American Consequences - August 2017

All day, people came through the studio rattling off finance acronyms, EBITDA this and GAAP that. Left spoke English.

I observed that most investigative journalists could not count DJ Khaled as a neighbor. “The difference between this and journalism is you can make millions of dollars,” he conceded. “But you can lose millions of dollars, too.” I met Left for the first time last May. After leaving my job as a fact-checker at a magazine – the pay was terrible, but the business cards said “Assistant Editor” – I was padding out my freelance income with some part-time work for finance types, editing letters and writing reports. The door creaked ajar into a totally different world. I started reading short-seller blogs at night, obsessed with the feeling that invisible forces controlling my life were flashing into visibility. That’s why my wife’s prescription cost $300 a month. That’s why the world was how it was. I wrote Left in April and asked if we could meet. In May, he sent a text: He had dirt on an online postage seller. Did I want to come to Los Angeles? When I found him at the airport, he was wearing distressed jeans and a golf shirt, barking into an iPhone. He had just flown back from a vacation in Florida. During the 45-minute drive to his house, Left, never hanging up, floated and discarded a variety of plans. They were: exposing a jewelry chain as a subprime lender in disguise; shorting a maybe-fraudulent media company in Canada; and withdrawing a million-dollar cashier’s check from his bank, made out to

a pharmaceutical company, to be offered as a donation to the charity of its choice if it could prove to him the efficacy of a drug for multiple sclerosis, still in trials, which Left had on authority from the “rabbi of M.S.” didn’t work. The man on the other end of the line was a hedge-fund manager, this one a very close associate of Left’s, at the center of his circle of sources. His relationship with Left was completely informal. His role was to trade ideas back and forth, sometimes shorting the companies they discussed. In exchange for sharing his insight and institutional muscle, Left’s source avoided the legal liability that came from going public with a position. (A short campaign based on faulty information leaves you open to accusations of market manipulation, something Left has never been charged with in the United States.) Left has a number of sources on Wall Street, and during the months I spent reporting on him, he took care to keep their names from me, lest he burn them.

76 | August 2017

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