January 27, 2023

Steve Sands, Celebrity Photographer, Rebels at the Velvet Rope

Armed with his Canon and a smartphone set to video (it was poking from the pocket of his camera bag), Mr. Sands, 56, hurried through the marquee lights toward a gleaming white pavilion, perfectly aware that his efforts to get in would be denied. But getting in was not his mission; his mission was to record the facts of rejection. Indeed, as he approached the velvet ropes, the first guard at the check-in desk told him, as expected, that he was not allowed inside.

“Why not?” Mr. Sands inquired, casually angling his bag to memorialize the scene.

“Come on, Steve,” the guard complained. “You know why. And you know you can’t just stand there. So what do you want to do?”

Since the early 1980s, Mr. Sands has been scrambling for access to the A-list, a job that has caused him, more or less perpetually, to be bum-rushed out of restaurants, chucked from fancy parties, forcibly escorted off movie sets and kicked to nightclub curbs. But after 35 years of these occupational hazards, two events this winter pushed him over the edge.

The first was in January when the police revoked his press card after he purportedly disobeyed them while shooting the celebrity season premiere of the TV series “Girls.” Then, two weeks ago, he was arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct while taking pictures, without credentials, of the cast of “Smash” — a show on NBC — as they filmed at a set in the heart of Times Square.

According to a criminal complaint, an officer with the Police Department’s Movie/TV Unit saw Mr. Sands entering “an unauthorized location” on the set and tried four times to chase him away. When Mr. Sands protested that he was entering a designated press tent, there was a scuffle, during which, the complaint contends, he flailed his arms and hurt the officer’s hand.

Energized by these events, Mr. Sands responded with what he often calls his “civil-rights campaign.” He has been showing up at celebrity affairs across the city not to seek out movie stars or rappers, but to document what he says is the exploitation that he and his colleagues face.

One day during Fashion Week, for instance, he dropped by a private show at the Calvin Klein warehouse on West 39th Street in the garment district. Instead of taking pictures, like everyone else, of the fashion editors and supermodels strolling through the door, he turned his lens on the grizzled herd of photographers penned in on the street by metal fences.

“Do you see these people?” Mr. Sands said, in a piteous tone. “Look at them — they’re broken. They don’t even know they’re being abused.”

Beyond such “reconnaissance,” as he is wont to call it, Mr. Sands has written letters to local politicians, informing them of his abridged First Amendment rights and his perceived mistreatment by a conspiratorial nexus of the police and the publicity establishment. In one such letter, sent to Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer of Manhattan, he criticized the city for its “privatization of public spaces,” citing in particular the annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza in Times Square.

“Just getting to the media area was fraught with hassles,” Mr. Sands wrote, “as most of the N.Y.P.D. claimed that we needed a ‘special Times Sq. Alliance pass.’ There is no law in the City Charter or Rules that give them the authority to do so.”

Reached by phone the other day, Ms. Brewer said that she had indeed received and considered Mr. Sands’s letter — and that it was not all she had received. “Depending on what’s going on, I may get up to 10 e-mails a day from him,” she said.

It is hard to know where all this outrage and activity is headed. Mr. Sands maintains that the police spend too much time chasing professionals with cameras and has hinted at an omnibus federal filing, fleshing out the supposedly collusive connections among City Hall, publicity firms and entertainment companies, like HBO. But then, one man’s collusion is another man’s event permit.

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain: Mr. Sands, who was born in the Bronx and is truculent by nature (“I’m outspoken,” he acknowledged, “and I’m known to be outspoken”), did not set out to be a photographic freedom fighter — or even a photographer, he says. He took his first shot of a boldface name when he was 24 and a failed student of astrophysics.

As he recalls the occasion, he was walking past a movie set one day and happened to snap a picture of the actor James Caan. He later sold the picture, for $70, to The Associated Press.

Over the next few decades, he gradually established himself as a successful freelance shooter, and these days, between efforts as an agent provocateur, he works on actual assignments. Just last week, he photographed the actor Colin Farrell — without incident — at the band shell in Central Park on the set of the movie “Winter’s Tale,” and the following morning he took a few shots of the actress Jennifer Connelly near the J R computer store downtown.

Mr. Sands says he makes over $100,000 in his best years and claims to be regarded by celebrities as an honest paparazzo — a label, by the way, that he abhors.

“The real bloodsucking, scum-of-the-earth types chase people on the streets,” he said dismissively.

“I never chase anyone — ever,” he insisted. “I just don’t get in people’s faces.”

It seems, however, that he does tend to get into certain restricted areas where — at least in the view of the authorities — he does not belong. Last spring, for example, Alec Baldwin’s private guards expelled Mr. Sands from a sidewalk in Little Italy while he was taking pictures, without express permission, of Mr. Baldwin’s wedding. Numerous video clips exist of Mr. Sands fleeing from security personnel at black-tie functions and mixing it up with uniformed officers on the street.

All of which has contributed to his notorious reputation, one that perhaps achieved its height some years ago when The New York Press included him on its annual blacklist of the 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers. “What can I say? I was in good company,” Mr. Sands said. (Katie Couric and Eliot Spitzer were also on the list.) “My position is simple: I have a right to be disliked, but I also have a right to take pictures.”

Of course, Mr. Sands was not taking pictures at the Beyoncé film premiere a couple of weeks ago — or at least not of anybody famous. After he was shut out by security, he stormed across the street and started snapping photos of his fellow paparazzi imprisoned in their press pen. Standing at the curb, he tried to rouse this jaded group into joining him in his cause, prowling back and forth like a rebel at the barricades in 1968.

“I’m going to stop all this!” he said. “The City of New York is getting sued! Who’s with me? Is anybody with me? Are you men?”

At the height of his oration, one of the photographers suddenly looked up and said, “She’s here!” And indeed there she was: Beyoncé arriving in an Escalade.

The pack of paparazzi scurried off, shoving, shouting, their shutter motors whirring — and Mr. Sands was temporarily left without an audience.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/nyregion/steve-sands-celebrity-photographer-rebels-at-the-velvet-rope.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

High & Low Finance: How S.&P. Tempted Arthur Andersen’s Fate

They were the gatekeepers, with a clear conflict of interest — the people they were supposed to check up on were also the ones who hired and paid them. The need to protect their reputation was supposed to assure that the conflict would not lead to bad behavior.

But it did not. Those within the firm who wanted to be tough found themselves outmaneuvered by those who wanted to make compromises to keep business that might otherwise be lost to competitors — competitors who were not above making compromises themselves. It was not that they wanted to act badly, only that they did not want to offend important customers. They had no idea that the corners they were cutting would blow up into a scandal that would dominate the news, shock the nation and lead to the demise of the firm.

That is a description of what happened to Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm, more than a decade ago.

It may turn out to be a description of what will happen to Standard Poor’s, the ratings agency, as a result of its behavior during the housing boom.

The good news for S. P. is that it faces only civil liability from the suit filed this week by the Justice Department. It was the criminal complaint against Andersen that sealed the firm’s fate.

But the allegations in the suit are reminiscent of what happened at Andersen, whose image had previously been of being the most independent, and most committed to quality accounting, of the major firms.

Until now, the role of the credit ratings agencies in the financial crisis had seemed — to me, at least — to be defensible. They may have been foolish or even stupid, but they were not venal. They applied their models in good faith in rating mortgage-backed securities. Their models proved to be overly optimistic, but the housing collapse was an unprecedented event. Being wrong is not a crime.

The Justice Department suit offers a different sequence of events. As the housing bubble grew, and the revenue from rating the deals skyrocketed, S. P. was determined to stay competitive with other agencies — Moody’s and Fitch — in getting the business. That led to tinkering with models and ignoring inconvenient evidence so as to produce the ratings that were desired by the banks putting together the deals. Even when it became clear that new deals did not deserve the ratings they were getting, S. P. chose to issue high ratings.

By not filing criminal charges, the government got a lower burden of proof — preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt — while the potential for a $5 billion fine provides punishment as severe as any criminal case against a corporation could.

It is important to understand the financial alchemy that was involved in rating mortgage securitizations.

In the corporate world, to get a top rating a company has to have a sterling balance sheet and good prospects. But not in the world of securitizations. The logic was that a lot of clearly risky subprime mortgages could be put together and — presto, become mostly AAA in a residential mortgage-backed security, or R.M.B.S. Since it was extremely unlikely that more than, say, 20 percent of the mortgages would default, 80 percent of the money that financed them could be raised by issuing AAA-rated securities.

And the agencies took that one step further. Put together junior securities from a bunch of such deals and issue a new securitization, called a collateralized debt obligation, or C.D.O., and most of it was AAA too.

The result was that the boom in subprime lending was financed by investors who were told they had supersafe securities. The bubble would not have happened without S. P. and its peers.

The Justice Department has evidently been through every memo, e-mail and text message sent out by S. P. analysts and executives from 2004 through 2007, and found some that sound as if bosses were putting the short-term commercial interests of S. P. — both the fees it got and the need to maintain good will with the investment bankers who chose which rating firm to use — ahead of truth.

The most recent events the government complains about happened in 2007, and there are five-year statutes of limitations in some fraud laws. So the government turned to a 1989 law that makes it illegal to defraud a bank — a law passed during the savings and loan scandals — that has a 10-year statute of limitation, and cites case after case where banks bought the securities S. P. rated, and lost money. Some of those cases sound real, but as Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg News has pointed out, in some cases the bank that S. P. is supposed to have defrauded is the very same bank that put together the securitization, and kept part of it. It seems like a stretch.

Floyd Norris comments on finance and the economy at nytimes.com/economix.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/08/business/sp-may-have-tempted-arthur-andersens-fate.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

High & Low Finance: S.&P. May Have Tempted Arthur Andersen’s Fate

They were the gatekeepers, with a clear conflict of interest — the people they were supposed to check up on were also the ones who hired and paid them. The need to protect their reputation was supposed to assure that the conflict would not lead to bad behavior.

But it did not. Those within the firm who wanted to be tough found themselves outmaneuvered by those who wanted to make compromises to keep business that might otherwise be lost to competitors — competitors who were not above making compromises themselves. It was not that they wanted to act badly, only that they did not want to offend important customers. They had no idea that the corners they were cutting would blow up into a scandal that would dominate the news, shock the nation and lead to the demise of the firm.

That is a description of what happened to Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm, more than a decade ago.

It may turn out to be a description of what will happen to Standard Poor’s, the ratings agency, as a result of its behavior during the housing boom.

The good news for S. P. is that it faces only civil liability from the suit filed this week by the Justice Department. It was the criminal complaint against Andersen that sealed the firm’s fate.

But the allegations in the suit are reminiscent of what happened at Andersen, whose image had previously been of being the most independent, and most committed to quality accounting, of the major firms.

Until now, the role of the credit ratings agencies in the financial crisis had seemed — to me, at least — to be defensible. They may have been foolish or even stupid, but they were not venal. They applied their models in good faith in rating mortgage-backed securities. Their models proved to be overly optimistic, but the housing collapse was an unprecedented event. Being wrong is not a crime.

The Justice Department suit offers a different sequence of events. As the housing bubble grew, and the revenue from rating the deals skyrocketed, S. P. was determined to stay competitive with other agencies — Moody’s and Fitch — in getting the business. That led to tinkering with models and ignoring inconvenient evidence so as to produce the ratings that were desired by the banks putting together the deals. Even when it became clear that new deals did not deserve the ratings they were getting, S. P. chose to issue high ratings.

By not filing criminal charges, the government got a lower burden of proof — preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt — while the potential for a $5 billion fine provides punishment as severe as any criminal case against a corporation could.

It is important to understand the financial alchemy that was involved in rating mortgage securitizations.

In the corporate world, to get a top rating a company has to have a sterling balance sheet and good prospects. But not in the world of securitizations. The logic was that a lot of clearly risky subprime mortgages could be put together and — presto, become mostly AAA in a residential mortgage-backed security, or R.M.B.S. Since it was extremely unlikely that more than, say, 20 percent of the mortgages would default, 80 percent of the money that financed them could be raised by issuing AAA-rated securities.

And the agencies took that one step further. Put together junior securities from a bunch of such deals and issue a new securitization, called a collateralized debt obligation, or C.D.O., and most of it was AAA too.

The result was that the boom in subprime lending was financed by investors who were told they had supersafe securities. The bubble would not have happened without S. P. and its peers.

The Justice Department has evidently been through every memo, e-mail and text message sent out by S. P. analysts and executives from 2004 through 2007, and found some that sound as if bosses were putting the short-term commercial interests of S. P. — both the fees it got and the need to maintain good will with the investment bankers who chose which rating firm to use — ahead of truth.

The most recent events the government complains about happened in 2007, and there are five-year statutes of limitations in some fraud laws. So the government turned to a 1989 law that makes it illegal to defraud a bank — a law passed during the savings and loan scandals — that has a 10-year statute of limitation, and cites case after case where banks bought the securities S. P. rated, and lost money. Some of those cases sound real, but as Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg News has pointed out, in some cases the bank that S. P. is supposed to have defrauded is the very same bank that put together the securitization, and kept part of it. It seems like a stretch.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/08/business/sp-may-have-tempted-arthur-andersens-fate.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

U.S. Chemist Is Charged With Insider Stock Trades

The charges were made in a criminal complaint filed by the Justice Department against Cheng Yi Liang, 57, and his son, Andrew Liang, both residents of Gaithersburg, Md. The Securities and Exchange Commission simultaneously filed a civil securities fraud complaint against the elder Mr. Liang.

Timothy Sullivan, a lawyer for Andrew Liang, declined to comment on the charges. Andrew Carter, a federal public defender temporarily assigned to represent Cheng Yi Liang, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The cases, filed in Federal District Court in Greenbelt, Md., cited trades in the stock of five pharmaceutical companies whose products were undergoing review at the F.D.A.’s Office of New Drug Quality Assessment, where the elder Mr. Liang worked as a chemist. His job gave him access to a password-protected database that tracked the status of new drugs under review.

The criminal complaint accused him of using that database to get an early look at F.D.A. decisions on companies developing drugs and then working with his son to trade on that knowledge, buying stock ahead of good news and selling it before bad news was announced.

The complaints assert that the defendants made just under $2.3 million in direct profits and avoided an additional $1.3 million in losses.

In a statement announcing the case, Lanny A. Breuer, the assistant attorney general for the criminal division, said: “Cheng Yi Liang was entrusted with privileged information to perform his job of ensuring the health and safety of his fellow citizens. According to the complaint, he and his son repeatedly violated that trust to line their own pockets.”

Law enforcement veterans said the case was unusual on several fronts. First, it is uncommon for insider-trading investigations to involve the F.D.A., despite the significant amount of market-moving information that passes through the agency each year. The agency maintains a rigorous ethics code and imposes significant restrictions on stock ownership and trading by its employees.

The case is also noteworthy, Mr. Breuer said, for its application of computer technology. Investigators used hidden software installed on Mr. Liang’s computer to track his visits to the confidential database and match those visits against his trading activity in accounts he had set up in the names of friends and relatives in Maryland, China and Japan.

It is not clear from the complaint what drew the attention of law enforcement, but clearly, something in January prompted investigators to install tracking software on Mr. Liang’s computer.

According to the complaint, the hidden software revealed that Mr. Liang had tapped into the database on Jan. 18 and reviewed an internal F.D.A. document recommending approval of Viibryd, an antidepressant drug submitted to the agency by Clinical Data

The complaint asserted that, within minutes, several accounts controlled by Mr. Liang and his son had bought 4,875 shares of Clinical Data’s stock. According to prosecutors, the Liangs accumulated 48,875 shares of Clinical Data stock before Viibryd’s approval was announced on Jan. 21, and subsequently sold their entire stake for a profit of more than $379,000.

The complaint also accuses the Liangs of trading in advance of a May 6, 2009, announcement by Vanda Pharmaceuticals that the F.D.A. had approved its drug Fanapt.  Using Andrew Liang’s account and several other accounts, the Liangs are accused of netting more than $1 million, for a profit of nearly 800 percent.

The other companies whose stock was affected by the trading were Progenics Pharmaceuticals, Middlebrook Pharmaceuticals and Momenta Pharmaceuticals.

The S.E.C. complaint accused the elder Mr. Liang of illegally trading ahead of more than two dozen F.D.A. announcements involving drug applications by 19 companies. It seeks to recover profits from him, from his son and from five other defendants, including Mr. Liang’s wife and mother.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=22490f662305eb2c3e33b26f5c5e44ef