Billionaire and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson published a blog post on Friday recalling his first interaction with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, in which Trump reportedly vowed to spend the rest of his life seeking revenge on five people who had refused to help him.
Branson said their encounter took place years ago, when Trump had invited him to a one-on-one lunch in his Manhattan apartment.
At just 1,200 square feet, this is the second smallest house in Manhattan. When two architects, Anne Fairfax and Richard Sammons, bought it, they transformed it to create a bijou interior with a sense of spaciousness that belies its exterior appearance. Leading out of the kitchen is a small enclosed garden with ivy topiary.
A civil war is emerging between Bitcoin’s earliest and most libertarian adopters, and a more commercial wing seeking to embrace regulation as a means of legitimizing Bitcoin businesses.
The divide came into focus this week with two key events events. One was a hearing on Bitcoin regulation by the New York Department Of Financial Services. The other was the arrest of BitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem on money laundering charges.
Until the moment of his arrest, Shrem, 24 had been something of a darling in the Bitcoin venture capital community — the Winklevoss brothers were one of BitInstant’s earliest investors, and Shrem was scheduled to co-headline a Bitcoin conference in Miami this past weekend.
But on the first day of hearings about the future of Bitcoin regulation convened this week by the New York Department of Financial Services, a panel of VCs were quick to disavow Shrem as an example of a more immature wing of Bitcoin. The Winklevoss twins said they were gratified the Department was discussing ways to help legitimize Bitcoin commerce. Their Bitcoin ETF is awaiting regulatory approval from the SEC.
The division is not just about sheer dollar size. Appearing at the Tuesday hearing, Fred Wilson — whose Union Square Ventures spearheaded a $5 million investment round in Bitcoin wallet firm Coinbase warned against anything but the lightest-touch regulations. He compared the dangers Bitcoin startups would face to what happened to early-stage music streaming platforms, which were inundated with lawsuits from record labels. Should Bitcoin startups be subject to similar legal scrutiny from financial regulators, he said, they would be snuffed out before they even had a chance to bloom.
Wilson’s views were countered by no other than Fred Ehrsam, Coinbase’s co-founder. He told DFS regulators Wednesday, “Although I love Fred Wilson, there’s probably some minimal requirements and procedures that should be put in place if you’re facilitating that kind of exchange.”
Perhaps it is not surprising that this ultra-libertarian faction was not represented at this week’s hearings.
But it could be seen at the NYC Bitcoin Center on Broad Street in Manhattan — where a follow-up cocktail party was held Tuesday to discuss “fallout” from the first day’s hearing — and online, where this faction railed from afar against regulators.
These individuals may seem extreme, but, until recently, they represented the core of Bitcoin evangelism.
But their influence seems to be fading. Barry Silbert’s Bitcoin Investment Trust is now worth 10s of millions of dollars. In an email Wednesday, he said he agreed the crypto-anarchists who dominated the digital currencies earliest incarnations were getting left behind.
“There are certainly a handful of folks that are hardcore libertarians (some anarchists) that believe that bitcoin should be completely unregulated, but I believe they are in the minority and, as a percentage of bitcoin believers, is shrinking very quickly. I respect their viewpoint, but unfortunately, don’t see how there vision is viable in today’s society.”
On Wednesday, New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said the greatest concern about digital currencies among law enforcement was anonymity. In a Bitcoin transaction, all transactions are essentially conducted between e-addresses that lack any kind of user identification.
“The difficulty, when criminal activity is involved, is for investigators to identity how the money is moved where and for what purpose.,” he said.
But tinkering with Bitcoin’s anonymity would seem to strike at the heart of another one of Bitcoin’s core elements — as seen in the following Tweet:
But Jeremy Allaire, founder and CEO of Circle, a company that develops digital currency products, showed little concern that regulators could start scraping away at Bitcoin’s anonymity element. Asked Tuesday on the panel whether new regulations affecting Bitcoin’s anonymity would undermine the popularity of the currency, Allaire replied, “That depends on your definition of the essence of Bitcoin.”
As Bitcoin continues to emerge, this fight over Bitcoin’s essence, and how much of a role government should play, will only get more intense.
If an imaginative real estate executive gets his way, New Yorkers soon will have a new way of crossing the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Instead of slogging across a traffic-snarled bridge or cramming into a packed subway car, they’d soar over the river in … a gondola.
This week, Levy published a bold plan for an aerial network connecting Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. He figures it could be built for between $75 million and a $100 million, a fraction of what New York’s spent on recent subway expansion projects. The idea has a lot going for it, but if built as Levy envisions, it would be useful to only a small, affluent subset of the city.
Much of the proposed network includes waterfront stations, which wouldn’t be much help to commuters who need to get inland. There’s also the fact those stations could be put to better use.
“In practicality, I don’t know why we would connect perfectly good boating docks with gondolas,” says Sarah Kaufman, adjunct assistant professor of planning at New York University and digital manager at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation. “We should be connecting those areas with boats, water taxis, ferries.”
Kaufman sees more value in the Skyway’s first phase, which would include a connection between Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood and Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Installing a gondola there is appealing for several reasons. It could alleviate crowding on the L line, which runs from Brooklyn into Manhattan. The line is always packed at rush hour, and trains run so frequently it’s all but impossible to add more.
Levy’s cost estimates are tricky to verify, but he’s right when he says a gondola would be easier, faster, and cheaper to build than a new subway line. It has taken five years and $2 billion to add a single station to the 7 line.
In a December 2013 report advocating better bus service in New York, the Pratt Center for Community Development wrote, “there is no realistic prospect of expanding the subway system to serve outlying neighborhoods.”
There’s precedent, too. Not only are other cities trying aerial public transit, New York already has its own system in place, the tram connecting Roosevelt Island and the East Side.
(You may know it from the climactic scene of 2002’s Spider-Man.) If Levy’s right, the gondola could move move 5,000 people an hour over the East River, with a crossing that would take just four minutes.
And then there’s the fact that it just seems like a cool idea, an opportunity to get a new, terrific view of New York City.
If Levy (or another developer) could acquire land rights to build stations, get approval from a rat’s nest of city and state agencies, and raise the necessary cash, New York could get the gondola system he’s dreaming of.
But don’t expect it to be used by many people who ride the L train. The line is overcrowded because it’s the easiest way for folks in Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint—popular and growing neighborhoods—to reach Manhattan.
The proposed location of the Brooklyn gondola station essentially is on the water, nowhere near most of these people. The gondola could, however, be quite handy for those filling the very expensive condos going up on the Williamsburg waterfront. “It would serve new developments along the water,” Levy says.
“This is a real estate project,” Kaufman says. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite unusual, in a good way. “It’s not very typical of a real estate developer to consider the bigger picture,” to account for the need for added transportation infrastructure that comes with packing more people into an area.
The residents of those condos may get little sympathy from those struggling to make rent in New York, but they too need good transportation options, and it’s a long walk to the nearest subway station. And, as Levy notes, every person riding the gondola leaves a bit more room for those of us stuck on the train.
The FBI agent who oversaw the Bernard Madoff investigation and helped pioneer the use of wiretaps that yielded dozens of insider-trading convictions is now working for Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Patrick Carroll, 50, joined the bank after almost a quarter century with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the latest in a line of former feds who’ve moved to Wall Street firms. He is a vice president in Goldman Sachs’s compliance, surveillance and strategy group, part of a division overseen by Alan Cohen, global head of compliance.
While Carroll’s FBI career spanned bank robberies and organized crime, he’s best known for being at the investigative center of securities-fraud cases ranging from Madoff and billionaire fund manager Raj Rajaratnam to a $550 million Ponzi scheme used to buy expensive teddy bears.
His appointment comes as regulators and prosecutors are tightening scrutiny of financial institutions, sometimes charging banks as corporate defendants and imposing billions of dollars in fines following guilty pleas.
“It’s really about how Goldman is reacting to the tidal wave of litigation that now seems to be part of the ongoing government toolkit for regulating banks,” said Roy Smith, a professor of finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a former Goldman Sachs partner.
“It can help to have some people who know how government prosecutors and investigators think, some guy who has the mindset of an alligator.”
Michael DuVally, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs, declined to comment on the scope of Carroll’s work.
A native New Yorker with a Joe Friday “just the facts” style, Carroll became an agent in 1991, after stints at Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, in a bureau push to hire people with financial backgrounds following the savings-and-loan crisis. He got Series 7 and Series 63 licenses soon after graduating from Fordham University.
He rose to become supervisor of one of the New York FBI’s two squads investigating white-collar crimes, eventually overseeing as many as 25 agents.
In 2003 the FBI unveiled Carroll’s 18-month undercover securities-fraud case called “Operation Wooden Nickel.” It borrowed law enforcement techniques commonly used against drug cartels and mobsters.
To unearth fraud in the foreign currency markets, he sent an undercover agent posing as a corrupt trader to work in an exchange and used cooperating witnesses to record brokers in boiler rooms, banks and interbank forex brokerages. Almost 50 traders were arrested for cheating thousands of investors in rigged trades. At least 40 were convicted.
“Here you have professional criminals operating at major, well-respected financial institutions,” Carroll said in an interview. “That was kind of an ‘aha’ moment, that we could do it, that these allegations are correct and that we were also capable of getting to it.”
The strategy would later be applied to hedge funds, which proved tough to infiltrate as rogue traders committed crimes with friends or business school classmates, he said.
Small-time traders “would always complain to us, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything about the bigger guys?’” said Carroll.
The prosecution of Galleon Group LLC co-founder Rajaratnam was the first significant use of wiretaps in a securities-fraud case. The evidence was essential, said Richard Holwell, the former judge who presided over the trial and upheld the legality of the intercepts.
“They provide a chance for the jury to hear it as it happens,” said Holwell, of Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP. “And there is something else — maybe if there is someone out there intent on breaking the law, they will now be more careful in light of the fact that their phone may be tapped.”
To date, more than 80 people have been convicted as part of the insider-trading initiative carried out by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney, the FBI and regulators. Wiretaps played a role in many, and helped persuade at least a dozen people to plead guilty and cooperate after they were confronted with their recorded conversations.
The wiretaps have been controversial. While a federal appeals court rejected Rajaratnam’s argument that the intercepts weren’t properly authorized, two federal judges criticized their use.
One said he was troubled by the FBI’s failure to stop listening to unrelated calls between a trader and his wife. The couple’s suit against 16 agents was dismissed May 15 by an appeals court.
Carroll’s squad also had to deal with Ponzi schemes exposed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, including Madoff’s.
When prosecutors needed to question and arrest Madoff, they called Carroll, said former prosecutor Bill Johnson. Madoff, who ran the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, is serving a 150-year prison term and 14 others were convicted.
Carroll, who started in April, isn’t the first FBI agent from New York to join Goldman Sachs, said Peter Grupe, his former FBI supervisor.
Joseph Demarest, currently the FBI’s assistant director of cyber-investigations and a former head of the New York office’s international terrorism branch, also did a stint at Goldman Sachs in its Global Security unit before returning to the bureau, Grupe said.
Demarest didn’t respond to e-mail or voice-mail messages sent through an intermediary.
Carroll says he already knew many people at Goldman Sachs, having worked with “their compliance for many years.” His leaving was motivated by a desire for a new challenge after 25 years at the FBI, he said.
Given the fate of former employers Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he added with a wry smile,
“I haven’t told the FBI this, but every place I’ve left has crumbled.”
“Mobile Photography Tips” is the blog run by Alex Markovich. It is so obvious that our smartphones have become, first and foremost, instruments for taking pictures and surfing the net, rather than tools for making calls.