Commodities trader fraud busted.

Discussion in 'Wall St. News' started by smilingsynic, Jul 9, 2008.

  1. She talked a good game. Now, investors' millions are gone.

    On June 16, 2006, a sailboat named Van Ki Pass sliced through Narragansett Bay off the coast of Rhode Island.

    Flying in the breeze on the mast above the 65-foot red cedar and mahogany sloop was a pink banner with the words "Newport Girl."

    Boat owner Elizabeth "Liza" Baldwin, a 60-year-old futures and commodities trader, and her crew were making last-minute preparations for the annual Newport Bermuda Race, a 635-mile contest starting that afternoon.

    She'd spent thousands getting the yacht ready: new sails, bottom paint, engine parts. Each member of her 13-person crew was issued two fleece tops, long- and short-sleeve T-shirts, rain gear, ball caps and green wool berets - all embroidered with the boat's name.

    Baldwin even had a hairstylist flown in from St. Barthelemy, an exclusive French island in the West Indies where she'd rented a villa, to give crew members a trim.

    Four days and 23 hours after the starting gun, the Van Ki Pass - French-Creole for "Wind that Passes" - crossed the finish line in Bermuda first in its class.

    Liza Baldwin, a native of Newport, was a hometown hero.

    Yet two years later, police would accuse her of being a criminal who financed her lavish lifestyle - and the $315,000 yacht - with other people's money, much of which came from a group of well-to-do residents of Virginia Beach.

    This article is based on court records from nine lawsuits filed against Baldwin, a police affidavit and interviews with multiple people who invested money with her.

    Two months before the sailboat race, James Altizer, a retired airline pilot from Virginia Beach, gave Baldwin $100,000 to invest.

    He'd met her a year earlier at a bar on St. Barthelemy, or St. Barts, as the island is commonly called, where he lives most of the year. They struck up a friendship, and Altizer invited Baldwin to his Super Bowl party. After that, they'd bump into each other in Gustavia, a town on the 8-square-mile island.

    Baldwin told Altizer that she ran a commodities trading pool and had an opening in what she called The Newportant Group. She boasted of two decades of Wall Street investment experience. Would he like to invest?

    Altizer questioned several of Baldwin's clients on the island who said she was making them lots of money. He signed Baldwin's standard one-page trading agreement, and in September 2006, he invested another $100,000 for his wife, Mary.

    Baldwin sent the couple monthly e-mail updates. By July 2007, James Altizer's account showed $248,671. His wife's account showed $179,518.

    Meanwhile, Altizer told some Virginia Beach friends about the investment opportunity.

    Dr. Glenn McDermott, an internist, and his wife were interested. They hired a private investigator to check Baldwin's background, and it came up clean.

    McDermott and his wife, Rebekah Parker, went to St. Barts to investigate Baldwin for themselves.

    Baldwin was minor celebrity on the island. Surrounded by glamorous friends, she took McDermott and Parker out for an evening cruise on the Van Ki Pass. Others on St. Bart s raved about Baldwin's trading prowess.

    It was easy to be impressed, McDermott recalled.

    "She takes you out sailing, and she has all these well-to-do people there," he said.

    Baldwin showed the couple how she made deals via laptop computers. She seemed to be a hero in commodity trading chat rooms, McDermott said. He and Parker gave Baldwin $1.4 million to invest.

    Word of the deal spread around Virginia Beach. A retired Norfolk Southern railroad executive, Edmond Baughan, and his wife invested $100,000. Commercial airline pilot Bernard Hummel wired Baldwin $56,650. Urologist Jacob Drucker invested $300,000. Textbook salesman Michael Hunt sent her $135,000.

    "You thought this must be a special club we're in," said William Hatfield, a shipyard contractor from Virginia Beach who invested $100,000 with Baldwin in June 2007.

    The money appeared to be rolling in, and investors seemed happy with their new broker.

    "Dear Liza, I know you are in the middle of a trading day at this time," Hummel wrote in a June 19, 2007, e-mail. "When you get an opportunity could you report how the Newportant Groupers did in May? If you sent out an E-Mail I must have missed it. I hope you got over your 'cold'. No one likes a cold, much less a spring cold. Will type later. TATA, BERNIE."

    The next day, Baldwin responded that the group made about 4 percent that month.

    On Aug. 1, 2007, Parker and McDermott asked Baldwin to return $200,000 of their money for a real estate deal the couple was working on. The amount was a fraction of the $1.6 million balance shown in the couple's latest accounting reports.

    Baldwin didn't respond.

    On Aug. 14, Parker sent another e-mail.

    On Aug. 30, Baldwin replied. " hi becky.. sorry for the delay.. i am home but have some health issues that will require me to close the trading down.. i was in the process of streamlining it but now i need to slow down a bit.. now i really must take a full on break for a bit.. get my health back in line.. so i will be liquidating all accts over the next week and sending the balance.. thanx for your patience.. be well, moi."

    Parker and McDermott told friends who'd invested about the trouble they were having getting money back. The Virginia Beach investors called a meeting at the Altizers' home on Sept. 11 and spoke to Baldwin on a speaker phone. She explained that she'd lost $4 million in a mistake she attributed to dyslexia, according to court documents. Baldwin said she had the money, but needed to transfer it from another account.

    The next day, Baughan and Hummel flew to Rhode Island to confront Baldwin. They met her at the Castle Hill Inn, an exclusive Newport resort overlooking the Narragansett Bay, where 15 months earlier Baldwin began her victorious sail boat race.

    Baughan asked for a record of the $4 million trading loss. Baldwin, according to court records, said she couldn't provide it on advice from her lawyers. She said that the $4 million loss represented only 65 percent of her portfolio.

    Baughan said he told her that the Virginia Beach investors were going to do everything they could to get their money back.

    "She told us if you pursue legal action, you won't get a dime, and if you don't, you might get your money," Baughan said.

    The meeting ended. The next day, Baughan and Hummel told their story to the Rhode Island State Police.

    In November, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission charged Baldwin with fraudulently obtaining money to trade commodity futures. Agency officials alleged that the monthly account statements provided to investors were false. The civil case is ongoing, a spokesman said.

    The Virginia Beach investors filed civil lawsuits in city and federal courts and won judgments against Baldwin to return their initial investments. But no money has been returned.

    In May, Rhode Island State Police arrested Baldwin, charging her with embezzlement, obtaining money under false pretenses and access to computer for fraudulent purposes, all felonies. Police identified 47 victims who gave Baldwin a total of $8.7 million, of which $7.3 million is described as missing.

    Baldwin used the money to pay back prior investors, fund trading losses and pay personal expenses, including the purchase of the Van Ki Pass, police said. Losses from the nine Virginia Beach investors totaled almost $2.2 million.

    Baldwin was trading, police said, as an individual, not as the manager of a commodities pool. The Newportant Group never was a registered entity. And in the trading she was doing, she was mostly losing money, police said.

    In the 44 months between January 2004 and August 2007, Baldwin lost money in every month but one, police said. Her sole profit was $19,947 in July 2007, they said.

    "Based on a comparison of profits reported to investors with the analysis of Baldwin's trading records, it is clear that the profits reported to the investors were false," police alleged in the arrest warrant.

    An examination of seven bank accounts maintained by Baldwin showed her total available funds as of August 2007 as $130,709, police said.

    Her criminal trial will likely be this fall. Baldwin, who is free on bail, said she had no comment when reached by phone and hung up.

    Most local victims are resigned to losing their money.

    "I think in the end everybody will find their money is gone," McDermott said.

    Meanwhile, Baldwin's most obvious valuable asset, Van Ki Pass, sits idle in a shipyard in Spain. Baughan traveled there earlier this year, hired a lawyer and got a lien on the boat, he said. He hopes to recoup his money if it's sold.

    He also thinks Baldwin might have money offshore that police haven't discovered.

    "If there's money, we will find the money," he said.

    Others, such as William Hatfield, aren't holding out hope.

    "I should probably make a plaque on my desk that says a fool and his money will soon part."

    Aaron Applegate, (757) 222-5122,
  2. RhinoGG

    RhinoGG Guest

    All together now...

    Ha, ha ha, ha ha ha ha!

    I feel bad for those who got burned, I really do. But come on...I wonder how many more of these scams happen but never get reported.
  3. Brandonf

    Brandonf ET Sponsor

    This one is pretty tough though and should serve as a reminder to be careful of who you give your money to. One of the investors had gone so far as to hire a Private Investigator who was unable to find anything, and that being the case along with the seemingly satisfied clients I don't think that the people acted all that stupidly investing with her.
  4. RhinoGG

    RhinoGG Guest

    "She told us if you pursue legal action, you won't get a dime, and if you don't, you might get your money," Baughan said.

    Actually, I'm surprised Baughan didn't put a cap in her skull after that remark. I would have at least kicked here fucking teeth in.
  5. I agree 100%..... I would have put the cap in her skull :)

  6. odd name for a boat - The Fart
  7. olias


    There's a bunch of sharks out there.
  8. RhinoGG

    RhinoGG Guest

    Baldwin said the trading loss occurred because she was dyslexic and instead of “going short” she “went long” with a trade and before she realized it, she was down $4 million.

    What? Are you fucking kidding me? A dyslexic 60 year old trader? I've just found my new ET handle...

    "The investors were not pleased with the news."
    Really, Ya think!. You mean they weren't whistling Dixie!

    I can hear it now in the court rooms. The atty for Merrill Lynch says "my client made a grave mistake, costing hundreds of millions, all due to Alzheimer's making him forget he was a trader."
  9. Anybody who ends a letter, email or any type of correspondance with "TATA, BERNIE." should be ripped off.

    That's justification enough.
  10. olias


    You have a good point. Makes me cringe.
    #10     Jul 9, 2008