Gretchen Giles editorial was published on the North Bay Bohemian website May 6, 2009. It appeared in newsprint that week. Copyright 2009 Metro Newspapers. All rights reserved. The original text wassubsequently erased from their website. It is our understanding that the article was removed after attorney Steve Schectman, Sakowicz's business partner and co-host of 'The Truth About Money' continued his threats of a lawsuit if Sakowicz's column was not reinstated. The following version of the editorial is foreshortened (edited, redacted?) on the advice of the Bohemian attorneys. KC 7-30-09
By Gretchen Giles
Editor of the North Bay Bohemian Portions deleted - the original version was published May 6, 2009
An avid listener of the Philo-based KZYX&Z-FM, Mendocino Public Broadcasting, Beth Bosk particularly relishes the hour each weekday that the station devotes to Mendocino County news. Recently, however, a full 15 minutes of that hour has been given over to financial reports by a Bohemian contributor of the past year: John Sakowicz.
Increasingly restive that a quarter of the hour was devoted to national news emanating from Wall Street rather than coverage of Ukiah and points north, Bosk began to wonder: Just who is John Sakowicz?
She began to do some research.
Bosk, who is the editor of the eccentric North Coast journal New Settler Interview—146 issues and counting, some of them dated “summer,” others “mid-January through March”—did a little bit more digging than I did when Sakowicz first appeared in our pages in 2008.
For example, she discovered a series of 13 Boston Globe articles from 1992 detailing Sakowicz’s tenure as an unpaid fulltime volunteer for the Commonwealth Business Council, a Republican fundraising organization accused of selling access to officials in the administration of former Republican Massachusetts governor William Weld. She found Globe articles describing Sakowicz’s firing from his grant-writing position at an AIDS organization in the ’80s after reports surfaced that he had sought funds for his own AIDS nonprofit instead of the one that employed him.
She found a printed admission in the Globe that cocaine addiction and alcoholism had led him astray when he embezzled $20,000 from a Baltimore investment club. She already knew that his most recent paid position was as a guard at the Mendocino County Jail, an unusual job for someone who regularly claimed in print that he is the former owner of an offshore “multi-billion dollar hedge fund,” Battle Mountain Research Group.
Bosk soon interested Anderson Valley Advertiser reporter Tim Stelloh in the story, and he found no records for Sakowicz with the Securities and Exchange Commission or the New York Stock Exchange, and no affiliation with the financial firm Spear, Leeds & Kellogg often listed on his résumé.
Treated as a crank by radio station management, Bosk contacted me with her findings. I listened to her as though slipping down the proverbial rabbit hole. I couldn’t even take any notes as she spoke, I was so upended by what I heard and then by what I read. Through extensive research and in conversations with Bosk, with Ukiah Valley.tv’s Jay Johnson, with KZYX&Z general manager John Coate, with the Anderson Valley Advertiser’s Mark Scaramella and AVA reporter Tim Stelloh, a different picture of John Sakowicz began to emerge.
It appears that I, and the Bohemian, should have been more diligent.
First of all, I apologize.
And second, here’s how it happened.
It’s no news that traditional print media is undergoing a radical transition, but the country’s alternative newsweeklies, of which the Bohemian is a proud example, have largely escaped the budgeting woes and severe cuts endured by the dailies. The reason is simple: we’re already so small that there’s nothing to cut. We serve some 94,000 weekly readers with an editorial staff consisting of an editor and one and a half writers.
And so it was in February 2008, when all still seemed copasetic in the global financial world, that John Sakowicz fell into my digital lap. He submitted a piece for our Open Mic slot, the “community voices” section of the paper. It was a mock letter ostensibly addressing Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, entreating them to partner with him so that together they could pull down the world’s economy. It was smartly prescient of the fiscal meltdown to come.
We don’t pay for the Open Mic section, but Sakowicz wasn't’t interested in being paid; he was a former multi-billion dollar hedge fund owner, after all. He proposed writing a series of articles for the news section of the Bohemian about the coming collapse of Wall Street, about the mysteries of swaps and derivatives, about the Masters of the Universe as they tumbled down to mere Earth, and suggested that our paltry $100 honorarium be directed either to his college-age daughter or to his intern. Ryan, who we later learned was his teenaged step-son.
Sakowicz seemed credible. Public documents on the internet showed that he had attended Johns Hopkins University, had known Louis Rukeyser and had won a PEN Center USA West Award for his writing about AIDS in 1997. Chief financial officer, hedge-fund, national sales manager at Dean Witter Reynolds—all the credentials looked great. He wrote well, too.
Sakowicz prompted lots of letters, and newspapers like letters. We were excited to ride just ahead of the curve of other papers on our financial reportage. I began publishing him every month, setting up a regular schedule for stories that noted their continuation in a “multipart” series and adding him as a “contributing editor” to our masthead.
Soon, based in part on the articles he published with us, Sakowicz had his own biweekly, one-hour radio show, The Truth About Money, on KZYX&Z-FM. He and a colleague, Jay Johnson, began filming the radio show and placing it on Johnson’s own online channel UkiahValley.tv, creating special programming just for the web.
Sakowicz wrote me excited emails, announcing that he was going to be on Al Jazeera discussing the economy, that he had been contacted by Pacifica Radio, that Playboy had assigned him a piece, that he had been made an “expert” at Norman Solomon’s Institute for Public Accuracy. That he was on the radio each weekday. “I am a financial journalist,” he clarified recently, “not a financial adviser.”
Research has revealed little solid documentation to support Sakowicz’s self-described history on Wall Street trading floors and firms. Digging did turn up confirmation that he was shortly employed by Swiss banking giant UBS. He was taken on in 2004 as an “unregistered trainee,” a spot described by former UBS branch manager David M. Fritz, who signed the offer letter, as an “entry-level position.” He left shortly thereafter on “long-term disability.”
There is little to back up the claim of his ownership in Battle Mountain Research Group save a document from UBS granting him the right, in 2005, to dissolve it. His attorney and business partner, Steve Schechtman, clarifies that there are “no public records” related to Sakowicz’s alleged Cayman Island–based hedge fund, mentioning Cayman tax and secrecy laws and saying that he has an “an obligation to keep the records confidential.”
Our research resolved no confirmation of employment with the top-tier Wall Street firms that Sakowicz has repeatedly listed in past: Dean Witter Reynolds, Colonial Management Associates, Merrill Lynch and Alex. Brown & Sons. There was nothing filed on him with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and no evidence of the Series 7 license required for his industry.
Ultimately, save that short stint with UBS, neither I nor Tim Stelloh, nor even the Bohemian’s executive editor, was able to confirm Sakowicz’s employment with any other financial institution. Granted, many, like Dean Witter Reynolds, have been swallowed by larger firms. And that “multi-billion dollar” Battle Mountain Research Group hedge fund was ostensibly dissolved shortly after the United States changed its relationship with the Cayman Islands in 2004 to allow greater transparency, its records sealed under the old rules. But most institutions just had simply never heard of him.
I called the Institute for Public Accuracy and spoke to Sam Husseini at its D.C. offices. Sakowicz claims that the IPA did an extensive background check on him before taking him on their “expert” roster. How did they conduct that? “We didn’t do a background check on him,” Husseini admits. “He’s a self-nominated expert. People who knock on our door are an extreme minority. I checked with Norman [Solomon] and he only had words of praise for the Bohemian. I sent a few of John’s articles to some economists and asked if his content was reasonable. They said yeah.”
Well, let the circle be broken.
It appears that Sakowicz, while talented at understanding and predicting the economic moonscape, does not have the exact background he claims to have, one that we underscored by repeatedly printing it at the end of his articles. A credible publication cannot publish the works of writers whose credentials cannot withstand scrutiny. John Sakowicz will no longer be writing for us.
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The above article was written by Gretchen Giles, editor of the Bohemian.