Forbes is reporting that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross quietly settled a lawsuit with a former business partner just days before that case would have reached court. The subject of that lawsuit: Ross stealing millions from his erstwhile partner. But while investigating this suit, Forbes uncovered a much larger story: Wilbur Ross is a serial liar who accumulated much of his enormous wealth in the most direct way possible. He stole it.
According to the suit from equity manager David Storper, while the two were working together at Ross’ investment firm, Ross simply took funds belonging to Storper and transferred them to his own account. That’s not subtle. It’s not complicated. It’s not the kind of difficult-to-follow financial maneuvering likely to leave a jury scratching its collective head. It’s just plain old, garden-variety, straight-up theft. Which seems to be why Ross was anxious to quietly settle the case rather than let it reach trial.
But as Forbes reporters looked into this, they made a much bigger discovery—bigger in the “tip of the iceberg” sense. As in this kind of behavior seems to have been a common occurrence for Ross. As in Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, may just be the single biggest grifter in the nation’s history.
Forbes turned up a staggering 21 different people who reported occurrences similar to that of Storper. Each of them was taken for $1 million or more. In total, just the victims that Forbes found in their research had been taken by Ross to the tune of $120 million.
These aren’t merely clients who were talked into a bad investment, though Ross has plenty of those. Or partners in Ross’ shady Cyprus bank who were victimized by the scanty protections offered by said bank, though there are also plenty of those. These are people who considered themselves associates and partners of Wilbur Ross, only to find him cleaning them out to enrich himself.
Those who’ve done business with Ross generally tell a consistent story, of a man obsessed with money and untethered to facts. “He’ll push the edge of truthfulness and use whatever power he has to grab assets,” says New York financier Asher Edelman. One of Ross’ former colleagues is more direct: “He’s a pathological liar.”
Which makes it easy to see why he was the first choice of Donald Trump.
Like Trump, Ross also apparently lied—frequently and on an enormous scale—about his personal wealth. He appeared frequently on the Forbes list as having a net worth in the billions, which seems to have been a complete fantasy. Ross’ wealth may have been as high as $700 million, but even that may represent a large inflation of the true figure … and includes more than $120 million in money that, rightly, belongs to others.
Such machinations now seem pathetic. But his billionaire status was not lost on another person obsessed with his net worth. Donald Trump termed Ross a “legendary Wall Street genius” and named him to his cabinet. “In these particular positions,” Trump explained to a crowd of supporters, “I just don’t want a poor person.”
Not only is Ross like Trump in loving to inflate his wealth and ripping off his partners, he has a fondness for Russian funds illegally being funneled into the United States. Ross was one of the co-founders of the Bank of Cyprus, which despite the name existed as little more than a mail drop for most of its life. A mail drop … and a place where oligarch dollars leaving former Soviet Republics could get a quick whitewash courtesy of an instant LLC and an account at Ross’ bank before heading for real estate “purchases” in the United States.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, the guy who gave Trump $100 million to supposedly buy a $40 million property in Florida, was Wilbur Ross’ partner at The Bank of Cyprus.
Ross’ bank was also very handy for Trump campaign chair, and current guest of the court, Paul Manafort. Manafort used Ross’ bank for much of the funds that were funneled into his accounts from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska under the pretense that he was giving Manafort a “loan.”
And, as Forbes points out, if Ross was there for Trump and his friends, Trump came through for Ross when he needed it. Trump’s offer of the Commerce Secretary role came at a time when “genius” Ross had created a private equity fund that was actually managing to lose huge amounts of money in a rising market. His clients were in revolt, law suits were in the works, and Ross was already paying off massive fines for skimming from investors. Ross was actually funding his equity firm not through any earnings on his funds, but by the money he was taking from his investors. His firm was drubbing investors to the tune of $60 million a year—and that’s not the $120 million Ross owed elsewhere.
When it’s all put together, it’s hard to be sure that Wilbur Ross ever earned an honest dollar in his long, dishonest life.
Oh, and Think Progress has one more reason why Trump and Ross are so sympatico.
[Ross] once promised to donate $1 million to charity without following through.
Calling Wilbur Ross a “grifter” makes it seem tricky—as if he was engaged in some updated version of The Sting, with appropriate ragtime music as he lifted dollars from scoundrels. But the truth is Wilbur Ross is simply a crook. He’s a thief and liar who has stolen his way to wealth over the course of decades.