Bad News for the Czar: Quadrangle Settles with Cuomo, ‘Wholly Disavows’ Steven Rattner

Steven Rattner is in trouble. His old firm, Quadrangle, is paying $7 million to the New York Attorney General’s office and another $5 million to the S.E.C. to settle pay-to-play charges, but the settlements explicitly leave Mr. Rattner out.

One year ago Mr. Rattner gloriously left Wall Street, where he was a god of private equity with a multibillion-dollar firm called Quadrangle, to become the Obama administration’s car czar. He was gone half a year later under the cloud of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s expanding investigation into the cinematically corrupt and incredibly lucrative world of state-pension-fund money.

More than half of the $9.5 billion put into alternative investments from 2003 to 2007 at the fund are said to have involved kickbacks, which is a spectacular thing to consier. Powerful middlemen between the fund and the investors who wanted its business, Hank Morris and David Loglisci, were charged last March on 123 counts of bribery, money laundering, larceny, corruption and fraud. Not only did Mr. Rattner have his firm, Quadrangle, “quietly pay Mr. Morris more than $1 million in exchange for a $100 million investment from the fund,” as I reported in my recent Observer profile, “but a Quadrangle affiliate paid $88,841 to acquire the DVD distribution rights to a slapstick comedy produced by Mr. Loglisci and his brothers. The film, Chooch, is about goofballs from Queens who get in trouble on a Mexican adventure.”

According to an interview with a source, and to two just-released announcements, Mr. Rattner’s old firm, which he left when he went to D.C., has not only settled for the $12 million, but has renounced its founder. “We wholly disavow the conduct engaged in by Steve Rattner, who hired the New York State Comptroller’s political consultant, Hank Morris, to arrange an investment from the New York State Common Retirement Fund,” a Quadrangle quote on the Attorney General’s release says. “That conduct was inappropriate, wrong, and unethical.  We embrace the reforms in the Attorney General’s Code of Conduct, including the campaign contribution and placement agent ban, which are vitally necessary to eliminate pay-to-play practices from the public pension fund investment process.  We urge others in the industry to follow.”

“You follow the money,” Mr. Cuomo said on a conference call, “and if you follow the money in the State of New York, it takes you to the pension fund.”

Mr. Rattner did not respond to a request for a comment sent through his spokesperson.

“All I can say is, Steve told me everything’s going to work out O.K.,” Steven R. Weisman, The Times’ former chief international economics correspondent, and a longtime friend of Mr. Rattner, a former journalist, told me for the profile. “He seems as untroubled as can be about it.”

Update: Quadrangle has put out a statement that says it supports efforts to ensure that the fund manager selection process is based only on merit, and that the firm has new compliance policies. Plus, in italics, it points out that Mr. Cuomo “noted current management’s full cooperation with investigations.” The old management, meaning Mr. Rattner, is not going to be at this December’s Christmas party.

Update 2: “Mr. Rattner does not agree with the characterization of events released today,” his counsel, Jamie S. Gorelick, said through a spokesperson, “including those contained in Quadrangle’s statement. Mr. Rattner shares with the New York Attorney General the goal of eliminating public pension fund practices that are not in the public interest.  He looks forward to the full resolution of this matter.” Bad News for the Czar: Quadrangle Settles with Cuomo, ‘Wholly Disavows’ Steven Rattner