Another former executive of brokerage CDR Financial Products Inc. — the third such government witness in the municipal bond bid-rigging trial in Manhattan — testified Thursday that he manipulated bids to obtain contracts for former executives of General Electric Co. subsidiaries.
Matthew Adam Rothman, 45, of Los Angeles, said he helped rig the process by providing so-called last looks — allowing CDR to see bids from other firms before submitting their own final bids — soliciting “courtesy,” or losing bids, and falsely signing certificates saying that bids were competitive.
Rothman, who worked for Beverly Hills-based CDR from 1997 to 2007 and rose to vice president, pleaded guilty in March 2010 to one count of conspiracy to restrain trade through bid-rigging, one count of fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.
He told Judge Harold Baer’s courtroom in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that he faces up to 35 years of prison time and more than $1 million in fines, while receiving no assurance of leniency. Rothman, who has had 46 phone and in-person interviews with the federal government, also said he used cocaine in 2005 while working at CDR.
In 2010, Rothman settled with the Internal Revenue Service over payment of back taxes and penalties.
“CDR did not always conduct its bidding process in the way that they pitched to issuers,” Rothman said on direct examination from U.S. Justice Department antitrust prosecutor Steven Tugander. Rothman said “he observed what was going on” when he provided analytical support in his early days with the firm. When his responsibilities increased, he conducted bids himself.
He said he worked with Steven Goldberg, a director in Financial Security Assurance Holdings Ltd financial products group, now a part of Dexia, and GE Trinity Funding Co. CEO Peter Grimm — two of the three defendants in the trial — and brokers Mark Zaino of UBS and Douglas Campbell of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Prosecutors accuse Grimm, Goldberg and Dominick Carollo, all former executives of GE affiliates, with having conspired with brokerages to fix muni bid contracts between August 1999 and September 2006.
Zaino pleaded guilty in May 2010 to one count each of conspiracy to restrain trade, conspiracy and wire fraud.
Campbell, a former senior vice president and marketer in Bank of America’s municipal derivatives group, pleaded guilty four months later to conspiracy to restrain trade, conspiracy and wire fraud.
Rothman testified Thursday that Stewart Wolmark, CDR’s former chief financial officer and managing director, instructed him to “make sure Steven Goldberg won certain transactions,” for which CDR received kickbacks in the form of back-end swaps.
Rothman cited deals around 2003 and 2004 involving construction and debt-service reserve at Fairmont State University in West Virginia, two Michigan State Housing Development Authority transactions and a Maine State Housing Authority drawdown.
In cross-examination, Goldberg defense attorney Howard Heiss of O’Melveny & Myers LLP sought to emphasize that “throw-away” bids are more common in the municipal bond industry, and not necessary tank jobs. “Doesn’t a provider have to stay on an issuer’s radar screen by submitting a bid?” he said.
Heiss also homed in on what he perceived as ambiguities, saying fair-market value was a range, not a single price. He also wanted Rothman to clarify whether he once considered his activities “unethical” or “illegal.”
“Our pleas are not based on ethics. Too bad, sometimes,” Baer said, eliciting laughter from the courtroom.
Goldberg defense attorney Daniel Gitner was scheduled to cross-examine Rothman in the afternoon.