On the record: Corzine and O'Brien dig their own grave

Putting a nail in the coffin with taped conversations of misdeeds

Perhaps the most wondrous thing about the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) enforcement action against Jon Corzine, Edith O’Brien and MF Global are the internal phone calls and e-mails between staff when the firm was going down. Corzine was charged by the CFTC that MF Global unlawfully “used nearly one billion dollars of customers segregated funds to support its own proprietary operations and the operations of its affiliates…. Corzine bears responsibility for MF Global’s unlawful acts. He held and exercised direct or indirect control over MF Global and Holdings and either did not act in good faith or knowingly induced these violations,” the CFTC stated in its complaint. Likewise, Edith O’Brien, assistant treasurer of MF Global and head of liquidity management, “approved and/or caused numerous illegal transfers of customer segregated funds to the Firm’s proprietary accounts, and otherwise aided and abetted MF Global’s customer segregated fund liquidity.”

How did they get there?

By now, even the least interested person knows that Corzine planned to turn MF Global into an investment bank and invested funds into what became bad investments, especially sovereign debt. But the illiquidity of the firm had been ongoing…and then came Oct. 6, 2011. From the complaint:

“…on Thursday, October 6, 2011, members of senior management were concerned about the Firm’s liquidity and ultimate viability. O’Brien, her supervisor, Holdings’ Global Treasurer, and others discussed on a recorded telephone line that the Firm expected to have to make a margin payment of $50 million to $75 million the next day for MF Global’s RTMs. They agreed that this margin obligation would have to be paid from FCM Excess Cash because the Firm had no other readily available source of cash that could cover that amount. At the time, the FCM Excess Cash balance was approximately $80 to $100 million. Holdings’ Global Treasurer expressed concern that even without the stress of this margin call, the Firm was facing the loss of liquidity and that it was “skating on the edge” without “much ice left.”

On that same day, the global treasurer spoke to the Holdings CFO and said “that he had told Corzine that “the Firm’s liquidity “situation” was “not sustainable” and that “the situation is grave.” Later during this conversation, the Global Treasurer stated that “we have to tell Jon that enough is enough. We need to take the keys away from him.” Corzine disparagingly nicknamed the Global Treasurer “the Gravedigger.”

The evening of Oct. 6, Corzine received an email from Holdings’ CFO that detailed the financial stresses on the Firm. In the email, Holdings’ CFO told Corzine that “[o]f most concern, is the sustained levels of stress and the lack of signs that this will reduce soon.”

Holdings’ CFO identified MF Global’s three sources of liquidity: (1) cash from its subsidiary, MF Global Finance USA, Inc. (“Finco”); (2) FCM Excess Cash; and (3) MF Global’s broker dealer division. Holdings’ CFO warned Corzine that the Firm was becoming overly reliant on the cash in the FCM customer accounts because the other two sources of liquidity were insufficient: “the situation of our broker-dealer [is] that [it] is currently unable to fund itself, and more worrying continues to need more cash than we have in finco [sic], thereby having us dip into FCM excess every day.”

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