The Wall Street Fix
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Interviews
Eliot Spitzer
New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer spearheaded the investigations into Wall Street practices that led to the historic $1.4 billion "global settlement" between regulators and 10 Wall Street firms, first announced on Dec. 20, 2002, and finalized on April 28, 2003. Spitzer tells FRONTLINE that his investigation led him to the conclusion that Wall Street's whole business model in the late-1990s, in which stock analysts were fully integrated into the investment banking operations of brokerage houses, was not only "fundamentally corrupt" but, in fact, fraudulent. The only solution, he believes, is for Wall Street to implement the "structural reforms" agreed upon in the settlement, in which analysis and investment banking are walled off. And if abuses continue, he says, "The next time there will be absolutely no inhibition to bringing criminal cases" against individuals and the institutions.
Arthur Levitt
As the longest-serving chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, from 1993 to 2001, Arthur Levitt made a name for himself as an outspoken advocate of investor protection and a critic of conflicts of interest on Wall Street and in the accounting industry. In this interview, he tells FRONTLINE that the recent $1.4 billion settlement between regulators and Wall Street firms means little without a complete separation of research and investment banking and without "public revelation and public admission, by all parties across the board, of what went wrong." He also recalls the debates over repealing the Glass-Steagall Act during the late-1990s, a move he felt would increase conflicts of interest in the banking industry. A former investment banker himself, Levitt was a partner with Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill in the firm of Cogan, Berlind, Weill & Levitt, which later became Shearson Hayden Stone (now part of Citigroup). From 1978 to 1989, Levitt served as chairman of the American Stock Exchange.
Alan Blinder
Alan Blinder is a professor of economics at Princeton University. He served as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1994 to 1996 and was a member of President Bill Clinton's original Council of Economic Advisors from January 1993 to June 1994. In this interview, he offers his perspective on the Federal Reserve Board's rationale for loosening the restrictions on banking activities in the 1990s -- allowing the merger that created Citigroup and led to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act -- and contends that the joining of commercial and investment banking has not been responsible for the latest Wall Street abuses. Rather, he says, such abuses existed before and will continue to exist, and the best we can hope for is to mitigate them and learn from them.
David Chacon
David Chacon was a stockbroker at Salomon Smith Barney from 1996-2000. According to Salomon, Chacon was fired for allegedly stealing commissions from other brokers, but he denies the allegations and says he was forced out after blowing the whistle on allegedly criminal IPO allocations at Salomon's exclusive boutique brokerage in Los Angeles. Chacon alleges that Salomon tried to win over banking business from the heads of many telecom firms by giving them large IPO allocations for their personal accounts, and that this strategy was guided by the Salomon's top telecom analyst, Jack Grubman. He tells FRONTLINE that in one particular IPO allocation, WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers received a "kickback" worth $16 million. Many of the charges in this interview are contained in a lawsuit he has filed against Salomon in Los Angeles Circuit Court. Salomon Smith Barney has contested the suit and has issued an across-the-board denial of Chacon's charges. The firm also has sought -- so far unsuccessfully -- to have the lawsuit dismissed. Chacon has also filed a wrongful termination suit against Salomon Smith Barney.
Scott Cleland
A top telecom strategist, Cleland is the founder and CEO of the Precursor Group, a research boutique for institutional investors. He describes the telecom bubble of the late 1990s as "the trillion dollar fib," because he says the telecoms, including WorldCom, knew that they had adopted a wildly inflated premise for measuring growth. But, as he tells FRONTLINE, no one -- not the companies, the investment banks, nor the investors -- had an incentive to burst the bubble. "WorldCom was a gravy train for everyone," he says. "I think the simple thing that we learned about WorldCom is: If it looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true."
Susan Kalla
Susan Kalla is a telecom analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey. She tells FRONTLINE that there's no way a company like WorldCom could have become the number two player in the telecom industry without outside help, and says that Bernie Ebbers could not have pursued his growth strategy for WorldCom "without Jack Grubman being highly aggressive to move the stock price up." In this interview, Kalla also describes several industry conferences she attended, including one in January 2000 in which former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin -- an adviser to Citibank -- cautioned that there was a telecom bubble and the stock prices could not be maintained. "To have someone with that kind of profile give you that kind of warning is unprecedented," she says.
Charles Geisst
Charles Geisst is a professor of finance at Manhattan College and the author of many books on Wall Street and financial history. Here, he talks about the forces at work in the telecom bubble of the late 1990s and the way Wall Street investment banks propelled the boom. He also discusses the merger of Citibank and Travelers in 1998 to create Citigroup, the world's largest financial insitution, and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. As for the prospects for reforming Wall Street and restoring the trust of investors, Geisst says, "I think the consumer is still concerned about what generally is known as insider trading. They feel that people on Wall Street know something they don't. As long as that's the case, they're not coming back to the marketplace."

 

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published may 8, 2003

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