Obama Ex-Car Czar Will Pay $10M for Pay-to-Play Scandal

Is Steven Rattner getting off easy?

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Just ahead of New Years Eve (and before he's headed to the governor's mansion), New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo settled his pay-to-play suit with former "car czar" Steven Rattner. Rattner was accused of bribing a member of New York's state comptroller in exchange for the state pension fund doing business with Rattner's private equity firm, Quadrangle Group. One of those kickbacks allegedly won Quadrangle a $150 million pension fund investment. Under the terms of the announced settlement, Cuomo will pay $10 million to the state of New York, quite a bit less than the $26 million Cuomo sought.

"I am gratified that we have been able to reach an agreement in this case, as it resolves the last major action of our multi-year investigation," Cuomo said. Rattner did not admit to any wrongdoing. He said, merely, "I apologize if during the course of this process there is anything I did that may have made reaching this agreement more difficult."

Did Rattner get off easy? Who comes away looking the best?

  • Here's How This All Started, writes Peter Lattman at The New York Times:

The dispute between the two men began several years ago, when the attorney general’s office began examining how investment firms won business from the pension fund and whether they had improper dealings with officials. Mr. Rattner’s former private equity firm, Quadrangle Group, reached a settlement earlier in the year, admitting to paying Hank Morris, a top adviser to a former New York State comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, for his help in securing investments from the New York pension fund.

  • Suit 'Famously Nasty,' writes Nathan Koppel at The Wall Street Journal, pointing out that a Cuomo spokesman said Rattner "'effectively stole from the taxpayers, defrauded the state pension fund and then lied to this office about it.' Rattner, in turn, has publicly likened Cuomo's conduct in the case to 'extortion.'"
  • Looks Like Rattner Got the Better Deal, writes Courtney Comstock at Business Insider: "That's a vastly better outcome for Rattner than Cuomo was hoping for: $26 million and a lifetime ban ... Cuomo compromised on both. Instead of a lifetime ban, Rattner will be 'banned from appearing in any capacity before any public pension fund in New York for five years.'"
  • I Agree, adds Dan Primack at Fortune: "Not only did Rattner get off relatively cheaply--and never face possible criminal charges--but he even got a bit of a PR boon by settling on a day when half of the world is on vacation (or still stuck at an airport, as the case may be)."
  • Still, Cuomo's Suit Has Been a Success, writes Tom Robbins at The Village Voice:

Cuomo's far-reaching pension fund probe resulted in guilty pleas for eight people, including former state and city comptroller Alan Hevesi, and his political guru, Hank Morris. A total of $170 million was collected in restitution and fines from nineteen major investment firms and five individuals.

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