There have been a number of scandals involving hedge funds over the years. A few of these scandals include the Bernie Madoff investment scandal and the Galleon Group and SAC Capital insider trading scandals. Despite these hedge fund scandals rocking the investment community, the number of assets under management in hedge funds continues to grow.

Hedge funds use pooled funds from large institutional investors or high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) to employ various strategies that seek to create alpha for their investors. Many hedge funds have lower correlations to stock indexes and other common investments. This makes hedge funds a good way to diversify a portfolio. Most hedge funds are well run and do not engage in unethical or illegal behavior. However, with intense competition and large amounts of capital at stake, there are less than scrupulous hedge funds out there.

Madoff Investment Scandal

The Bernie Madoff scandal is truly the worst case scenario for a hedge fund. Madoff was essentially running a Ponzi scheme with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC. Madoff was a well-respected investment professional throughout his career, although some observers questioned his legitimacy. He even served as Chairman of the National Association Of Securities Dealers (NASD), a self-regulatory organization for the securities industry, and helped to launch the NASDAQ exchange.

Madoff admitted to his sons who worked at the firm that the asset management business was fraudulent and a big lie in 2009. It is estimated the fraud was around $64 billion. Madoff pleaded guilty to multiple federal crimes of fraud, money laundering, perjury and theft. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison and a restitution amount of $170 billion. While many investors lost their money, some have been able to recover a portion of their assets.

Madoff operated his fund by promising high consistent returns he was not able to achieve. He used money from new investors to pay off the promised returns to prior investors. A number of investment professionals questioned Madoff and his alleged performance. Harry Markopolos, an options trader and portfolio manager, did substantial research and determined Madoff’s results were fraudulent. He reached out to the SEC numerous times over the years, providing evidence of the fraud. However, the SEC brushed off the allegations after minimal investigation. As of September 2015, Madoff is serving his prison term.

Key Takeaways

  • Hedge funds have been attractive to ultra high-net-worth individuals and organizations seeking to boost returns with esoteric and complex trading strategies.
  • While most hedge funds are both well-capitalized and opaque, most of them operate ethically and without too many systemic issues.
  • Some on the other hand, have defrauded investors of billions of dollars and even nearly brought down the global financial system.

SAC Capital

SAC Capital, run by Steven Cohen, was one of the leading hedge funds on Wall Street with $50 billion in assets under management (AUM) at its peak. The SEC had been investigating the hedge fund for a number of years before conducting raids at offices of investment companies run by former SAC traders in 2010. A number of traders at the fund were charged with insider trading from 2011 to 2014. Former portfolio manager Mathew Martoma was convicted of conspiracy and securities fraud in 2014. In total, eight former employees of SAC Capital have been convicted.

The SEC never brought charges against Cohen personally, although it did file a civil suit against SAC Capital in 2013. SAC Capital ultimately agreed to pay a $1.2 billion fine and to stop managing outside money to settle the suit. As of September 2015, Cohen runs Point72 Asset Management, which manages his personal wealth of around $9 billion.

The Galleon Group

Galleon was a very large hedge fund management group with over $7 billion in AUM before closing down in 2009. The fund was founded and run by Raj Rajaratnam. Rajaratnam was arrested along with five others for fraud and insider trading in 2009. He was found guilty on 14 charges and sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2011. Over 50 people have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the insider trading scheme.

Rajaratnam was tipped off to an investment Warren Buffet was making in Goldman Sachs by Rajat Gupta, a former director at the investment firm. Rajaratnam bought shares in Goldman before the close of the market that day. The deal was announced that evening. Rajaratnam then sold the shares the next morning making around $900,000 in profit. Rajaratnam had a similar pattern of trading with other stocks with a ring of insiders who supplied him with material information from which he was able to profit.

Long-Term Capital Management

Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) was a large hedge fund led by Nobel Prize-winning economists and renowned Wall Street traders. The firm was wildly successful from 1994-1998, attracting more than $1 billion of investor capital with the promise of an arbitrage strategy that could take advantage of temporary changes in market behavior and, theoretically, reduce the risk level to zero.

But the fund nearly collapsed the global financial system in 1998. This was due to LTCM’s highly leveraged trading strategies that failed to pan out. Ultimately, LTCM had to be bailed out by a consortium of Wall Street banks in order to prevent systemic contagion. If LTCM had gone into default, it would have triggered a global financial crisis due to the massive write-offs its creditors would have had to make. In September 1998, the fund, which continued to sustain losses, was bailed out with the help of the Federal Reserve. Then its creditors took over, and a systematic meltdown of the market was prevented.