Paolo Pellegrini has a nose for trouble. He saw it in rising housing prices in early 2006, when he cranked through decades of home price data and concluded the bubble was poised to burst. Pellegrini then helped engineer a massive bet against subprime mortgages that catapulted Paulson & Co. hedge funds to 2007 gains of as much as 590 percent -- and firmwide profits of more than $3.5 billion.

Pellegrini, 52, pocketed tens of millions of dollars, allowing him to buy a couple of what he laughingly calls "entry- level supercars": a silver Ferrari F430 with a base price of $168,000 and a black $109,000 Audi R8.

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