Monday, August 18, 2008

Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK) CEO Patrick Byrne Pays Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to Defame a Blogger

It is perfectly legitimate for companies to donate monies to politicians to help further their political interests. There are also instances in which elected officials have accepted large sums of money to do favors for corporations. As I will be describing in this blog post, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff sold out the integrity of his office, as the chief legal officer of the state of Utah, for a mere $5,000 campaign contribution as a favor to Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK).

Here is what happened:

The Utah Attorney General’s Office invited me to make a presentation at its 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference

In August 2007, the Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp invited me to appear at the Utah Attorney General’s 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference after reading my blog and whitecollarfraud.com web site and watching my appearance on CNBC's Business Nation that aired in June 2007.

I agreed to make my presentation for no fees and took no cost reimbursements, as has been my policy with all speaking engagements. In other words, my presentation at the white-collar crime conference did not cost the Utah Attorney General’s office a single penny.

About two weeks later, Richard Hamp contacted me again with an unusual request on behalf of his office. He asked me not to mention Overstock.com during my presentation, unless someone asked a question about the company during the presentation. I agreed, since my fraud presentation was not about Overstock.com, anyway. Months later, in November 2007, Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen, in a telephone conversation, revealed to me that Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne was “tee’d off” about my scheduled appearance at the conference and wanted the Utah Attorney General’s office to cancel it. He told me:

I understand that Patrick Byrne [CEO of Overstock.com]. I understand that he, you know, they, they were even tee’d off that we even invited you to come out. We got a bunch of blow back from them when we even invited you to come out. I stood up for the right, you know the fact, you know, that we still need him to have him come out. I give Patrick Byrne, Sam. I understand that he is a loud mouth and I understand who Patrick Byrne is….

Note: Bold print and italics added by me. Bracketed information added for clarity.

I will provide more details about my conversations with Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen, later in this blog post.

On October 30, 2007, one day before my speech, Overstock.com made a $5,000 “campaign contribution” to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. However, Overstock.com did not publicly report this until months later. As I will detail below, Overstock.com’s campaign contribution to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was no coincidence. In my opinion, Overstock.com’s so-called $5,000 campaign contribution was actually a payment or rather a bribe to gain a favor from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. The company and the Utah Attorney General colluded to defame me.

A day later, on October 31, 2007, despite Overstock.com’s fervent objections, I came to Salt Lake City, Utah and I made my presentation at the conference without compensation and took no cost reimbursements. As I had previously agreed with Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp and later confirmed by him, I never mentioned Overstock.com during my presentation and fully honored the terms of our agreement.

At that time, I thought everything went well. I received nothing but praise from the Utah Attorney General’s office.

For example, Andrew Adams from KSL News Radio interviewed Chief Deputy Attorney General Torgensen and me, after my presentation:

There was a "rock star" in a room full of "good guys" downtown today. It was a bad guy at the "White Collar Crimes Conference. The women auditors were almost in a swoon.

Sam Antar just explained how his family had skimmed $20 million off the top, and then made another $75 million from pumping and dumping Crazy Eddie, Inc. stock in the 1980s.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgenson was a sponge. "When you hear it from somebody who did it, it gives you insights into how they think," Torgersen (sic) said.

"I'm no rock star, I'm a crook," Antar said. "White collar crime is just as brutal as violent crime."

That was Antar's message. He says the way to crack down is with better auditing and policing. He also says his CPA license was just revoked; that should have happened 15 years ago.

Note: Bold print and italics added by me.

On November 1, 2007, I posted a blog item detailing my visit to Salt Lake City. See excerpt below:

On Wednesday, October 31, 2007, I visited Salt Lake City Utah at the invitation of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff as part of their 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference. My presentation started at 9:00 AM and was supposed to finish by 11:15 AM. I invited the persons attending the fraud conference to ask me any question. I answered every single question posed to me truthfully, unambiguously, and without deflection. As a result, my fraud presentation concluded about one-half hour later than originally planned.

There were still more questions. So I stayed around at the conference until 1:30 PM and did not leave the conference until every person was satisfied that their questions were answered by me. Afterwards, I visited the Securities and Exchange Commission office in Utah and met with them about issues related to Overstock.com and Patrick Byrne. I waived my right to counsel as we discussed issues relating to Overstock.com, Patrick Byrne, and other persons working in collusion with him.

The next day, on November 2, 2008, I received an email from Deputy Attorney General John Kimble thanking me for my presentation:

From: John Kimble [mailto:jkimble@utah.gov]

Sent: Friday, November 02, 2007 9:09 AM

To: Antar, Sam E.

Subject: Re: 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference - Thank you

Sam,

Thank you for giving such a dynamic and thought-provoking talk. I've received nothing but positive feedback. I hope you enjoyed your brief stay in Salt Lake. Also feel free to contact me if there's anything I can do for you in the future.

John

Note: Bold print and italics added by me.

Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp called me to thank me and added that the feedback was terrific. It was the last time that anyone from the Utah Attorney General’s office contacted me until the following chain of events.

Overstock.com calls in a favor

Apparently, Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne was very unhappy with my successful and widely praised fraud presentation, my blog post as detailed above about my visit to Utah, and the fact that I fully abided by my agreement with the Attorney General's office. They were unable to get Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s office to cancel my presentation. Therefore, having sent Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff a so-called $5,000 “campaign contribution” a few days earlier on October 30, 2007, it was time to call in a favor.

According to Fortune Magazine, Overstock.com dispatched the company's general counsel and an "old friend" of Mark Shurtleff, to complain about me:

The company's general counsel, former Utah securities regulator Mark Griffin, complained to Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff, an old friend.

Note: Bold print and italics added by me.

Together, Overstock.com and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff colluded to manufacture false allegations about me.

On November 8, 2007, unknown to me at that time, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff wrote an open letter to Overstock.com falsely claiming that:

As Utah Attorney General, I am writing this letter to rebut a blog Sam Antar posted on his website on November 1, 2007. I tried to post this letter as a comment on his blog but Mr. Antar apparently refused to post it….

I was warned that Mr. Antar might use this speaking engagement to suggest that my office or I personally, endorse or support his accusations against Overstock.com or some other public company. Based on that warning, officials in my office secured a promise from Mr. Antar that he would not use this invitation for that purpose. So much for the promises of a convicted felon!

Note: Bold print and italics added by me.

To my surprise, on November 14, 2007, Overstock.com, issued a press release based on Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s open letter and CEO Patrick Byrne ranted on about me somehow being involved in an illegal media conspiracy to take down his company:

"The letter from the Attorney General of Utah, which Sam has, for a week, ignored and refused to post to his blog as twice requested, speaks to Sam's perfidy," Byrne added. "The real investigative business journalists left in this country might explore whose interests are being served by the promotion of Sam Antar by CBS MarketWatch, Dow Jones, and Fortune."

Overstock.com proudly continued to disseminate Mark Shurtleff’s lies with links to his letter and their accompanying press release on the company’s web site under the caption, “Naked Short Selling” even though I have never naked shorted a stock in my life. In fact, I never owned Overstock.com securities, long or short. In addition, I receive no compensation from anyone for writing my blog.

No one from the Utah Attorney General’s office tried to contact me to tell me about any complaints. In addition, Mark Shurtleff’s office had my email address and phone number. As I will detail below, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff did not even consult with his own Deputy Attorney General’s Richard Hamp and John Kimble before making his reckless lies. Richard Hamp and John Kimble were my contacts at the Utah Attorney General’s office and I made my agreement with Hamp.

Why didn’t Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff simply email me or call me? Why didn’t Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff consult with his own subordinates about any agreements made between his office and me? Reason: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was acting on behalf of his campaign contributor Overstock.com and its "loud mouth" CEO Patrick Byrne to defame me.

My only agreement with the Utah Attorney General’s office, confirmed afterwards, in taped phone conversations by both Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen and Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp, was that I would not mention Overstock.com during by presentation, unless asked to comment by someone attending their 14th Annual Conference on White Collar Crime. I abided by my agreement with the Utah Attorney General’s office. I never agreed with the Utah Attorney General’s office to exclude any mention of my fraud presentation in my blog or anywhere else.

Exposing Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s lies about trying to post a comment on my blog

Mark Shurtleff's letter, as detailed above, was written on November 8, 2007 (it's incorrectly dated November 8, 2008) and Overstock.com released his letter through a press release issued on November 14, 2007. However, despite Shurtleff’s claim that he “tried to post this letter as a comment on his blog,” I did not receive any request from Mark Shurtleff or his office to post anything on my blog until a day after Overstock.com's press release, on November 15, 2007 at 11:40 AM ET. I promptly posted his letter in my blog later that afternoon at 2:45 PM after finishing another free fraud presentation and arriving at my office.

Exposing Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s lies about my agreement with his office

Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp had tried to contact me by leaving a message on my voicemail on November 13, 2007 at 4:36 PM ET, five days after Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had already written letter to Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne defaming me and one day before Overstock.com's press release. In other words, five days after Mark Shurtleff had already released his letter to Overstock.com for eventual dissemination in a press release did anyone from his office attempt to contact me.

I retrieved that message hours after Overstock.com's press release, a day later, on November 14, 2007. Richard Hamp said in the voicemail message:

Hey Sammy, this is Rich Hamp. John [John Kimble, Deputy Attorney General] and I were talking. We'd thought we’d give you a quick call and say thanks again for coming out to our conference. We sure do appreciate it. We know our boss has probably not been as appreciative but John and I sure are. If you get a chance give me a call at 801 XXX-XXXX. Thank you. Goodbye.

Note: Bold print and italics added by me. Bracketed information added by me for clarity.

Evidently, Richard Hamp knew something was up and tried to warn me by distancing himself from Mark Shurtleff’s false allegations.

I confronted Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp and Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen about Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s lies

I was completely surprised and appalled by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s letter and Overstock.com’s follow up press release reiterating Shurtleff’s lies. I called Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp who had arranged for me to make my fraud presentation at the Utah Attorney General’s 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference.

On November 15, 2007, Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp called me back after receiving a message from me and confirmed to me in phone conversations that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff lied about me. Worse yet, Richard Hamp revealed to me that he was not even consulted by Mark Shurtleff about any agreements made by Hamp and me relating to my fraud presentation.

If Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had not even consulted his own subordinates regarding any agreement, how could he make such a false allegation that I violated any agreements with his office? Apparently, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff fabricated a story about me in return for a $5,000 payment disguised as a campaign contribution.

Even if Shurtleff misunderstood my agreement with his office and brazenly issued false allegations, he had ample to time to issue a retraction, apologize, and move on. However, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff stuck to his false allegations, despite contrary statements from his subordinates refuting his allegations and an email exchange with blogger Tracy Coenen. Mark Shurtleff's failure to retract his lies is further proof that his false allegations about me were motivated by Overstock.com's $5,000 payment and his "old" friendship with company General Counsel Mark Griffin.

I told Richard Hamp:

I certainly never agreed with you to not post on my blog. The agreement that we had was, was that we would not discuss any matters relating to Overstock.com at the meeting [my presentation at the Utah Attorney General’s 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference], unless of course it was bought up and I complied with that agreement.

Richard Hamp’s reply:

I fully agree. You did everything I asked you to do, Sammy.

Later, Richard Hamp said:

It puts me in a bad spot as well because I disagree with him [Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff]…. What’s happening here has nothing to do with John [John Kimble, Deputy Attorney General] and I….

What is happening does not reflect my or John’s feelings, wishes, desires, or anything else. What you did is exactly what you promised to do for exactly the price you promised to do it at with no expense on our side and total expense on your side. You promised you would not open the Overstock door while you were here. You didn’t. I have absolutely no fault to you and I have nothing but praise from all the things I’ve read about your presentation….

No one consulted with me or John…. Here, I extend an invitation for you to come out here and do a presentation and you do exactly what it was I asked you to do. You do an excellent job of it and you know, and it makes me feel good, it makes the whole audience feel good, and then afterwards this whole thing happens and it kind of personally embarrasses me, too, at that stage because no one ever consulted with me or and John's, here saying….John here, agrees. To finish the thought, here we invite this poor guy to come out here. He comes out on his own dime and then we slap him in the face. Neither John nor I knew what was going on at the administrative level….

Note: Bold print and italics added by me. Bracketed information added for clarity.

In a follow up phone conversation, Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp told me:

I am not going to argue any of the points Sammy. Sammy you did exactly what you said you would do for me. Kirk [Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen] even brought up the fact that Sammy agreed not to blog this. I said no, Kirk. We never had a discussion about blogs one way or the other. Sammy agreed he would not mention Overstock during...his presentations. He didn’t. You know. Just so Kirk was on the same page with me.

I am not going to misrepresent what our agreement was. Our agreement was that you wouldn’t mention Overstock while you were here. That was the end of the agreement. In all honesty, I didn’t even think about the blogs to even bring em up or mention em…. I've read it [your blog] and I don't have the same problem parts of my office do have with it....

I really feel bad about it, Sammy, because you did everything I asked you to do and I can’t fault you for any of this. Well there.

Note: Bold print and italics added by me. Bracketed information added for clarity.

Kirk Torgensen tried to make amends but a “stubborn” Mark Shurtleff refused to retract his lies

I tried to contact Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff by phone and email, but he would not respond to me. However, Mark Shurtleff had time to correspond with blogger Tracy Coenen and he stubbornly refused to retract his lies. Afterwards, at Richard Hamp's suggestion, I called Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen and demanded a complete retraction of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's lies.

Kirk Torgensen asked me:

He [Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff] can apologize to you, but what kind of action do you want?

My reply:

I want a complete apology and a retraction.

Note: Bold print and italics added by me. Bracketed information added by me for clarity.

I told Kirk Torgensen that I wanted Mark Shurtleff’s apology and retraction to be “widely disseminated” in the same manner as Shurtleff's false allegations about me.

In a follow up phone call, Kirk Torgensen, backtracked, telling me that Mark Shurtleff “may be stubborn on this thing” and offered an apology from the “Office” of the Utah Attorney General, rather than directly from Shurtleff himself:

What I would like to do Sam is. I gotta tell. I would like to you. I would like to. First, I will tell you personally that and I told you this when you came to Utah, I appreciated you coming. I thought that your presentation was very helpful….

I told my guys after your presentation that it was exactly what I was looking for, that your candor was exactly what I was looking for. Uh, everybody else appreciated immensely that you came out. You did it on your own time. You did it on your own dime because we didn’t have a budget for anything and we really appreciate that.

Um, I gotta ask you this Sam. I mean, the Attorney General may be stubborn on this thing. What if I sent you something? …. Ultimately, this damage is my office…. That hurts the office, you know that Sam…. My job is to find a way to undo the harm…

Note: Bold print and italics added by me.

In other words, Kirk Torgensen now suggested that Mark Shurtleff is too “stubborn” to take responsibility and admit his false allegations. He wanted the Attorney General’s office, rather than Shurtleff directly himself, to issue an apology. I hesitantly agreed to Torgensen’s suggestion, only if such retraction would be widely disseminated in the same manner as Shurtleff’s original letter containing his false allegations. I also wanted Kirk Torgensen to have Overstock.com post the Utah Attorney General’s office’s apology and retraction on the company’s web site in full, without any spin from Patrick Byrne.

Kirk Torgensen did not believe that Patrick Byrne would agree and revealed what he thought of Byrne:

I know, but you know, he won’t do that….

You know him. I know him. I saw him almost get into a fistfight last year at the legislature….

Oh my God, … I’ll tell you, you should read the stuff that he’s been saying about the voters in Utah who would not vote for his voucher [initiative]….

He called us all a bunch of morons that didn’t care about kids….

You know, I am not going to stand up for Patrick Byrne, ever….

In our next phone conversation, Kirk Torgensen asked me:

Can you give me a day to see if I can get approval to do a press statement that would clarify the inaccuracy?

My response:

Please understand that the inaccuracy has to be a categorical retraction…signed by the Attorney General’s office, not necessarily the Attorney General, without any rationalization, without any excuses, and I would like to have a draft of it for my attorney to review it.

Later on, Kirk Torgensen responded:

Well, that may be a tall order, Sam. I am going to do the best I can.

Note: Bold print and italics added by me. Bracketed information added by me for clarity.

I waited an entire day, for the Utah Attorney General’s office to issue an apology for Mark Shurtleff’s actions and a retraction of his false statements about me. On November 16, 2007, I called up Kirk Torgensen and asking him why such apology and retraction had not he issued. He curtly retorted:

Sam, you’ve gotten an apology from three people in my office.

In other words, no official, written apology would be forthcoming from Mark Shurtleff or even his office. Kirk Torgensen wanted me to be satisfied with only a verbal apology, after Overstock.com and Mark Shurtleff colluded to disseminate lies about me through an open letter and a press release.

I objected, saying in part:

What he [Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff] did is absolutely wrong and casts a shadow on your office and casts a shadow on the ethics and integrity of your office because of the actions of him [Shurtleff] on behalf of a campaign contributor, which is totally 100% wrong….

Kirk Torgensen’s response:

I understand where you are coming from, Sam.

Note: Bold print and italics added by me. Bracketed information added by me for clarity.

Patrick Byrne stubbornly continued to lie

On February 9, 2008, Patrick Byrne continued his pathetic pattern of habitual lies with a new lie claiming that I invited myself to a meeting with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, met with him, and agreed not to “spin” my fraud presentation or blog “as an endorsement” by Shurtleff of my views:

At the request of Sam Antar the Crook, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff met with Sam on the condition that Sam not attempt to spin it as an endorsement of Sam’s views. Sam had his meeting then immediately welched on that promise.

However, as detailed above, I never requested to make any such fraud presentation. Rather, the Utah Attorney General's office invited me to make a fraud presentation at their 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference. In addition, I never had any meeting with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. My only agreement (confirmed by Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp, Deputy Attorney General John Kimble, and Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen) was not to mention Overstock.com during my fraud presentation. My fraud presentation was done without any compensation and without any cost reimbursements to me. It was totally free!

To this day, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff stubbornly refuses to retract his false allegations about my agreement with his office and issue an apology. Shurtleff even stubbornly continued to spew his lies when interviewed by Fortune Magazine in December 2007, weeks after the events described above.

Overstock.com CEO still will not retract his company’s press release using Shurtleff’s lies. Patrick Byrne's paid shills, nauseating cyberstalker Judd Bagley and washed up former CJR reporter Mark Mitchell, have continued to spread Mark Shurtleff's lies and other lies on Byrne's smear web sites (Antisocialmedia.net and DeepCapture.com).

Patrick Byrne likes to claim that the Securities and Exchange Commission is a “captured regulator” doing the bidding of Wall Street and hedge funds. Yet, Patrick Byrne has a captured state Attorney General in his side pocket. His name is Mark L. Shurtleff.

To be continued....

Written by:

Sam E. Antar (former Crazy Eddie CFO and a convicted felon)

Note: For additional information, please read Gary Weiss (about Mark Shurtleff and Overstock.com) and Tracy Coenen's blog (about Mark Shurtleff and Overstock.com).

Disclosure: Not long or short Overstock.com.

Additional Information:

Previous blog posts about Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Index to all White Collar Fraud blog posts.

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