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Retired FBI Agent Solves Arts Crimes Including a Missing Nazi Diary, Confederate Relics and Even Batmobiles

Art crimes expert Robert K. Wittman, a retired FBI agent, this year published a new book — “The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich” — with a Philadelphia twist.

It’s the story of Lansdowne lawyer Robert Kempner, who until his death held on to a startling secret — he’d prosecuted Nazi officers at Nuremberg, and purloined the private diary of Hitler’s favorite ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.

But that is just the latest crime he’s solved. Wittman joined the FBI as a special agent in 1988, and was drawn to art crimes not longer after starting work at the federal agency. His mentor suggested taking art appreciation classes at the Barnes Foundation when it was still located on the Main Line.

As a result of that and other specialized training in art, antiques, jewelry and gem identification, he served as the FBI’s investigative expert involving cultural property crime. During his 20-year FBI career he helped recover more than $300 million worth of stolen art and cultural property.

Wittman, in 2005, created the FBI’s rapid deployment national Art Crime Team, and represented the U.S. conducting investigations and instructing international police and museums in recovering stolen works and in security techniques.

He retired in 2008. In 2010, Wittman penned his first book — The New York Times bestselling memoir “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.” His second book, “The Devil’s Diary,” co-authored with journalist David Kinney, ranks also as a best seller, published in 26 languages in 30 countries.
Today, Wittman works for himself as president of Robert Wittman Inc., specializing in consulting on art matters, which include expert witness testimony, security, investigations and collection management. A Chester Springs resident, Wittman remains a huge fan of the Barnes collection — and believes the move into center city was the right one.

“I went through the Barnes training program in 1991. Then later, I worked with the then-directors of the Barnes on their security, because the windows in the old house weren’t even locked. The HV/AC needed upgrades, and the paintings needed conservation. [The collection] was made for the world, and it’s really put Philadelphia on the map.”

Wittman’s worked for clients such as the owner of a private library of 10,000 books, including first editions of Tom Sawyer, pages from an original Guttenberg bible, and manuscripts authored by Theodore Roosevelt.

“The collection hadn’t been looked at in 45 or 50 years, and we had to cut the locks off of steamer trunks just to take a look and form a complete list,” he recalls. After inventory, Wittman valued the collection “in the millions of dollars,” in part due to an original Shakespeare folio — itself worth six figures.

Spotting forgeries is the key part of Wittman’s business — as is establishing true provenance for a works of art, cars, antiques, sports memorabilia and militaria. Wittman estimates the total global art market at $200 billion — $80 billion of that in the U.S. Art crimes represent roughly $6 billion of the world total.

“Believe it or not, all four major U.S. sports markets total $26 billion and the art market $80 billion. We love our art.”

And it’s not just phony paintings he investigates. There are forged baseball cards, Confederate belt buckles, even fake replica Batmobiles. One of Wittman’s recent clients bought $300,000 worth of paintings on the Internet from a dozen or so galleries.

“We just found out the paintings were all fake. Like any investment vehicle, you have to check provenance,” or where and how the work was obtained, he warns.

When valuing art and collectibles, “it’s a three-legged stool: authenticity, legal title, and provenance. It helps to use an art advisor, and get promises of what you’re buying in writing first.”

Wittman grew up around collectors; his father and mother ran an Asian antiques store, and while they never made much money, he learned to love the trade. Favorites in his own collection? Japanese ceramics, Civil War relics, fine art prints like Miro and Dali, and some Asian art.

“My most expensive piece probably isn’t worth more than $2,000 or $3,000.”

What does he recommend for art lovers buying anything above that price?

“If you are buying art as an investment, I’d use an art advisor. Collectors in high value art want to show it off. There’s a lot of serious collectors in Philadelphia, because there’s still a lot of old money.”

Wittman still gets phone calls in the middle of the night when art thieves strike.

“I can do a lot more now that I’m not an FBI agent, because before I could only do criminal case. Now I can do civil work as well as testifying as an expert witness,” he says.

Recently, Wittman worked the case of a stolen piece of glass that was on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Originally owned by the founding family of the Wistar Institute, the piece had been stolen in the 1980s, hoarded in a storage unit, then later sold to an art dealer in New York.

The dealer resold the glass to a buyer for tens of thousands of dollars and it was put on display under consignment at the PMA.

“It took a year, but we proved it was stolen from Wistar — and now the family own it again.”

The piece is still on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — but with the rightful owner on the label.

Why seniors, Baby Boomers are re-discovering marijuana — as medicine

Pennsylvania is to set to issue regulations on legal medicinal marijuana, and senior support is at an all-time high.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, seniors are the fastest-growing users of medical marijuana in the country.

The September study, among those who had tried marijuana in the last month,  showed the 55-and-older crowd was the quickest-growing demographic in the years 2002 to 2014: The number between the ages of 55 and 64 who used marijuana grew 455 percent, and the number 65 and older grew 333 percent.

Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California, used cannabis lotion for his arthritis, time-stamping seniors’ new affinity for medicinal marijuana products.

Rohrabacher tried a topical, wax-based marijuana treatment. That night was “the first time in a year and a half that I had a decent night’s sleep because the arthritis pain was gone,” Rohrabacher said last year.

Pennsylvania is about to issue new regulations on dispensing legal medicinal marijuana, and senior support is at an all-time high.

“More than half the country has legalized medical marijuana. Now, older people who used marijuana when they were younger, perhaps in college, then entered the professional world and had families and stopped using – now that it’s legal in their state, what we’re finding [is] they’re going back to it, trying it again for health and wellness,” said Chris Walsh, editorial director and founding editor of Marijuana Business Daily in Colorado.

“Medical marijuana is now mainstream. You can walk into a heavily regulated storefront dispensary, and that prompts more people to consider it a viable medical option,” Walsh added.

In particular, many new lotions, creams, and pills an older person might use are heavy on a compound called CBD – cannabidiol, the painkiller – as opposed to THC, the chemical that gets you high.

Older people prefer traditional forms of medication, fueling growth in the industry, said Nick Kovacevich, co-founder and CEO of Kush Bottles, a medical marijuana packaging company.

“The ways you can ingest are changing. For instance, a 60-year-old might not be into smoking,” Kovacevich said. “Now, in many states, you can get pills, topicals or tinctures that you put under the tongue. Even in the last four years, the forms you can take have evolved into edibles like gummies, hot chocolate, lollipops, and lozenges.”

Heavier users, such as cancer patients, often prefer waxes or oils, skin patches, sublingual strips, creams, sprays, and lotions.

“That’s the wave of the future. The elderly like creams and sprays and rubs, because they’re used to ointments and gels for pain management and control,” Kovacevich said.

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Conditions among the elderly that are listed as uses for medical marijuana include glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, spasms, epilepsy, chronic pain, backaches, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s.

Seniors campaigning for wider uses include Robert Platshorn, 73, who was born in South Philadelphia, grew up in Cherry Hill, and now lives in Florida.

“There are millions of junkie seniors taking OxyContin, fentanyl, and Darvocet,” said Platshorn, who founded TheSilverTour.org, an nonprofit and activist group of seniors lobbying for passage of medical marijuana in Florida.

“It’s a natural for physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for seniors who are in pain but who don’t want to feel loopy. And opioid addiction can be avoided,” he added.

New studies point to medical marijuana as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s.

Gary L. Wenk, a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and molecular virology, immunology, and medical genetics at the Ohio State University and Medical Center, studies chronic brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease. His research into cannabinoids led him to conclude that while they are no cure, they may slow the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“Low doses of marijuana for prolonged periods of time at some point in your life, possibly when you’re middle-aged to late middle-aged, is probably going to slow the onset or development of dementia, to the point where you’ll most likely die of old age before you get Alzheimer’s,” Wenk said in a 2014 interview with Leaf Science, a Canadian marijuana-news website.

Even Philadelphia’s medical schools are getting in on the research of medical marijuana. In May, the Institute of Emerging Health Professions at Thomas Jefferson University announced the creation of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education & Research, which provides information and guidance to clinicians and patients about the medical uses of marijuana and cannabinoid-focused therapies.

With legalization, Platshorn argued, seniors “need to be part of the conversation surrounding legalizing medical marijuana, and its benefits.”

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808

@erinarvedlund

She’s a Medicare and Social Security expert and professor at Lehigh. Then her elderly mother got sick, and the academics got real.

Laura Katz Olson taught health-care policy for decades at Lehigh University and could rattle off the ins and outs of Medicare and Social Security.

Laura Katz Olson, a Lehigh University professor and author of “Elder Care Journey,” says: “I had a lot of ideas on paper. They didn´t seem real until I experienced them myself.”
But none of that prepared her for caring for her mother, Dorothy Katz, a Senior Olympics medal winner who developed Parkinson’s disease.

Thrust into a long-distance caregiving role, Olson, 71, began grueling travel between Pennsylvania and Florida. Her mother’s health failed with each passing visit.

“At first, I was convinced she could ‘age in place,’ as they say,” Olson said. After her mother fell, then nearly died in a rehab facility, Olson moved her to Pennsylvania.

What Olson discovered in assisting her frail parent was at odds with her work as an elder-care expert. She could barely navigate the byzantine web of public and private insurance and services.

“As an academic, I looked for statistics and percentages on how Medicaid affects people. I had a lot of ideas on paper,” she recalled with a rueful laugh. “They didn’t seem real until I experienced them myself.”
Olson’s two siblings had died, so her mother’s care fell to her entirely. Her work teaching at Lehigh was interrupted as Dottie Katz steadily grew incapacitated by Parkinson’s-related dementia and a gradual loss of vision.

“You can only get your parent 10 hours of in-home care a week under Medicaid. Then the gap in service becomes real. I had to fill in the gap myself,” Olson said of her visits to Florida.

“While everyone is pushing for at-home care, there’s not enough coverage under Medicaid. In order to be eligible, you have to be nursing-home eligible,” which means your elder relative’s assets have been depleted.

In 2013, she moved her mother, now 93, into Gracedale, a county-run and subsidized senior facility in Nazareth, Pa.

Finding a facility for her mother and ensuring that her benefits stayed consistent shattered Olson’s convictions and exposed irrationalities in government systems. Despite her expertise, Olson was ill-prepared to deal with the bureaucratic barriers imposed at every turn.

“I was surprised at how much every service is siloed,” she said. “It’s so burdensome as to be impossible. The VA? To deal with them [Dottie Katz’s husband was a veteran] is a nightmare.”
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Human Services threatened to cut off her mother’s benefits because of one missing piece of paper – a bank statement that Olson had already submitted. “They just wanted paperwork again and again, to reinvent the wheel at every agency,” she said.

Another office threatened to stop her mother’s Medicare.

“The paperwork, the constant paperwork, that was surprising. And she has to reapply every year for Medicaid, which is a program for the poor.”

As with any program for the poor, Olson said, “the agency assumes you’re stealing and trying to get something for nothing. You have to prove everything – even if you’re 93, blind, and have Parkinson’s! The sting of it was unfathomable.”

Olson’s new book, Elder Care Journey, speaks to elders with functional limitations and the adult children helping them. The book documents the stresses and the manifold indignities in dealing with social-welfare agencies. Elders with limited financial resources often must rely on government funds for their basic care.

“I wanted to elucidate the obstacles confronted by other families attempting to navigate the complex and sorely inadequate programs serving the low-income aged,” Olson said.
At Gracedale, Olson said, she has found a place providing decent care, so she no longer fears for her mother’s health, safety, and well-being.

After reading her story, she said, “people coping with elder-care responsibilities should feel less alone in their struggles.”

Along the way, Olson discovered that many nursing homes and elder-care facilities are owned by private equity firms or multichain conglomerates traded on public exchanges. “Their primary profit goals are at odds with the well-being of the people they are supposed to be serving.

“I wrote this book as catharsis, then I realized my experience isn’t unique. There are serious issues with our long-term-care system. We spend billions of dollars of our federal and state budgets on long-term care and aging, and why aren’t we getting better results?”

Almost half of private nursing-home revenue, 48 percent, comes from Medicaid and Medicare. About 80 percent of all home-care agency revenue also comes from those sources, said Ron Barth, CEO of LeadingAge, a consortium of nonprofits in the elder-care industry.

“The taxpayers are funding the long-term industries but aren’t getting quality of care for their elders,” Olson said.

She visits her mother every day and advocates for her.

Is that necessary?

“Yes, because I know the aides are overworked, underpaid, and overwhelmed. And even the best of them can’t do it, because they have too many patients.”

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund

In 30 states, adult children may be on the hook for their parents’ nursing home bills…

Remember when Mom and Dad bailed you out on that overdue bill?

Now, it may be your turn.

More than half of U.S. states have so-called “filial responsibility” laws that require adult children to support their parents if they become indigent.

For example, under Pennsylvania’s 2005 statute, spouses, parents, and children are obligated to care for or financially assist destitute family members.

That means you could be held financially responsible for a parent’s nursing-home care, says Marc Jaffe, estate-planning lawyer and partner at Fromhold Jaffe & Adams in Villanova, Pa.

“A nursing home will sue an adult child to recover monies the parent didn’t pay,” Jaffe says.

“It’s not used very often. And you are not necessarily responsible for all of that person’s debts. However, you might be held responsible for that person’s food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and other similar necessities if the person did not have the funds to pay,” he notes.

Such lawsuits “may become more common, as the government in general is looking to be less generous with benefits, and if a medical provider doesn’t get paid, they may look more toward the family,” Jaffe adds.

A 2012 Pennsylvania Superior Court case, Health Care & Retirement Corp. of America v. Pittas, made it clear that under state law, if a creditor chooses, one child alone may be found completely responsible. The court upheld the nursing home’s judgment against one son for $92,000 for his mother’s care after she left the facility and moved to Greece.

The Superior Court also determined what is meant by indigent. It includes not only those who are completely destitute and helpless but also those people who have limited, but not sufficient, means to support themselves financially.

Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware all have similar “filial responsibility” laws on the books – although, again, they are rarely enforced, says Trisha Hall, partner with Connolly Gallagher in Wilmington.

In recent years, the Pennsylvania Bar Association supported a repeal of that state’s law, but it was blocked by the Department of Human Services and nursing-home lobbies, says Katherine Pearson, a professor of law at Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa.

In January 2015, House Bill 242 was proposed by State Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D., Allegheny), who wrote that “current law gives the Department of Human Services authority to go after adult children to collect money for indigent parents’ care. This law is not only outdated and impractical, but it also has vast potential for abuse and to unfairly cause serious harm.”

Seldom enforced

Most of these laws are seldom enforced because federal law prevents the states from considering the financial responsibility of any individual other than a spouse in determining the eligibility of an applicant or recipient of Medicaid or other poverty programs, Pearson says.

But Pennsylvania also has little incentive to change the law.

“The state wants the statute to stand as a way to offset state liability” for indigent elderly, she adds.

What is unique about Pennsylvania is that the law has been interpreted as permitting third parties, such as nursing homes, to sue the children directly, Pearson explains.

She has been watching cases in which nursing homes are suing adult children for bills as low as $5,000 or as high as $60,000.

“Sometimes, these bills have accumulated, and then they sue the adult children retroactively – as a debt-collection tool.”

To protect themselves, Jaffe advises that adult children put their assets in protective trusts or retirement accounts, which cannot be claimed by creditors, and that they put property in joint ownership, under more than one name.

Better communication

In some cases, families could solve financial and other problems ahead of time simply by having conversations about what their elderly parents want.

“Four in 10 families don’t agree on the roles adult kids will play” as caregivers, says Suzanne Schmitt, vice president of family engagement at Fidelity Investments, based in Boston, Mass.

Start small, Schmitt advises, asking your parents where their important documents are, such as their health-care proxies and HIPAA release forms, among others. “Keep it tactical and don’t tackle the whole conversation at once.”

Don’t ask, “How much have you saved?” Instead, ask general questions, such as, “Where are your bank and savings accounts held? Do you have a trusted adviser such as an estate-planning attorney or CPA?”

Schmitt herself has had the conversation with her parents. And many elderly parents will appreciate bringing up the subject – and are encouraged to do so when families get together for holidays and other occasions.

“It’s tough,” she says, “but I started with saying I wanted to honor their wishes and not guess about what they wanted.”

Comcast scores high for transparency of campaign contributions; Urban Outfitters scored a zero!

How much money do public companies spend on politicians, and what do they disclose?

An index offers a peek at the juicy details.

For the first time, the 2015 CPA-Zicklin Index gives a breakdown of every company in the S&P 500: which policies each company maintains on political contributions; if the company even has a policy; and links to how much moolah it donates.

The index, started in 2009, shows the largest publicly held U.S. companies’ political activity in a high-spending era marked by an unprecedented flood of dark money, said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability in Washington, which partnered with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to create CPA-Zicklin.

For investors, it’s a useful tool to evaluate companies’ policies and accountability.

For companies, it helps “assess whether they follow best practices for disclosure and accountability, and the extent to which they demonstrate commitment to these principles,” Freed added.

Anyone can access the index via the center’s website, PoliticalAccountability.net. For dollar amounts, the CPA-Zicklin Index links to databases such as the Federal Election Commission’s fec.gov, OpenSecrets.org, and FollowTheMoney.org.

The local communications giant Comcast, for instance, scored high on the CPA-Zicklin Index for transparency and for having a stated policy on political contributions. On its corporate website, Comcast posts a 59-page document listing donations totaling $6.5 million made in the most recent 2014 election cycle.

“Comcast’s political contributions are made from employee-funded political action committees (‘PACs’) that are sponsored by Comcast. The Comcast PACs are operated by a board of directors, chaired by the senior executive vice president. When permitted by law, political contributions are also made out of corporate funds,” the company said on its website.

Comcast’s largest 2014 donations included $367,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, $250,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, and $255,000 to the Republican Governors Association.

In Pennsylvania, Comcast donated mostly to individual candidates, including $50,000 to Tom Wolf for Governor, $10,000 to Bob Brady for Congress, $17,000 to Friends of Dominic Pileggi, $15,000 to Friends of Joe Scarnati, and $16,000 to the Mike Turzai Leadership Fund.

How did the CPA-Zicklin Index come into being?

Lawrence Zicklin, a former partner at the Wall Street firm Neuberger Berman, funded the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the Wharton School. (He currently teaches ethics at Wharton and several other business schools.)

William Laufer, director of the Zicklin Center, first proposed the index in July 2009.

In the 2015 index, three companies tied for a first-place rating of 97.1 points out of 100: Becton Dickinson; CSX Corp.; and Noble Energy.

Among regional companies, Comcast scored 81.4; AmerisourceBergen scored 82, and Hershey Co. scored 90. Those with low scores included Lincoln National (17.1), PNC Financial Services (5.7), and Urban Outfitters (0.0).

The average overall score in 2015 was 72.6 for companies with some sort of disclosure agreement.

Shareholder engagement “was sharply favorable” in helping raise scores, Freed explained.

“Companies engaged by shareholders, and reaching an agreement, had significantly better disclosure and accountability policies,” he said.

More than half the S&P 500 – 52 percent, or 259 companies – had detailed policies on campaign donations. Thirty-five percent, or 176 companies, had brief or vague policies.

The majority of S&P 500 companies – 54 percent, or 270 companies – had dedicated webpages to address political spending.

Zicklin said he became interested in campaign finance nearly a decade ago, when Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship donated $3 million to a West Virginia judge who later decided a case in the company’s favor.

“I’ve also heard from many companies that they would like to get out of this game if they could,” Zicklin said. “In some cases, companies are being extorted. They’re told there’s a bill they really ought to support by some nameless politician, and they have to [donate].”

More important, he said, “Americans are very upset. They feel they have no part in how government is run – it’s all by big checkbooks.

“I can’t change Citizens United,” the Supreme Court decision on political donations by companies, “but I can at least make it transparent.”

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808@erinarvedlund

I’m taking a robo-advisor out for a spin…

We’re getting a crack at new technology: a retirement plan robo-adviser.

My colleagues and I have a 401(k) administered by Vanguard, the local mutual-fund giant. A few weeks ago, we got letters in the mail saying we’re eligible to try out Financial Engines’ “Retirement Evaluation” tool free for a few months.

If we sign on – and I’m going to road-test it – Vanguard charges 0.40 percent annually, more expensive than just indexing. (Currently, I have my Vanguard savings in one low-cost index fund). I’m not crazy about the extra fee, because it seems antithetical to Vanguard, but personal advice costs money.

Vanguard clients’ uptake on the Financial Engines tool has been so-so (about 7 percent of all plan participants), but I’m willing to see what the tool suggests.

The evaluation includes a phone call, if desired, to go over other assets such as Roth IRAs, annuities, and the like.

I’ll report back with results from Vanguard and Financial Engines in a few weeks. They’re crunching my measly portfolio to see whether I’m on the right track, style-wise.

If I don’t like the advice, I can quit the service before the deadline and pay nothing.

We’re probably late to the robo-adviser party – Financial Engines partnered with Vanguard in 2001.
Like Vanguard, Financial Engines is a quiet giant. Founded in the 1990s, it boasted $104 billion under management in January, compared with $88 billion in January 2015 – an increase of 18 percent.

Vanguard’s own hybrid robo-adviser, Personal Advisor Services, had $31 billion in January 2016. (It launched in 2015.)

Rivals include Charles Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolios, launched in 2015. As of January, Schwab’s robo-adviser assets stood at $5.3 billion.

Vanguard remains the juggernaut, attracting almost $29 billion to long-term mutual funds and exchange-traded funds as of March – more than all competitors combined, according to Morningstar. Having built its reputation on low fees, Vanguard was the leader in estimated flows to both actively managed funds as well as those that track indexes.

The shift toward passive investing has accelerated in bonds, too. Vanguard’s collections in March represented 59 percent of the money the entire industry gathered during the month.

BlackRock’s iShares unit attracted almost $15 billion to its ETFs. Losing firms included PIMCO and Franklin Resources, with net redemptions during the month, according to Morningstar.

Vanguard’s $24.7 billion Intermediate-Term Investment Grade Fund had the largest inflow, more than $1.6 billion, to any active fund in March, Morningstar reported. About $1 trillion of the $3.2 trillion Vanguard oversees is in actively run funds.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160418_Taking_a_robo-adviser_out_for_a_spin.html#KXPhUwLTUX4qaKq8.99

SEC Philly Office Head, Sharon Binger, on Priorities and Cases

The Securities and Exchange Commission has a relatively new cop on the beat here: Sharon Binger, director of the Philadelphia Regional Office.

The Philly office oversees enforcement and examinations for the mid-Atlantic region. Binger joined it from the SEC’s New York office in 2014, where she was assistant regional director.
Sharon Binger became director of the Philadelphia regional office in 2014, after working in New York.
In an interview, Binger outlined some recent cases and priorities, first highlighting the one filed last week against Paul-Ellis Investment Associates, which the SEC examined at the firm’s offices at 1818 Market St.

In a suit filed against Joseph Andrew Paul and John Dee Ellis Jr., both of Philadelphia, the SEC alleges that the men orchestrated a fraud of a dozen retirees that totaled $3.9 million.

From 2010 through December 2012, the SEC’s suit says, Paul and Ellis raised the money through free-dinner seminars at which they promised double- and triple-digit returns annually. One Paul-Ellis employee claimed the investment strategy was “performing as expected in the 2 percent-4 percent weekly range.”

“These kinds of cases are our bread and butter, which is investor protection,” Binger said.

“It’s important to understand who you’re investing with, and we have resources to consult before you invest your money,” she said.

The fact that an investment firm is registered with the SEC “provides investors with more transparency,” she added.
Paul and Ellis marketed themselves as experienced money managers with a phone track record, a prospectus, and some glossy marketing materials to supplement the free meal.

Yet just a few minutes on the FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and SEC databases reveal that Paul had multiple disciplinary incidents and fines years before the recent case.

Ellis also was a registered representative with a disciplinary record.

To research a broker or investment adviser, check http://brokercheck.finra.org/. Similarly, https://investor.gov/ is a great resource for due diligence.

By July 12, 2012, Paul-Ellis investors’ funds were gone, the SEC suit says, and it notes that an investigation showed the two spent the money.

I tried reaching their office in Center City, and the number no longer works.

“When we are promised returns that are too good to be true, we may have a tendency to suspend common sense,” Binger said.

The SEC exam team went to Paul-Ellis “to make sure they were following the rules. They identified areas of concern and referred it to enforcement,” she said.

To track insider trading, Binger’s team uses technology.

In January, it won a verdict in a U.S. District Court trial in Philadelphia against Nan Huang, charged with insider trading on information obtained from his employer, Capital One Financial.

Huang and another defendant searched Capital One’s credit-card activity for millions of customers at corporations. He then traded in advance of the public release of those companies’ quarterly sales.

Binger is proud of her office’s ability to freeze assets quickly, including in cases where defendants may flee the country, as Huang did, flying to China.

“We’ve gotten asset freezes in a number of cases, including the Huang case and in the hacking case” by accused insider trader Vitaly Korchevsky and 41 others, she said.

Last year, Korchevsky was indicted on charges that he helped orchestrate an insider-trading scheme regulators said netted $100 million. He was arrested by the FBI at his Glen Mills home as part of a group that tapped corporate press releases before they became public.

“There’s the concern the money will go quickly,” Binger said. “In the Huang case, one defendant fled the country shortly before we filed our lawsuit, and the other fled the day after. We were fortunate to freeze more than $1.6 million before it left the country.”

If you have questions or concerns about your broker or money manager, you can contact the local SEC office by email at philadelphia@sec.gov.

Or you can call the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy at 1-800-732-0330. Additional contact information can be found at http://www.investor.gov/contact-us.

Ken Springer, a former FBI agent, runs a firm called Corporate Resolutions that educates high-net-worth clients, including professional athletes and doctors.

“It’s like wearing a seat belt. You need to vet your investment manager,” Springer says. “Look at what these people did in the past, at the track record, and ask other investors if they’ve done background checks and gotten referrals.”

He uses resources such as World-Check, an international criminal database; LexisNexis, for news and court records, and PACER for civil, criminal and bankruptcy court filings. All are available to the public for a fee.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160411_SEC_s_local_chief_outlines_her_priorities.html#RiCGRGmyqLujdQJl.99

If the IRS calls, texts, or emails… relax, it’s a scam artist!

 

Tax filer: Don’t worry if you get a phone call, a text, or an email from the Internal Revenue Service.

It’s not the IRS. It’s a scam artist.

This year, the criminals are putting a new twist on an old script. They call saying they already have your tax return and just need to verify details to process your refund.

The scammers try to convince you to give up personal information such as Social Security number, driver’s license details, bank account numbers, or credit-card numbers.
Hang up the phone. Don’t click on that email. The days of giving out information unsolicited are over.

“These schemes continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard just as they are preparing their tax returns,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement last week.

“Don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment.”

Scammers claiming to be IRS officials may demand that you pay a bogus tax bill by sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may leave “urgent” messages by phone or via email.

They may politely ask you, the taxpayer, to verify your identity over the phone. They may try to bully or intimidate you. They may even threaten to arrest or deport you or revoke your driver’s license if they don’t get money.

One reader said he’d been called by someone claiming to be an IRS agent who demanded that they meet in the parking lot of a local Walmart to exchange cash.

Often, scammers alter caller IDs to make it look as if the IRS or another agency is calling. They may use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may even have your name and address to make the call sound official.

To repeat: The IRS will never:

Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.

Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.

Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

Ask for credit- or debit-card numbers over the phone or email.

Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups if you don’t pay.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or to verify your identity, do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.

Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use the “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” webpage (www.treasury.gov/tigta) or call 1-800-366-4484. If you know you owe on your taxes, or think you owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. Tax planners and accountants confirm that scammers are hard at work this tax season.

“I have had four clients call me since the beginning of the year with IRS scams, and I’m sure there are more who just ignored them, as I told them,” said Mary Lew Kehm, certified public accountant in Whitehall Township.

“Their script now attempts to validate, as oppose to threaten,” said Michael A. Gillen, director of the tax accounting group at Duane Morris law firm in Center City.

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund

 

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/personal_finance/20160322_If_the_IRS_calls_you__it_s_a_scammer.html#WUxXa1p2EGJbcJKm.99
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Human-Animal Bond? One Lawyer Retires And Devote His Life to Fostering Dogs, Cats of Veterans

Buzz Miller has evolved — from legal to beagle.

Miller founded PACT for Animals, a nonprofit that finds foster homes for pets of service members and more. His next project will pair animals with retirement-community residents.

Miller, 74, retired as a lawyer and businessman and founded PACT for Animals, a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania nonprofit that will find a foster home for your pet.

PACT for Animals matches your companion animal with a foster family if you are heading off to serve in the military, have a long-term health crisis, or enter a hospital. And it’s free.

Miller’s next animal adventure? Working with retirement communities whose residents, he says, “would be perfect to serve as fosters for animals.”

“People over 55 are perfect: They’re settled, they probably don’t want to raise animals for another 20 years, but they can handle short-term companionship. And they don’t have kids.”

A West Philadelphia native, Miller graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Pennsylvania Law School, then received a master’s degree in tax law.

In the 1970s, he was a swinging single lawyer who didn’t want to settle down – until he met his girlfriend’s dog.

Then everything changed.

When they split, Miller gave the ex-girlfriend his car and “bribed” her two sons with a television and a motorcycle. Miller kept the canine.

“That’s when I learned about the human- animal bond,” he remembers.

By 2007, Miller had married and made enough money to retire. He and his wife, Judi, opened a retail pet store on the Main Line, Buzzy’s BowWowMeow, specializing in free adoptions of shelter dogs and cats.

Ultimately, they sold the Narberth business to focus fully on nonprofit work. (Buzzy’s is now a Doggie Style store.) In 2010, they formed the nonprofit PACT for Animals, part of which stands for People + Animals = Companions Together (pactforanimals.org).
The inspiration: A friend of Miller’s elderly mother adopted a mixed breed named CiCi headed for euthanasia. The woman had just lost her husband, and her daughter had cancer.

“That little miracle dog made her life worth living, turned her mental state around completely. CiCi showered her with unconditional love during her time of profound grief,” he says.

Today, PACT for Animals offers assistance all over the country.

“People drive and fly their companion animals from as far as California, Texas, Florida, and Idaho,” Miller says, in order for their pets to be placed in PACT’s more than 150 approved foster homes in the Philadelphia area.

Foster families sign a contract promising good care; PACT pays expenses and veterinary bills.

Foster parents are “usually middle-class people. They aren’t the people who live around here in Gladwyne,” Miller says, laughing, in the basement of his house – PACT’s offices – with his employees, many of whom are undergraduates at Bryn Mawr College.

“Every home in this neighborhood is worth a million bucks – all of them could take a healthy animal. But people with money rarely volunteer to foster our dogs and cats.

“But,” he adds with a wink, “they can write checks.”

By 2015, PACT had doubled in size: number of animals fostered, to more than 300; paid employees, four; volunteers, more than 45, who check foster-home quality and take pictures of the animals to send to their humans.

Miller and his wife live in an expansive house with a parrot, several cats, and a few dogs. Recently, Miller and his wife felt the pain of losing Chloe, one of their favorite dogs.

“Chloe was by my side for the last 10 years. Her love and cheerfulness sustained me on a daily basis through a world which gets uglier, sadder and more superficial,” he says.

“She was my rock through daily heartaches. I learned years ago never walk out of your front door without telling all those you love, both two- and four-legged, how much you care for them. It reminded me that the sudden loss of a loved one can occur any time,” Miller says, with tears in his eyes.

In the fourth quarter of his life, Miller knows he’s more interested in helping other people and their animal companions than in “chasing such goals as big money and power, which I sometimes was driven by in my legal and business career.”

PACT became a national organization faster than Miller anticipated.

“We are the only group really solving this problem with each family, each foster, and with each companion animal we save,” he says.

Today, he and his wife want for nothing material, he says.

“That gives me the freedom to continue my life’s mission – the human-animal bond. I am at an age when so many of my friends are leaving. The time to do my most important work is now.”

 

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160214_Giving_a_Woof.html#1yYtExdMJdXsEPwo.99

ABC Madoff mini-series airs Feb 3-4; Richard Dreyfuss inhabits the role of Bernie Madoff to a scary degree. What’s missing? Any remorse on the part of the family…

Roughly 15 years ago, I wrote an article about a notable Wall Street figure and his secretive investment fund that never, ever lost money.

His name was Bernard Madoff.

The dot.com bubble had just burst, yet Madoff’s hedge fund earned 10 percent that year, without missing a beat.

In May 2001, I wrote about some red flags surrounding Madoff’s hedge fund: eerily consistent returns and no losing years even when the stock market crashed, no due diligence allowed by investors, no independent brokerage statements, and odd threats that investors could not return to the fund once they had cashed out.

Madoff himself gave me a brief interview by phone, then metaphorically patted me on the head and told me to go away.

Never did I expect that the article, which came out in May 2001, would appear in an ABC television series airing next week.

(At the time, I was a writer for Barron’s magazine, a must-read for Wall Street types.)

For a look into Madoff’s sociopathic mind, tune in to the ABC prime-time mini-series Madoff, airing Feb. 3 and 4 (8-10 p.m.).

Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss stars as Madoff, with Blythe Danner as his wife, Ruth. Madoff follows the decades-long rise of the former investment guru and NASDAQ chairman, and his abrupt demise in 2008.

Best part of the show? Real investors, including Philadelphia-area locals Michael DeVita and his mother, Emma, talking about the devastating effect that Madoff’s epic lie had on their lives.

No one, including me, knew Madoff was running a classic Ponzi scheme – paying off old investors with money from new investors – to the tune of $65 billion. His theft is considered the largest financial scam in U.S. history, and the impact was global. Vaporizing billions of dollars worldwide, including the funds of philanthropies, charities, celebrities, and ordinary mom-and-pop retirement portfolios, Madoff used some simple con-man magic tricks to pull off a monumental fraud.

For those unfamiliar with the scheme, Madoff’s fund never invested a single dollar in the markets (emphasis mine).

Instead, the money sat in a checking account at JPMorgan Chase. Madoff and his crew of flunkies never made a single real trade. Instead, they created profits out of thin air, then printed and mailed out phony paper statements to clients every month, starting in the 1970s.

Among those who helped perpetuate the decades-long crime were right-hand man Frank DiPascali Jr. (played by Michael Rispoli), assistant Annette BonGiorno, two computer programmers, and clerical workers with high school degrees.

Frank Whaley plays skeptical competitor and whistle-blower Harry Markopolos, whose boss could not understand how Madoff kept churning out double-digit returns.

Markopolos warned regulators for years that Madoff was a fraud, and he ultimately testified before Congress about the SEC’s failings. (Harry’s best line in testimony: “The SEC couldn’t find their ass with their own two hands.”)

The mini-series also features Charles Grodin as Carl Shapiro, one of Madoff’s longtime investors, who was forced to return millions. Jeffrey Picower, the largest investor, returned $7 billion.

Picower and other billionaires were complicit in Madoff’s scheme, as I detailed in a subsequent book, Too Good To Be True (Penguin 2009).

Linda Berman and Joe Pichirallo produced the ABC film, and I spoke with Pichirallo last year about a few details to include. I’m no film critic, but Dreyfuss inhabits the role to a scary degree.

What’s missing? Any remorse or guilt on the part of the family, and the roughly $300 million in salary, bonuses, and properties that the Madoff family ripped off for themselves. The properties, including son Mark’s mansion in Connecticut, son Andrew’s apartment in Manhattan, multiple boats, and the beach house in Montauk, N.Y. , were later auctioned off to repay investors.

Others I won’t forget: the woman at Madoff’s sentencing who resorted to Dumpster-diving for food, and Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whose foundation lost $15 million to Madoff. Incredibly, Wiesel said afterward: “We have seen worse.”

And the DeVitas, of Chalfont. Emma, now 88, and her son opened accounts with Madoff in the early 1990s, believing the fund was a retirement savings opportunity.

On Dec. 11, 2008, Madoff was arrested. The DeVitas’ life savings vanished.

“We did nothing wrong other than listening to the agency that is tasked by Congress with protecting me against this type of fraud,” Emma DeVita told me. “The Securities and Exchange Commission failed me.”

That’s the final missing piece from the ABC series. It’s up to us not to fall for more Madoffs and to do our own due diligence. We can’t count on the regulators to catch them first.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160125_Madoff_mini-series_tells_a_cautionary_financial_tale.html#PR2OwdRJGJEfwMSj.99