Andrew Bressman, the mastermind behind the busted brokerage firm
, is scheduled to walk into a Foley Square courtroom in New York on May 18 to be sentenced on charges of grand larceny, enterprise corruption and a host of other crimes to which he pleaded guilty in late 1997.
But in the opinion of Bressman's victims, the lighter his sentence, the better the day. It's money they're after, not revenge. And the less time he gets, the more he has told investigators, and the better their shot at recompense. Or so the thinking goes.
Bressman, 35, was the head of A.R. Baron, the firm whose executives allegedly bilked investors out of $75 million between 1993 and 1996 by manipulating prices and engaging in fraudulent sales practices, while dropping tens of thousands of their ill-gotten dollars at Manhattan strip club
The fact that Bressman pleaded guilty a year ago but hasn't been sentenced indicates to observers that he is cooperating and therefore has become a key witness in the case. Observers anticipate that they will find out just how key he has been when he is sentenced. Bressman's sentencing would signal that he has finally finished cooperating with officials in their investigations into Baron's clearing firm,
, and his former employers at
. (Bressman's attorney didn't return a call seeking comment. The district attorney's office would confirm only the sentencing date.)
A clutch of plaintiffs' attorneys has been waiting a long time for the Manhattan district attorney to indict Bear, so that they can continue pursuing their claims on behalf of clients whom they claim were bilked by Baron. In many of the lawsuits, Bear has been painted as a co-conspirator in Baron's fraudulent schemes, and plaintiffs' attorneys have fixed on Bear Stearns as a target because of the firm's deep pockets. Bear didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.
So far, however, a lengthy grand jury investigation of Bear has yet to result in an indictment, and the attorneys' attempts to pursue discovery in their suits against Bear have been held up four times by the Manhattan district attorney. Everyone, it seems, is waiting for Andy Bressman.
"We're all trying to divine what's going on inside this thing," says Aegis Frumento of
, a law firm representing a number of former Baron clients. "I think to the extent Bressman is cooperating, I suppose it means they have gotten from him what they need."
The D.A. didn't use him at all in the only trial it conducted in the case, against Baron Chief Financial Officer John McAndris, who, unlike the 12 other indicted Baron executives, didn't cop a plea. Called to testify by defense attorneys, Bressman quickly ducked behind his Fifth Amendment rights, and McAndris was found guilty.
So if a Bear indictment or
Securities and Exchange Commission
complaint fails to come about before Bressman's sentencing date, attorneys will look for hints on May 18. If the district attorney recommends a lenient sentence, it could indicate that Bressman probably cooperated enough to expedite action against more potential suspects, says David Jarvis, a former member of the Baron creditors committee who is now in private practice in Michigan. "The DA will be showing its hand," he says.
Of course, this is an old story. For the past year or so, observers have predicted before pretty much every holiday weekend that District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and his lieutenant John Moscow were on the verge of springing their indictment. Yet nothing has happened, and the attorneys are getting antsy. "The DA should order restitution of public customer losses," says Jonathan Kord Lagemann, another attorney representing former Baron clients.
Some of them have grumbled that perhaps Morgenthau has lost his desire to take Bear, one of the city's major employers and most politically connected firms, to the woodshed. But according to attorneys who have been following the case, the smart money now is betting that the district attorney and the feds jointly will announce sanctions against Bear Stearns and fine it a cool $100 million or so. The lawyers are waiting. As are their clients.