Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hedge-fund billionaire Cohen big player in charter schools. Fraud scandal could bring him down.

Whenever I read about some crooked hedge-fund billionaire mired in scandal, I always check to see if and how they're involved with charter schools. I rarely come up empty. The latest is possibly the biggest fish and the dirtiest one in the hedge-fund swamp.

Hedge-funder Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen, whose personal wealth is estimated at close to $10 billion, is the founder of the supposedly too-big- hedge fund,  SAC Capital Advisors. Cohen's firm, which once managed more than $15 billion in assets, is at the center of one of the biggest insider-trading fraud cases in history. Four employees have already been criminally charged with insider trading – two of whom have pleaded guilty. And an SAC affiliate has agreed to pay $615 million to settle SEC charges of insider trading.

Federal prosecutors have served grand jury subpoenas on Cohen and others at the firm seeking their testimony but Cohen took the 5th and refused to testify.

Cohen, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., is one of the highest profile figures in American finance and one of the world's richest men. He is among the handful of upper-tier hedge fund managers who pull in about $1 billion a year in compensation.

Now he faces possible fines and could be barred for life from managing investor funds.

According to NewsTime,
He's seen at least nine of his trusted associates charged or implicated in a rapidly metastasizing insider trading scandal, one that has cost his firm a record $616 million regulatory settlement and can be felt from hedge fund row on Connecticut's Gold Coast to Wall Street.
As I suspected, Cohen and his wife Alexandria, turn out to be big players in the charter school world. Through their tax-sheltered family foundation, they have given $35 million to "school choice" projects and more than $10 million over the last six years to Achievement First, Charter Network,as a way of pushing the development of  charter schools across Connecticut. Cohen, who strikes me as anything but a Robin Hood, is also on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation, which helped spawn Achievement First.

He has also given $40 million to support his six charter schools operating in the Bronx.

The Cohen's are sponsors of the Amistad Academy in New Haven, which is described here as, "a charter school serving minority students...using chants, rewards, and consequences."

I'm not sure what it is about hedge-funders like Boykin Curry of Eagle Capital, Whitney Tilson of T2 Partners, David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, Michael Novogratz of Fortress Investment Group, Carl Icahn and the rest that attracts them to the charter world. But I suspect it has more to do with free-market ideology than anything to do with teaching and learning.

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