January 18, 2012
James Ashe, Partner-in-Charge, Advisory Services, Featured in Long Island Business News Article "Modern-Day Sherlock Holmes"
By Bernadette Starzee
James T. Ashe’s encounter with Hollywood as a numbers crunching gumshoe started out with a big heist and ended with the suspect taking the big sleep.
Partner-in-charge of the advisory services group at Marcum LLP in Melville, Ashe caught the case several years ago when the firm was retained by the co-op board of 200 E. 74th Street in Manhattan. The board had an idea the co-op’s treasurer, Andrew Kissel, was stealing with both hands. Ashe’s team discovered a fictitious entity with a similar name to the co-op had been set up and a brokerage account was wiring money to the phony account. It wasn’t chicken feed. The accountants’ discovery that $3.9 million had been stolen led to criminal charges against Kissel, who later moved to Connecticut and was found murdered in his basement. A movie about the case was made, but it was slightly off the mark.
For example, when the economy went south, more Ponzi schemes were uncovered. “These schemes thrive in a strong economy, because, by their inherent definition, they take in new money to pay for bad sins,” Ashe said. “Starting around (the third quarter of 2008), when Ponzi schemes couldn’t get new money, they started to unravel.”
But no matter the economy, fraud happens whenever there is money and opportunity to steal it. “When no one is watching, you’re going to have theft,” Ashe said. In another example, similar to the co-op crook, of opportunity breeding theft, Ashe was called in to track down money that had disappeared in a guardianship case. A Massachusetts school teacher had amassed a $15 million stock portfolio.
“He was the best investor I have ever seen,” Ashe said. The man, who was predeceased by his wife, was not close to his two children. In his will, he left $2 million in real estate to the children and the $15 million stock portfolio to a foundation benefiting education. However, the man became incapacitated, and his daughter was given power of attorney to look after his assets. “In a period of about six months, she and her brother spent about $3 million, which she was supposed to be preserving, not spending,” Ashe said.
Many divorce cases that started at the height of the market ran into roadblocks that led to further investigation. “A primary residence and retirement accounts that may have been worth $1 million to $1.5 million dwindled to $500,000 to $1 million, and cases that were on their way to a reasonable settlement suddenly got more difficult,” Ashe said. In one case, the wife was going to get the primary residence and some investments, while the husband would keep his Merrill Lynch stocks. “But then Merrill Lynch stocks almost disappeared off the globe in late 2008, and the case became more complicated,” Ashe said.