By JAMES DORAN
New York Post | August 12, 2009
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There’s a bull market on Wall Street.
Not for investors, but for a handful of elite lawyers and financial pros acting as court-appointed receivers or trustees of firms whose principals have been snagged by authorities and charged with running Ponzi schemes.
These lucky few, whose jobs most times are built around retrieving assets and winding down operations, can earn anywhere from $4,500 an hour to almost $2 million a week.
In the larger cases, professionals can earn $100 million over the life of the case.
And with the economy in recession and a surge in fraud cases being filed — from Bernie Madoff to R. Allen Stanford, Tom Petters and Ezra Merkin — there is no shortage of work.
“Many of the receivers I know are pretty busy,” said Robb Evans, whose firm has been appointed receiver in 28 cases this year through July, including the $1.5 billion fraud at WG Trading, which snared New Yorkers Paul Greenwood and Stephen Walsh.
Over the same period last year, Evans was appointed in 11 cases.
Ralph Janvey, the receiver winding down Stanford Financial Group, asked the court to approve more than $27 million of fees for just a few months’ work on the case. Janvey will pay accountants and lawyers at 14 different firms with the funds.
When the Securities and Exchange Commission and investors objected to Janvey’s massive fees, he told them he had already given them a 20 percent discount “out of concerns for the victims.”
While it is hard to pinpoint exactly what percentage of the total assets in any fraud will be eaten up by the professional fees of these “Golden Receivers,” in one recent $6.6 million fraud, the receiver distributed 43 percent of the assets to the victim — the rest went to professionals.
The percentage of assets eaten up by professional fees in the larger, $1 billion-plus cases, is expected to be lower.
“It’s a gravy train,” said Billy Procida, CEO of Procida Inc, who for a short time was appointed receiver to The Petters Group Worldwide after its founder, Tom Petters, was accused of running a $4 billion Ponzi scheme.
Procida, a Donald Trump protégé who was asked to become the receiver by a group of Petters creditors, was forced aside when a Minnesota court appointed Doug Kelley, a local lawyer and former Republican gubernatorial candidate, to wind down the business.
“I have dealt with a number of receiverships, and for these lawyers it’s like the full employment act,” Procida said.
In all, five $1 billion-plus frauds and alleged frauds have been unearthed in the last year.
Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee in the Madoff fraud, is also raking in the dough. Picard last week asked for more than $15 million of fees for just 15 weeks of work — but got only $12.6 million.
Bart Schwartz, one of two receivers presiding over Merkin’s investment funds in New York, has had his fees capped by the court at just $150,000 a month but isn’t going to finish soon.
“There is a strong possibility that this receivership will last a fairly long time,” he said. “It is our job to make as much money for the investors as possible. Given current market conditions, it might be better to wait until things improve before we liquidate some of these assets.”
And while Schwartz is waiting, the meter is still running.
Procida believes the Golden Receivers should be paid on performance, not on time taken to complete their task. “They should get paid a percentage of their net proceeds, not gross. This would stop them from spending a million dollars to recoup hundreds.”
One of Madoff’s former investors filed court papers asking Picard to make public his time sheets, so the victims could see how the receiver spends his $1 million a week
Picard has said his work on the Madoff case could last at least five years, which means he could make upwards of $250 million if the court continues to allow his billing at the current rate.
“If he drags it out long enough,” said Helen Davis Chaitman, a lawyer representing hundreds of Madoff victims, “he will make more money than Madoff.”