Platinum Co-Founder's ‘Rage’ at Lawyer Lands Him in Jail
(Bloomberg) -- A judge revoked Mark Nordlicht’s bail, sending the Platinum Partners LLP co-founder to a federal lockup after finding that he “forcibly intimidated” a government attorney last week during a break in his fraud trial.
“I’ve had cases with Mafia hit men and Mexican sicarios and terrorists who’ve tried to blow up buildings, but I’ve never had any of them act this way,” U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said at an 18-minute hearing in Brooklyn federal court on Monday.
Cogan and the lawyers had viewed two courthouse videos that showed the incident from different angles. The videos haven’t been made public.
The judge disagreed sharply with Nordlicht’s lawyer, Jose Baez, who suggested the incident was just a matter of his client “losing his cool” and raising his voice to a group of prosecutors outside the courtroom.
“You and I looked at very different videos,” Cogan said. There was “a lunge,” he said, referring to Nordlicht’s interaction with prosecutor Lauren Elbert. “Do I think he would have hit her? Probably not. But I think he meant to intimidate her. He was approaching in a very aggressive, physical way.”
Baez declined to comment on the ruling outside court.
Nordlicht and two other former executives of the defunct hedge fund are accused of inflating the value of Platinum’s largest assets and using loans and money from new investors to pay off old ones, while falsely claiming to regulators the firm had about $1.7 billion in assets under management.
Cogan said last week’s incident wasn’t the first time Nordlicht had let his anger flash.
“He’s been at the boiling point often. He’s been fulminating with rage from time to time,” the judge said. “It does not surprise me it happened. I’m just thankful it wasn’t Ms. Elbert alone and Mr. Nordlicht alone. I can’t have any lawyer, prosecutor, male or female or anyone else, intimidated from doing their job.”
Earlier Monday, prosecutors in Brooklyn said in a letter to the judge that Nordlicht should be sent to jail for the remainder of the trial for trying to intimidate a prosecutor.
In their account, Nordlicht and his wife were passing a group of prosecutors in a hallway on May 2 when he “angrily shouted” at Elbert.
“You have no f---ing morals!” they said he told her. As his wife tried to restrain him, he “continued to curse and pursued the prosecutor in a rage while screaming,” they said, adding that two of Elbert’s colleagues had to stand between Elbert and the defendant to halt his pursuit.
“His rage was directed at the prosecutor for doing her job and was clearly meant to intimidate her and interfere with the performance of her official function,” the U.S. said. “Nordlicht’s physical aggression -- sufficiently threatening that his wife had to restrain him for over 10 seconds and nearly removed his jacket in the struggle -- inspired fear of immediate harm in the prosecutor.”
Nordlicht filed a letter under seal the day after the incident “respectfully apologizing to the court and government,” according to a description of the document posted on the court’s docket.
Toward the end of Monday’s hearing, Nordlicht’s mother, watching from the front row of the gallery, raised her hand and tried to speak after the judge said he was putting her son in jail. Cogan responded, saying that if anyone in the audience wanted to speak, they might find themselves in jail as well.
After the hearing, Nordlicht, wearing a gray suit and blue tie, was led by federal marshals into the holding area of the courtroom.
“Since third grade, he’s never acted out or gotten in a fight with anybody,” said Nordlicht’s mother, who didn’t give her name as she was led away by family members. She said her son was justifiably angry at the prosecutors’ behavior during the trial.
Under Nordlicht’s guidance, Platinum reported an average annual return of 17 percent from 2003 to 2015, earning the envy of the hedge-fund industry. The fund collapsed in June 2016 after co-founder Murray Huberfeld, a penny-stock financier from Brooklyn, was charged in a separate case involving municipal corruption.
Defense attorneys have argued that those who put money into Platinum were sophisticated investors who did their research and knew the risks. They blamed an FBI raid and government leaks to news media for investors’ decision to pull their money out of the fund and for the company’s collapse.
The case is U.S. v. Nordlicht et al, 16-cr-640, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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