Weiss, Gary 1954–
Weiss, Gary 1954–
(Gary R. Weiss)
Home and office—New York, NY. Agent—Morton L. Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit Associates, 445 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022.
Writer, journalist. Barron's, New York, NY, staff writer, 1984-86; Business Week, New York, senior writer and investigative reporter, 1986—. Worked as a staff reporter for the Hartford Courant, Hartford, CT, and for news services in Washington, DC. Lecturer and speaker on corporate America and Wall Street; founding member of Project Klebnikov, 2005—.
Authors Guild, Author's League, Investigative Reporters and Editors.
Numerous awards for articles in Business Week.
Born to Steal: When the Mafia Hit Wall Street, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Wall Street versus America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments, Portfolio (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Parade, Condé Nast Portfolio, New York Times, and Salon. Author of "Muckracker" column for Forbes.com.
Gary Weiss is an investigative journalist who has received considerable acclaim for his articles in Business Week examining the seamier side of Wall Street. His first book, Born to Steal: When the Mafia Hit Wall Street, drew praise for its finely honed, often humorous, portrayal of Louis Pasciuto, a stock swindler who "started out as a greedy, amoral kid working in a gas station, caught the eye of a Wall Street crook, made several fortunes before the age of twenty-five, and wound up broke, broken, and looking over his shoulder every minute for the mobsters who could blow him away with one phone call," wrote Les Roberts in the Washington Post.
With the bull market in full stampede in the late 1980s, there were opportunities for the criminally minded. Pasciuto's rise coincided with "the essentially lawless, virtually unregulated turf of easily manipulated penny stocks, boiler-room investment firms, and ‘pump and dump’ broker strategies" that flourished during the 1990s on Wall Street, commented Robert Trigaux in the St. Petersburg Times. Pasciuto was recruited by mobsters to "push stocks to unsuspecting buyers," Weiss explains, "because he lacked any moral compunction about stealing" from either rich or poor, noted William J. Holstein in the New York Times.
Pasciuto pursued his criminal trade through "chop houses" that are registered with regulators and appear legitimate, but that routinely overinflate or outright lie about stock prices. His criminal activities brought him hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, and he lived an extravagant lifestyle fueled by abundant wealth. His winning streak was broken when he fell under the influence of Charles Riccotone, a gangster who turned Pasciuto from victimizer to victim, routinely extorting huge sums of money from him and dealing out abundant physical and mental abuse. Finally, arrested and indicted for securities fraud, out of fear for his own safety and for that of his wife and child, Pasciuto pleaded guilty, cooperated with authorities, and became an informant. In a special afterword to the book's paperback edition, Weiss describes the aftermath, as federal prosecutors, angered that Pasciuto had told his story to Weiss, had the informant jailed with some of the individuals he had uncovered.
The series of Business Week articles that formed the basis for Weiss's book earned praise from former FBI director Louis J. Freeh, who wrote in a letter to Business Week that "Weiss has done our nation an invaluable service by reporting the manipulation of the stock market by elements of organized crime." New York Times contributor Edward Wyatt dubbed Born to Steal "riveting, captivating, juicy and fast-paced," and said that "watching Pasciuto's story unfold is like a train wreck. It is ghastly yet impossible to turn away."
A Kirkus Reviews critic observed that "the cautionary saga of gangsters on Wall Street, told with insight and great wit, grips as tightly as a loan shark." Booklist reviewer Mary Whaley remarked: "This description of the Mafia's infiltration of Wall Street is a tale of thievery in the 1990s on a scale never before seen." Born to Steal "reflects deep knowledge about how Wall Street works," commented Holstein in his New York Times review. "Yet it is written in an almost novelistic style that will allow even financial know-nothings to understand what happened—and may still be happening in one form or another."
Weiss told CA: "My earliest literary hero was William Shirer, author of Berlin Diary and Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Character and integrity shined through all his writings, and of course his later career, fighting the blacklist and corporate timidity, required sheer guts in the face of adversity. His life and work were definitely an inspiration as I stumbled through journalism jobs of varying quality and ultimately found my way as a writer.
"Writing about the mafia turned out to be a different experience than I expected. It was less violent and more manipulative, stupider but at the same time more cunning than had been portrayed in both fictional and nonfictional depictions. I think part of the problem was the media's focus on John Gotti, who drew attention away from gangsters who posed a much greater danger to society. Gotti appealed to the media because he was flashy and good copy, but mobsters who avoided the limelight were the ones who were really raking in the bucks. I found that the mob had been running stocks for years, pretty much openly, but nobody knew or cared, maybe because Gotti wasn't doing it. One high-ranking wiseguy even had a string of little publicly traded shell companies, which he owned under his own name.
"Lou Pasciuto materialized at an opportune time, as I wanted to write a book that would tell the story of the mob and Wall Street through one of the players. Thankfully, he turned out to be a perfect subject, as he had an extraordinary memory and was also totally uninhibited. You have no idea how defensive mobsters and crooked brokers usually are when you ask them even the most basic questions, but here was a guy who had it all and lost everything, and didn't mind admitting how rotten he had been and even how he had been humiliated and beaten up.
"In writing Born to Steal I found myself creating kind of a new lexicon. I found that the term ‘wiseguy’ had morphed into ‘Guy’ with a capital ‘G.’ It hasn't found its way into the dictionaries yet, but I am hopeful. Pasciuto was a vivid storyteller, so at times I stepped out of the way and ‘turned over the microphone’ to him. But for the most part I told the story as a narrative from the protagonist's point of view. It was impossible to keep a ‘straight face’ when confronted with such a twisted persona, so I think irony would have crept into the story even if I hadn't encouraged it a little. At times I found myself thinking back to Donald Barthelme's short stories. Pasciuto's actions, thoughts, and general worldview were that surreal."
According to Weiss, journalistic scrutiny of corporate America is in a "serious tort crisis" because of a proliferation of meritless libel suits that discouraged critical reporting to the detriment of both the public and law-abiding businesses. He has been critical of what he describes as the laziness and timidity of the media, particularly where Wall Street, its regulators, and corporate America are concerned. "Some people say that business journalism is to journalism as elevator music is to music," he told CA, "but I think that's an unfair knock on elevator music. For years we gave the corporate crooks a free ride, and now we're only just starting to make up for years of neglect. Fortunately there are a few publications and publishing houses that are still home to the dying art of financial investigative journalism."
In Wall Street versus America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments, Weiss skewers traditional players who he claims mismanage the investments of trusting clients. He comments that the rules favor brokers, not investors, and that investors do not spend sufficient time researching products and managers. Small investors become prey to high fees and poor advice in an industry in which kickbacks and inflated values are common. Weiss has little positive to say about the New York Stock Exchange or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), supposedly the watchdog of the industry. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that his "savaging of oft-lionized ex-SEC chair Arthur Levitt is particularly vicious and funny." The book is written for the general reader and, as Janet Maslin noted in the New York Times Book Review, business analysts are aware of the situations about which he writes. Weiss suggests that the investor put his money into an unmanaged index fund, since these vehicles beat the results attained by about half of fund managers. Maslin wrote: "Wall Street versus America may be pieced together from separately reported stories. But it all moves seamlessly, thanks to the consistent malice and sarcasm with which the author makes his points." Writing in the New York Law Journal, Jacob H. Zamansky concluded: "Weiss provides a timely eye-opener as to why investors swim at their own risk. The sharks are still in the water and the lifeguards are asleep at their posts. Investors contemplating a return to the stock market do so at their own peril."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Barron's, July 7, 2003, Bill Alpert, review of Born to Steal: When the Mafia Hit Wall Street, p. 24.
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Mary Whaley, review of Born to Steal, p. 1361; April 15, 2006, David Siegfried, review of Wall Street versus America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments, p 12.
Business Week, December 25, 2000, Louis J. Freeh, "Thanks from the FBI," p. 20.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Born to Steal, p. 373.
New York Law Journal, May 10, 2006, Jacob H. Zamansky, review of Wall Street versus America.
New York Times, April 6, 2003, Edward Wyatt, review of Born to Steal, section 3, p. 16; May 25, 2003, William J. Holstein, review of Born to Steal.
New York Times Book Review, April 3, 2006, Janet Maslin, review of Wall Street versus America.
Publishers Weekly, January 30, 2006, review of Wall Street versus America, p. 52.
Washington Post, July 6, 2003, Les Roberts, review of Born to Steal, p. T10.
Forbes Online,http://www.forbesinc.com/ (August 21, 2006), David Whelan, "Author Q & A: Weiss vs. Wall Street," interview; (May 22, 2008), profile.
Gary Weiss Home Page,http://www.gary-weiss.com (May 22, 2008).