news from today's hearing to follow...

It's too soon to say where the federal investigation into CDR Financial Products -- which led to Bill Richardson's withdrawal this weekend as Barack Obama's nominee for Commerce Secretary -- might be heading.

The probe is focused on how the company -- whose founder gave at least $100,000 in political contributions to the New Mexico governor's political action committees -- won two 2004 financial consulting contracts with the state, worth about $1.4 million. No real evidence has yet emerged that Richardson himself is currently a target of the investigation, but his abrupt decision to take himself out of the running for the Commerce post -- and his refusal to say, at a press conference this afternoon, whether he had hired a lawyer in connection with the investigation -- suggest the story won't soon go away.

So it's worth noting that CDR and its founder David Rubin don't exactly have a squeaky clean record.

Even the firm's name isn't what it seems. A 2006 Bloomberg report notes:

David Rubin, whose firm, CDR Financial Products, is entangled in investigations by the Internal Revenue Service, used to call his company Chambers, Dunhill, Rubin & Co. He says he picked those names because he liked the sound of them together. Chambers and Dunhill didn't exist.


More seriously, that same story reported:
CDR, which has advised local governments on more than $17 billion of derivatives since 2003, is being investigated by the IRS for possibly profiting from deals at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. According to IRS letters obtained from the cities of Atlanta and Fargo, North Dakota, and an internal memo from the state of Wisconsin, CDR may have colluded with Bank of America Corp., Bear Stearns Cos. and other companies to make improper fees by selling municipalities unneeded contracts or mispricing investment deals.


The company's offices were searched as part of that investigation, which is ongoing, Bloomberg reports today. The probe is looking at whether banks and advisers conspired to overcharge local governments on financing deals.

The firm was also a player in a federal corruption probe focused on the administration of then-Philadelphia mayor John Street.

Bloomberg provides the details:
In April 2001, CDR hired Ron White, a bond lawyer and chief fundraiser for Philadelphia Mayor John Street, as a consultant, paying him a $5,000 retainer to help the company win business with the city. Rubin donated $15,000 to Street between December 2000 and June 2003, according to Pennsylvania state filings.

In addition, CDR gave White three tickets to the 2003 Super Bowl in San Diego and provided a limo ride to the game. White brought along Philadelphia treasurer Corey Kemp, according to a federal criminal indictment brought against White and Kemp in 2004.

On Feb. 11, 16 days after the game, Kemp told White that city Finance Director Janice Davis agreed to "move fast forward" on a $150,000 swap advisory contract for CDR, according to transcripts of FBI wiretaps.

Banks paid CDR, which wasn't accused of wrongdoing, at least $515,000 from profits they earned on transactions with the city, documents show.


CDR won its contract with the city without a competitive bidding process.

None of this, of course, means that either CDR or Richardson are guilty of any wrong-doing here. But at a minimum, we don't figure to have heard the last of this...

When the House committee that will hold hearings today on Bernard Madoff and the role of the SEC announced its witness list, one of the most interesting names was that of Harry Markopolos. The former rival investor to Bernard Madoff, who had first argued in a complaint to the SEC that Madoff's business was not on the level, was the closest thing this scandal has had to a heroic whistleblower.

But now Markopolos has pulled out, citing illness. Given the low public profile he has maintained since his role in the scandal became public, that move raised our interest.

A spokesperson for Rep. Paul Kanjorski, who chairs the sub-committee holding the hearings, told TPMmuckraker in an email, referring to Markopolos: "He has said that he looks forward to testifying at a subsequent hearing."

So perhaps we'll get to hear from him in the end. But until we do, this will bear watching.

The Wall Street Journal has a deeper look at the various government investigations into Bernard Madoff's business, stretching back over the last 16 years -- all of which failed to detect the alleged "$50 billion ponzi scheme" that Madoff is said to have been running.

Among other nuggets, the Journal reports:

The failure to stop Mr. Madoff also is an embarrassment for Mary Schapiro, the Finra chief who has been nominated by President-elect Barack Obama as the next SEC chairman. Finra [the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an industry-run watchdog for brokerage firms] was involved in several investigations of Mr. Madoff's firm, concluding in 2007 that it violated technical rules and failed to report certain transactions in a timely way.

Ms. Schapiro declined to comment. Mr. Cox has previously acknowledged mistakes by the SEC. The agency declined to comment.


Close SEC watchers generally have said they expect that under Schapiro, the agency will be a more vigilant watchdog than it has been under President Bush's various chairs, culminating with Chris Cox.

Still, Finra's failure, under Schapiro, to catch Madoff is another reminder that, even though the SEC's problems were in part a result of the pure free-market ideology to which the Bush administration largely subscribed, those problems likely won't immediately be solved by the change of administrations.

TPMLivewire