Betting Their Lives

It's easy for a three-time felon to get $20 million for his investment company, as long as no one asks any questions.

According to Ben Dominguez, who represents Jablonski in the 2011 criminal matter, but who represented Judah in the 2009 civil action, the NLS co-founders depended largely on the advice of an accountant and a former IRS worker. At no time in the planning and creation of NLS did the two men consult an attorney, something that maybe should've been on a to-do list for two guys planning to control tens of millions of dollars. Somewhere along the way, apparently no one bothered to ask the question, "Are we dealing with securities?"

"Howard Judah, as a normal course of conduct, tried to cross his T's and dot his I's," Dominguez said. To Judah, this apparently meant keeping in touch with the Texas Department of Insurance. Dominguez said that insurance regulators never told Judah that life settlements were not within their authority.

And that's probably true, because the Texas Department of Insurance also regulates life settlements. It's just that the insurance people and the securities people regulate different aspects.

Dominguez's description of Judah as "basically the brain behind this organization" takes on an ominous tone in the face of the Yohannes Riyadi story.

In 2008, it appears, a failed Florida real estate developer and self-proclaimed financial expert named Park Beeler tipped off Judah to an incredible opportunity, something that would safeguard NLS's investments. Beeler, currently serving four years in a Florida prison for repeat drunk driving offenses,  provided Judah with official Federal Reserve Board documents indicating that an Indonesian fellow named Yohannes Riyadi had inherited what can only be described as a shit-ton of gold from his grandfather and now "had full signatory authority" over $35 trillion in "United States Treasury Checks." The papers were signed by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Beeler's documents also included some thoughts from Riyadi himself, written on his own letterhead. Riyadi explained that he was bound by certain confidentiality agreements, which was why most people hadn't heard of him. But, "all top traders in the world should know my history," he assured anyone lucky enough to stumble upon this bounty. 

Beeler was willing to hook Judah up with $62.5 billion.

According to the receiver and State Securities Board, Judah and Jablonski told sales agents that NLS was backed by $62.5 billion, and sales agents in turn repeated that to the poor unsuspecting schoolteachers. But in their depositions, Judah and Jablonski explained that, if they told agents about the treasury checks, it was just for the agents' personal knowledge, and not meant to be conveyed to the prospective client. This was because, on the outside chance that the paperwork might not be authentic, Judah wanted to perform due diligence.

After NLS was shut down and Judah and Jablonski were charged civilly, Judah actually presented the Riyadi papers in court as evidence that there was no bad faith in any claims that NLS had heavy Fed backing.

It's unclear why he would hinge part of his legal defense on documents that are so obviously fraudulent. It's also unclear what Judah meant by "due diligence," because, had anyone in the entire NLS apparatus simply Googled the totally un-sketchy name "Yohannes Riyadi," they would have found a scam alert issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2007.

What kind of person would do that — and how could he convince people to fork over $20 million?
_____________________

Howard Judah, who is now 81 or 82 (there are conflicting birth dates) and suffers from prostate cancer, is just the type of near-cadaver that life-settlement investments are built upon.

Born in Indiana during the Great Depression, Judah served in the Marines during the Korean War, in which he claims to have been held as a POW during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a particularly brutal campaign waged in subzero temperatures. (Judah's military records from the National Archives indicate he was in Camp Pendleton, San Diego, during the Chosin battle.)

A Nexis search didn't turn up anything about Judah until 1984; information about his life before then was provided in stray articles from now-defunct newspapers presented by his attorney, John LaGrappe. According to the articles, Judah ran for Indiana's General Assembly in 1961. Fast-forward to 1978, and Judah, now living in Des Moines, Iowa, was the country's number one Renault dealer. He could move Le Cars like nobody's business.

LaGrappe also provided paperwork indicating Judah was invited to a White House reception in 1978 and to a private reception for Senator Ted Kennedy and his family in 1979. LaGrappe also supplied undated photographs of Judah jokingly presenting a contract and a pen to a tiger that was either stuffed or incredibly well-mannered.

By 1984, Judah was in Southern California, fancying himself a corporate executive.

In July of that year, the Birtcher Corporation, a developer and manufacturer of medical equipment, announced that Judah had been elected to its board of directors. He would purchase 22 percent of Birtcher's common stock through a corporation, WJCW, created strictly for the stock purchase.

Birtcher's press release described Judah as "president and chairman of International Property Exchange, Inc., a publicly traded company headquartered in Orange County."

He was also, according to the press release, "president and major shareholder" in "National American Corp." and "National Consolidated Institute." No description of those companies was given.

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12 comments
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jiazhuangde
jiazhuangde

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Valkyre
Valkyre

The old saying "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is (too good to be true)" still holds true.

Guest
Guest

You guys are 2 in a row with solid cover stories this month. Keep up the good work, Malisow.

Note to the Editor-in-Chief: Can you see how this type of story is more useful than uninspired "top five lists" and vanity blogs about "The 1980s softcore cable porn I jerked off to when I was a kid?"

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Good article about strange companies in the business of trying to guess when folks are going to die.

I think we are talking about Life Partner Holdings, Inc. out of Waco, Texas ...NOW.

http://www.lphi.com/default.ht...

And their stock (Life Partner Holdings) closed out today at about $8.00 per share

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/...

And today, March 9, 2011 Attorneys are attempting to communicate with investors.

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP Reminds Investors of Upcoming Deadline In Class Action Lawsuits Against Life Partners Holdings, Inc. (April 4, 2011)

http://bit.ly/dGKTPo

Again, the deadline is April 4, 2011 and investors need to be aware of that deadline so we can all watch the stock price move down to $7, $6, $5, $4, $3, $2, $1 and then one penny.

Texanfanrocket
Texanfanrocket

That would primarily be in response to the WSJ article from Dec. that claimed that Life Partners was tossing out valid life expectancies and replacing them with an "in-house" doctor who only took a few minutes to review each and significally shortened the LE's making them look more favorable than they really were.

And, yes. THAT story would've been a tad better as far as timeliness.

Instead we get a story that was written in the Chron when it actually occured. 2 years ago.

Look into Retirement Value and AGAP, as well for at least some that happened in the last 12 months.

Texanfanrocket
Texanfanrocket

Not a timely or well-informed article, and you gotta love folks throwing in their opinion into these articles, as well. NLS was shut down 2 freaking years ago, and mainly for non-disclosure of ownership. ie. They were the owners and beneficiaries of the policies. Hell, 2 others were shut down last year. You couldn't write-up on at least a more recent one?

Secondly, You did know annuity companies have been using mortality rates (ie. life expectancies) to determine a payout, right? Right? No, of course you didn't. Please tell me your outrage there. These are 80-90 year olds, typically. Nobody is betting on a 20 year old getting run over by a car.

Thirdly, The State of Texas has determined this not to be a security. Links are below.

If you want to be a serious journalist, keep your opinions to yourself, and be better informed. It took 15 minutes to shred every ounce of credibility regarding this article.

http://www.google.com/#hl=en&a...

http://ctwatchdog.com/2010/05/...

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Hi Texanfanrocket,

Thanks for posting your thoughts, and I just wanted to briefly respond.

1.) The reason we felt this was a timely article was that there are currently criminal charges pending. Although the company went into receivership in 2009, the story wasn't over. But of course, it's all up to the amount of interest a person has in a story. There are plenty of 600-word summaries of the NLS receivership, but if a person wants to dive deeper and get to know the people involved, and their histories, then they may enjoy an in-depth look. Different strokes, I suppose.

2.) Yes, life expectancy is calculated in both annuities and life settlements, but they are different products. Of course, my characterization of life settlements as "repugnant" is an opinion, and I understand that other people may not feel the same way. However, I hardly feel that a difference of opinion is a "credibility" factor.

3.) I think the point is that the State Securities Board defines life settlements as securities, and Judah and Jablonski are being charged with securities fraud. We'll be following the proceedings, and if a trial or appellate court rules in this case that NLS was not peddling securities, then we'll report that.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts,Craig Malisow

Texanfanrocket
Texanfanrocket

Hi Craig,

1.) There have been in-depth articles written in both Forbes and the Wall Street Journal about these. I'll be more than happy to provide links if you would like.

2.) Did you know that Social Security uses these LE's, also! How repugnant to think our Gov. uses tables to determine when people will die? If you want to really be offended, then look no further than the Insurance Companies. The "Cash Value" on policies is so laughably bad that it created this market in the first place. Imagine if you put away $10,000 a year for a $1,000,000 insurance policy for 30 years and then your significant other passes, or you need extra cash, etc. and the insurance company decides that they will give you $100,000 for it?!? The whole reason this exists is so folks can get additional funding and has been around since 1911... But I'll assume you didn't know that, either.

Life Settlements have been used as investments by institutions for years, including Berkshire Hathaway, Wells Fargo, and the like.

3.) NO. You obviously didn't look at the link I provided. It is NOT defined that way by the State of Texas. They are being charged by the SEC because they worked in several States and are therefore subject to Federal law, which at this point does seem to regard these as a security.

Texanfanrocket
Texanfanrocket

Craig,

The first point is that typically investors are buying a bundle of policies with the full understanding that the estimates are just that: estimates. Some will pass earlier than others. The main issue is the knowledge that folks in their 80s tend to die sooner rather than later.

And if the TSSB had determined these to be securities, Life Partners would have been shut down years ago. They are located in Waco, after all.

If and when they are determined to be securities, I promise I'll be the first to let you know.

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Hi Texanfanrocket,

I don't want to prolong this exchange indefinitely, but, if you read closely, my characterization of life settlements as repugnant is not based on the mere fact that LE's are used. LE's themselves are completely benign. My opinion -- and again, it's only my opinion -- was based on third parties literally profiting from someone else's death. The fact that LE's are a factor is a non-issue. Investors are not making money off pork bellies or a better mousetrap; they are literally getting a payout upon a complete stranger's death. Was that person going to die anyway? Absolutely -- we all are. So therefore, some people might say, "Look, this old bag is gonna kick the bucket anyway; I might as well make some money off it," and sleep peacefully. You might feel that, since the seller of a policy gets cash they might need right away, then everyone benefits. Totally valid point. It's also a valid point that some people might find that idea ghastly. Again, different strokes.

And again: the State Securities Board believes life settlements are securities, regardless of what the court ruling says in the link you provided. Now, you might believe the Board to be foolhardy and quixotic in their stance against life settlements, but nevertheless, they are the ones who believe they had jurisdiction, and they are the ones who got the ball rolling. Again, you can disagree with them, and hey, maybe they'll change their minds in the future, but right now, they believe life settlements are securities. (The SEC is still undecided on the matter and recently convened a task force to look into it; the task force recommended that they be defined as securities).

I'm sure you'll again point out the error of my ways, and I truly appreciate your input, but I think I've addressed everything.

Thanks,Craig

 
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