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'Among the Biggest Grifters in American History': Wilbur Ross Accused of Stealing More Than $120 Million

"Wilbur Ross is a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat with no interest in anyone but himself. He has shady ties to Russia and China, serious business conflicts, and a history of cheating people out of their homes."

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross listens during a meeting of the National Space Council at the East Room of the White House June 18, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As the flagrant and often downright bizarre corruption of so many current and former Trump administration officials has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, White House Commerce Secretary and mega-millionaire Wilbur Ross's long history of crooked profiteering has frequently slipped under the radar.

"This disturbing article on Wilbur Ross makes it more believable that he is the type of person who would engage in insider trading."
—Rep. Ted Lieu

But a deeply reported investigation published by Forbes on Tuesday—which includes the testimony of more than 20 people who previously worked with Ross in the private sector—alleges that Trump's commerce secretary could "rank among the biggest grifters in American history."

The allegations of Ross's former business associates reach far beyond the ultra-wealthy investor's alleged penchant for stealing "handfuls of Sweet'N Low packets" from restaurants and making fake pledges to charity.

"Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually," Forbes notes. "But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million."

According to David Storper, a private equity manager who worked alongside Ross at the firm WL Ross & Co, claims that Ross "stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork."

Responding to the Forbes investigation on Twitter, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called Ross "a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat with no interest in anyone but himself. He has shady ties to Russia and China, serious business conflicts, and a history of cheating people out of their homes."

Forbes goes on to detail how Ross has been sued repeatedly by his former associates and employees, including Storper, for what effectively amounts to blatant thievery.

"Ross now faces a lineup of allegations from his former colleagues, who say he robbed them of money," Forbes notes. "Such accusations are nothing new for Ross. In 2005, former WL Ross vice chairman Peter Lusk sued the future commerce secretary for $20 million, ultimately alleging that he had tried to cut him out of his interests... Three years ago, Storper launched what became a $4 million lawsuit against both his former employer, WL Ross, and former boss, the commerce secretary, alleging that Ross stole his interests."

While Ross—who is reportedly worth around $700 million—insists that his former business partners simply have a personal "vendetta" against him, Forbes notes that the "the number of similar complaints against Ross" make this claim highly implausible.

"Storper and two other former high-ranking executives at WL Ross filed yet another lawsuit against the commerce secretary in November, alleging that he and his firm charged at least $48 million of improper fees, then pocketed the money," Forbes reports. "It was a slow siphoning rather than a one-time heist, according to the lawsuit."

Ross's corruption and disdain for the truth hardly stopped when he began working in the White House.

"On November 1, 2017, Ross signed a sworn document, attesting that he had divested all the assets he promised he would. That was not true. The commerce secretary in fact still owned somewhere between $10 and $50 million worth of stock in WL Ross's parent company, Invesco," Forbes notes. "Ross sold his shares a month later, banking at least $1.2 million more than he would have if he sold in May, when he initially promised to divest."

Amid accusations that he lied to federal officials about his investments, spokespeople for Ross—who Trump once hailed as a "legendary Wall Street genius"—claimed he didn't realize he owned the stock in Invesco.

As Common Dreams reported, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint in June calling on the Justice Department to investigate whether Ross is guilty of insider trading.

"This disturbing article on Wilbur Ross makes it more believable that he is the type of person who would engage in insider trading," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wrote of the Forbes story.

As journalist Paul Gottinger noted in response to Forbes's reporting, the fact that Ross will likely never be held to account for his actions throws into sharp relief America's two-tiered justice system, which lets the crimes of the rich slide while hitting the poor and vulnerable with draconian punishments for misdeeds that pale in comparison to those committed by elites.

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