How to Cheat Wall Street: Swindle Them With Oil


Originally appeared in Saturday Evening Post on April 25, 1964.

The soybean scandal, one of the biggest swindles in American history, broke into the news last fall and is still producing tremors. Losses came to some $150 million [$1.1 billion in 2008 dollars which is pretty hefty]. One large brokerage house was destroyed and 20 leading banks were stuck with millions in bad loans. The man behind the uproar is Anthony DeAngelis, who in his spare time donated bicycles to boys in his neighborhood. A onetime hog processor, De Angelis became the biggest trader in fats and oils. Today, protesting his Innocence, he faces criminal charges that could send him to prison for 185 years. Veteran Wall Street reporter Norman C. Miller reveals the behind-the-scenes story and raises some important questions that still confront the U.S. Agriculture Department and the businessmen who trade in commodities worth billions.

The Congressman and the Salad Oil Swindler

By Norman C. Miller

A bland-faced enigma, Tino De Angelis stands amid steamy clouds in his New Jersey refinery.

For years, Wall Street wheeled and dealed with Tino De Angelis, a slick operator with tanks full of vegetable oil over in Jersey. Then someone looked in the tanks and found the biggest, stickiest financial swindle of our time.

About 6:30 one evening last November, managing partner Morton Kamerman of the New York brokerage firm of Ira Haupt & Co. was leaving the office for the day when he noticed a group of subordinates working late – and talking excitedly – in one of the conference rooms. Kamerman dropped in to see what was going on. It had something to do with a complicated deal in commodities, a branch of the brokerage business Kamer man had little interest in and was not too familiar with. A Haupt commodities man was talking on the phone to a Mr. Anthony De Angelis, whom Kamerman had never met, even though De Angelis was the firm’s biggest customer. At the other end of the line, De Angelis was shouting that Haupt was putting him out of business and putting itself out of business too. A Haupt partner was on another phone attempting to locate someone who would buy huge quantities of soybean oil in a hurry. Still other Haupt officials were riffling worriedly through the firm’s books, adding up figures. Kamerman decided to stay.

By the next morning Kamerman had learned a great deal about the commodities business, along with a bitter truth. His own firm was insolvent – obligated for some $18.6 million of debts incurred by De Angelis, who now appeared to be bankrupt.

It was the first shock wave of one of the biggest financial swindles in American history, involving losses of some $150 million by many pillars of the business community. The Great Soy Bean Scandal, which struck Wall Street last fall, destroyed Haupt and forced another prominent brokerage (J. R. Williston & Beane, Inc.) into a merger. Some 20 major banks, ranging from the Bank of America to the Bank Leumi leIsrael, were stuck with bad loans. A dozen international trading companies were placed in the position of financing a fraud against themselves, and the warehousing subsidiary of the prestigious American Express Co. is hopelessly insolvent with staggering claims of more than $100 million against it.

All of these companies had one thing in common-they loaned money against or otherwise accepted at face value innumerable slips of paper representing the assets of the Allied Crude Vegetable Oil Refining Corp., controlled by Anthony De Angelis. On paper, Allied’s assets consisted of enormous quantities of soybean, cottonseed and other oils, which it kept in tanks at Bayonne, N.J., across New York harbor from Manhattan. Allied, on paper, looked to be a solid credit risk in a messy but profitable business-moving oil from the U.S. farm belt into world markets, where it is used to pack sardines and make things such as salad dressing, margarine, plastics and paint. Inside the gray-green storage tanks at Bayonne, however, things looked considerably different. Here, according to charges brought by a federal grand jury, Allied employees were fattening up the assets by turning out warehouse receipts for oil that wasn’t there at all.

For more than five years Allied created fictitious commodities which could be traded on paper and pledged as security against loans. For more than five years, unwitting financiers wheeled and dealed with ever vaster amounts of nonexistent oil in an outsized version of the old Hong Kong sardine dodge. During a famine in China, a Hong Kong merchant sold a sardine can fill with mud to another merchant, who sold it at a profit to a third merchant who sold it at a profit to a fourth When merchant No. 5 discovered the fraud and complained, No. 4 had a comeback: “Why did you open the can?”)

In Allied’s case, there was interest for the bankers, commissions for brokers and profits for everyone in the blizzard of hypothecated paper, as long as no one thought to take a close look. When the lid did come off, almost by chance, financiers holding receipts for 1.8 billon pounds of vegetable oil found only about 100 million pounds of oil, fats, petroleum, sludge and some still-unidentified substances in the tanks. (In fact, the total capacity of all of Allied’s tanks was only about one third of the amount of the imaginary oil.)

There is evidence that various degrees of carelessness, stupidity or greed among the victims themselves helped bring on the debacle. No one can yet assess the full damage or the full blame, however, since the swindle is incredibly complicated and still not wholly dismantled; further revelations, chunks of litigation and other debris keep dropping into the ruins every week or so.

Standing in the middle of the ruins with an air of injured innocence is the only man who could possibly know the full story – the incredible figure of Anthony De Angelis, “Tino” to his pals around Hudson County, N.J. He faces trial next fall, along with four employees, on charges of conspiracy and transporting forged warehouse receipts across a state line, and he could conceivably be sentenced to prison for 185 years. The state line in question between Bayonne and Manhattan is the one Jay Gould and Jim Fiske carried watered stock across a century ago-and as the grand jury sees it, Tino is the all-time champion of the long line of financial con men extending from the Erie Gang to Billie Sol Estes.

In some ways, Tino hardly fits the part. He is a fat little man of 48, with a bland moon face and a somewhat squeaky voice, a hard working, quiet living, Godfearing son of Italian immigrants. He crams his 250 pounds into rumpled, ready-made suits, wears no jewelry, and is outwardly almost totally unpretentious. His nominal home is still the six-room apartment in his father-in-law’s redbrick house in the Bronx, where Tino and his wife Virginia moved in right after the wedding 25 years ago. (He has been staying in a New York hotel since a recent separation.) His avocation is donating bicycles and sponsoring races for boys’ bike clubs. “Bicycle racing developed me physically. I possess exceptional strength in my hands and legs,” Tino will say, eagerly grasping your hand in a crunching grip to prove it.

Under this folksy exterior, however, lie the vast self-confidence and the fierce ambition of a Caesar. Tino set out single mindedly to make himself the biggest fats and oils operator in the U.S. When he succeeded, he relished the power it gave him to move oil and men, and lusted for even greater coups. It pleased him to distribute largess among his retinue of lieutenants and hangers-on, often in the form of cash. As Tino puts it, in his oblique, dignified way: “With fifty of my boys, at least, I was engaged in seeing that they were settled in a solid way in New Jersey communities.”

There is something contagious about Tino’s guileless, open-handed manner when he boasts of giving $500 to a man he hadn’t met for 15 years and spending “a couple of thousand” on florists’ bills in one month because “people are always dying.” It infected people far outside of his usual social circles. A variety of big businessmen were happy to have a part in Tino’s expansion plans, and Tino, for his part, was tremendously proud of the connections and prestige his money gave him. Talking about himself, he will occasionally shift into the majestic third person. “Here we have a man born and raised in the poor section of Nevi York, rises to the point where he runs ten, fifteen businesses or plants around the country,” he recalled not long ago.

Tino got his start in business as an apprentice butcher in a Bronx meat market. He was a go-getter, quickly moving on to a foreman’s job with a hog-processing firm and setting new records for the dismemberment of swine. “I had an exceptional ability in knowing how to process hogs,” he allows. “Some of my methods, like cutting hogs while moving, cut the cost of processing hogs enormously.”

Still in his early 20′s, Tino opened his own hog-meat firm with $2.000 in savings and a $10,000 loan. He claims he made a profit of $100,000 in the first year and tripled this within three years. By the late 1940′s, Tino had the capital to buy stock control of Adolf Gobel, Inc., a big publicly held meat-packing firm in North Bergen, N.J., and this venture, too, seemed to be a smashing success.

At this point the De Angelis career begins to depart from the Horatio Alger script. In 1952 the Agriculture Department charged that Gohel had sold the Government poor qualits meat for the federal school-lunch program. Less than a year later, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of understating the Gobel Company’s 1952 losses by $145,000, in a report to stockholders. In July, 1953, Tino took Gobel into bankruptcy court.

Oil and water mixed at Bayonne, where a maze of pipes and interconnected tanks made almost anything possible at inventory time.

Tino eventually paid $100,000 in damages to clear up the school-lunch business. It took him five years to get Gobel out of bankruptcy-but in the meantime he had spotted something more promising than hog butchering. American farmers’ production of vegetable oils had begun to run ahead of consumption in the mid’50′s. Huge surpluses of oil had begun to pile up, and the Government was eager to develop markets abroad.

Tino borrowed money to set up Allied, building a three-million-dollar refinery at Bayonne and leasing a number of storage tanks there. He would buy raw vegetable oil from the big “crushers” that squeeze soybeans and cottonseed in the South and Midwest, ship it to Bayonne, refine it, and sell it-usually to exporting companies. His two biggest customers were Continental Grain Co. of New York and Bunge Corp., a firm headquartered in Buenos Aires. Tino’s services and storage facilities were so valuable to Continental and Bunge, who together sell about two billion dollars’ worth of commodities around the world each year, that they and other exporting firms helped to finance him. While some of these companies apparently charged as much as 15 percent for credit, it was worth it to Tino, who could borrow far more from his customers than he could from banks. He would pledge warehouse receipts for oil as security, ostensibly use the money to buy more oil and pledge that for still more money.

Tino became a big operator in the Government’s Food for Peace program, in which the Agriculture Department would sell surplus oil to various needy countries for their currency and pay off the American exporter in dollars. In such deals, Tino was far more than a middleman supplying the exporters. Leaving his modest office in Bayonne, he would make swings through foreign markets, talking to government officials to line up sales for his exporter customers. He became a familiar figure in such places as Karachi, Istanbul and Madrid, and foreign buyers would often visit him at Bayonne. Only last September, Tino recalls, a Pakistani businessman dropped by to discuss a damage claim on an oil shipment, and Tino slipped him “a few thousand” in an envelope to forget about it. “That’s the petty-larceny way you have to do business in some parts of the world,” Tino says.

In 1960 the Justice Department sued Tino for fraud in a 1958 shipment of oil to Spain via the Isbrandtsen shipping line, whose exporting subsidiary did considerable business with Allied and loaned Allied money. The charge claimed Tino had falsified sale dates in order to qualify for government financing. Allied and lsbrandtsen paid $1.5 million damages to the Government to settle the matter. Tino now declares that all this was part of a “plot” by the Agriculture Department to “get” him. “While I was brilliantly moving and selling all over the world, I had a very powerful force working against me,” he says darkly. For all this, his customers continued to get licenses to export and continued to get their oil from Tino. If the name “Allied” did raise red flags in Agriculture, Tino blurred the picture somewhat by doing business under a variety of other names, such as Shortening Corp. and Trans World Refining. In fact, Allied was merely the apex of a complex of a dozen companies controlled by Tino and handling various aspects of his sprawling operations.

Nothing about Tino’s reputation seemed to bother the businessmen he dealt with, so long as his patronage was profitable. Besides his previous involvements with the law, there was a rumor on Wall Street that he was bankrolled by the Cosa Nostra, based on his minority interest in a Chicago shortening firm which employed known hoodlums. The rumor didn’t hurt him in business. In fact, says a trader for a major vegetable-oil firm, “we figured Tino might have planted the rumor himself. If he were backed by that kind of money, we would have known he was good for all he owed us.”

In any case, Tino’s business and his debts expanded apace. The sales of his companies mounted to some $250 million a year, and at one point he was supplying 75 percent of U.S. exports of cottonseed and soybean oil. Customers found that Allied could usually quote prices below its competitors, which seemed to reflect a highly efficient operation.

But something more than efficiency was involved, according to the charges now filed against Tino. For a significant fact apparently struck him almost at the moment he got into the oil business in a big way in 1958. He realized that he always had more oil stored than he needed to satisfy customers’ immediate demands, and it was inconceivable that all customers with calls on oil would ask for delivery at the same time. As long as he could meet daily withdrawals, he might have almost any amount of oil in storage, for all the world knew.

At this point it is advisable to take a closer look at the epicenter of the De Angelis operations in Bayonne-a bleak and grimy region of docks, rail sidings, bleach cries, warehouses and tank “farms” within sight of Wall Street. Allied leased a group of some 100 tanks at a big Bayonne tank farm, with a capacity of some 500 million pounds of vegetable oil. To meet legal requirements of the business, it then subleased the tanks to a storage company, for a token fee of one dollar a year, and the storage firm assumed responsibility for the tanks’ contents. The storage firm took regular inventory and issued the warehouse receipts, affirming the existence of Allied’s stored commodities, and acted as a kind of “third party” between Allied and its creditors. The company Tino selected for this chore, Arerican Express Warehousing, Ltd., had a name calculated to still any doubts creditors might have had. Its warehouse receipts looked every bit as unimpeachable as the traveler‚Äôs checks issued by its parent firm, American Express.

Tino boasting while out on bail
My friends will give me their business as soon as I rehabilitate myself.

Allied paid Amex Warehousing up to $20,000 a week, and by all indications got more than its money’s worth in the form of an extraordinarily tolerant attitude by the company supposedly monitoring its inventories. On Tino’s recommendation, Amex hired several Allied employees as custodians, including Joseph Lomuscio, a good friend of Tino’s, and John Bongardino, brother-in-law of Tino’s secretary. The storage firm often left the inventory job to Allied, merely sending a custodian along to jot down the figures.

Taking inventory at Bayonne, as it turned out, was something like counting bubbles in a glass of beer. Allied’s tanks were interconnected by a maze of underground and overhead pipes, and were connected to other tanks that didn’t belong to Allied at all. Soybean oil in three or four tanks could be concentrated in one tank or spread all over the farm, as circumstances required.

Allied plant manager Frank Vivenzio has testified that Allied men were instructed to “grab as much oil as we could get” by opening valves and manipulating tape measures to pad the inventory figures (the instructions, he said, came from Leopold Bracconeri, Tino’s brother-inlaw and Alhed general manager at Bayonne). Since the contents of a tank were computed by measuring the distance from the top of the tank to the top of the oil, large gains could be chalked up by pumping water under a thin layer of oil. On other occasions, said Vivenzio, an Allied man taking inventory would stop the tape measure ten or twenty feet above the surface of the oil and shout out the false figure to the custodian.

Federal authorities charge that the first warehouse receipt for nonexistent oil moved into Wall Street’s money markets in October 1958 as collateral for an Allied loan. By 1960, with business booming, Tino felt the need for more storage space, or at least the appearance of more storage space. He persuaded another storage firm called Harbor Tank Storage to operate tanks at Bayonne for Allied and to appoint his friend Lomuscio as custodian. What happened next shouldn’t happen to a storage company. According to a suit brought recently by Harbor Tank’s bankruptcy trustee against Tino, Lomuscio began signing warehouse receipts for oils that Harbor Tank didn’t have. In’a series of transactions, Allied “leased” 41 tanks to Harbor Tank – only 10 of which it had a right to lease. The rest belonged to petroleum companies operating at Bayonne, or were dismantled or didn’t exist. When Allied collapsed, there were $46.5 million in Harbor Tank receipts outstanding and only about one million dollars’ worth of commodities.

It was a good deal for Joe Lomuscio, who was paid $160,000 by Allied and Harbor Tank over a three-year period. Joe bought himself a $38,000 ranch house with a swimming pool, a white Lincoln Continental and even organized his own personal corporation, called Bulk Weighers and Samplers, Inc., the assets of which included a show horse named King Tudor. It was, in fact, a good deal for all the “young boys” Tino credits with being key men in his business. Salaries averaged $20,000, Cadillacs were the preferred cars, and there were other benefits. Explaining a personal check for $8,800 made out to Thomas Clarkin, who helped keep Allied’s inventory records and worked for Amex Warehousing, Tino says matter-of-factly, “He told me he needed a house for his wife and kiddies so I said, “Tommy I’ll give you the money for your house.”

Tino’s own taxable income amounted to $100,000 annually, although it is alleged that he withdrew three million dollars from Allied’s “petty cash fund” over the years to meet “expenses.” Even these sums were small, of course, compared with the torrent of borrowed funds now pouring through Allied, generated by the growing torrent of warehouse receipts. According to Tino’s secretary, Josephine Salto, it got to the point where Tino would carry her typewriter into a private office, hand her a blank Amex Warehousing receipt and dictate a figure to be typed in – a figure apparently unrelated to anything except Allied’s need for cash.

Despite all this, Allied’s business began to run into trouble. Tino claims it began with the 1960 Justice Department suit over his disputed shipments to Spain, which he says eventually cost him orders for 150,000 tons of soybean oil he had lined up in Madrid. Later, he claims, Agriculture began pressuring exporters to stop giving Allied contracts. Whatever the case, while he had once borrowed heavily to build up volume in the oil business, it appears he was now borrowing even more heavily just to pay off debts already incurred.

While the financial details are still lost in the chaos of Allied’s books, investigators have determined that by mid-1963 the company desperately needed cash and was in fact on the brink of disaster, with liabilities outweighing assets by $34 million. In June, Tino dispatched an aide, Gerald Gittleman, to look for loans in Switzerland. Gittleman located a wealthy Egyptian in Geneva named Aboud Pasha, and made a pitch for a loan of “one milhon to two million dollars.” Aboud Pasha was not impressed by Allied’s warehouse receipts, and turned the deal down.

Tino donated bikes
A big man for bicycles, Tino poses with state championship team at Flushing Meadow, N.Y. He was judge and sponsor at the races.

Tino had decided to try to recoup with a still wilder pyramiding scheme, this time in commodity “futures.” These are contracts to bu, or sell a given amount of commodities at a specified future date but at the price which now prevails on the exchanges. The man who buys one future contract on soybean oil commits himself to accept 60,000 pounds of oil on the delivery date, at today’s prices. He is thus betting that the price of oil will rise, and that he will be able to sell the oil at a profit. A man who sells a futures contract commits himself to deliver oil, and makes his profit only if the price drops in the meantime. Speculators buy and sell futures furiously on paper and seldom lay eyes on the warehoused goods involved. But grain dealers, soap companies and other firms also trade in futures as a part of their regular business, to hedge against price drops-or price increases-in the commodities they deal with. Tino De Angelis was such a traderand one of the biggest.

Futures trading had one advantage over the ordinary cash oil business for Tino. Exchange rules permitted a member of the trade, such as himself, to buy contracts by putting up as little as five percent of the market value, far less than the cash requirements imposed on outsiders speculating in commodities. All through last year, Tino bought oil futures, putting up little cash (and often none at all). He worked through a numher of brokers to disguise his heavy purchases, and at one point was suspended briefly by the Chicago Board of Trade for trading with himself, through various dummy companies. Tino had reason to avoid attracting attention. He was committing himself to accept vast quantities of oil in the future-which was illogical trading behavior for a trader who was already presumably loaded with oil supplies.

In fact, Tino was abusing his trader’s privileges to embark on what can only be explained as a rank speculation-a reckless gamble to monopolize the vegetable oil supplies in the hope that some sudden upturn in the demand for oil would turn his hair-raising position into gold.

Despite his efforts at secrecy, his buying spree became common knowledge. Neither exchange officials nor the Commodity Exchange Authority, the government agency which regulates commodity trading, exhibited too much concern. “We’re delighted,” executive director C. Robert Berg of the New York Produce Exchange told a group of worried traders. “It’s good business.” CEA administrator Alex Caldwell claims he was worried about the De Angelis position but didn’t have the authority to interfere. (Exchange officials say Caldwell never even informally notified them of his worries.)

Then in September, there came news of a big failure in the Soviet Union’s sunflower crop, and many commodity traders believed the Russians would soon be in the market for huge quantities of cottonseed and soybean oil to make up their loss of sunflower-seed oil. Russia already was trying to buy American wheat-and there seemed a good chance that it would buy vegetable oil as well. Here was Tino’s chance – it seemed. If he could get a stranglehold on oil futures, the Communists would have to come to him. All he needed was a broker willing to run the risk of increasing his already enormous futures position.

The firm of Ira Haupt, one of his four brokers at the time, had accepted the Allied account in May on the recommendation of a big New York bank. Haupt did have some misgivings; it limited Allied borrowings to $2.5 million, secured by warehouse receipts and evidence of contracts to export oil. Fred Barton, senior employee in the commodities department, maintained a clamp on Tino’s buying through the firm at the level o1′ 2,500 futures contracts. Then, on September 27, Barton entered the hospital for a six-week stay: about the same time, Tino began switching Allied’s futures contracts from his other brokers to Haupt. The clamps, for some reason, came off. Within the next six weeks, Tino increased his position with Haupt from 2,500 to 15,000 contracts with a paper value of $95 million. It was fairly easy for Tino to accomplish this, since Haupt now seemed willing to loan him all he needed to “pay” the five percent margins, as long as he could put up warehouse receipts as collateral. And by this time, according to the indictment, Miss Salto’s typewriter was turning out receipts and export contracts with remarkable dispatch.

To finance Tino’s trading, Haupt in turn used the receipts as security for hank loans and poured this money into Allied’s oil buying. Prices rose fast, due as much to Tino’s heavy buying as to the Russian rumors. Soybean oil went from 9.2 cents a pound to 10.3 cents between the first of October and mid-November, and cottonseed oil from 13.25 cents to 13.86 cents, both sizeable increases. By early November, Tino was obligated to accept delivery of 1.2 billion pounds of vegetable oil, or almost as much as the United States exports in a year.

Tino shows strain
t discuss the charges against him.

Then, as Russia showed no sign of wanting to buy oil and some key U.S. senators opposed the wheat deal, the market began wavering. On November 15, the Senate suspended negotiations on the wheat deal. Panic swept the vegetable oil market, and prices fell: in two days, soybean oil dropped to 7.6 cents and cottonseed oil to 12.32 cents. As the value of his futures contracts dropped, Tino was automatically required to put up more cash to guarantee his ability to meet his commitments-and each onecent drop in oil prices reduced the value of Allied’s contracts by some $12 million.

Haupt called on Tino for $5.1 million. Tino failed to meet this “margin call.” On Nov. 18 Haupt demanded an additional nine million dollars, and Tino again failed to produce. The exchanges were pressing Haupt for the money, and someone in the firm, without the knowledge of managing partner Morton Kamerman, began a frantic juggling act. A number of 24-hour “day loans” which brokers routinely get from banks to stabilize stock trading were used – or misused – to pay commodity debts. To pay these off, stock deposited with Haupt by its customers was pledged for $13.5 million in longer-term loans, in violation of New York Stock Exchange rules. On November 19, Haupt got more day loans and recovered its customers’ stock – but it also paid out $11 million for Alhed margin calls, which the banks never got back. Just who at Haupt was responsible for this the firm has dechned to say.

Allied office
s modest office, a stream of fraudulent paper poured into Wall Street.

The juggling could not keep up with plunging oil prices. On the night that Haupt officials finally faced their predicament, they decided to try to sell Tino’s futures contracts to pay loans falling due next day and recoup as much as they could. Tino was wild when they told him. “Don’t try to sell oil tonight-it will be a sign of weakness,” he screamed. He promised them a warehouse receipt next day to cover part of his debt-failing to inform them that his lawyers were already preparing a bankruptcy petition for Allied that would leave Haupt holding a large, empty bag.

While Haupt tried to sell Tino’s contracts, it sent a messenger to pick up an Allied receipt for $5.4 million the next day. It was a forged receipt, the U.S. attorney alleged later, but it came too late in any case. The firm’s partners had failed to sell any oil despite a night of telephone calls offering it to traders, soap companies and margarine makers at a discount: by morning it was clear that Haupt’s net assets were below the minimum required by the New York Stock Exchange. Even as Kamerman was reporting this to the exchange, he got the shocking news of Allied’s bankruptcy.

Successive waves of panic then swept through Wall Street, in roughly this order:

  • The banks, learning that Haupt had been misusing their loans, stopped payment on all Haupt’s checks. The Produce Exchange finally took some firm action, closing down trading and settling all oil contracts at a compromise price.
  • Haupt and Williston & Beane-which was in the hole for a comparatively paltry $600,000-were both suspended from trading on the stock exchange, and were deluged with frantic phone calls from their customers whose stock and money on deposit were now frozen. In Haupt’s case, there was a good chance that innocent customers would be wiped out, a development that would deal a devastating blow to investors’ confidence in Wall Street. Over the weekend, stock exchange officials drafted a liquidation plan, and eventually made up the shortage in Haupt’s accounts by raising the sum of $9.5 million among other Wall Street firms.
  • A phalanx of anxious creditors descended on the Bayonne tank farm, seeking vegetable oil. Two Haupt attorneys went over, only to be turned back at the gatehouse by guards posted by the courtappointed bankruptcy trustee in charge of Allied affairs. Bunge Corp. announced that 161 million pounds of its soybean oil supposedly held by Amex Warehousing to secure an Allied debt, was “missing.” A group of London merchant banks hired a surveying team to find 21 million pounds of fish oil held for them by Harbor Tank Storage, but the surveyors couldn’t even find the tanks. The bankruptcy examiner, soon aware that he was over his depth, notified the FBI.

The legal tangle created by the collapse of Tino’s empire has been monumental. Hundreds of lawyers and accountants have examined thousands of documents and asked thousands of questions. Tino himself has been on the stand a dozen times in bankruptcy hearings, sometimes taking the Fifth Amendment, sometimes acting as though the whole affair were caused by a misunderstanding. In all that time, none of the essential questions has been answered. The mysteries of (1) where the money went, (2) why Tino behaved the way he did and (3) how he got away with it for such a long time are as mysterious today as they were in November. Many of the victims, moreover, act as though they would like to keep it that way.

auctioning off Tino
s bankrupt company, auctioneer A.C. Willner asks for bids on pumps, valves, office furniture and what few other assets remain.

Take the missing money, too huge a sum for Tino to have squandered it all on operating expenses or in the futures market. (Tino may have even made money in his futures spree, since he was putting up hardly any cash and, according to testimony by one of his aides, was getting cash kickbacks on commissions from brokers.) Tino finally did admit to having $500,000 in a Swiss bank account after telling the court he was penniless, and was convicted of contempt as a result. Authorities also learned that a woman friend of Tino visited her safedeposit box after the crack-up. But that is all they have learned. Accountants are now looking for clues in a mountain of Allied records in a Jersey City loft, but Allied’s chaotic bookkeeping and Tino’s propensity for distributing money in cash make it look hopeless.

The swarm of creditors are putting most of their hopes for recovery on American Express, waiting patiently for an offer to settle the $100 million in claims against its warehousing subsidiary. But no one is pressing, and things are proceeding with glacial deliberation. According to executives of export companies that passed the receipts along, the banks plan to let American Express off the hook by accepting compromise payments over a period of several years, and avoid a court contest that would further embarrass finahcils. “An investigation would only increase the scandal,” says the head of one export company. “What we need is a settlement so we can get back to business as usual.”

The “business as usual” attitude explains the curious reluctance of any of the victims to explain how all this could have happened. Since the whole swindle depended on the tolerance of the victims, exploiting their desire for bigger commissions and more business on any terms, any probe that strikes too deep may upset things and even force some changes in procedure. Thus, the Chicago Board of Trade, which waited until midDecember before it bothered to suspend Tino as a “member in good standing,” appointed a committee of its own members to look into the fiasco. The New York Produce Exchange conducted a similar investigation. Spokesmen for both exchanges have found no need to make any significant change in the rules governing the market. They blame the whole mess on the Government’s failure to provide warning, but insist that there is no need for more government involvement in futures trading.

They may get a chance to explain this logic before congressional committees later this year. The Agriculture Department intends to ask Congress for power to set high margins on commodity trading and injunction powers to stop anyone from dominating the market as Tino did.

Today Tino seriously seems to believe that his biggest days are still ahead of him. He strides cockily from courtroom to courtroom, acting as if his only worry were his publicity image. He sucks in his paunch at the sight of a TV camera and keeps close track of reporters following him on his rounds. He still talks eagerly of his vast plans in the commodities business. “If I had anything to do with it,” he tells anyone who’ll listen, “you wouldn’t have a surplus of anything. I’d sell it. I’d take the surplus of oil in this country and make particular products. I’d make ghee – that’s spelled g-h-e-e – for the Pakistanis.”

Tino even has a solution for his creditors. “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for me to make up these losses,” he declares. “If given the opportunity, I could make a million or five million dollars a year, simple as anything.”