The FBI is investigating whether a former Connecticut state treasurer improperly steered millions of dollars in state pension funds to firms allied with a politically connected consulting company in Washington that is run by a top fund-raiser for George W. Bush's presidential campaign.
Park Strategies LLC, whose president is Wayne Berman, a major financial backer of the presidential campaign of Texas Gov. Bush (R), has turned over subpoenaed documents to the FBI in connection with the probe, knowledgeable sources said. Also subpoenaed was the Carlyle Group, a Washington merchant bank and client of Park Strategies that retains former president George Bush as a senior consultant.
At the center of the probe is Paul J. Silvester, who became Connecticut's treasurer in 1997 but who was defeated in an election last November. The FBI is looking into approximately $800 million in investments from Connecticut's state pension fund that Silvester made in the fourth quarter of 1998, most of it placed after the election but before he left office on Jan. 6.
About $200 million of Silvester's investments during that period were placed in ventures that are Park Strategies clients, including Carlyle. One such investment was a $50 million sum that Silvester and Park's Berman negotiated would be placed by the Connecticut pension fund in a Carlyle fund that specializes in Asia.
But during that same time last December, Silvester was also negotiating to take a job with Berman. Silvester started work with Berman's newly formed Park Strategies firm upon leaving state government in January. Now federal prosecutors are examining whether the Carlyle investment and additional money Silvester placed with other Park clients were attempts to financially help the firm that soon would be his employer. The investigation also focuses on whether Silvester used the required due diligence before placing the investments.
"We are cooperating fully with the investigation, and Park Strategies has committed no improprieties," said Berman, a leading Republican fund-raiser for many years. He declined further comment.
There is no indication that former president Bush or other former government officials associated with Carlyle or Park Strategies knew of the financial deals under review. But the probe raises questions about an area of investment that is vulnerable to manipulation by public officials and political deal makers.
Silvester didn't return telephone messages seeking comment this week, but in the past he has denied any wrongdoing and has called the probe "a politically motivated witch hunt."
The Connecticut state ethics office had approved Silvester's job negotiations with firms with whom he was negotiating deals, such as Park Strategies.
State pension funds usually place their money in stocks, bonds, money marketfunds and the like. But Silvester sank the $800 million into investments considered slightly more offbeat for a government agency: so-called private equity partnerships such as those Carlyle sets up for investors. Industry executives also said it was unusual for the $20 billion Connecticut pension fund to pump out investments at the rapid clip that Silvester did at the end of last year.
Berman set up Park Strategies early this year with just-retired senator Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) as his partner. Silvester was a catch for the firm because of his familiarity with state treasurers from around the country, who control massive pension funds hungry for new investments. Berman too is intimately familiar with many top state officials because he is a leading fund-raiser for the Republican Governors Association.
Silvester quit Park Strategies a few months ago as the current controversy heated up.
Like Park Strategies, Carlyle also markets its familiarity with government officials--among its partners are former secretary of state James A. Baker III, former defense secretary Frank C. Carlucci and former White House budget chief Richard Darman.
The Carlyle Asian investment fund that received the $50 million sum from Connecticut also retains former president Bush as a top adviser, and Carlyle's European fund retains former British prime minister John Major.
Both men have made hundreds of thousands of dollars counseling Carlyle on where to invest its money overseas, introducing Carlyle executives to foreign leaders and giving speeches at Carlyle gatherings. Bush's fees from Carlyle are poured into his accounts in various Carlyle funds, which lately have yielded up to 40 percent a year in returns.
Carlyle officials didn't return telephone messages seeking comment about the probe.
Besides the Park Strategies matter, the federal probe also is examining the role that Silvester's brother-in-law, Connecticut lawyer Peter Hirschl, may have played in the state's investments, knowledgeable sources said. Moreover, agents are examining a Connecticut state fund that accepts "tuition savings" investments from state residents for their children's education, the sources said.
In recent weeks, federal agents armed with subpoenas have removed papers from Hirschl's law office and from the state treasurer's office. "The FBI has taken all our documents related to the Silvester term in office," said Bernard Kavaler, spokesman for current state Treasurer Denise Nappier. A Democrat, Nappier defeated the Republican Silvester in an election last November and took over in January.
Suspicions were first raised about Silvester's investments by several state officials, including Steven W. Hart, who as chairman of the state's Investment Advisory Council helps scrutinize the Connecticut pension fund's activities. Connecticut's treasurer has more autonomy than almost any other state's financial officer to single-handedly guide pension investments.
Berman has blue-chip credentials as a business consultant and GOP fund-raiser. In 1991, President Bush appointed him assistant secretary of commerce for policy. Since then Berman has been a lobbyist or corporate adviser for clients such as Carlyle, insurance giant American International Group, Paine Webber, Philip Morris and BMW.