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.

"Prior to that," according to the release, "he was general manager of Ford Motor Co.'s dealer development and retail outlets program."

Two months after the July announcement, Birtcher nixed the stock sale without explanation.

One possibility for the sudden cancellation might have been the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission's filing of a complaint against Judah and two of his partners at International Property Exchange (IPX).

The complaint accused IPX's principals of overstating the company's real estate holdings in corporate filings — IPX claimed to have more than $20 million in assets, when "in fact those assets were worth less than $1 million."

Judah and his partners agreed to a consent order enjoining them from "further violations" of the antifraud, reporting and registration provisions of the Securities Exchange Act. Subsequently, a federal judge entered an order of permanent injunction against the principals.

Judah later moved to Houston and appears to have led a quiet existence until his federal charges in New York. After he was released from prison, he returned to Houston and started a mortgage company. Then he started a remodeling and construction company. ("You could always go on the local corner and pick up two or three people that wanted to work, mostly Mexican; and that way you didn't have any overhead unless you had a job," Judah explained of his business model in his 2009 deposition.)

His entrepreneurial spirit was unflagging; even behind bars, he set about improving his station.  In his deposition, Judah claims to have taken correspondence classes at Rice University. Of course, Rice does not offer correspondence courses, and a university spokesman said there is no record of a Howard Glen Judah Jr. having graduated. (According to the receiver, Janet Mortenson, Judah apparently didn't claim just to have an undergraduate degree from Rice. In an e-mail to the Houston Press, she stated that Judah and Jablonski shared an office "lined with law books. I asked Mr. Jablonski if anyone there was a lawyer, and he told me that Mr. Judah was a graduate of Rice University law school. As you know, Rice doesn't have a law school.")

When the whole Rice issue came up in Judah's deposition, it unleashed a bizarre exchange that can only be appreciated by reading the transcript:

Q: What degree do you believe you've earned from Rice?

A: Bachelor of Science.

Q: Okay. And — what's your major?

A: Business.

Q: Okay. So at Rice, a Bachelor's of — you can get a Bachelor's of Science degree with a major in business?

A: Uh-huh.

Q: "Yes"?

A: You got to have a major and a minor.

Q: Okay. And what's your minor?

A: Math.

Q: Okay. And that is a — at Rice University, you're saying that's a Bachelor's of Science degree, is that correct?

A: That's my understanding.

Q:  Okay. Well, Mr. Judah, you were the one taking the courses, right?

A: Right.

Q: Okay. And you've represented to people that you're a Rice graduate, haven't you?

A: Yes.

Q: Okay. You don't have a diploma on the wall, but you've told people, "I graduated — I'm a Rice graduate," right?

A: The only people that I think I can tell is two of our licensed agencies — there were two black fellows that ran track there, and they graduated from Rice.

Q: Okay.

A: And we used to kid each other about the time difference in athletes and things.

Judah's deposition is riddled with similarly convoluted claims and rambling non sequiturs. Although he was heavily medicated for prostate cancer at the time, his defense attorneys have never claimed that he wasn't in full control of his faculties. No family members have publicly accused prosecutors of picking on an old man whose groceries might not all be in the same bag. Still, Judah's non-answers and forgetfulness are somewhat unsettling. At one point, unable to remember the word "computer," he talks about a "big square thing." He says, of a business responsible for $20 million of investments, "You got to remember, it don't take much intelligence to run this business. Because that way your employees didn't cost you as much, they're damn glad to have a job, and they come to work."

Even on the rare occasions when Judah gave a straight answer, the results were troubling — as when he described how he brought his 54-year-old schizophrenic son into the NLS office on weekends to empty trash and work on the computer. For these services, Judah gave his son a $26,000 truck, paid for with NLS funds. Judah also said he used NLS funds to pay for his son's treatment at a mental hospital. Shortly after the younger Judah got his truck, he disappeared. Police in New Mexico found him a year later.

Judah's attorneys only spoke up about his physical condition, which apparently required him to take a break every 30 minutes, much to the consternation of Michael Shaunessy, attorney for the court-appointed receiver, who had to reschedule the deposition at least five times prior. "I'd actually like to get [the deposition] over before I retire from the practice of law," he told his opposing counsel. For Judah's part, he just wanted to make sure "I don't want to wet my pants here in front of everybody."

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12 comments
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

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/...

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.

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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