Today's Papers

An Initial Public Offer You Can’t Refuse

USA Today leads with the FBI’s arrest of some 120 people in connection with an alleged five-year organized crime conspiracy on Wall Street (involving all New York’s crime families) that mostly preyed on elderly investors, defrauding them of $50 million. The arrested include, says the paper, 11 New York City Mafia members and a retired NYPD detective. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times go instead with the end-of-summit agreement reached by the presidents of North and South Korea that accepts the broad goal of reconciliation and eventual reunification and includes more specific plans for exchange visits by members of divided families and for more cultural exchanges between the two countries. The Washington Post off-leads Koreastock but leads with the FCC’s reported approval, perhaps to be made official today, of the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, creating the largest local telephone company in the country.

The coverage of the Wall Street busts explains that there were a number of different schemes involved, mostly involving getting innocent investors to buy shares of thinly traded small capitalization stocks that the scammers already owned, thus boosting the price so that they could be dumped suddenly at great profit. The new elements were the use of apparently legit investment companies that were in fact wholly involved in the schemes; the use of bribery, threats, and beatings to keep brokers at work pumping the stocks to selected clients; focusing the scheme on Internet stocks; and using e-mail alerts to create phony excitement in targeted stocks. Also, plans–never realized–included fueling the scheme with money siphoned off from a NYPD retired detectives pension fund. And indeed the head of that fund, a retired NYPD detective, was among those arrested. After reading about all this, it’s a bit hard to believe the LAT when it writes that “Despite the scope of the case, prosecutors said it doesn’t imply that the mob is making major inroads on Wall Street.” But it is also the LAT that notes the scam bears a strong resemblance to a stock “boiler room” story line featured in several episodes in this year’s run of The Sopranos.

The NYT coverage of the Korea accord is the most fully given over to its evident good vibes, stressing how the meetings helped North Korea’s Kim Jong-il emerge as less threatening and even charming, especially reassuring news to the South Koreans who followed the events closely. The LAT, however, notes that the agreement does not include provisions to reduce the countries’ military maneuvers, nor does it address North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, its development and sales of advanced cruise missiles to other countries, or its demand that the U.S. withdraw its 37,000 troops from South Korea. And the WP notes high up that earlier similar agreements signed by the two Koreas have generally failed to stick.

The LAT fronts, and everybody else stuffs, yesterday’s arrest in Florida of a retired Army Reserve colonel for spying for the Soviet Union and Russia for 25 years while working as a civilian official at a U.S. military intelligence unit in Germany that interrogated defectors and refugees. He is, notes the coverage, the highest-ranking officer ever so charged. The indictment says the man, the son of Russian emigrés, was recruited into the KGB by a childhood friend who became a high-level Russian Orthodox archbishop.

The WP, the LAT, and USAT front the House’s passage of a bill giving electronic signatures the full force of law. How exactly the signatures will be made is still under development, but the Senate and President Clinton are expected to likewise approve, making them a reality in October. Not covered by the new law are wills, court orders, and cancellation notices for utilities and insurance.

USAT’s front-page “cover story” tries to account for some of the signature political traits of George W. Bush and Al Gore via the careers of their politician dads. George W., for instance, writes reporter Susan Page, sticks with a trio of intensely loyal aides, despite criticism, because he was outraged by what he perceived as staff disloyalty during his father’s last campaign. And Al Gore has an attack streak in contrast to the above-the-fray style his father stuck with as he went down to defeat in his last Senate race.

The WP fronts the latest financial disclosure forms for the Senate. The forms clearly indicate, says the paper, that the investment patterns of senators are reflective of larger national trends, with many of their portfolios having taken a turn toward high-tech stocks. And some even seem to have practically become day-traders: The paper reports that New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli made 112 stock trades last year, some on a one-day turnaround. The Wall Street Journal adds, in its report on the forms, that some of Torricelli’s holding periods were in fact measured in hours. Perhaps the only detail more surprising than that is that Orrin Hatch received a $500 song royalty from MTV.