VICE Exclusive: How a Former SEC Official Manipulated the System for His Clients and His Own Financial Benefit
Two years ago, Spencer C. Barasch, a former high-ranking Securities and Exchange Commission official based in Fort Worth, Texas, paid a $50,000 fine to settle civil charges brought against him by the United States Justice Department for allegedly violating federal conflict-of-interest laws. The Department of Justice had alleged that Barasch, as a private attorney, had represented R. Allen Stanford, a Houston-based financier who was later found to have masterminded a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Barasch had done so even though he’d played a central role at the SEC for years in overruling colleagues who wanted to investigate Stanford’s massive fraud. Federal law prohibits former SEC officials from representing anyone as a private attorney if they played a substantial or material role in overseeing actions regarding them while in government.
In part because of that episode, Barasch, rightfully or wrongfully, has served as an example for critics of the SEC who say that it—and the US government as a whole—has done too little to hold accountable those financial institutions responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and other corporate wrongdoers. James Kidney, a respected trial attorney for the SEC, drew attention recently when he asserted in his retirement speech that the agency’s pervasive “revolving door” has led to a paucity of enforcement actions against seemingly untouchable Wall Street executives. More than two dozen current and former SEC officials that I have interviewed about these matters largely agree with Kidney on the takeaway: Quite simply, American investors can no longer expect the protection they once did, and that powerful Wall Street executives who have violated the law will continue to go unchecked.
A three-month investigation by VICE has uncovered evidence of numerous similar instances of misconduct and potential violation of federal conflict of interest regulations and law by Barasch since he left the SEC. And while Barasch’s legal representation of Stanford might have been the single most consequential and egregious example of such misconduct, the new information shows that Barasch’s actions in representing Stanford were hardly an anomaly. The new disclosures serve as further ammunition for those who argue that the SEC has been tepid in its enforcement of such regulations and its punishment of those who would violate them.
In this dispatch, Simon Ostrovsky tells the story of his abduction in eastern Ukraine, his days in captivity, and why he thinks he was targeted by “mayor” Ponomarev.
Watch on VICE News.
The SS Doctor Who Converted to Islam and Escaped the Nazi Hunters
The Holocaust, as you’ll probably know, produced some of history’s worst human beings. The thing is, though, besides those who made it into your textbooks—the Hitlers, Görings and Himmlers—many escaped unscathed, free to live out the rest of their days pretending to be mild-mannered ex-pats who’d moved to Argentina simply because they preferred empanadas and polo to bratwurst and car manufacturing.
One SS member to ultimately escape prosecution was an Austrian concentration camp doctor called Aribert Heim, who later became known as “Doctor Death.” The atrocities committed in the Nazi camps have their very own scale of horror, and Heim sits somewhere near the top (his trademark was injecting gasoline into healthy people’s hearts and keeping their skulls as trophies). However, despite his horrific crimes he managed to mostly evade the authorities, and when they did finally catch up with him in the early 60s he had already fled Germany.
Almost 50 years later, New York Times journalist Souad Mekhennet got a tip that Heim had converted to Islam and had been hiding out in Cairo. Teaming up with another NYTjournalist, Nicholas Kulish, the pair decided to follow up what they’d heard, hoping to track down Heim and explain what exactly had happened after his sudden disappearance.
An article about Souad and Nicholas’ search for Heim was first published in the New York Times, before the pair turned their investigation into a book, titled The Eternal Nazi. I recently spoke to the writers about their experience, the briefcase of Heim’s possessions they were handed in Cairo and the effect the story had on them and those closest to Dr Death.
VICE: Hi guys. So let’s start at the beginning; when did you start investigating the story of Aribert Heim?
Souad Mekhennet: It started in 2008, when I received a phone call from an old source of mine. We met, and he took out this photocopied photo of Aribert Heim. He told me that he was the most-wanted Nazi doctor, “Doctor Death.” There was information that Heim used to hide out in a certain neighbourhood in Cairo, but it wasn’t confirmed. So I spoke to Nick and we decided to take on the challenge. I took this photocopy to Cairo to see if it was true. We went from small hotel to small hotel, until, on our third day, we found someone who recognized him.
What exactly had Heim done to become the most wanted Nazi in the world?
Nicholas Kulish: He worked as a Waffen-SS doctor in a series of concentration camps, including Buchenwald in Germany and Mauthausen in Austria. He was accused of committing hideous crimes in Mauthausen in 1941, including operating on healthy living patients, killing them in the process, and injecting gasoline into people’s hearts. He also used to take the skulls with particularly good teeth as trophies and keep them on his desk.
The Syrian War Keeps Getting Worse for the People of Aleppo
A year ago, almost to the day, I watched a graffiti artist named Khalifa paint a huge smiley face onto a wall. The wall was pretty much all that remained of the house it had been part of, and every other house on the street was in a similarly bad state. The day before, the street had been hit by a Scud missile: That was Aleppo, Syria, in 2013.
Khalifa had sprayed a slogan next to the smiley face. It read, in Arabic, “Tomorrow this will be beautiful.”
He was wrong.
The Only Person Young Thug Follows on Instagram Tried to Fly Me to Dubai in Exchange for Sex
I have a compulsion, or a penchant rather, to seek out and passively absorb images any time I find myself idle. In high school, I satisfied this urge through Tumblr—I would tumbl deep into k-holes of Mary Kate Olsen pro-anorexia blogs and Laguna Beach montages. But now I am (ostensibly) an adult, so I use Instagram to quench my thirst for meaningless images. Celebrity Instagrams are the apex of the form, a place where you can lose yourself in the 2,000 comments on a selfie of Young Thug in the passenger seat of a car.
It was precisely that moment of Instagram hypnosis that an unnamed Noisey editor discovered a strange anomaly: Young Thug aka @thuggerthugger1 follows a single person on Instagram. Just as Kanye only follows his one true love, Kim Kardashian, on Twitter, Young Thug has an interest in only one account, one account over the millions that exist, one account to fill his entire feed every time he desires the soothing soma of social media.
Enter: @HumaidAlBuqaish. Humaid Al Buqaish lives in a massive compound somewhere outside of Dubai. His Instagram account is dedicated to his many pets, most of which are exotic cats. It seems like someone in his very wealthy entourage got their hands on a GoPro camera, and the combination of his comical levels of wealth and his several tigers, cheetahs, lions, and one painfully cute chimp that he dresses in all Paul Frank pajamas has resulted in a mass Instagram following. He’s so famous the Daily Mail even wrote an article about him!!!!!! Wow. Such prestige. Many impress.
I reached out to Mr. Al Buqaish via Facebook about a month ago. He responded almost immediately to my inquiry, but his messages were suspiciously laced with grinning, blushing, and winking emoticons. I should have realized after the first winky-face emoticon that this was not going to be a normal interviewer-interviewee relationship. Instead of agreeing to a Skype or email interview as I had suggested, Humaid took the conversation to an entirely different place:
Crude Journalism: Chevron Bought a Newspaper to Mask Its Bad Record on Safety Abuses
Richmond is tucked into California’s western tricep, a former wine town with a population just over 100,000. Under the administration of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the town is thelargest city in the United States with a Green Party mayor. It’s also an oil town—in 1901, Standard Oil set up a tank farm, choosing the location for its easy access to San Francisco Bay. Soon after, a western terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad was built in Richmond to handle the outflux of crude. Over the course of the 20th century, Standard Oil became the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL), and later, Chevron.
Throughout the 90s, the Richmond refinery was fined thousands of dollars for unsafe conditions, explosions, major fires, and chemical leaks, as the plant oozed chlorine and sulfur trioxide into Richmond’s atmosphere. In August of 2012, the Richmond refinery exploded after Chevron ignored the warning of corroding pipes from the local safety board. The disaster was linked to aging pipes, which were simply clamped instead of replaced altogether. Some 15,000 residents in the surrounding area were forced to seek medical treatment, and Chevron’s CEO, John Watson, got a $7.5 million dollar raise.
How to Kill a Wolf: An Undercover Report from the Idaho Coyote and Wolf Derby
The best way to fatally wound a wolf without killing it instantly is to shoot it in the gut, preferably with armor-piercing ammunition. Unlike soft lead-tipped bullets, which mushroom inside the body cavity and kill quickly, heavy-jacketed AP ammo pierces the target and blows out the other side.
This has two advantages: The first is that, especially with a gut shot, the animal will suffer. It will bleed out slowly, run a mile or so in terrified panic, and collapse. Then it will die. The second advantage is that, if you’re hunting illegally (out of season, at night with a spotlight, or on land where you shouldn’t), there is little forensic evidence for game wardens to gather. No bullet will be found in the cadaver. Most importantly, the animal will have traveled some distance from where it was shot, so that tracing the site of the shooting is almost impossible.
I gleaned these helpful tips from a nice old man at a saloon in Salmon, Idaho, which last December was the site of the first annual Coyote and Wolf Derby. I had come to this rural town—population 3,000—to enter as a contestant in the derby. Over the course of two days in late December, several hundred hunters would compete to kill as many wolves and coyotes as possible. There were two $1,000 prizes to be had, one for the most coyotes slain and the other for the largest single wolf carcass. Children were encouraged to enter, with special awards for youths aged 10–11 and 12–14 listed on the promotional flyer. The derby’s organizer, a nonprofit sporting group called Idaho for Wildlife, advertised that the event was to be historic: the first wolf-killing contest held in the US since 1974.
VICE UK’s news editor, Henry Langston, is on the streets of Kiev, Ukraine, where it’s been reported that at least 37 people have been killed—mainly from police gunshots. He called us this morning to give us an update on the situation.