Riverstone exec pays $20M to settle pension probe

David Leuschen, co-founder of private equity firm Riverstone Holdings, will pay $20 million in restitution to resolve his role in the kickback probe of New York’s state pension fund, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced last week.

Cuomo said that after the New York State Common Retirement Fund previously invested $150,000 in a joint venture between Riverstone and The Carlyle Group, Leuschen made an “investment” of $100,000 in a film called “Chooch,” which was produced by Nick Loglisci, the brother of David Loglisci, the former CIO of the state pension fund.

The movie, released in 2003, would probably be lost in the DVD dust bin were it not for the fact that alleged gifts and bribes involved in the New York Common kickback scandal were capital commitments to help fund its production. The Wall Street Journal earlier this year reported that the movie had a budget of $1.1 million and was seen in limited release on three screens in the New York area. It also played in New Mexico and Buffalo before it went to DVD, according to Tami Powers, the film’s producer.

A summary of the R-rated comedy on IMDB.com says that “Chooch” follows the plight of Dino Condito, from the Queens borough of New York, whose life takes a turn after he lets down his softball team by striking out in the bottom of the ninth. He is nicknamed “Chooch,” which means “lovable idiot.” “Only after a jail bust, donkey ride, chicken coop explosion, and a life-changing love affair at the local bordello does the crew finally arrive to save the day,” reads the IMDB plot summary.

The movie was listed for $9.99 on Amazon.com last week, though the item has been discontinued by the manufacturer.

Details about Leuschen’s involvement in the movie follows a two-year probe into kickbacks that investment firms paid to middlemen to win the often lucrative business of receiving investments from the state pension fund. The investigation has already resulted in five pleas. The latest plea came just this month when Elliott Broidy, co-founder of Los Angeles-based private equity firm Markstone Capital Group, pleaded guilty to a felony for bribing four top officials in the New York state comptroller’s office. Broidy also resigned as chairman of Markstone and faces a possible four-year prison sentence.

Following Broidy’s guilty plea, Cuomo said that Broidy paid $380,000 for a “sham” consulting deal with a family member of a senior state official and “funneled” $300,000 to the movie “Chooch.”

Others to plead guilty include Saul Meyer, founding partner of Dallas-based private equity advisor Aldus Equity, and Ray Harding, former head of the New York Liberal Party. Alleged masterminds David Loglisci, formerly head of the New York state pension fund, and Hank Morris, a former placement agent, have both pled not guilty and remain under indictment.

Not charged in the kickback scandal is former Democratic comptroller Alan Hevesi, although the New York attorney general’s office and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating him. Hevesi’s attorney, Brad Simon, declined comment.

Allegedly, Hevesi took luxury overseas trips paid for by Broidy, according to a source familiar with the travel records. Hevesi resigned in 2007 and then plead guilty to a felony for having state drivers chauffeur his ailing wife.

Cuomo, a Democrat, in a statement said that Leuschen’s restitution payment would be turned over to New York Common. So far the attorney general has recovered more than $100 million for the state pension fund from private equity firms Carlyle and Riverstone and from consulting firm Pacific Corporate Group.

The firms have collectively paid millions of dollars to settle their roles in the scandal and have adopted the attorney general’s reform code. The code of conduct bans investment firms from hiring, using or compensating placement agents, lobbyists, or other third-party intermediaries in relation to their efforts to obtain pledges from public pension funds.

The use of placement agents is key in the probe, because Cuomo said that Riverstone and Carlyle had only “limited success” in being chosen to invest New York’s pension fund until they hired Searle, a company linked to placement agent Morris.

After hiring Searle, however, Riverstone and Carlyle were chosen to receive $530 million in investment from the state pension fund, Cuomo said. Carlyle paid Searle more than $10.6 million in placement agent fees.

PE Week contributed to this Reuters story.