Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, like many in the Trump administration, is an insanely rich man, worth an estimated $700 million at the time of his nomination to the post. An explosive new report in Forbes, however, alleges that Ross stole quite a bit of that money from his partners.
Forbes reports that, two weeks ago, Ross settled out of court with David Storper, a former private equity manager who worked with Ross at WL Ross & Co. Storper alleged that Ross “stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork.”
The terms of that settlement are confidential, but according to Forbes, there are some even more serious charges against Ross (emphasis mine):
Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.
In total, Ross has been accused (in lawsuits, fines, and reimbursements) of “wrongly siphoning or outright stealing” $123 million dating back to 2005. The latest lawsuit, filed by three former executives of Ross’ former firm (including Storper) in November 2017, alleges that Ross and WL Ross & Co. “charged at least $48 million in improper fees.”
Ross said the lawsuit is “without merit,” but considering he also told Forbes that the Securities and Exchange Commission “never initiated any enforcement action against me,” even though it fined his firm $2.3 million over fees in 2016, let’s just say his word comes with a grain of salt. (One former Ross associate told Forbes that Ross is “a pathological liar.”)
In addition to the alleged grifting of his business partners, Ross—a cheap fuck who, according to one story in the Forbes piece, stole Sweet’N Low packets from a restaurant and didn’t follow through on a $1 million donation pledge to a charity— lied about his assets in a sworn document in order to make an extra $1.2 million. Per Forbes:
On November 1, 2017, Ross signed a sworn document, attesting that he had divested all the assets he promised he would. That was not true. The commerce secretary in fact still owned somewhere between $10 and $50 million worth of stock in WL Ross’ parent company, Invesco. Ross sold his shares a month later, banking at least $1.2 million more than he would have if he sold in May, when he initially promised to divest. By falsely claiming he gotten rid of the shares earlier, Ross also put himself in legal jeopardy, since it is a crime to lie to federal officials. Representatives for Ross, a sophisticated investor, claimed the commerce secretary did not lie but instead failed to realize he owned the shares.
Ross also said he did not know he had a $73,000 stake in a company named Air Lease, which he finally sold in June—more than a year after he promised he would. And he admitted to shorting stock of Sun Bancorp, saying he hoped to cancel out an interest he mistakenly thought he owned but in fact did not.
Ah yes, who among us has not completely forgotten about some of our numerous $70,000 investments.
A Commerce Department spokesperson gave the following statement to Splinter about the story:
The anonymously sourced Forbes story is based on false rumors, innuendo, and unverifiable claims. The fact remains that no regulator has made any of these accusations against the Secretary. This rehash of old stories is clearly the result of a personal vendetta. The baseless claims made in this story were well publicized long ago and are not news.
(The fact that America’s notoriously toothless regulators didn’t personally target Ross is not much of a defense, especially since they still fined his firm millions of dollars.)
This is just the latest of a long string of corruption scandals involving major Trump administration figures. It couldn’t come at a worse time for Ross, either. Back in May, Politico reported that he had fallen out of favor with Trump because, according to Trump, Ross was “no longer a killer,” and in July, the Office of Government Ethics told Ross in a letter that his “failure to divest” his assets “created the potential for a serious criminal violation on your part and undermined public confidence.”
Then again, knowing Trump, maybe this’ll improve his opinion of Ross.