License to Steal: The Secret World of Wall Street Brokers and the Systematic Plundering of the American Investor

License to Steal: The Secret World of Wall Street Brokers and the Systematic Plundering of the American Investor

by Anonymous, Timothy Harper

Stockbroker to young trainee: "Remember, when clients send in that money, it's not theirs anymore. It's ours...We're never giving it back to them."

Welcome to Wall Street. The longest bull market in history has driven more people to invest in stocks than ever before—and has given rise to unprecedented levels of greed within the brokerage industry that

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Stockbroker to young trainee: "Remember, when clients send in that money, it's not theirs anymore. It's ours...We're never giving it back to them."

Welcome to Wall Street. The longest bull market in history has driven more people to invest in stocks than ever before—and has given rise to unprecedented levels of greed within the brokerage industry that "serves" those investors.

In License to Steal, Timothy Harper and his Anonymous coauthor have succeeded in piercing the financial industry's code of silence. In a gripping and fast-paced narrative, they show readers how successful brokers on the "Street Without Shame" peddle worthless stocks, take questionable companies public, manipulate share prices, generate bogus commissions, and raid clients' accounts for their own use.

Anonymous and Harper tell a wild, raucous, true story of outrageous acts committed by a handful of rogue brokers—as well as the off-hand, everyday deceptions that are routine in the securities business—and the high life as it is lived by the young and rich in the canyons of Wall Street.

The book recounts the rise of a young, successful stockbroker, first as a smart, eager operator willing to do whatever it takes to make it. Always keeping just within the law, he watches his colleagues in the brokerage business cross over daily into unscrupulous conduct, lining their own pockets at the expense of their clients. Unwilling to join them, unable to endure the pressure of their corrupting influence, he eventually quits Wall Street.

A mesmerizing story of personal redemption, License to Steal is also a searing indictment of a corrupt and brutalizing system and a warning to the millions of American investors who trust and rely on stockbrokers for guidance on their own investments.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
The anonymous stockbroker author and journalist Harper (Moscow Madness, 1999) create fictional "Brett Burtelsohn" to trace an archetypical career in unnamed Wall Street IPO bucket shops where investors regularly feed the hands of those that bite them. From the hell of cold calling, young Brett observes brokers active in churning accounts, swapping trades with colleagues, parking shares in dormant accounts, using nominees to hide self-dealing, and following other illegal practices (all of which are clearly outlined). "When they send in that money, it's not theirs any more," he is taught. "It's ours." He soon passes his Series 7 (the brokers' qualifying exam) and secures his own license to steal. Beguiled by the heady élan of the princes of finance, Brett, a born salesman, is single-minded in his pursuit of cash and the life only a lot of cash can buy. In his mendacious line of work, our hero pushes and prevaricates, spins hokum and talks bunkum, forcing worthless new issues on trusting customers. Is it the company Brett kept? Did he fall in with a bad crowd? Readers should realize that, despite some inherent conflict of interest between investors and their brokers, not every broker is an egregious crook. At every firm, from small boutiques to major wire houses, brokers have valuable franchises in the form of their books (as they call their account lists). They can't maintain that asset by mulcting their clients. Even Brett ultimately sees the light. Now he's a small-town stockbroker, coaching kids' soccer, golfing with clients, becoming (heaven help us) a certified financial planner. This cautionary yarn, vividly told, has a badge of verisimilitude. There are, indeed, many ladslike Brett prowling the Street and many frenetic boiler rooms like those in which he worked. The story is true enough to make naive investors madder and maybe wiser. The rule "know your customer" becomes "screw your customer" in this engaging slice of brokerage noir.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.97(d)

Read an Excerpt

Thursday Night and Friday Morning
Lazlo was feeling good, and so was I. It was a warm spring evening
in Manhattan, and we were young and healthy and making more money than we knew what to do with. Princes of the City. Masters of the Universe. We were determined to spend some of that money and have some fun. Lazlo was tall and thin, in good shape, his curly hair well trimmed and blown. Perhaps the best word describing him, back then anyway, was sleek. He was wearing an Armani suit, a charcoal-gray, double-breasted wool crepe. His powder-blue shirt, with a navy-blue monogram on the French cuff, had been handmade personally for Lazlo by a tailor who came into our office to measure him. His Hermes tie had subtle navy and charcoal overlapping stripes. His shoes and his belt were crocodile. He was wearing a Rolex, the President model, eighteen carats.
I was dressed similarly, except I didn't have a Rolex. I had a Cartier. Lazlo was one of the most productive (highest-earning, in other words) stockbrokers at the brokerage firm where I had started working after I got my own broker's license the year before. I was beginning to make serious money, but still had a way to go before I would catch up to Lazlo. He was pulling down half a million a year, maybe more. I wanted that. And I was on my way. Two and a half years earlier, I had started in the financial services industry at $3.50 an hour. Now I was bringing home more than $100,000 in my first full year as a broker. In five or six years, when I was Lazlo's age—early thirties—I'd be making more than he was, a millionaire many times over.
It must have been obvious to Lazlo that I admired him. He often joked around withthe younger guys. He encouraged them in his own way, which could be characterized as Leading by Outrageous Example. He seemed to have taken a particular liking to me. So when he asked me to go out that September evening, I quickly said yes. It was a Thursday, almost the end of the week, a good night for going out. I called my girlfriend and told her I was having dinner with Lazlo. I told her not to wait up.

We went to Lazlo's apartment on one of the upper floors of one of those new residential skyscrapers on the East Side. He poured us some drinks and showed me around: bedroom, dining room, kitchen, living room. It was a big place for an apartment in that neighborhood, about 1,700 square feet, Lazlo told me. With its marble entryway and polished parquet floors, the apartment was furnished as if straight out of Architectural Digest. There was an unbelievable view of Central Park from almost every room. My tongue must have been hanging out, imagining myself living in a place like that in a year or two. It was obvious that he enjoyed impressing me. Over three or four drinks—vodka tonics made with Absolut—we talked, as we always did, about business, about our jobs, our colleagues, our clients. Especially the clients. Lazlo made fun of his clients, laughed at them, and bragged about how they did whatever he told them to do. "Putty in my hands," he crowed.
From downstairs, the doorman buzzed. A cold caller, one of the young guys who dialed numbers of prospective clients all day, was in the lobby. Once somebody came on the line and expressed the mildest interest, the cold caller quickly passed the call to a more experienced broker like Lazlo. Lazlo had invited the cold caller, too. He told the doorman to send the guy up. He was a nice kid, maybe twenty-five, a couple of years younger than me. He was where I had been eighteen months earlier, but I didn't think he could move up as rapidly as I had. I was confident I was going to be the best. Or at least, in a couple of years of watching Lazlo and other big-commission brokers, I would be right up there with them. We had another drink with the cold caller, and Lazlo suggested, "Hey, men, let's go get some dinner."
We went to a little Italian place around the corner. It was one of those evenings when all of Manhattan seemed soft and warm. We sat at an outside table, talking, laughing, Lazlo and I joking around about how much money we were making, how much we were saving, and, especially, how much he was spending. Lazlo showed us his new sunglasses ($350) and told us about his new Porsche 911 Turbo with the black leather seats that had been specially treated to smell like Breath of Heaven. After another round of drinks, the menus came. "Don't worry," Lazlo assured us. "It's all on me." After a long discussion about what to eat, we decided to keep it light. "So we'll have plenty of room for plenty of booze later," Lazlo said.
We shared steamed calamari, grilled Chilean sea bass, and salad. We washed it all down with a bottle of Antinori Chianti Classico Reserve, and then another. Lazlo ordered cognac all around and pulled out three Cohiba Robusto cigars. We fired them up. Life was good. We started talking to two nicely dressed couples having dinner at an adjacent table. The women were great-looking. The guys asked about our cigars. They told us they were investment bankers, and joshed with Lazlo about deal rumors and talked about people until they found a couple of mutual acquaintances. He bought them drinks. The women never said anything, but laughed when we laughed. After a while, the couples left and our cigars were burned down to the bands.

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Meet the Author

anonymous1. not named or identified 2. of unknown authorship or origin

Anonymous has been a Wall Street senior vice president and broker. His career has taken him to numerous brokerage firms both large and small.

Timothy Harper, a journalist and a lawyer is a member of the adjunct faculty at Columbia University. His stories on international business appear in newspapers and magazines around the world. He is the author of eight other books, including, most recently, Moscow Madness.

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