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Tancredo hit by hedge fund fallout

Date: Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Author: Al Lewis, Denver Post.com

Tom Tancredo is reeling in the debris of America's exploding hedge funds.

"It all went south," the former candidate for U.S. president told me Monday. "It was a pretty devastating thing."

The conservative Republican was heavily invested in something called the Agile Safety Fund, which turned out to be neither.

It was run by a Boulder, firm called Agile Group that no longer answers its phone and has taken down its Web site.

Agile's founder and majority owner, Neal Greenberg, declined to speak with me when I reached him at his Boulder home on Monday morning. His firm reportedly managed more than $1 billion in mutual funds, hedge funds and individual accounts.

It also paid popular morning talk-show host Mike Rosen of powerhouse station 850 AM KOA, broadcast from Denver, to do its radio commercials for several years.

Rosen also was a large investor at Agile and told me that he "has lost a large percentage of my life savings."

Both Tancredo and Rosen said Agile executives claimed they were victimized by alleged Ponzi schemers Bernard Madoff and Tom Petters, a renowned Minneapolis businessman accused of duping investors out of $3.5 billion.

Tancredo said the real carnage began in September.

"It started primarily with the collapse of Lehman Brothers," Tancredo said. "Once it started, it was just like a house of cards."

Now, whatever funds Agile has left are frozen and may take years to thaw.

Tancredo was a five-term Republican congressman from Colorado, renowned for his zero-tolerance stance on illegal immigration and a suggestion he once made that we bomb Mecca if Islamic fundamentalists ever try to nuke us.

He wouldn't specify his losses, and he's hoping that when the smoke clears from Agile's bomb blast, that there is something left of his savings.

A disclosure form he filed in 2007 for his long-shot presidential bid listed him as having $530,000 to $1.1 million invested in the fund. He also reported that it provided him with $15,000 to $50,000 a year in income.

"I have no idea where it is, or what we will be able to recover," he said, "but it's pretty serious."

What are you going to do? I asked him.

"Wait and pray."

Other investors are turning to lawyers instead of the Lord.

Attorney Charles Brega of Fairfield and Woods P.C. in Denver said he is investigating Agile's collapse on behalf of a handful of Agile clients, many of them elderly. He said it appears to him that Agile ran its investments through a complex series of shell companies, including offshore trusts it had set up in the Cayman Islands.

"These investments do not appear to have any suitability for older people with IRA accounts," he said.

Rosen said he believes Agile is just a victim of our times.

"I'll attribute the blame to Petters and Madoff because they appear to be thieves," he said. "You can also blame the international market bubble in commodities and everything else. You can blame the financial collapse ... You can say that people managing hedge funds, including Neal, bet on some of the wrong horses ... but I have no reason to believe that while Petters and Madoff are crooks that Neal Greenberg is, too."

Madoff has been charged with one count of securities fraud and Petters with mail fraud, wire fraud, money-laundering and obstruction.

Rosen said he put his money at Agile because he'd already made a lot of money in the stock market and didn't want to lose his principal. "I wasn't looking for 40 percent returns," he said. "I believed that my principal was safe. And that's the greatest disappointment for me."

Agile had long boasted on its Web site: "We are vigilant at identifying and offsetting investment risks to provide multi-strategy portfolios designed to make money in all market conditions."

Among its clients was international recording artist Leonard Cohen, who sued the firm in 2005 claiming it was responsible for the alleged misappropriation of his funds by his manager. A judge dismissed the lawsuit last year. And Agile dropped a related defamation claim against Cohen.

Nobody involved with Agile is going to be singing Cohen's "Hallelujah." But Tancredo - who was never a fan of market regulation - sounded for a second like he might just consider changing his tune.

"We wish now that there was more regulation on some of the hedge fund activity," he told me.

But that was it. Because a free market also means the freedom to lose big.

"I don't think you want to kill the golden goose, which is a strong, vibrant free-enterprise economy," Tancredo said. "It still produces the most for the most. And you go through these cycles. Things happen. People are hurt. Certainly, I'm one of them. But in the total scheme of things, I'm still better off living in a free-enterprise economy than any other place in the world."

Al Lewis 201-938-5266 or al.lewis@dowjones.com