Hoodwinking Wall Street doesn't appear to be anything new to Scott Sacane, the hedge fund manager who says he "inadvertently"
bought huge stakes in two small health-care companies.
Indeed, one reason many on Wall Street feel buffaloed by Sacane's claim that he didn't know his fund had been buying so many shares is because the former stock analyst has said and done some other things that turned out to be not quite right.
Documents from early on in his career, such as his brokerage-registration information, could be interpreted as suggesting that he graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder, when in fact the university's alumni office says he never did. He attended classes at Colorado from 1984 to 1988, and majored in molecular biology, but never earned his sheepskin.
Also, a former colleague of the 37-year-old New Jersey native said Sacane boasted that he was a big baseball player and had a brief tryout with a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team. Officials with the Pirates couldn't be reached for comment, but the University of Colorado's alumni sports office has no record of Sacane's ever playing baseball for the Buffaloes on any organized team. In fact, the university disbanded its official baseball program in 1980.
Finally, Sacane, who started his purported $400 million hedge fund in November 2001, didn't do his homework and had to change the fund's name after another hedge fund with a similar name threatened to sue. Sacane changed the name to Durus Capital Management, after Highline Capital Management, an unrelated New York hedge fund, threatened action because it had been using that name for several years.
Sacane and his attorney, William Natbony, declined to respond to phone calls seeking a comment on these matters. The two Wall Street firms that served as prime brokerages for Durus,
, also declined to comment. (Prime brokers process trades for a hedge fund and lend them money to buy or short stocks on margin.)
Of course, these aren't necessarily egregious offenses, and Sacane no longer suggests that he graduated from Colorado. In fact, recent information provided to Durus investors clearly states that Sacane simply "attended" classes at Colorado. But other investor documents -- one entitled "Team Durus" -- are more ambiguous, describing his college career this way: "U of Colorado 84-88 Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology."
No one is disputing that Sacane is highly knowledgeable about the biotech and health care industries. After leaving Colorado, he had three jobs in the health care industry, including stints at the
New England Medical Center
, a highly regarded biotech firm outside of Boston that is now part of
And after leaving Robertson Stephens in 1994, went on to become a highly regarded health care analyst at
Nationsbanc Montgomery Securities
, now part of
Bank of America
, the business news service, named Sacane its top brokerage analyst, based on the performance of his biotech stock picks.
Meanwhile, Durus' nine-member operational team includes three other people with either a science or medical background. In fact, one of the analysts at Durus, who works with Sacane in making investment decisions, is a doctor. The other analyst has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry.
A summary of the professional background of Durus' key employees was provided by one of Sacane's friends. The summary is part of the marketing information provided to prospective investors in the hedge fund. It's the same "Team Durus" document that states Sacane went to the University of Colorado, but fails to make clear whether he graduated from the university or just attended classes.
Sacane's friend, who didn't want to be identified, points out that other successful businesspeople never graduated from college, including Harvard University dropout and
founder and chairman Bill Gates.
That's true, but right now the challenge for Sacane isn't a matter of convincing people he's smart. It's a matter of convincing Wall Street investors that he can still be trusted with their money.
The possible misrepresentations and sloppy research are a big reason no one on Wall Street is buying Sacane's explanation for how Durus could have obtained a 77% ownership stake in
and a 33% stake in
without knowing about it until just a few weeks ago. In the view of many observers, Sacane's fund must be guilty of either gross incompetence or an attempt to manipulate stock prices and boost the performance of his
Durus Life Sciences Fund
-- the main investment fund managed by his Norwalk, Conn.-based hedge fund.
The trouble at Durus also comes at a time when securities regulators are taking a closer look at the hedge fund industry -- a $500 billion business that caters to the wealthy and famous. The
Securities and Exchange Commission
has been concerned about how these loosely regulated funds value their assets and report their returns to investors.
A number of hedge fund managers and other people on Wall Street said these stories about Sacane are well known in the biotech investment community. Sacane's hedge fund invests mainly in biotech companies and small-cap health care companies.
A former colleague of Sacane's at the now-defunct investment bank
said the hedge fund manager's resume never said he merely attended classes at Colorado and left him with the impression he had graduated from the university. This same person, who didn't want to be identified, said when it was learned many years later that Sacane didn't actually graduate from Colorado, Sarcane told people he had left school early to pursue a minor league baseball career with the Pirates.
While it's possible that Sacane had a tryout with the Pirates farm system, there's little evidence to document that claim. Not only is there no record of Sacane's playing organized baseball at Colorado, he never mentioned any minor league stint with the Pirates on his official broker/dealer registration statement, which all analysts and stock broker are required to file with the NASD.
Sacane's registration statement also lists him as being a student at Colorado from 1984 to 1988. But it doesn't specify whether he graduated or just attended. However, Sacane, who married his college sweetheart, is described as a Colorado graduate in a May 1992 engagement notice in a Worcester, Mass., newspaper. Colorado alumni officials said they have no record that Sacane graduated from the university, but his wife, Christine, did graduate in 1988.
Maybe Sacane's biggest task now is convincing Durus investors, who have the right to redeem their money at the end of each quarter, to stick with him despite all his past and current troubles.