подаръциикона за подаръкCalifornia GOP bigwig Gerald Parsky of Rancho Santa Fe is being deposed today about his relationship with Alfred Villalobos, a former board member CEO of CalPERS, the Golden State’s giant pension, who has been accused of accused of bribing pension fund officials with luxury trips and gifts to influence investment decisions.
CalPERS tried to forestall this airing of its dirty laundry, but a federal judge blocked the pension’s request to stop the deposition from taking place.
Villalobos was paid more than $47 million in commissions by private equity and real estate investment managers to help them win CalPERS contracts to manage about $4.8 billion worth of the fund’s securities from 2005 to 2009, according to a lawsuit filed by the California Attorney General’s office.
One of those private equity firms was Aurora Capital Group of Los Angeles, which hired Villalobos in 2008. Parsky is Aurora’s chairman. He’s also a former assistant Treasury secretary, a UC regent and was George W. Bush’s major doom in California.
So politically connected is Parsky that ARVCO allegedly intervened with CalPERS staff to obtain investment money for Aurora, pointing out the political juice that Parsky brought with him, according to an independent law firm investigation of the matter. CalPERS coughed up $400 million for Aurora Resurgence in 2008, earning Villalobos and his firm, ARVCO, a $4 million fee. Another $150 million CalPERS investment in a different Aurora fund, netted nearly $2 million for ARVCO.
Today, Parsky is being deposed in Los Angeles. Tomorrow, Aurora’s general counsel, Timothy Hart, will get his turn.
Dale Kasler reports in Sunday’s Sacramento Bee that CalPERS is “rethinking” its ties to Pacific Corporate Group of La Jolla, which screened private equity deals for the pension fund for the past 20 years.
For 20 years, when CalPERS needed advice on a big investment, it often called on Christopher Bower, founder and chief executive of a firm called Pacific Corporate Group.
Now this confidant from La Jolla might get pulled into the bribery scandal at the nation’s largest public pension fund.
Alfred Villalobos, the man at the heart of the scandal, worked on deals for Bower. And when CalPERS was thinking of firing Bower’s firm in early 2007, Villalobos – a former CalPERS board member – stepped in and negotiated a delicate agreement that saved the relationship.
Months later, Pacific Corporate advised CalPERS on two investments that earned Villalobos fees totaling $17 million.
Bower never hid his relationship with Villalobos. He sent CalPERS a letter about it before the investments with Villalobos’ clients were made. CalPERS concluded the arrangement was fine.
As of June 30, the firm no longer screens deals for CalPERS, ending a role it filled since 1990.
“Their contract expired and it was allowed to lapse,” said CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco.
Bower’s firm still directly manages about $1 billion of CalPERS’ money. But that’s being examined, too, as part of a larger review of CalPERS’ investment partners, said Joseph Dear, chief investment officer at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
I’ve posted some court documents relating to a bribery investigation that involves some big names in the private equity world:
- CalPERS, the giant California pension;
- Leon Black’s Apollo Group
- Christopher Bower’s Pacific Corporate Group in La Jolla
- Gerry Parsky’s Aurora Capital Group.
Some background: California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office in May sued former CalPERS CEO Federico Buenrostro Jr and placement agent and former Calpers board member Alfred Villalobos with fraudulent broker-dealer activities involving $4.8 billion in investments at the fund. (Read the lawsuit here.)
According to the lawsuit, Villalobos earned $47 million in commissions from clients including Black’s Apollo Management and Parsky’s Aurora Capital through corrupt relationships with individuals including CalPERS senior investment official Leon Shahinian, who recently left the pension:
When Villalobos was trying to persuade CalPERS to purchase a 10 percent equity interest in Apollo Global Management for $700 million in 2007 (as alleged in paragraphs 36-37 above), Shahinian accepted Villalobos’ invitation to travel by private jet to New York City to attend a fund-raising event on the evening of May 14, 2007 hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in honor of Leon Black (the “MOMA Event”), the founder and controlling shareholder of Apollo Global Management.
The trip include a private jet trip flight, a stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and limousine service. Total cost: more than $63,000.
Villalobos’ firm ARVCO billed Apollo for the trip. I’ve posted the bill here.
One month later, at a closed door hearing of the CalPERS investment board, Shahanian recommended the board invest in Black’s fund.
Also at the meeting, Pacific Corporate Group’s Chris Bower admits at the meeting that he had a business relationship with Villalobos, but CalPERS general counsel Peter Mixon said the relationship didn’t pose a conflict of interest because PCG didn’t stand to benefit from the pension’s investment in Apollo.
Here is a transcript of the hearing:
Finally, Leon Shahinian’s deposition, in which he denies being bribed, is here.
Shahinian said that sometime in 2006 he told Leon Black that he would like to have a “more direct” relationship with Apollo, meaning that if Apollo had investment opportunities they should show them to CalPERS directly.
Q. After you had this conversation with Leon Black, were you discussing with him a potential opportunity for CalPERS to invest in Apollo regarding a distressed market debt opportunity?
Q. And did you — were you hoping during that conversation, in exploring that investment opportunity, to deal directly with Apollo without need for a placement agent?
A. I had approached Apollo on the idea of CalPERS investing a substantial amount of money in a distressed debt type fund. And after I had that initial conversation with Leon Black expressing CalPERS’ interest to invest in a fund like that, I learned Apollo hired Arvco to be the placement agent.
Q. Did that surprise you?
A. It did.
A: I guess I didn’t understand why Apollo felt like they needed to hire a placement agent on something where CalPERS had explicitly indicated an interest in investing in.
California’s lame-duck Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger likes to remind us, as he did last week, that California is facing an “unsustainable path that has taxpayers on the hook for $500 billion.”
Exhibit A is SB 400 of 1999, which increased benefits for California state government employees between 20% and 50% — without the money to pay for them.
This is in essence a legal version of a Ponzi scheme where new investors pay old ones until the whole thing collapses.
Schwarzenegger aide David Crane has called SB 400 “the largest non-voter approved debt issuance in California history.”
The bill was signed during the dot-com boom and the legislature relied on vague promises that the investment wizards at California’s giant pension system would generate the money out of thin air.
Needless to say, that hasn’t exactly worked out.
On June 16th, Schwarzenegger struck a deal with four unions representing 23,000 of the state’s 170,00 unionized workers to roll back the benefits that were given away in SB 400. If similar agreements are reached with the state’s eight other employee unions, state savings in FY 2010-11 would total $2.2 billion, $1.2 billion General Fund.
Even with the cuts, Calpensions’ Ed Mendel notes, pension benefits for CHP officers are still more generous than the days before SB 400.
Democrats led by Gov. Gray Davis signed SB 400 as a thank-you to the unions that helped end 16 years of Republican rule in California the previous November.
Even though the legislature is controlled by Democrats. It needs to be said that the bill was supported by both parties. It passed unanimously in the Senate. Only seven members of the 80-member California Assembly voted against it.
The most notorious passage in the bill provided highway patrolmen with 3 percent of final pay for each year served at age 50, a significant improvement of the pre-SB 400 formula of “two at 50″ — 2 percent of final pay for each year served at age 50.
This is much, much more than 1 percent increase.
Before SB 400, a highway patrolman had to work 45 years before he could retire with 90 percent of pay. The bill shaved 15 years off that time, allowing them to retire with 90 percent of pay after 30 years on the job.
In 2008-2009, a full third of the payroll for all highway patrolman now goes into their retirement accounts.
CalPERS believed they could cover the additional costs through “continued excess returns” and said it expected that contributions from the state would hold steady at $350 million.
Instead, the compound annual growth rate of CalPERS investments grew a pathetic 1.6 percent from 1999 to the end of 2009. On June 16th, the same Schwarzenegger announced his deal with the unions, CalPERS announced that it was raising the state’s contribution to $3.9 billion.
CalPERS unfunded liability, the percentage of benefits promised that can be covered by the fund’s assets, has risen from $158 billion in 1999 to $238 billion last year.
With its myriad accounting trips, CalPERS can “smooth” (hide) losses for generations. Some day the bill will come due.
It’s looking increasingly doubtful that there will be anybody left to pay it.