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Business: Insight into the craziness of Wall St in 1970s

LYING came easy to Sam Israel, the Conn-ecticut hedge-fund manager who faked suicide in 2008 to escape a 20-year prison sentence for running a $450m (€357m) Ponzi scheme.

Within two years of starting the Bayou hedge fund in 1996, Israel, trader Jimmy Marquez and chief financial officer Dan Marino began cooking the books to hide a 14pc loss.

Confessing would have driven investors to withdraw their money, depriving the trio of the chance to show the world that the fund's Forward Propagation strategy -- a crazy-quilt of technical-sounding palaver and marketing -- worked. Though of course, it didn't.

Author Guy Lawson tells two tales. One is a diligently researched, lively account of ambition gone bad. The other, is a story of the con artist himself getting scammed.

The first half of Lawson's book, which is peppered with extensive interviews with Israel and others, turns a lens on the fast and loose ways of Wall Street starting in the late 1970s.

Schemers abound

The financial world, we read in colourful, self-justifying anecdotes from Israel, is a scam. Schemers abound, brokers front-run, or trade ahead of, their clients' block orders and lying is the way to get by and get ahead.

Against that backdrop, treachery is a matter of degree. Israel is wily, power-hungry, purposeful.

"I was the swami," Israel told Lawson in one of many riveting reflections on his wayward role as a financial wizard. "I made the money. I made something out of nothing. I could turn perception into reality."

Israel believed his own shtick. He believed he could find a way to crawl out of the hole he'd dug for Bayou. Sure enough, salvation seemed to appear in the form of Robert Booth Nichols, a self-proclaimed ex-CIA agent with alleged ties to the Mafia, Hollywood and Ferdinand Marcos.

Nichols tells Israel that a cabal of insiders, nicknamed the Octopus, controls the global purse strings. No big surprise, but this includes a giant secret bond market the US Federal Reserve doesn't seem to know about.

Israel signs on for what turns into Sammy's Great Adventure.

The basic lesson: self-delusion is loyal servant to an ego with something to prove and a penchant for the easy way out.

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091-709350.

Nina Mehta

Indo Business