Leon Shahinian's $63k Big Apple visit

“I believe you’re on to more than you realize.”

So reads an e-mail redirecting my attention to some of the CalPERS court documents I posted online last month.

My anonymous correspondent is a former advisor to the CalPERS board who points out some interesting details buried in the hotel bills from CalPERS senior investment official Leon Shahinian’s $63,000 trip to New York City in 2007.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office has cited this trip as an example of the corrupt practices of Al Villalobos, a former CalPERS board member who went into business as a lobbyist for money managers seeking to do business with the giant California pension fund. One of Villalobos’ clients was Leon Black,  the billionaire founder and controlling shareholder of Apollo Global Management.

In 2007, while Villalobos was trying to persuade CalPERS to purchase a 10 percent equity interest in Apollo Global Management for $700 million, Shahinian accepted Villalobos’ invitation to travel by private jet to New York City to attend a fund-raising event hosted by none other than Leon Black.

Apollo covered the $63,000 cost for Shahinian’s New York trip. The following month, Shahinian, who oversaw the CalPERS private equity portfolio, urged the pension board to approve the investment in Apollo, which it did.

When their private jet touched down in New York, Villalobos and Shahinian were met by a limousine arranged for by Aurora Capital, a private equity fund headed by Villalobos’ client, Gerry Parsky, a GOP heavyweight and Bush’s California majordomo.

The limousine ferried Shahinian and Villalobos to a ridiculously overpriced $7,000-a-night two-bedroom suite at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York.

Here’s what my sharp-eyed reader has called my attention to:

  1. The hotel bill shows that calls were placed from the $7000-a-night suite to the Dallas offices Unity Hunt Inc., the private investment firm of billionaire Lamar Hunt.  These also were the offices of Barrett Wissman, a hedge fund manager, “classical music impresario” and friend of the Hunts and their fortune who pleaded guilty last year in a kickback scheme involving the New York state retirement fund.
  2. The Mandarin Oriental bill also shows that several calls were placed to the phone of another Villalobos client, Chris Bower at Pacific Corporate Group as well as a call to Bower’s staff.  What’s troubling about this is that in 2007, CalPERS was relying on PCG to independently vet investments in Apollo and Aurora. Bower would go on to urge the CalPERS board to invest in Apollo the next month. Also in mid-2007, Bower and Villalobos were trying to get CalPERS to buy into Pacific Corporate Group.
  3. The day after meeting Black at the MOMA, a limousine (courtesy of Parsky) ferried Shahinian and Villalobos for lunch the next day to Dock’s Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill at 633 Third Ave. The location of this restaurant is worth noting, my source points out: It also happens to be in the lobby of the building housing the executive offices of New York State Comptroller who single-handedly oversaw the New York state retirement fund. The NY CRF has been a target of an ongoing pay-to-play investigation of former Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

In other words, the records of the Shahinian/Villalobos trip shows how the pension world truly operates:

  • a) CalPERS staff were bribed with lavish, travel and perks paid for by the money managers seeking the pension’s money;
  • b) CalPERS’ supposedly independent consultant, Pacific Corporate Group may have been pursuing its own self-interest instead of the pension’s; and
  • c) if the links to Wissman/the Hunts and the New York pension fund are more than just coincidence, it places Shahinian or Villalobos in a corrupt nexus that extended from coast to coast.

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