Money gone? Peregrine CEO's receiver not so sure
* Insurance policies, U.S. and foreign real estate examined
* Jet aircraft may have a mortgage attached - receiver
* Former Peregrine customers have so far received no payouts
* Regulators say Wasendorf bilked customers of over $200 mln
By Ann Saphir
CHICAGO, July 24 (Reuters) - Russell Wasendorf Sr., the jailed founder of Peregrine Financial Group who confessed to stealing more than $100 million from customers, may not be telling the whole truth about where the money went, his court-appointed receiver said on Tuesday.
The brokerage filed for bankruptcy protection in Chicago on July 10, and Wasendorf was arrested three days later for lying to regulators. With his assets frozen, the chief executive will rely on a public defender at his next appearance in criminal court, scheduled for Friday.
In a signed statement left at the scene of his attempted suicide on July 9, Wasendorf said he spent "most" of the embezzled funds on keeping his money-losing brokerage in business, a "portion" on building a new office building in Cedar Falls, and some also on paying fines and fees imposed by regulators.
But Michael Eidelman, the receiver in the bankruptcy case charged with tracking down and selling Wasendorf's assets at the best possible price, believes that at least some of the money is tied up in property that can be sold to raise money for bilked customers.
"He's made some public statements that the money is no longer there," Eidelman told Reuters. "I don't take that statement at face value. We believe the money was used for other purposes."
That may be good news for customers of the failed brokerage, who so far have not gotten back any of the money they had on deposit at Peregrine to back their trades.
Any assets that Eidelman tracks down and sells will eventually be used to help repay customers, who regulators estimate are out more than $200 million.
So far, though, it is "premature" to predict how much it will all be worth, Eidelman said, adding that he plans to file papers with the bankruptcy court in coming weeks outlining his plans for selling the assets to obtain "the highest and best value."
The sale of some of the property, like the condominium on the 55th floor of a lakefront high rise in Chicago that Wasendorf bought in 2003 for $1.2 million, will clearly fetch good money.
The value of other assets, like the jet plane that flew Wasendorf and his fiancée to a hastily arranged Las Vegas marriage two weeks before Wasendorf's attempted suicide, is less obvious.
The plane, which the receiver said is valued at between $3.5 million and $7 million, may have a $4 million mortgage on it as well, he said.
Other property includes a home in Cedar Falls and the corporate headquarters, built for $18 million. Wasendorf also had at least two cars, the makes and models of which the receiver declined to disclose.
Also under investigation are properties Wasendorf used to own, including an apartment on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, now occupied by Wasendorf's former chief financial officer, and a home in Florida that is now owned by other members of the family.
If properties were "inappropriately transferred," Eidelman said, they could become the target of a lawsuit to bring them back to the bankruptcy estate, the receiver said.
So far, he said, there is no evidence of such a situation, although his investigation is still in its preliminary stage.
The receiver is already talking with potential buyers about Wasendorf's large wine collection, which was kept at his homes in Iowa and Chicago as well as at Wasendorf's shuttered restaurant in downtown Cedar Falls, named MyVerona.
There has also been an "expression of interest" in buying the restaurant, Eidelman said.
Other assets that have turned up include life insurance policies and property in Europe. Wasendorf is part-owner of a firm that invests in Romanian real estate.
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