Tuesday marks the anniversary of
collapse, but don't expect to find anyone on Wall Street celebrating.
The once-dominant commodities brokerage imploded last October in an accounting scandal, just two months after its $585 million IPO.
The firm's shocking demise gave a black eye to some of Wall Street's biggest players, including underwriters
Bank of America
. Also not distinguishing itself was Thomas H. Lee Partners, the Boston private equity firm that engineered the broker's $1.9 billion leveraged buyout in 2004.
Refco's beleaguered shareholders lost their entire investment in a blink of an eye.
But in the next few weeks, they could get a belated gift from federal prosecutors.
People familiar with the investigation say New York prosecutors will soon announce plea deals with former Refco officials that could recoup tens of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains -- cash the ex-Refco honchos received from the initial public offering and the LBO.
The feds are investigating a massive fraud allegedly perpetrated by former Refco CEO Phillip Bennett, the Austrian lender Bank fur Arbeit und Wirtschaft -- known as Bawag -- and others.
The plea agreements are expected to be announced in conjunction with a revised indictment that will lay out new criminal charges against Bennett, who is scheduled to go on trial next March.
David Esseks, chief of the securities fraud division for the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, didn't return a telephone call.
An attorney for Bennett, who prosecutors say hid up to $750 million in uncollectible customer-trading losses at Refco, declined to comment.
Any new money recovered by prosecutors will be on the top of the $675 million that Austria's Bawag bank is already committed to forking over as part of an
earlier deal with prosecutors and Refco's creditors.
In that deal, $108 million is earmarked for shareholders of the bankrupt broker, with the rest going to Refco's creditors and Thomas H. Lee.
In reaching a deal with Bawag, which once had a financial interest in Refco, prosecutors allege the bank aided Bennett in his debt-hiding scheme.
The Austrian lender also had a secret deal with Bennett to conceal the fact that Bawag had a far larger than reported equity interest in Refco.
The secret deal rewarded Bawag with one of the biggest payouts from the proceeds of the LBO.
There no doubt will be pressure on prosecutors to hand over any additional Refco money to shareholders.
That's in part because the bulk of the money paid by Bawag is going back to some of the same Wall Street banks which were the underwriters on the initial public offering.
The vagaries of the bankruptcy law favor secured lenders over shareholders and unsecured creditors. That means Bank of America, Credit Suisse and the other banks which arranged $875 million in financing for the 2004 LBO stand to receive up to $300 million of the proceeds from the Bawag settlement.
Of course, there's a chance some of that $300 million may still find its way back to Refco shareholders.
Bank of America and Credit Suisse, along with Goldman Sachs, are three of the lead defendants in a pending class-action suit filed by the broker's shareholders.
Another lingering sore point for some shareholder advocates is the more than $50 million Thomas H. Lee Partners is getting out of the Bawag settlement.
The buyout firm, which raked in nearly $200 million from the IPO and a subsequent special dividend payment, lost $245 million when Refco went belly up.
The firm claims it spent $10 million on due diligence before orchestrating the 2004 buyout and was duped by Bennett and others at Refco. The buyout firm is suing Bennett and other former Refco executives for damages.
"The fund did exhaustive due diligence and stands behind it,'' says a spokesman for the private equity firm. "The fund was the victim of a carefully concealed fraud.''
But not everyone sees Thomas H. Lee Partners as a victim.
The shareholders also are suing the private equity firm, claiming its due diligence was faulty at best.
A lawyer for the shareholders says he recently voiced his objection over the settlement payout to Thomas H. Lee Partners.
"We have certainly shared with the government our concern about Thomas Lee being given any compensation as a so-called victim before the only pure victims -- the investors who relied in part on Thomas H. Lee Partners to do their job -- are fully compensated first," says John Coffey, a partner with Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann.