The criminal world’s best and brightest minds have targeted the advisory business as worried investors in the current low interest rate climate fall prey to scams that promise high returns, Financial Serial Killers co-author Tom Ajamie said Thursday at the annual meeting of the Financial Planning Association’s New York chapter.
“These financial scams are a quick way to make a lot of money and more profitable than knocking over an old lady with a purse,” Ajamie warned several hundred FPA advisors in his keynote address. “You don’t have to get your hands dirty, and the criminal element attracted to these scams are very intelligent.”
Ajamie, managing partner of the Houston law firm Ajamie LLP, wrote his book, Financial Serial Killers: Inside the World of Wall Street Money Hustlers, Swindlers, and Con Men, after winning a $429 million arbitration award against a former PaineWebber broker in 2001. The Wall Street Journal cited it as the largest award ever handed down by a New York Stock Exchange arbitration panel.
Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, not surprisingly, came in for a drubbing from Ajamie. One of Ajamie’s clients was a victim who lost a $5 million investment to Madoff even though he never met the man and Madoff’s office was unresponsive after cashing the victim’s check.
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“When I called Madoff’s office, they never took the calls,” Ajamie’s client told him.
“Well, how did they get their money?” Ajamie asked.
“I wrote out a check for $5 million and sent it to them,” the client answered.
In short, Ajamie framed the typical con as follows: The victim meets a guy who knows another guy on the board of a university or a religious institution, and the guy says he invests billionaires’ money, but he won’t name the billionaires for reasons of confidentiality.
“There was nothing extraordinary about how Bernie Madoff pulled it off,” Ajamie said. “He belonged to the right country clubs, and if you get the endorsement from that country club, and ‘Bill says it’s good,’ it flows from there. That’s how people find their advisors.”