An Open Letter about Comments Regarding Richard Simring

Our post on The Rise and Fall of Richard B. Simring, Esq. has gotten a lot of attention.  It has also generated a lot of comments – some of which we’ve posted and some we haven’t — and we want to address these comments in this “open letter.”

We do not know Richard Simring.  We wrote about him because we found his story compelling and perhaps instructive.  A large part of what makes Simring’s story compelling is its moral ambiguity – before his current troubles stemming from his invovement in Ed Okun’s 1031 exchange scam, Simring had an admirable record of achievement and community service, yet he was indicted for (and pled guilty to) participating in a fraudulent scheme that stole millions of dollars from innocent people.

We encourage comments on Richard Simring, as on any other topic.  But we have some minimal conditions that must be met for a comment to be posted.

Here are some guidelines:

Do not use all capital letters.  No one wants to be shouted at, in life or in print.  We do not want our comments section to degenerate into shouting, flaming, and name-calling.

Do not repeat the same opinion over and over. There is no reason to post a comment that simply repeats what you’ve said before. 

Do not libel anyone.

Tell us why you care, and tell us why we should care about your comment.  If you have some inside information or some special insight, let us (and our readers) know.  If you have personal knowledge of the situation or the people involved, share that will us, and be specific.

We hope this explains why some comments have been posted and some not, and that we’ve provided you with guidelines for future comments on our blog.

Thanks.

Fire Sale Continues for American Homes

The fire sale of American homes continues unabated, according to the latest report of the Standard & Poors’ Case-Shiller Index.

All 20 cities measured by the Case-Shiller Index reported annual declines in June, with seven cities showing price drops of more than 20 percent.

The worst losses, both for the year and for the past month, were in the former boom regions in the West and Florida.

Las Vegas lead the nation with the most severe annual decline, with values dropping 28.6 percent in the past year. Prices in Miami fell 28.3 percent, values in Phoenix dropped 27.9 percent, and in Los Angeles prices fell 25.3 percent.

The cities with the least annual declines in home value were Charlotte (-1.0 percent), Dallas (-3.2 percent), Denver (-4.7 percent), and Portland (-5.3 percent).

San Francisco led the nation with the greatest loss from May 2008 to June 2008.  The cities with the biggest drop in the past month were San Francisco (-1.8 percent), Miami (-1.7 percent), Las Vegas (-1.6 percent), San Diego (-1.5 percent), and Los Angeles (-1.4 percent).

Cities showing the greatest price increases for the past month were Denver (1.5 percent), Boston (1.2 percent), Minneapolis (1.0 percent), Dallas (0.7 percent), and Cleveland (0.7 percent).

Given these catastrophic figures, we can take some small comfort in the belief that home prices must eventually stop falling.

After all, American homes can’t be worth zero.

Can they?

Ed McMahon Finds Solution to Beverly Hills Housing Crisis

We’re sure you’ve heard about Johnny Carson’s former “Tonight Show” side-kick Ed McMahon’s financial troubles and the near foreclosure of his Beverly Hills estate.

You’ve probably also heard the news that Donald Trump offered to buy McMahon’s house and let him continue to live there.

Now the news is that the home was sold, but not to Trump.  When the sale is complete, the McMahons will move on to live somewhere else.

The home was offered for $4.6 million, marked down from an original asking price of $7 million.  McMahon had apparently taken out a loan of $4.8 million to buy the home in 1990.  According to CNN.com, he was $644,000 in arrears.

The home is located at 12000 Crest Court, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.  According to the website of real estate agent Alex Davis, the house is 7,013 square feet and on a 14,736 square foot lot with ocean views.

The agent’s website notes that “The foreign imported doors and meticulously chosen fireplaces are unlike any other. The master suite with his and hers baths and closets, overlooks the yard and sweeping canyon.” 

It is an amazing home — and you can see pictures of the house here and here.

Just this week, the New York Times published an article on the trend toward real estate downsizing by the wealthy in Los Angeles.  The article focused on Candy Spelling, widow of the television producer Aaron Spelling, who is downsizing from a 56,500-square-foot French chateau-style home called The Manor (compete with a wine-tasting room, a bowling alley, a silver room, a china room and a gift-wrapping room) to a $47 million, 16,500 square foot condominium. 

Perhaps Ed McMahon read the article and thought “Gee, if Candy Spelling can move into a condo, maybe I can, too.”

It is nice to know that there is a solution to the Beverly Hills housing crisis.

UPDATE: Richard Simring Pleads Guilty — Set to Testify Against Ed Okun

Richard B. Simring, the attorney charged with mail fraud and money laundering in the 1031 exchange scam led by Ed Okun, has pled guilty and agreed to testify against Okun.

According to a report in the ABA Journal based on a story in the National Law Journal, Simring “entered the plea in July in the Eastern District of Virginia, but few were aware of the development… Simring has agreed to testify against the businessman, billionaire Ed Okun, as part of the deal, Simring’s lawyer, Brian Tannebaum, told the National Law Journal. Simring faces up to five years in prison.”

The article in theNational Law Journal provides a few more details:

“Simring took the plea deal, in which he faces a possible five years in prison and must testify against his former boss, before a grand jury could indict him, according to his lawyer, Brian Tannebaum of Miami’s Tannebaum Weiss. ‘He’s taking responsibility for what the government says he did,’ Tannebaum said. ‘He didn’t want to roll the dice and face… a jury’.”

“Facing 12 to 14 years in prison and having just become a father for the second time, Simring pleaded guilty, said Tannebaum. He’s agreed to testify against Okun and faces a maximum five years in prison.  Tannebaum said Simring — who has no record of Bar complaints or crime — regrets going to work for Okun. ‘If he had it to do all over again he wouldn’t make the same choices,’ Tannebaum said.”

“Simring has notified the Florida Bar of his charges and agreed to temporarily stop practicing law. The Bar will appoint a referee to determine whether to impose any disciplinary action, which sources say will likely mean suspension.”

A Simple Way to Avoid Getting Scammed

When we read CNN’s story about the FBI’s investigation of a massive Ponzi scheme operated out of the University of Miami, what struck us as most instructive was the statement from one of the scam’s victims that he had been promised an 18 percent return on his short-term investment.

The victim, Victor Gonzalez, said he put more than $3.5 million into the scheme.

Here is a simple rule to follow if you want to avoid being scammed:

Do not believe someone who promises you an 18 percent return on a short term investment.

“What You Get for…$1.00” — The Housing Crisis Gets Crazy

The New York Times has a weekly real estate feature called “Property Values” that shows “What You Get for…” a certain a mount of money. 

This week the Times shows you “What You Get for…$10 Million” and it pictures palatial estates in Newport, Rhode Island, Kauari, Hawaii, and Whitefish, Montana.

But this week’s most interesting — and relevant — “What You Get for…” story wasn’t published in the Times, and the property isn’t situated in an up-scale locale.

The story was published in the Detroit News.

And the property — a cozy two story — is located in the foreclosure-ravaged Motor City.

It recently sold for $1.00 — after being on the market for for 19 days.

After reading the story, we tried an experiment. 

We went to realtor.com and looked up houses in Detroit.  For the minimum amount would put $0 and for the maximum amount we put $1000. 

The result was four more houses for $1, eight more for $100 or less, and a total of 172 properties at or under $1000.

Then we tried Cleveland, Ohio. 

The result was 10 properties available for $1 and five more for $1000 or less.

You can try the same experiment with other cities.  We think you’ll find similar results.

We noticed, too, that this example of America’s housing misery was providing aid and comfort to an old — and perhaps renewed — enemy.

The online edition of Pravda — which used to be the official newspaper of the Soviet Union and is now the official newspaper of Russia’s new bosses — put the Detroit Press story on the front page of its English language edition, just below the news about its shooting war in Georgia and South Ossetia.

Bankers Reject Free Market Ideology and Call for More Regulations and Protections for Investors

Free-market ideologues tend to blame most economic problems on government interference in the market.  And their response to economic crisis is invariably to call for the reduction or elimination of government regulations.

But free-market ideologues are usually pundits, professors, and politicians, and not capitalists themselves.

Real capitalists care less about ideology, and more about what is actually important — that is, capitalism.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that in the face of the potentially catastrophic crisis that is now gripping the banking industry, it is the bankers themselves who are calling for more, rather than less, government regulation.

As the Financial Times reports, “Many of the world’s biggest banks are proposing reforms that would limit the size and scope of their businesses in one of the most dramatic responses to the credit crisis. The proposals would hold down the number of investors who can buy complex financial products, bring large swathes of the derivatives markets into regulators’ sights and call on banks to spend more on technology and risk management.”

“Backed by banks including JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, HSBC, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley, the proposals are being delivered to global regulators in the hope of producing rules for credit markets that would cut risk of contagion and restore confidence.”

Here is the story:  Last week, a panel of high-power bankers calling themselves “Counterparty Risk Management Policy Group III,” lead by Goldman Sachs managing director E. Gerald Corrigan, issued a report to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Mario Draghi, chairman of the international Financial Stability Forum, calling for more regulation and governmental oversight of the banking industry and new standards for monitoring and managing risk.

The Washington Post reports that the bankers’ panel “suggested that big investment houses regularly perform ‘liquidity stress tests’ to measure their expected flexibility in the face of a crisis. It also urged firms to make sure they have accurate snapshots of their exposures to institutional trading partners, with the ability to compile detailed reports within hours.”

“In the current crisis, ‘some of the worst failures were in risk monitoring, which was before you even got to risk management,’ Corrigan, a former chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in an interview.”

Included in the panel’s recommendations is a prohibition on selling high-risk and complex financial products to anyone except “sophisticated investors.” 

According to the Financial Times, under the panel’s recommendations “even pension funds and other institutional investors would no longer be automatically allowed to buy bonds backed by assets such as subprime mortgages. All but the wealthiest retail investors would be barred from buying structured products, such as auction rate securities, a $330bn market used by municipalities and student loan providers to raise funds.”

Corrigan said “the ‘markets had been sandbagged by complexity’ and suggested the new rules would help ensure sophisticated financial products were only sold to investors with the resources and skills to understand and monitor them.”

We agree with the panel’s report and recommendations. 

It is long overdue that investors in financial products have at least the kind of “qualified investor” protections that exist under the Securities and Exchange Act — both for the sake of the investors and the stabiliity of the financial markets.

And it is good to see that real capitalists care more about preserving the world’s financial markets than about preserving some ideologically pure notion of free-market capitalism.

On other hand, in the short term, it would not be good for the economy if the banks used these recommendations as a rationale to further restrict the availability of credit to qualified borrowers.