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Swindlers list: A century of fakers, fraudsters and rogues

100 years of Forbes: From Bernie Cornfeld to Bernie Madoff, some of whom Forbes never saw coming

Published: Nov 2, 2017 07:44:35 AM IST
Updated: Nov 2, 2017 09:46:30 AM IST

Swindlers list: A century of fakers, fraudsters and roguesImage: Ilars Leetaru for Forbes
Ivar Kreuger
Founder, Kreuger & Toll
“He is 49, came to this country 29 years ago with $100 in his pocket and insatiable ambition in his head... [he] built bridges in Mexico and South Africa, constructed the Flatiron Building and great hotels in New York, as this century began, made considerable money, returned to Sweden, started the construction firm of Kreuger & Toll, which is the parent and holding company for the whole international match trust, and so became the figure he is today, the industrial monarch of Europe and one of the most powerful individuals alive.
— “Ivar Kreuger Scans This Business World” (September 1, 1930)

Suspected of embezzling millions. In 1932, the “Match King” shot himself to death and left behind a note that read: “I have made such a mess of things that I believe this to be the most satisfactory solution for everybody ­concerned.”

Bernie Cornfeld

Founder, Investors Overseas Services
“They’ve stopped asking how Bernard Cornfeld does it and have begun to wonder how long he can last. The 39-year-old mutual fund salesman from Brooklyn, who built a billion-dollar empire in banking, insurance and, above all, mutual funds, is disliked by many European financiers, spurned by some US fund managers and investigated by the Securities & Exchange Commission.”
—“Bernie Cornfeld’s Octopus” (December 15, 1966)

Convicted of securities fraud in 1973 and spent 11 months in a Swiss prison. Convicted of fraud in 1976 and spent three months in US prison.

Robert Vesco

President, International Controls Corp
“Robert L Vesco, 33, president of Fairfield, NJ’s International Controls, is, to say the very least, a high-powered salesman. He’s even better than that. He has been selling himself to bankers as sophisticated as the Bank of America, and employing the proceeds so effectively that late in January he won court approval of IC’s long-delayed bid for control of Pasadena’s Electronic Specialty.”
—“Company on the Make” (March 1, 1969)

Charged in 1972 with stealing more than $220 million from investors and fled to Costa Rica. Convicted of fraud in Cuba and reportedly sentenced to 13 years in prison. Reported dead in 2007, but his death was unconfirmed.

Robert Brennan
Founder, First Jersey Securities
“Brennan is a complex character. One of his first two racehorses was Schride, an acronym for the slogan he uses to inspire his salesmen: S for self-confidence; C for courage; H for honesty; R for responsibility; I for impatience—with oneself, but not others; D for determination; E for enthusiasm. That’s good advice for salesmen. Forbes’s best advice to investors, however, is caveat emptor.”
—“Come Grow With Us” (March 1, 1982)

Found liable for securities fraud in 1995 and ordered to pay $75 million in restitution. Convicted of money laundering and bankruptcy fraud in 2001 and served nearly ten years in prison.

Ivan Boesky

Founder, Ivan F Boesky & Co
“A pleasant and easy way for Forbes readers to save money is by avoiding buying that overtouted book by Ivan Boesky entitled Merger Mania. Even at a hefty discount from its official $18.95 price, the book is a waste of money and, worse, of time.”
—“A Penny Saved...” (July 29, 1985)

Pleaded guilty to insider trading in 1987. Served two years in prison.

Meyer Blinder
Co-founder, Blinder, Robinson & Co
“Penny shares are harder to track because Nasdaq won’t quote shares under 3 cents. How does Blinder get away with milking customers like this? By remembering what PT Barnum said: There’s one born every minute.”
—“Blinder, Robinson—Blind ’em and Rob ’em” (April 20, 1987)

Convicted in 1992 on six counts of racketeering and securities fraud. Served 40 months in prison.

Bernie Madoff
Founder, Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities
“Why do brokers deal with Bernie Madoff? Simple. He saves them money. Not only does he not charge the usual specialists’ commissions and Big Board fees, but he will often pay the brokers a small fee for the privilege of executing their orders as well. What goes on here?”
—“Living Off the Spread” (July 10, 1989)

Pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies, including securities fraud, wire fraud and money ­laundering in 2009. Now serving a 150-year sentence in prison.

Jordan Belfort
Founder, Stratton Oakmont
“Approaching 30, Belfort seems to have it made. He drives a $175,000 Ferrari Testarossa, and says he’s taking it easy and looking to use Stratton to diversify into other businesses... The way things are going, Belfort is going to need all the help he can get dealing with Stratton Oakmont’s roster of burnt clients.” —“Steaks, Stocks—What’s the Difference?” (October 14, 1991)

Pleaded guilty to securities fraud and money laundering in 1999. Served 22 months in ­prison.

Dennis Kozlowski
CEO, Tyco International
“Kozlowski, 51, who joined Tyco in 1975, became its chief executive in July 1992. Since then he has bought no fewer than 88 companies, for more than $15 billion. What’s he got to show for all this dealmaking? Not much, if you judge just by the published bottom line.”
—“Deal-a-Month Dennis” (June 15, 1998)

Convicted of 22 counts of grand larceny, conspiracy and fraud, including embezzling some $100 million in 2005. Served nearly seven years in prison.

Allen Stanford
Chairman, Stanford Financial Group
“Stanford’s investment strategy can be described as sure and steady. It doesn’t compare its investment returns with any benchmark... Instead it sets an internal return on investment targets based on the market environment.”
—“Crazy for Cricket” (October 6, 2008)

Convicted of masterminding a Ponzi scheme in 2012. Now serving a 110-year sentence in ­prison.

Martin Shkreli
Founder, Retrophin
“Yes, many new drugs must be expensive, or nobody would spend years and billions of dollars to invent them. But should Shkreli—or anyone else—be able to raise the price of a 62-year-old drug 5,000 percent in one fell swoop?”
—“Solving Pharma’s Shkreli Problem” (February 8, 2016)

Convicted on three counts of securities fraud in 2017 and awaiting sentencing.


(This story appears in the 10 November, 2017 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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