Strategies & Market TrendsAnthony @ Equity Investigations, Dear Anthony,

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To: scion who wrote (114626)4/20/2012 8:31:00 AM
From: scion
   of 121796
U.S. Investigates a Goldman Executive Over Insider Trading


Federal prosecutors in California are investigating whether a Goldman Sachs executive leaked confidential information about two publicly traded companies to Raj Rajaratnam, the convicted hedge fund manager.

The previously undisclosed criminal inquiry emerged during a pretrial hearing on Thursday in the case of Rajat K. Gupta, the former Goldman director. Mr. Gupta is accused of telling Mr. Rajaratnam about secret boardroom discussions at Goldman and Procter & Gamble, where he also served on the board.

The new evidence could help Mr. Gupta’s defense, by suggesting that Mr. Rajaratnam had other possible tipsters inside Goldman Sachs. The Goldman executive under investigation in California was not named.

“The wrong man is on trial,” Gary P. Naftalis, a lawyer for Mr. Gupta, said in a previous hearing. Mr. Naftalis has called the government’s charges baseless.

Two other Goldman executives, David Loeb and Henry King, are already under investigation as part of the government’s insider trading inquiry. Both Mr. Loeb, a salesman, and Mr. King, a technology stock analyst, had close relations with Mr. Rajaratnam and his colleagues at the hedge fund, Galleon Group.

Mr. Rajaratnam and Galleon had deep ties to Goldman. Galleon, which at its peak managed about $7 billion, was one of Goldman’s most important hedge fund clients. The hedge fund also used Goldman as one of its so-called prime brokers, holding much of its assets at the bank. Galleon hired away numerous traders and analysts from the bank.

Michael Duvally, a Goldman spokesman, declined to comment, as did Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States attorney in the Central District of California in Los Angeles.

During Thursday’s hearing, before Judge Jed S. Rakoff at the Federal District Court in Manhattan, the government also revealed details about a new insider-trading claim against Mr. Gupta unveiled earlier this week.

Reed Brodsky, a prosecutor, said that in late 2008 Mr. Gupta, after learning that Procter & Gamble was going to lower its sales forecast, had lunch with Mr. Rajaratnam. Immediately after the lunch, Mr. Rajaratnam ordered his traders to short, or bet against, Procter & Gamble stock, according to Mr. Brodsky.

Mr. Brodsky said that the government learned this week about another communication between Mr. Gupta and Mr. Rajaratnam, and planned to meet with a new witness on Monday. Judge Rakoff reserved judgment on whether he would let the prosecution use this potential new evidence because it was coming at such a late stage. A trial is set for May 21.

The government brought criminal charges against Mr. Gupta in October. A former head of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Mr. Gupta, 63, is the most prominent corporate executive ensnared by the government’s sweeping investigation.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have brought insider-trading charges against more than 60 people. Mr. Rajaratnam, who was convicted by a jury last May, is serving an 11-year sentence at a federal prison in Massachusetts.

After hearing on Thursday that there was an insider trading investigation coming out of Los Angeles, the wry Judge Rakoff feigned sadness.

“I’m disappointed to learn that there’s a case involving insider trading that isn’t centered in the Southern District of New York,” Judge Rakoff joked. “But so be it.”

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To: StockDung who wrote (114574)4/20/2012 10:39:20 AM
From: scion
   of 121796
Judge narrows Lehman $8.6 billion lawsuit vs JPMorgan


April 19 (Reuters) - A federal judge has narrowed Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc's $8.6 billion lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase & Co, potentially reducing how much creditors of what was once the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank may ultimately recover.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Peck in Manhattan said Lehman may not recover various sums transferred to JPMorgan, once its main "clearing" bank handling third-party dealings, in August and September 2008.

Peck cited "safe harbor" rules designed to protect healthier banks such as JPMorgan in their dealings with weaker banks.

"These are systemically significant transactions between sophisticated financial players at a time of financial distress in the markets -- in other words, the precise setting for which the safe harbors were intended," Peck wrote on Thursday in a 92-page decision.

Peck let stand other Lehman claims, saying safe harbors do not let "systemically important" banks such as JPMorgan, the largest U.S. bank, act in a "commercially unreasonable" manner. He said Lehman may pursue claims involving intentional misconduct or which are not otherwise covered by safe harbors.

Lehman filed for Chapter 11 protection on Sept. 15, 2008, in what was a primary driver of the global financial crisis and remains by far the largest U.S. bankruptcy.

"JPMorgan grabbed assets for itself at a critical time in its banking relationship with Lehman," Peck wrote. "The issues presented are especially difficult ones that one day may help to define what constitutes acceptable conduct by major financial institutions during times of crisis."

Kimberly MacLeod, a Lehman spokeswoman, declined to comment. JPMorgan spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli was not immediately available for comment. Both companies are based in New York.

Lehman accused JPMorgan of taking advantage of inside details it had learned as a clearing bank to extract desperately needed assets in the last few days prior to, and thus hastening, the bankruptcy.

JPMorgan countersued, saying it feared it might never be repaid after lending Lehman's brokerage more than $70 billion around the time of the bankruptcy, and getting stuck with collateral that Lehman's own employees called "toxic waste."

In September 2011, JPMorgan sought to move the Lehman case to federal district court, saying it involved issues that Peck lacks jurisdiction to handle. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in Manhattan has yet to rule on JPMorgan's request.

Lehman emerged from Chapter 11 last month. On April 11, it said it planned to make an initial $22.5 billion distribution to creditors this week.

The case is Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc et al v. JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-ap-03266.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel)

Follow us on Twitter: @ReutersLegal

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From: scion4/20/2012 10:45:22 AM
   of 121796
SEC Charges Father-and-Son Hedge Fund Managers Who Agree to Pay $4.8 Million to Settle Fraud Case


Washington, D.C., April 20, 2012 – The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Boston-based father-son duo of hedge fund managers and their firms with securities fraud for misleading investors about their investment strategy and past performance.

Additional Materials
SEC Order

The SEC’s investigation found that Gabriel and Marco Bitran raised millions of dollars for their hedge funds through GMB Capital Management LLC and GMB Capital Partners LLC by falsely telling investors they had a lengthy track record of success based on actual trades using real money. In truth, the Bitrans knew the track record was based on back-tested hypothetical simulations. The Bitrans also misled investors in certain hedge funds to believe they used quantitative optimal pricing models devised by Gabriel Bitran to invest in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and other liquid securities. Instead, they merely invested the money almost entirely in other hedge funds. GMB Capital Management later provided false documents to SEC staff examining the firm’s claims in marketing materials of a successful track record.

The Bitrans agreed to be barred from the securities industry and pay a total of $4.8 million to settle the SEC’s charges.

“The Bitrans solicited investors by touting an impressive track record and a unique investment strategy, and they lied about both,” said David P. Bergers, Director of the SEC’s Boston Regional Office.

According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, Gabriel Bitran founded GMB Capital Management in 2005 for the stated purpose of managing hedge funds using quantitative models he developed based on his academic optimal pricing research to trade primarily ETFs. He and his son Marco Bitran solicited potential investors with three primary selling points:

Very successful performance track records based on actual trades using real money from 1998 to the inception of the hedge funds.

The firm’s use of Gabriel Bitran’s proprietary optimal pricing model to trade ETFs.

Gabriel Bitran’s involvement as founder and portfolio manager of the funds.

The SEC’s order states that over a period of three years, the Bitrans raised more than $500 million for eight hedge funds and various managed accounts while making these misrepresentations to investors. In order to market the hedge funds, GMB Management and the Bitrans created performance track records beginning in January 1998 showing double-digit annualized return without any down years. They distributed these track records to potential investors in marketing materials, and told investors that they were based on actual trading with real money using Gabriel Bitran’s optimal pricing models. In reality, the Bitrans knew their representations were false and the track records were based on hypothetical historical investments. For two of their hedge funds, they created track records showing annualized returns of 16.2 percent and 11.7 percent with no down years, and told investors the returns were based on actual trading when in fact they were based on hypothetical historical allocations to hedge fund managers.

According to the SEC’s order, investors were misled to believe their money was being invested according to Gabriel Bitran’s unique quant strategy when in reality certain GMB hedge funds were merely investing predominantly in other hedge funds without his involvement. For example, investors in two GMB hedge funds were told that Gabriel Bitran spent 80 percent of his time managing the funds and was involved in reviewing trades in the funds on a daily basis. However, he actually had no role in the management of either fund. Both funds experienced a series of losses at the end of 2008, and GMB eventually dissolved them. When a possible financial fraud at the Petters Group Worldwide was reported in late September 2008, the two hedge funds’ investments in a fund that was entirely invested in the Petters Group became illiquid. However, GMB did not disclose to investors that it had been impacted by the Petters fraud, instead sending investors a letter stating that “a swap instrument that the Fund entered into seeking to realize a higher return on a portion of its uninvested cash” had become illiquid because “one of the parties underlying the swap instrument is currently experiencing a credit and liquidity crisis, in conjunction with other alleged factors.” Furthermore, the two GMB funds suffered significant losses in hedge funds that had invested with Bernard Madoff. These investments in funds that ultimately invested with the Petters Group and Madoff were made contrary to what GMB investors were told.

According to the SEC’s order, during an SEC examination of GMB Capital Management, the firm produced a document that the Bitrans claimed was a real-time record of Gabriel Bitran’s trades since 1998. In fact, the document was false and created solely for the purpose of responding to the SEC staff’s request for the books and records that supported GMB’s performance claims.

The GMB entities and the Bitrans neither admitted nor denied the SEC’s findings in settling the charges. They agreed to pay disgorgement of $4.3 million. Gabriel and Marco Bitran also agreed to pay $250,000 each in penalties and be barred from the securities industry, and the GMB entities will be censured. The SEC’s order requires the Bitrans and the GMB entities to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations and any future violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act, Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and Sections 204, 206(1), 206(2) and 206(4) of the Advisers Act and Rules 204-2(a)(16) and 206(4)-8 thereunder.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Kerry Dakin, Kevin Kelcourse, and Kathleen Shields of the Boston Regional Office. Paul Prata, Elizabeth Ward, and Milton Pepin of the Boston Regional Office worked on the SEC’s examination. Stuart Jackson of the SEC’s Division of Risk, Strategy, and Financial Innovation assisted in the investigation.

# # #

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From: scion4/20/2012 11:35:22 AM
   of 121796
SEC Charges British Twin Brothers Touting "Stock Picking Robot" in Internet Pump-and-Dump Scheme


Washington, D.C., April 20, 2012 – The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged twin brothers from the U.K. with defrauding approximately 75,000 investors through an Internet-based pump-and-dump scheme in which they touted a fake “stock picking robot” that purportedly identified penny stocks set to double in price. Instead, the brothers were merely touting stocks they were being paid separately to promote.

Additional Materials
SEC Complaint

The SEC alleges that Alexander John Hunter and Thomas Edward Hunter were just 16 years old when they set their fraud in motion beginning in 2007. They disseminated e-mail newsletters through a pair of websites they created to tout stocks selected by the robot – which they described as a highly sophisticated computer trading program that was the product of extensive research and development. Their claims were persuasive as the Hunters received at least $1.2 million from investors primarily in the U.S. who paid $47 apiece for annual newsletter subscriptions. Some investors paid an additional fee for the “home version” of the robot software.

In reality, the SEC alleges that the Hunters used a third website to offer their services as stock promoters, claiming that they could “rocket” a stock’s price and increase its volume by sending out newsletters. The Hunters were consequently paid at least $1.865 million in fees from known or suspected stock promoters, and they did not disclose to their newsletter followers the conflicting relationship between their two businesses.

“The Hunters used the anonymity of the Internet and the promise of easy riches to prey on investors,” said Thomas A. Sporkin, Chief of the SEC’s Office of Market Intelligence. “While touting their supposed breakthrough investment technology on two websites, the Hunters were racking up fees as stock promoters through a third.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Hunters created websites and to falsely tout that a former trading algorithm programmer from a large investment bank had designed a stock picking robot that they named “ Marl.” The robot could purportedly analyze the over-the-counter securities markets and identify penny stocks that were set to experience large price increases. The brothers offered investors paid subscriptions to their e-mail newsletter that would contain the robot’s latest stock pick.

The SEC alleges that the brothers separately created the website where they marketed their newsletter subscriber list to penny stock promoters and boasted, “One email to this list of people rockets a stock price.” The Hunters were in turn paid to send selected penny stock ticker symbols to their subscribers, who were misled to believe that the stock “picks” were the product of the robot. The Hunters sent out their newsletters near the beginning of the trading day, and the price and volume of the promoted stocks spiked dramatically as newsletter subscribers rushed to purchase shares. However, the stocks typically fell precipitously shortly thereafter, leaving investors with shares worth less than they had purchased them for earlier in the day.

According to the SEC’s complaint, the Hunters also offered subscribers a downloadable version of the stock picking robot for an additional fee of $97. Rather than performing the analysis advertised, the software was actually designed to just deliver users a stock pick supplied by the brothers. In soliciting bids in 2007 from free-lance coders to create the software, Alexander Hunter wrote that the software should “not actually find stocks at all. It should connect to my database and simply request any new stocks I have put in.” He bluntly explained that the software “is almost a ‘fake’ piece of software and needs to simply appear advanced to the user.” Like the newsletter, the home version of the stock picking robot was no more than a fraudulent delivery vehicle for stock symbols that the Hunters had been compensated to promote.

The SEC’s complaint charges the Hunters with violating the anti-fraud provisions of the U.S. securities laws, namely Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The SEC is seeking permanent injunctions, disgorgement of all ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, and financial penalties.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Adam M. Schoeberlein. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Robert I. Dodge.

# # #

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From: scion4/21/2012 3:14:56 PM
   of 121796
Italy police seize $5 billion of U.S. securities

Reuters – 5 hours ago

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy financial police have seized U.S. securities with face values of about $1.5 billion and gold certificates worth above 3 billion euros ($3.96 billion) as part of an investigation into a possible international

financial scam.

The police said on Saturday the “million dollar" operation was a last step in the probe, which centered on the use of bearer Federal Reserve debt securities dating back to the 1930s as

a guarantee for loans or other opaque cross-border transactions.

Rome police seized the securities from a 70-year-old man, who held them in a briefcase along with documents about financial operations, the police said in a statement.

Police said they were carrying out checks, helped by the U.S. Central Bank and the U.S. embassy in Rome, over the authenticity and origin of the securities, as well as over possible links between the man and criminal organizations.

(Reporting By Danilo Masoni; editing by Patrick Graham)

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From: Glenn Petersen4/21/2012 6:12:36 PM
   of 121796
While I am not particularly fond of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:

Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart

After Top-Level Struggle Confronted with evidence of widespread corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing, an examination by The New York Times found.

New York Times
Published: April 21, 2012

MEXICO CITY — In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.

The former executive gave names, dates and bribe amounts. He knew so much, he explained, because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits for Wal-Mart de Mexico.

Wal-Mart dispatched investigators to Mexico City, and within days they unearthed evidence of widespread bribery. They found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million. They also found documents showing that Wal-Mart de Mexico’s top executives not only knew about the payments, but had taken steps to conceal them from Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. In a confidential report to his superiors, Wal-Mart’s lead investigator, a former F.B.I. special agent, summed up their initial findings this way: “There is reasonable suspicion to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.”

The lead investigator recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation.

Instead, an examination by The New York Times found, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut it down.

Neither American nor Mexican law enforcement officials were notified. None of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s leaders were disciplined. Indeed, its chief executive, Eduardo Castro-Wright, identified by the former executive as the driving force behind years of bribery, was promoted to vice chairman of Wal-Mart in 2008. Until this article, the allegations and Wal-Mart’s investigation had never been publicly disclosed.

But The Times’s examination uncovered a prolonged struggle at the highest levels of Wal-Mart, a struggle that pitted the company’s much publicized commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards against its relentless pursuit of growth.

Under fire from labor critics, worried about press leaks and facing a sagging stock price, Wal-Mart’s leaders recognized that the allegations could have devastating consequences, documents and interviews show. Wal-Mart de Mexico was the company’s brightest success story, pitched to investors as a model for future growth. (Today, one in five Wal-Mart stores is in Mexico.) Confronted with evidence of corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing.

In one meeting where the bribery case was discussed, H. Lee Scott Jr., then Wal-Mart’s chief executive, rebuked internal investigators for being overly aggressive. Days later, records show, Wal-Mart’s top lawyer arranged to ship the internal investigators’ files on the case to Mexico City. Primary responsibility for the investigation was then given to the general counsel of Wal-Mart de Mexico — a remarkable choice since the same general counsel was alleged to have authorized bribes.

The general counsel promptly exonerated his fellow Wal-Mart de Mexico executives.

When Wal-Mart’s director of corporate investigations — a former top F.B.I. official — read the general counsel’s report, his appraisal was scathing. “Truly lacking,” he wrote in an e-mail to his boss.

The report was nonetheless accepted by Wal-Mart’s leaders as the last word on the matter.

In December, after learning of The Times’s reporting in Mexico, Wal-Mart informed the Justice Department that it had begun an internal investigation into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal law that makes it a crime for American corporations and their subsidiaries to bribe foreign officials. Wal-Mart said the company had learned of possible problems with how it obtained permits, but stressed that the issues were limited to “discrete” cases.

“We do not believe that these matters will have a material adverse effect on our business,” the company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But The Times’s examination found credible evidence that bribery played a persistent and significant role in Wal-Mart’s rapid growth in Mexico, where Wal-Mart now employs 209,000 people, making it the country’s largest private employer.

A Wal-Mart spokesman confirmed that the company’s Mexico operations — and its handling of the 2005 case — were now a major focus of its inquiry.

“If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for,” the spokesman, David W. Tovar, said. “We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”

In the meantime, Mr. Tovar said, Wal-Mart is taking steps in Mexico to strengthen compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “We do not and will not tolerate noncompliance with F.C.P.A. anywhere or at any level of the company,” he said.

The Times laid out this article’s findings to Wal-Mart weeks ago. The company said it shared the findings with many of the executives named here, including Mr. Scott, now on Wal-Mart’s board, and Mr. Castro-Wright, who is retiring in July. Both men declined to comment, Mr. Tovar said.

The Times obtained hundreds of internal company documents tracing the evolution of Wal-Mart’s 2005 Mexico investigation. The documents show Wal-Mart’s leadership immediately recognized the seriousness of the allegations. Working in secrecy, a small group of executives, including several current members of Wal-Mart’s senior management, kept close tabs on the inquiry.

Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart’s current chief executive, was also kept informed. At the time, Mr. Duke had just been put in charge of Wal-Mart International, making him responsible for all foreign subsidiaries. “You’ll want to read this,” a top Wal-Mart lawyer wrote in an Oct. 15, 2005, e-mail to Mr. Duke that gave a detailed description of the former executive’s allegations.

The Times examination included more than 15 hours of interviews with the former executive, Sergio Cicero Zapata, who resigned from Wal-Mart de Mexico in 2004 after nearly a decade in the company’s real estate department.

In the interviews, Mr. Cicero recounted how he had helped organize years of payoffs. He described personally dispatching two trusted outside lawyers to deliver envelopes of cash to government officials. They targeted mayors and city council members, obscure urban planners, low-level bureaucrats who issued permits — anyone with the power to thwart Wal-Mart’s growth. The bribes, he said, bought zoning approvals, reductions in environmental impact fees and the allegiance of neighborhood leaders.

He called it working “the dark side of the moon.”

The Times also reviewed thousands of government documents related to permit requests for stores across Mexico. The examination found many instances where permits were given within weeks or even days of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s payments to the two lawyers. Again and again, The Times found, legal and bureaucratic obstacles melted away after payments were made.

The Times conducted extensive interviews with participants in Wal-Mart’s investigation. They spoke on the condition that they not be identified discussing matters Wal-Mart has long shielded. These people said the investigation left little doubt Mr. Cicero’s allegations were credible. (“Not even a close call,” one person said.)

But, they said, the more investigators corroborated his assertions, the more resistance they encountered inside Wal-Mart. Some of it came from powerful executives implicated in the corruption, records and interviews show. Other top executives voiced concern about the possible legal and reputational harm.

In the end, people involved in the investigation said, Wal-Mart’s leaders found a bloodlessly bureaucratic way to bury the matter. But in handing the investigation off to one of its main targets, they disregarded the advice of one of Wal-Mart’s top lawyers, the same lawyer first contacted by Mr. Cicero.

“The wisdom of assigning any investigative role to management of the business unit being investigated escapes me,” Maritza I. Munich, then general counsel of Wal-Mart International, wrote in an e-mail to top Wal-Mart executives.

The investigation, she urged, should be completed using “professional, independent investigative resources.”

The Allegations Emerge

On Sept. 21, 2005, Mr. Cicero sent an e-mail to Ms. Munich telling her he had information about “irregularities” authorized “by the highest levels” at Wal-Mart de Mexico. “I hope to meet you soon,” he wrote.

Ms. Munich was familiar with the challenges of avoiding corruption in Latin America. Before joining Wal-Mart in 2003, she had spent 12 years in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America as a lawyer for Procter & Gamble.

At Wal-Mart in 2004, she pushed the board to adopt a strict anticorruption policy that prohibited all employees from “offering anything of value to a government official on behalf of Wal-Mart.” It required every employee to report the first sign of corruption, and it bound Wal-Mart’s agents to the same exacting standards.

Ms. Munich reacted quickly to Mr. Cicero’s e-mail. Within days, she hired Juan Francisco Torres-Landa, a prominent Harvard-trained lawyer in Mexico City, to debrief Mr. Cicero. The two men met three times in October 2005, with Ms. Munich flying in from Bentonville for the third debriefing.

During hours of questioning, Mr. Torres-Landa’s notes show, Mr. Cicero described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had perfected the art of bribery, then hidden it all with fraudulent accounting. Mr. Cicero implicated many of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s leaders, including its board chairman, its general counsel, its chief auditor and its top real estate executive.

But the person most responsible, he told Mr. Torres-Landa, was the company’s ambitious chief executive, Eduardo Castro-Wright, a native of Ecuador who was recruited from Honeywell in 2001 to become Wal-Mart’s chief operating officer in Mexico.

Mr. Cicero said that while bribes were occasionally paid before Mr. Castro-Wright’s arrival, their use soared after Mr. Castro-Wright ascended to the top job in 2002. Mr. Cicero described how Wal-Mart de Mexico’s leaders had set “very aggressive growth goals,” which required opening new stores “in record times.” Wal-Mart de Mexico executives, he said, were under pressure to do “whatever was necessary” to obtain permits.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Cicero said Mr. Castro-Wright had encouraged the payments for a specific strategic purpose. The idea, he said, was to build hundreds of new stores so fast that competitors would not have time to react. Bribes, he explained, accelerated growth. They got zoning maps changed. They made environmental objections vanish. Permits that typically took months to process magically materialized in days. “What we were buying was time,” he said.

Wal-Mart de Mexico’s stunning growth made Mr. Castro-Wright a rising star in Bentonville. In early 2005, when he was promoted to a senior position in the United States, Mr. Duke would cite his “outstanding results” in Mexico.

Mr. Cicero’s allegations were all the more startling because he implicated himself. He spent hours explaining to Mr. Torres-Landa the mechanics of how he had helped funnel bribes through trusted fixers, known as “gestores.”

Gestores (pronounced hes-TORE-ehs) are a fixture in Mexico’s byzantine bureaucracies, and some are entirely legitimate. Ordinary citizens routinely pay gestores to stand in line for them at the driver’s license office. Companies hire them as quasi-lobbyists to get things done as painlessly as possible.

But often gestores play starring roles in Mexico’s endless loop of public corruption scandals. They operate in the shadows, dangling payoffs to officials of every rank. It was this type of gestor that Wal-Mart de Mexico deployed, Mr. Cicero said.

Mr. Cicero told Mr. Torres-Landa it was his job to recruit the gestores. He worked closely with them, sharing strategies on whom to bribe. He also approved Wal-Mart de Mexico’s payments to the gestores. Each payment covered the bribe and the gestor’s fee, typically 6 percent of the bribe.

It was all carefully monitored through a system of secret codes known only to a handful of Wal-Mart de Mexico executives.

The gestores submitted invoices with brief, vaguely worded descriptions of their services. But the real story, Mr. Cicero said, was told in codes written on the invoices. The codes identified the specific “irregular act” performed, Mr. Cicero explained to Mr. Torres-Landa. One code, for example, indicated a bribe to speed up a permit. Others described bribes to obtain confidential information or eliminate fines.

Each month, Mr. Castro-Wright and other top Wal-Mart de Mexico executives “received a detailed schedule of all of the payments performed,” he said, according to the lawyer’s notes. Wal-Mart de Mexico then “purified” the bribes in accounting records as simple legal fees.

They also took care to keep Bentonville in the dark. “Dirty clothes are washed at home,” Mr. Cicero said.

Mr. Torres-Landa explored Mr. Cicero’s motives for coming forward.

Mr. Cicero said he resigned in September 2004 because he felt underappreciated. He described the “pressure and stress” of participating in years of corruption, of contending with “greedy” officials who jacked up bribe demands.

As he told The Times, “I thought I deserved a medal at least.”

The breaking point came in early 2004, when he was passed over for the job of general counsel of Wal-Mart de Mexico. This snub, Mr. Torres-Landa wrote, “generated significant anger with respect to the lack of recognition for his work.” Mr. Cicero said he began to assemble a record of bribes he had helped orchestrate to “protect him in case of any complaint or investigation,” Mr. Torres-Landa wrote.

“We did not detect on his part any express statement about wishing to sell the information,” the lawyer added.

According to people involved in Wal-Mart’s investigation, Mr. Cicero’s account of criminality at the top of Wal-Mart’s most important foreign subsidiary was impossible to dismiss. He had clearly been in a position to witness the events he described. Nor was this the first indication of corruption at Wal-Mart de Mexico under Mr. Castro-Wright. A confidential investigation, conducted for Wal-Mart in 2003 by Kroll Inc., a leading investigation firm, discovered that Wal-Mart de Mexico had systematically increased its sales by helping favored high-volume customers evade sales taxes.

A draft of Kroll’s report, obtained by The Times, concluded that top Wal-Mart de Mexico executives had failed to enforce their own anticorruption policies, ignored internal audits that raised red flags and even disregarded local press accounts asserting that Wal-Mart de Mexico was “carrying out a tax fraud.” (The company ultimately paid $34.3 million in back taxes.)

Wal-Mart then asked Kroll to evaluate Wal-Mart de Mexico’s internal audit and antifraud units. Kroll wrote another report that branded the units “ineffective.” Many employees accused of wrongdoing were not even questioned; some “received a promotion shortly after the suspicions of fraudulent activities had surfaced.”

None of these findings, though, had slowed Mr. Castro-Wright’s rise.

Just days before Mr. Cicero’s first debriefing, Mr. Castro-Wright was promoted again. He was put in charge of all Wal-Mart stores in the United States, one of the most prominent jobs in the company. He also joined Wal-Mart’s executive committee, the company’s inner sanctum of leadership.

The Initial Response

Ms. Munich sent detailed memos describing Mr. Cicero’s debriefings to Wal-Mart’s senior management. These executives, records show, included Thomas A. Mars, Wal-Mart’s general counsel and a former director of the Arkansas State Police; Thomas D. Hyde, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president and corporate secretary; Michael Fung, Wal-Mart’s top internal auditor; Craig Herkert, the chief executive for Wal-Mart’s operations in Latin America; and Lee Stucky, a confidant of Lee Scott’s and chief administrative officer of Wal-Mart International.

Wal-Mart typically hired outside law firms to lead internal investigations into allegations of significant wrongdoing. It did so earlier in 2005, for example, when Thomas M. Coughlin, then vice chairman of Wal-Mart, was accused of padding his expense accounts and misappropriating Wal-Mart gift cards.

At first, Wal-Mart took the same approach with Mr. Cicero’s allegations. It turned to Willkie Farr & Gallagher, a law firm with extensive experience in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases.

The firm’s “investigation work plan” called for tracing all payments to anyone who had helped Wal-Mart de Mexico obtain permits for the previous five years. The firm said it would scrutinize “any and all payments” to government officials and interview every person who might know about payoffs, including “implicated members” of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s board.

In short, Willkie Farr recommended the kind of independent, spare-no-expense investigation major corporations routinely undertake when confronted with allegations of serious wrongdoing by top executives.

Wal-Mart’s leaders rejected this approach. Instead, records show, they decided Wal-Mart’s lawyers would supervise a far more limited “preliminary inquiry” by in-house investigators.

The inquiry, a confidential memo explained, would take two weeks, not the four months Willkie Farr proposed. Rather than examining years of permits, the team would look at a few specific stores. Interviews would be done “only when absolutely essential to establishing the bona fides” of Mr. Cicero. However, if the inquiry found a “likelihood” that laws had been violated, the company would then consider conducting a “full investigation.”

The decision gave Wal-Mart’s senior management direct control over the investigation. It also meant new responsibility for the company’s tiny and troubled Corporate Investigations unit.

The unit was ill-equipped to take on a major corruption investigation, let alone one in Mexico. It had fewer than 70 employees, and most were assigned to chasing shoplifting rings and corrupt vendors. Just four people were specifically dedicated to investigating corporate fraud, a number Joseph R. Lewis, Wal-Mart’s director of corporate investigations, described in a confidential memo as “wholly inadequate for an organization the size of Wal-Mart.”

But Mr. Lewis and his boss, Kenneth H. Senser, vice president for global security, aviation and travel, were working to strengthen the unit. Months before Mr. Cicero surfaced, they won approval to hire four “special investigators” who, according to their job descriptions, would be assigned the “most significant and complex fraud matters.” Mr. Scott, the chief executive, also agreed that Corporate Investigations would handle all allegations of misconduct by senior executives.

And yet in the fall of 2005, as Wal-Mart began to grapple with Mr. Cicero’s allegations, two cases called into question Corporate Investigations’ independence and role.

In October, Wal-Mart’s vice chairman, John B. Menzer, intervened in an internal investigation into a senior vice president who reported to him. According to internal records, Mr. Menzer told Mr. Senser he did not want Corporate Investigations to handle the case “due to concerns about the impact such an investigation would have.” One of the senior vice president’s subordinates, he said, “would be better suited to conduct this inquiry.” Soon after, records show, the subordinate cleared his boss.

The other case involved the president of Wal-Mart Puerto Rico. A whistle-blower had accused the president and other executives of mistreating employees. Although Corporate Investigations was supposed to investigate all allegations against senior executives, the president had instead assigned an underling to look into the complaints — but to steer clear of those against him.

Ms. Munich objected. In an e-mail to Wal-Mart executives, she complained that the investigation was “at the direction of the same company officer who is the target of several of the allegations.”

“We are in need of clear guidelines about how to handle these issues going forward,” she warned.

The Inquiry Begins

Ronald Halter, one of Wal-Mart’s new “special investigators,” was assigned to lead the preliminary inquiry into Mr. Cicero’s allegations. Mr. Halter had been with Wal-Mart only a few months, but he was a seasoned criminal investigator. He had spent 21 years in the F.B.I., and he spoke Spanish.

He also had help. Bob Ainley, a senior auditor, was sent to Mexico along with several Spanish-speaking auditors.

On Nov. 12, 2005, Mr. Halter’s team got to work at Wal-Mart de Mexico’s corporate headquarters in Mexico City. The team gained access to a database of Wal-Mart de Mexico payments and began searching the payment description field for the word “gestoria.”

By day’s end, they had found 441 gestor payments. Each was a potential bribe, and yet they had searched back only to 2003.

Mr. Cicero had said his main gestores were Pablo Alegria Con Alonso and Jose Manuel Aguirre Juarez, obscure Mexico City lawyers with small practices who were friends of his from law school.

Sure enough, Mr. Halter’s team found that nearly half the payments were to Mr. Alegria and Mr. Aguirre. These two lawyers alone, records showed, had received $8.5 million in payments. Records showed Wal-Mart de Mexico routinely paid its gestores tens of thousands of dollars per permit. (In interviews, both lawyers declined to discuss the corruption allegations, citing confidentiality agreements with Wal-Mart.)

“One very interesting postscript,” Mr. Halter wrote in an e-mail to his boss, Mr. Lewis. “All payments to these individuals and all large sums of $ paid out of this account stopped abruptly in 2005.” Mr. Halter said the “only thing we can find” that changed was that Mr. Castro-Wright left Wal-Mart de Mexico for the United States.

Mr. Halter’s team confirmed detail after detail from Mr. Cicero’s debriefings. Mr. Cicero had given specifics — names, dates, bribe amounts — for several new stores. In almost every case, investigators found documents confirming major elements of his account. And just as Mr. Cicero had described, investigators found mysterious codes at the bottom of invoices from the gestores.

“The documentation didn’t look anything like what you would find in legitimate billing records from a legitimate law firm,” a person involved in the investigation said in an interview.

Mr. Lewis sent a terse progress report to his boss, Mr. Senser: “FYI. It is not looking good.”

Hours later, Mr. Halter’s team found clear confirmation that Mr. Castro-Wright and other top executives at Wal-Mart de Mexico were well aware of the gestor payments.

In March 2004, the team discovered, the executives had been sent an internal Wal-Mart de Mexico audit that raised red flags about the gestor payments. The audit documented how Wal-Mart de Mexico’s two primary gestores had been paid millions to make “facilitating payments” for new store permits all over Mexico.

The audit did not delve into how the money had been used to “facilitate” permits. But it showed the payments rising rapidly, roughly in line with Wal-Mart de Mexico’s accelerating growth. The audit recommended notifying Bentonville of the payments.

The recommendation, records showed, was removed by Wal-Mart de Mexico’s chief auditor, whom Mr. Cicero had identified as one of the executives who knew about the bribes. The author of the gestor audit, meanwhile, “was fired not long after the audit was completed,” Mr. Halter wrote.

Mr. Ainley arranged to meet the fired auditor at his hotel. The auditor described other examples of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s leaders withholding from Bentonville information about suspect payments to government officials.

The auditor singled out José Luis Rodríguezmacedo Rivera, the general counsel of Wal-Mart de Mexico.

Mr. Rodríguezmacedo, he said, took “significant information out” of an audit of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The original audit had described how Wal-Mart de Mexico gave gift cards to government officials in towns where it was building stores. “These were only given out until the construction was complete,” Mr. Ainley wrote. “At which time the payments ceased.”

These details were scrubbed from the final version sent to Bentonville.

Investigators were struck by Mr. Castro-Wright’s response to the gestor audit. It had been shown to him immediately, Wal-Mart de Mexico’s chief auditor had told them. Yet rather than expressing alarm, he had appeared worried about becoming too dependent on too few gestores. In an e-mail, Mr. Rodríguezmacedo told Mr. Cicero to write up a plan to “diversify” the gestores used to “facilitate” permits.

“Eduardo Castro wants us to implement this plan as soon as possible,” he wrote.

Mr. Cicero did as directed. The plan, which authorized paying gestores up to $280,000 to “facilitate” a single permit, was approved with a minor change. Mr. Rodríguezmacedo did not want the plan to mention “gestores.” He wanted them called “external service providers.”

Mr. Halter’s team made one last discovery — a finding that suggested the corruption might be far more extensive than even Mr. Cicero had described.

In going through Wal-Mart de Mexico’s database of payments, investigators noticed the company was making hefty “contributions” and “donations” directly to governments all over Mexico — nearly $16 million in all since 2003.

“Some of the payments descriptions indicate that the donation is being made for the issuance of a license,” Mr. Ainley wrote in one report back to Bentonville.

They also found a document in which a Wal-Mart de Mexico real estate executive had openly acknowledged that “these payments were performed to facilitate obtaining the licenses or permits” for new stores. Sometimes, Mr. Cicero told The Times, donations were used hand-in-hand with gestor payments to get permits.

Deflecting Blame

When Mr. Halter’s team was ready to interview executives at Wal-Mart de Mexico, the first target was Mr. Rodríguezmacedo.

Before joining Wal-Mart de Mexico in January 2004, Mr. Rodríguezmacedo had been a lawyer for Citigroup in Mexico. Urbane and smooth, with impeccable English, he quickly won fans in Bentonville. When Wal-Mart invited executives from its foreign subsidiaries for several days of discussion about the fine points of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Mr. Rodríguezmacedo was asked to lead one of the sessions.

It was called “Overcoming Challenges in Government Dealings.”

Yet Mr. Cicero had identified him as a participant in the bribery scheme. In his debriefings, Mr. Cicero described how Mr. Rodríguezmacedo had passed along specific payoff instructions from Mr. Castro-Wright. In an interview with The Times, Mr. Cicero said he and Mr. Rodríguezmacedo had discussed the use of gestores shortly after Mr. Rodríguezmacedo was hired. “He said, ‘Don’t worry. Keep it on its way.’ ”

Mr. Rodríguezmacedo declined to comment; on Friday Wal-Mart disclosed that he had been reassigned and is no longer Wal-Mart de Mexico’s general counsel.

Mr. Halter’s team hoped Mr. Rodríguezmacedo would shed light on how two outside lawyers came to be paid $8.5 million to “facilitate” permits. Mr. Rodríguezmacedo responded with evasive hostility, records and interviews show. When investigators asked him for the gestores’ billing records, he said he did not have time to track them down. They got similar receptions from other executives.

Only after investigators complained to higher authorities were the executives more forthcoming. Led by Mr. Rodríguezmacedo, they responded with an attack on Mr. Cicero’s credibility.

The gestor audit, they told investigators, had raised doubts about Mr. Cicero, since he had approved most of the payments. They began to suspect he was somehow benefiting, so they asked Kroll to investigate. It was then, they asserted, that Kroll discovered Mr. Cicero’s wife was a law partner of one of the gestores.

Mr. Cicero was fired, they said, because he had failed to disclose that fact. They produced a copy of a “preliminary” report from Kroll and e-mails showing the undisclosed conflict had been reported to Bentonville.

Based on this behavior, Mr. Rodríguezmacedo argued, the gestor payments were in all likelihood a “ruse” by Mr. Cicero to defraud Wal-Mart de Mexico. Mr. Cicero and the gestores, he contended, probably kept every last peso of the “facilitating payments.”

Simply put, bribes could not have been paid if the money was stolen first.

It was an argument that gave Wal-Mart ample justification to end the inquiry. But investigators were skeptical, records and interviews show.

Even if Mr. Rodríguezmacedo’s account were true, it did not explain why Wal-Mart de Mexico’s executives had authorized gestor payments in the first place, or why they made “donations” to get permits, or why they rewrote audits to keep Bentonville in the dark.

Investigators also wondered why a trained lawyer who had gotten away with stealing a small fortune from Wal-Mart would now deliberately draw the company’s full attention by implicating himself in a series of fictional bribes. And if Wal-Mart de Mexico’s executives truly believed they had been victimized, why hadn’t they taken legal action against Mr. Cicero, much less reported the “theft” to Bentonville?

There was another problem: Documents contradicted most of the executives’ assertions about Mr. Cicero.

Records showed Mr. Cicero had not been fired, but had resigned with severance benefits and a $25,000 bonus. In fact, in a 2004 e-mail to Ms. Munich, Mr. Rodríguezmacedo himself described how he had “negotiated” Mr. Cicero’s “departure.” The same e-mail said Mr. Cicero had not even been confronted about the supposed undisclosed conflict involving his wife. (Mr. Cicero flatly denied that his wife had ever worked with either gestor.) The e-mail also assured Ms. Munich there was no hint of financial wrongdoing. “We see it merely as an undisclosed conflict of interest,” Mr. Rodríguezmacedo wrote.

There were other discrepancies.

Mr. Rodríguezmacedo said the company had stopped using gestores after Mr. Cicero’s departure. Yet even as Mr. Cicero was being debriefed in October 2005, Wal-Mart de Mexico real estate executives made a request to pay a gestor $14,000 to get a construction permit, records showed.

The persistent questions and document requests from Mr. Halter’s team provoked a backlash from Wal-Mart de Mexico’s executives. After a week of work, records and interviews show, Mr. Halter and other members of the team were summoned by Eduardo F. Solórzano Morales, then chief executive of Wal-Mart de Mexico.

Mr. Solórzano angrily chastised the investigators for being too secretive and accusatory. He took offense that his executives were being told at the start of interviews that they had the right not to answer questions — as if they were being read their rights.

“It was like, ‘You shut up. I’m going to talk,’ ” a person said of Mr. Solórzano. “It was, ‘This is my home, my backyard. You are out of here.’ ”

Mr. Lewis viewed the complaints as an effort to sidetrack his investigators. “I find this ludicrous and a copout for the larger concerns about what has been going on,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, Mr. Herkert, the chief executive for Latin America, was notified about the complaints. Three days later, he and his boss, Mr. Duke, flew to Mexico City. The trip had been long-planned — Mr. Duke toured several stores — but they also reassured Wal-Mart de Mexico’s unhappy executives.

They arrived just as the investigators wrapped up their work and left.

A Push to Dig Deeper

Wal-Mart’s leaders had agreed to consider a full investigation if the preliminary inquiry found Mr. Cicero’s allegations credible.

Back in Bentonville, Mr. Halter and Mr. Ainley wrote confidential reports to Wal-Mart’s top executives in December 2005 laying out all the evidence that corroborated Mr. Cicero — the hundreds of gestor payments, the mystery codes, the rewritten audits, the evasive responses from Wal-Mart de Mexico executives, the donations for permits, the evidence gestores were still being used.

“There is reasonable suspicion,” Mr. Halter concluded, “to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.” There was simply “no defendable explanation” for the millions of dollars in gestor payments, he wrote.

Mr. Halter submitted an “action plan” for a deeper investigation that would plumb the depths of corruption and culpability at Wal-Mart de Mexico.

Among other things, he urged “that all efforts be concentrated on the reconstruction of Cicero’s computer history.”

Mr. Cicero, meanwhile, was still offering help. In November, when Mr. Halter’s team was in Mexico, Mr. Cicero offered his services as a paid consultant. In December, he wrote to Ms. Munich. He volunteered to share specifics on still more stores, and he promised to show her documents. “I hope you visit again,” he wrote.

Mr. Halter proposed a thorough investigation of the two main gestores. He had not tried to interview them in Mexico for fear of his safety. (“I do not want to expose myself on what I consider to be an unrealistic attempt to get Mexican lawyers to admit to criminal activity,” he had explained to his bosses.) Now Mr. Halter wanted Wal-Mart to hire private investigators to interview and monitor both gestores.

He also envisioned a round of adversarial interviews with Wal-Mart de Mexico’s senior executives. He and his investigators argued that it was time to take the politically sensitive step of questioning Mr. Castro-Wright about his role in the gestor payments.

By January 2006, the case had reached a critical juncture. Wal-Mart’s leaders were again weighing whether to approve a full investigation that would inevitably focus on a star executive already being publicly discussed as a potential successor to Mr. Scott.

Wal-Mart’s ethics policy offered clear direction. “Never cover up or ignore an ethics problem,” the policy states. And some who were involved in the investigation argued that it was time to take a stand against signs of rising corruption in Wal-Mart’s global operations. Each year the company received hundreds of internal reports of bribery and fraud, records showed. In Asia alone, there had been 90 reports of bribery just in the previous 18 months.

The situation was bad enough that Wal-Mart’s top procurement executives were summoned to Bentonville that winter for a dressing down. Mr. Menzer, Wal-Mart’s vice chairman, warned them that corruption was creating an unacceptable risk, particularly given the government’s stepped-up enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “Times have changed,” he said.

As if to underscore the problem, Wal-Mart’s leaders were confronted with new corruption allegations at Wal-Mart de Mexico even as they pondered Mr. Halter’s action plan. In January, Mr. Scott, Mr. Duke and Wal-Mart’s chairman, S. Robson Walton, received an anonymous e-mail saying Wal-Mart de Mexico’s top real estate executives were receiving kickbacks from construction companies. “Please you must do something,” the e-mail implored.

Yet at the same time, records and interviews show, there were misgivings about the budding reach and power of Corporate Investigations.

In less than a year, Mr. Lewis’s beefed-up team had doubled its caseload, to roughly 400 cases a year. Some executives grumbled that Mr. Lewis acted as if he still worked for the F.B.I., where he had once supervised major investigations. They accused him and his investigators of being overbearing, disruptive and naïve about the moral ambiguities of doing business abroad. They argued that Corporate Investigations should focus more on quietly “neutralizing” problems than on turning corrupt employees over to law enforcement.

Wal-Mart’s leaders had just witnessed the downside of that approach: in early 2005, the company went to the F.B.I. with evidence that the disgraced former vice chairman, Mr. Coughlin, had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. The decision produced months of embarrassing publicity, especially when Mr. Coughlin claimed he had used the money to pay off union spies for Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart de Mexico executives were continuing to complain to Bentonville about the investigation. The protests “just never let up,” a person involved in the case said.

Another person familiar with the thinking of those overseeing the investigation said Wal-Mart would have reacted “like a chicken on a June bug” had the allegations concerned the United States. But some executives saw Mexico as a country where bribery was embedded in the business culture. It simply did not merit the same response.

“It’s a Mexican issue; it’s better to let it be a Mexican response,” the person said, describing the thinking of Wal-Mart executives.

In the midst of this debate, Ms. Munich submitted her resignation, effective Feb. 1, 2006. In one of her final acts, she drafted a memo that argued for expanding the Mexico investigation and giving equal respect to Mexican and United States laws.

“The bribery of government officials,” she noted dryly, “is a criminal offense in Mexico.”

She also warned against allowing implicated executives to interfere with the investigation. Wal-Mart de Mexico’s executives had already tried to insert themselves in the case. Just before Christmas, records show, Mr. Solórzano, the Wal-Mart de Mexico chief executive, held a video conference with Mr. Mars, Mr. Senser and Mr. Stucky to discuss his team’s “hypothesis” that Mr. Cicero had stolen gestor payments.

“Given the serious nature of the allegations, and the need to preserve the integrity of the investigation,” Ms. Munich wrote, “it would seem more prudent to develop a follow-up plan of action, independent of Walmex management participation.”

The Chief Weighs In

Mr. Scott called a meeting for Feb. 3, 2006, to discuss revamping Wal-Mart’s internal investigations and to resolve the question of what to do about Mr. Cicero’s allegations.

In the days before the meeting, records show, Mr. Senser ordered his staff to compile data showing the effectiveness of Corporate Investigations. He assembled statistics showing that the unit had referred relatively few cases to law enforcement agencies. He circulated copies of an e-mail in which Mr. Rodríguezmacedo said he had been treated “very respectfully and cordially” by Mr. Senser’s investigators.

Along with Mr. Scott, the meeting included Mr. Hyde, Mr. Mars and Mr. Stucky, records show. The meeting brought the grievances against Corporate Investigations into the open. Mr. Senser described the complaints in Mr. Lewis’s performance evaluation, completed shortly after the meeting. Wal-Mart’s leaders viewed Mr. Lewis’s investigators as “overly aggressive,” he wrote. They did not care for Mr. Lewis’s “law enforcement approach,” and the fact that Mr. Scott convened a meeting to express these concerns only underscored “the importance placed on these topics by senior executives.”

By meeting’s end, Mr. Senser had been ordered to work with Mr. Mars and others to develop a “modified protocol” for internal investigations.

Mr. Scott said he wanted it done fast, and within 24 hours Mr. Senser produced a new protocol, a highly bureaucratic process that gave senior Wal-Mart executives — including executives at the business units being investigated — more control over internal investigations. The policy included multiple “case reviews.” It also required senior executives to conduct a “cost-benefit analysis” before signing off on a full-blown investigation.

Under the new protocol, Mr. Lewis and his team would only investigate “significant” allegations, like those involving potential crimes or top executives. Lesser allegations would be left to the affected business unit to investigate.

“This captures it, I think,” Mr. Hyde wrote when Mr. Senser sent him the new protocol.

Four days after Mr. Scott’s meeting, with the new protocol drafted, Wal-Mart’s leaders began to transfer control of the bribery investigation to one of its earliest targets, Mr. Rodríguezmacedo.

Mr. Mars first sent Mr. Halter’s report to Mr. Rodríguezmacedo. Then he arranged to ship Mr. Halter’s investigative files to him as well. In an e-mail, he sought Mr. Senser’s advice on how to send the files in “a secure manner.”

Mr. Senser recommended FedEx. “There is very good control on those shipments, and while governments do compromise them if they are looking for something in particular, there is no reason for them to think that this shipment is out of the ordinary,” he wrote.

“The key,” he added, “is being careful about how you communicate the details of the shipment to José Luis.” He advised Mr. Mars to use encrypted e-mail.

Wal-Mart’s spokesman, Mr. Tovar, said the company could not discuss Mr. Scott’s meeting or the decision to transfer the case to Mr. Rodríguezmacedo. “At this point,” he said, “we don’t have a full explanation of what happened. Unfortunately, we realize that until the investigation is concluded, there will be some unanswered questions.”

Wal-Mart’s leaders, however, had clear guidance about the propriety of letting a target of an investigation run it.

On the same day Mr. Senser was putting the finishing touches on the new investigations protocol, Wal-Mart’s ethics office sent him a booklet of “best practices” for internal investigations. It had been put together by lawyers and executives who supervised investigations at Fortune 500 companies.

“Investigations should be conducted by individuals who do not have any vested interest in the potential outcomes of the investigation,” it said.

The transfer appeared to violate even the “modified protocol” for investigations. Under the new protocol, Corporate Investigations was still supposed to handle “significant” allegations — including those involving potential crimes and senior executives. When Mr. Senser asked his deputies to list all investigations that met this threshold, they came up with 31 cases.

At the top of the list: Mexico.

After the meeting with Mr. Scott, Mr. Senser had told Mr. Lewis in his performance evaluation that his “highest priority” should be to eliminate “the perceptions that investigators are being too aggressive.” He wanted Mr. Lewis to “earn the trust of” his “clients” — Wal-Mart’s leaders. He wanted him to head off “adversarial interactions.”

Mr. Senser now applied the same advice to himself.

Even as Mr. Halter’s files were being shipped to Mr. Rodríguezmacedo, Mr. Stucky made plans to fly to Mexico with other executives involved in the bribery investigation. The trip, he wrote, was “for the purpose of re-establishing activities related to the certain compliance matters we’ve been discussing.” Mr. Stucky invited Mr. Senser along.

“It is better if we do not make this trip to Mexico City,” Mr. Senser replied. His investigators, he wrote, would simply be “a resource” if needed.

Ten days after Mr. Stucky flew to Mexico, an article about Wal-Mart appeared in The Times. It focused on “the increasingly important role of one man: Eduardo Castro-Wright.” The article said Mr. Castro-Wright was a “popular figure” inside Wal-Mart because he made Wal-Mart de Mexico one of the company’s “most profitable units.”

Wall Street analysts, it said, viewed him as a “very strong candidate” to succeed Mr. Scott.

Case Closed

For those who had investigated Mr. Cicero’s allegations, the preliminary inquiry had been just that — preliminary. In memos and meetings, they had argued that their findings clearly justified a full-blown investigation. Mr. Castro-Wright’s precise role had yet to be determined. Mr. Halter had never been permitted to question him, nor had Mr. Castro-Wright’s computer files been examined, records and interviews show.

At the very least, a complete investigation would take months.

Mr. Rodríguezmacedo, the man now in charge, saw it differently. He wrapped up the case in a few weeks, with little additional investigation.

“There is no evidence or clear indication,” his report concluded, “of bribes paid to Mexican government authorities with the purpose of wrongfully securing any licenses or permits.”

That conclusion, his report explained, was largely based on the denials of his fellow executives. Not one “mentioned having ordered or given bribes to government authorities,” he wrote.

His report, six pages long, neglected to note that he had been implicated in the same criminal conduct.

That was not the only omission. While his report conceded that Wal-Mart de Mexico executives had authorized years of payments to gestores, it never explained what these executives expected the gestores to do with the millions of dollars they received to “facilitate” permits.

He was also silent on the evidence that Wal-Mart de Mexico had doled out donations to get permits. Nor did he address evidence that he and other executives had suppressed or rewritten audits that would have alerted Bentonville to improper payments.

Instead, the bulk of Mr. Rodríguezmacedo’s report attacked the integrity of his accuser.

Mr. Cicero, he wrote, made Wal-Mart de Mexico’s executives think they would “run the risk of having permits denied if the gestores were not used.” But this was merely a ruse: In all likelihood, he argued, Wal-Mart de Mexico paid millions for “services never rendered.” The gestores simply pocketed the money, he suggested, and Mr. Cicero “may have benefited,” too.

But he offered no direct proof. Indeed, as his report made clear, it was less an allegation than a hypothesis built on two highly circumstantial pillars.

First, he said he had consulted with Jesús Zamora-Pierce, a “prestigious independent counsel” who had written books on fraud. Mr. Zamora, he wrote, “feels the conduct displayed by Sergio Cicero is typical of someone engaging in fraud. It is not uncommon in Mexico for lawyers to recommend the use of gestores to facilitate permit obtainment, when in reality it is nothing more than a means of engaging in fraud.”

Second, he said he had done a statistical analysis that found Wal-Mart de Mexico won permits even faster after Mr. Cicero left. The validity of his analysis was impossible to assess; he did not include his statistics in the report.

In building a case against Mr. Cicero, Mr. Rodríguezmacedo’s report included several false statements. He described Mr. Cicero’s “dismissal” when records showed he had resigned. He also wrote that Kroll’s investigation of Mr. Cicero concluded that he “had a considerable increase in his standard of living during the time in which payments were made to the gestores.” Kroll’s report made no such assertion, people involved in the investigation said.

His report promised a series of corrective steps aimed at putting the entire matter to rest. Wal-Mart de Mexico would no longer use gestores. There would be a renewed commitment to Wal-Mart’s anticorruption policy. He did not recommend any disciplinary action against his colleagues.

There was, however, one person he hoped to punish. Wal-Mart de Mexico, he wrote, would scour Mr. Cicero’s records and determine “if any legal action may be taken against him.”

Mr. Rodríguezmacedo submitted a draft of his report to Bentonville. In an e-mail, Mr. Lewis told his superiors that he found the report “lacking.” It was not clear what evidence supported the report’s conclusions, he wrote. “More importantly,” he wrote, “if one agrees that Sergio defrauded the company and I am one of them, the question becomes, how was he able to get away with almost $10 million and why was nothing done after it was discovered?”

Mr. Rodríguezmacedo responded by adding a paragraph to the end of his report: They had decided not to pursue “criminal actions” against Mr. Cicero because “we did not have strong case.”

“At the risk of being cynical,” Mr. Lewis wrote in response, “that report is exactly the same as the previous which I indicated was truly lacking.”

But it was enough for Wal-Mart. Mr. Rodríguezmacedo was told by executives in Bentonville on May 10, 2006, to put his report “into final form, thus concluding this investigation.”

No one told Mr. Cicero. All he knew was that after months of e-mails, phone calls and meetings, Wal-Mart’s interest seemed to suddenly fade. His phone calls and e-mails went unanswered.

“I thought nobody cares about this,” he said. “So I left it behind.”

Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab and James C. McKinley Jr. contributed reporting from Mexico City.

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To: StockDung who wrote (114632)4/23/2012 4:00:38 AM
From: smaycs4
   of 121796
Published: 26 April 2010 07:53 AM

Former Dallas attorney and Securities and Exchange Commission trial lawyer Phillip Offill was sentenced Friday to eight years in federal prison for his role in penny stock scams.

Offill, 51, had asked to serve one to three years, while prosecutors wanted a sentence of up to 17 years.

He had faced as much as 185 years in prison after being convicted in Virginia on nine counts of wire fraud and a single count of conspiracy.

Offill offered letters of support for leniency, including from his mother, Robin Offill, both his ex-wives and one of his children.

Offill was the last of 11 men targeted in a broad investigation that dealt with the manipulation of share prices for small companies, most with North Texas connections.

He also advised former Dallas resident Jeffrey Bruteyn and his Amerifirst Funding group on its investments. Bruteyn was convicted on fraud charges this month and awaits sentencing.

Offill was convicted in a "pump-and-dump" scandal that spanned dozens of small companies whose share prices were manipulated by advertising that was faxed and e-mailed to investors.

The government wants Offill to forfeit assets and cash totaling $4.8 million for his crimes; Offill has said he owes only $125,700 from ill-gotten gains.

Prosecutors are seeking to sell Offill's Porsche and Harley-Davidson motorcycle and liquidate other assets as part of his restitution. A judge has yet to rule on what Offill owes.

Offill's attorney had vowed an appeal of the convictions even before the sentencing. He didn't return a message Friday.

Offill spent 15 years with the SEC in Fort Worth bringing civil cases against white-collar criminals.

Court Affirms Phillip Offill Conviction in Pump-and-Dump Schemes
By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 8, 2011 3:02 PM|

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney's stock fraud conviction on Tuesday, rejecting arguments that evidence was improperly admitted during the trial.

The attorney, Phillip Offill, Jr., is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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From: scion4/23/2012 2:25:33 PM
   of 121796
SEC Charges Former CalPERS CEO and Friend With Falsifying Letters in $20 Million Placement Agent Fee Scheme


Washington, D.C., April 23, 2012 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged the former CEO of the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and his close personal friend with scheming to defraud an investment firm into paying $20 million in fees to the friend's placement agent firms.

Additional Materials
SEC Complaint

The SEC alleges that former CalPERS CEO Federico R. Buenrostro and his friend Alfred J.R. Villalobos fabricated documents given to New York-based private equity firm Apollo Global Management. Those documents gave Apollo the false impression that CalPERS had reviewed and signed placement agent fee disclosure letters in accordance with its established procedures. In fact, Buenrostro and Villalobos intentionally bypassed those procedures to induce Apollo to pay placement agent fees to Villalobos's firms. The false letters bearing a fake CalPERS logo and Buenrostro's signature were provided to Apollo, which then went ahead with the payments.

"Buenrostro and Villalobos not only tricked Apollo into paying more than $20 million in placement agent fees it would not otherwise have paid, but also undermined procedures designed to ensure that investors like CalPERS have full disclosure of such fees," said John M. McCoy III, Associate Regional Director of the SEC's Los Angeles Regional Office.

According to the SEC's complaint, Apollo began requiring signed investor disclosure letters in 2007 from investors such as CalPERS before it would pay fees to a placement agent that assisted in raising funds. Villalobos's firm ARVCO Capital Research LLC (which later became ARVCO Financial Ventures LLC) agreed to this contractual provision in a placement agent agreement with Apollo related to CalPERS's investment in Apollo Fund VII. However, when ARVCO requested an investor disclosure letter from CalPERS's Investment Office to provide Apollo, it was informed that CalPERS's Legal Office had advised it not to sign a disclosure letter. ARVCO never again contacted CalPERS's Investment Office for an investor disclosure letter.

The SEC alleges that in January 2008, Villalobos instead fabricated a letter using a phony CalPERS logo. At Villalobos's request, Buenrostro then signed what appeared to be a CalPERS disclosure letter. Upon receipt of the fake disclosure letter for Apollo Fund VII, Apollo paid ARVCO about $3.5 million in placement agent fees.

The SEC's complaint further alleges that less than two weeks later, Villalobos and Buenrostro created false CalPERS disclosure letters for at least four more Apollo funds under similarly suspicious circumstances. As part of the scheme, Buenrostro signed blank sheets of fake CalPERS letterhead that Villalobos and ARVCO then used to generate additional investor disclosure letters as they needed them. Based on these false documents, Apollo was induced to pay ARVCO more than $20 million in placement agent fees it would not have paid without the disclosure letters.

The SEC seeks an order requiring Buenrostro, Villalobos, and ARVCO to disgorge any ill-gotten gains, pay financial penalties, and be permanently enjoined from violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.

As alleged in the SEC's complaint, the defendants violated Section 17(a)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules 10b-5(a) and 10b-5(c) thereunder.

The SEC's investigation was conducted by Leslie A. Hakala of the Los Angeles Regional Office. The SEC's litigation will be led by David Van Havermaat.

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From: scion4/23/2012 7:32:00 PM
   of 121796
SEC Charges Chinese Company and Executives with Lying About Asset Values and Use of IPO Proceeds

Company’s Chairman Accused of $40 Million Theft


Washington, D.C., April 23, 2012 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a China-based oil field services company and two senior officers involved in a scheme to intentionally mislead investors about the value of its assets and its use of $120 million in IPO proceeds. The SEC additionally charged the company’s chairman of the board involved in a separate $40 million theft from the company.

Additional Materials
SEC Complaint

The SEC alleges that SinoTech Energy Limited grossly overstated the value of its primary operating assets in financial statements, specifically the lateral hydraulic drilling (LHD) units that are central to its business. The company’s IPO registration statement in November 2010 promised investors it would spend $120 million raised in the IPO to acquire LHD units, but the company’s purchase contracts and other documents otherwise show it acquired far fewer LHD units, lied about the number it acquired, and grossly overstated the value of the units. SinoTech CEO Guoqiang Xin and former CFO Boxun Zhang were responsible for the fraud.

Meanwhile, the company’s chairman Qinzeng Liu is accused of secretly siphoning at least $40 million from a SinoTech bank account in the summer of 2011. He then stood silently by as SinoTech – attempting to counter negative Internet reports that the company was potentially fraudulent – falsely assured investors that the company had that money and more in the bank. Liu later admitted his theft to SinoTech’s auditor and board of directors, but he retained his position and investors were not informed of the incident.

“SinoTech’s brief life as a public company in the U.S. markets has been rife with falsehoods,” said David Woodcock, Director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office. “Investors deserve the utmost honesty and transparency from companies and their officers when they tap public markets in the United States.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana (Lake Charles Division), SinoTech’s public filings certified by both Xin and Zhang represented that the company had purchased 16 LHD units worth $94 million. In fact, the company only acquired 11 such units worth less than $17 million. SinoTech continually misled investors about the value of its equipment in press releases and SEC filings between December 2010 and November 2011. Xin went so far as to try (unsuccessfully) to convince SinoTech’s LHD unit supplier to issue public statements verifying the company’s false valuations to investors. The supplier refused.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that Liu’s admitted theft of $40 million in company funds occurred sometime between June 30 and August 17. Liu withdrew the money from SinoTech’s primary bank account at the Agricultural Bank of China. SinoTech did not record Liu’s withdrawal in the company’s books and records, and it retained Liu as its chairman despite his confession.

The SEC alleges that the theft remained hidden when SinoTech attempted to rebut an Internet report alleging fraud in August 2011. In an effort to persuade investors that SinoTech was legitimate, the company issued a press release stating that SinoTech’s bank balances totaled more than $93 million and included $54 million on deposit at the Agricultural Bank of China. Liu knew this claim was false due to his earlier theft from that account. .

The SEC’s complaint seeks permanent injunctive relief and financial penalties against all defendants as well as disgorgement of ill-gotten gains by SinoTech and Liu. The SEC also requests bars against each of the individual defendants from serving as officers or directors of U.S. public companies.

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From: StockDung4/23/2012 7:37:50 PM
   of 121796

U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION Litigation Release No. 22340 / April 23, 2012 Securities and Exchange Commission v. Marco Glisson, Civil Action No. 2:09-cv-00104 SEC OBTAINS $4.8 MILLION JUDGMENT AGAINST MARCO GLISSON, WHO WAS CHARGED WITH MAKING A MARKET IN DEREGISTERED SECURITIES OF CMKM DIAMONDS, INC. The Securities and Exchange Commission ("Commission") announced that a judgment was entered on April 11, 2012 in its civil injunctive action against Marco Glisson, filed in the United States District Court of Nevada. Without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, Glisson consented to entry of a permanent injunction against violations of the registration provisions of Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act of 1933, and the broker dealer registration provisions of Section 15(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Glisson was ordered to pay $2,765,650.65 in disgorgement, which represented profits gained as a result of the conduct alleged in the complaint, together with prejudgment interest in the amount of $670,574.79. In addition, Glisson was ordered to pay a civil penalty in the amount of $1,400,000, and was permanently barred from participating in the offering of penny stock.

The Commission’s complaint alleged that from December 2005 through April 2007, Glisson acted as an unregistered broker or dealer and illegally sold deregistered securities of CMKM Diamonds, Inc. CMKM's registration with the Commission was revoked and the stock delisted on October 28, 2005. According to the complaint, Glisson, a retired auto worker and part-time restaurant worker who used the name “Deli Dog” or “Deli” in Internet chat rooms, identified potential buyers and sellers by frequenting CMKM related internet chat rooms and through referrals from past buyers and sellers. Glisson then negotiated the terms of the transaction and consummated it by exchanging money for the pertinent CMKM stock certificate. Through these practices, Glisson made a market in deregistered CMKM securities at a time when legitimate broker-dealers refused to execute such purchases or sales because of the Commission's deregistration of CMKM.

See Litigation Release No. 20855/January 15, 2009, for information on the filing of the original action and a link to the Commission’s Complaint.
Modified: 04/23/2012

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