“For the love of money is the roots of all sorts of evil.”
1 Timothy 6:10
“Great broker! Would recommend them. They’ve started TV Advertising which I think is always a sign of confidence from a broker looking for new wealth to manage.”
Online user review for PFGBest April 16, 2012
(Less than three months before that company filed for bankruptcy)
It’s not every day that Cedar Falls, Iowa makes the front page of The Wall Street Journal—but sadly, yesterday was one of those days. When Russ Wasendorf Sr., the founder and chairman of PFGBest, a locally-based international futures trading business, attempted suicide on Monday and the FBI began a fraud investigation into $215 million in customer money allegedly missing, it had a way of attracting national news.
Back in February, I did a video shoot inside the company’s building and all looked right in the world. In fact, the 50,000 square foot state of the art building of the business—now shut down and under scrutiny—is one of the nicest in Iowa. European in design, eco-friendly, and three stories of glass fill the offices with natural light.
During the shoot I briefly met Wasendorf and the word that I ‘d use to describe his outward appearance would be “successful.” Doesn’t this link look like the picture of success? He supported local charities and in 2009 pledged $2 million to the University of Northern Iowa. He also opened a terrific Italian restaurant on Main Street and brought his chef here from Chicago. In fact, my wife and I ate at his restaurant Saturday night.
And though I’d only seen Wasendorf a handful of times since he moved here, I saw him walking out of his restaurant Sunday afternoon just as I was driving by. I even had the thought, “That dude’s got it made.” About 8 hours later he drove to his company’s headquarters and drank a bottle of vodka and at some point hooked up a hose from the tail pipe of the car to its interior. Later that morning he was found unconscious and a suicide note was found.
“I have committed fraud. For this I feel constant and intense guilt. I am very remorseful that my greatest transgressions have been to my fellow man. Through a scheme of using false bank statements I have been able to embezzle millions of dollars from customer accounts at Peregrine Financial Group, Inc.”
Part of Wasendorf’s suicide note
The fact that he got married in Las Vegas nine days before his attempted suicide adds more bizarreness to the situation.
Amid the headlines, gossip, and speculation my thoughts and prayers go out to all of the employees and their families that appear to have lost their jobs, to the defrauded customers, and to Wasendorf and his family. You always hope that wrongs can be made right. But I’ve also been thinking about a poem written over 100 years ago by a poet raised in Gardiner, Maine, educated at Harvard, and well versed in the works of Shakespeare, small town life and “the American dream gone awry.”
By Edwin Arlington Robinson
(Poem written in 1887)
Whenever Richard Cory went down to town,
We people on the payment looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
P.P.S. And on a more positive note, The Wall Street Journal also reported this week that fixed home mortgages in the U.S. are at a 30-year all-time low. So it’s a good time to buy or refinance.
Update 7/13/12: Peregrine CEO Arrested