Businessman pleads guilty in NY pension probe

A Los Angeles businessman secretly pleaded guilty to securities fraud two months ago in connection with an investigation of corruption at New York's public pension fund, authorities revealed Tuesday.

Julio Ramirez, a former agent for the Wetherly Capital Group, is the sixth person charged and the second to plead guilty in a probe of alleged kickbacks and influence peddling at the fund during the tenure of former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

New York's attorney general said Ramirez was one of a number of people seeking pension fund investments who sealed the deal by making huge payments to one of Hevesi's top political aides.

Two investment firms that had hired Wetherly to drum up business ultimately received $50 million each from the retirement fund after Ramirez agreed to share the profits from the deals with the aide, Hank Morris.

Wetherly made $630,000 in fees on the investment. Morris took home $250,000, according to prosecutors.

"This investigation has uncovered a matrix of corruption," Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. He added that Ramirez was never licensed as a broker.

Ramirez entered his guilty plea in a New York City courtroom on March 5, but the case remained sealed until Monday.

His lawyer did not immediately return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.

In the months since Ramirez's secret plea, Morris and another Hevesi aide, David Loglisci, have been indicted on charges that they schemed to extract millions of dollars in payments from companies seeking investments from the $150 billion fund.

Investigators said some of that money was used to reward Hevesi's political allies, including the former head of New York's defunct Labor Party, Raymond Harding, who was also charged in the case. Saul Meyer, of Dallas-based Aldus Equity Partners, has also been charged with helping his firm get a $175 million investment by paying $300,000 to Morris.

Harding, Morris, Loglisci and Meyer have all said they did nothing wrong. A hedge fund executive and classical music entrepreneur, Barrett Wissman, pleaded guilty in March to helping Hevesi aides collect payments in connection with pension fund deals.

In recent weeks the probe has expanded into several other states where Wetherly and Aldus lobbied government funds for investments, including New Mexico and California.

A spokesman for Wetherly said the company is cooperating in the investigation and had done nothing wrong.

Ramirez hadn't worked for the firm since 2005, when he joined the Park Hill Group. Like Wetherly, Park Hill also solicits business for investment firms. It hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing in the case.

The Blackstone Group, which now owns Park Hill, said Ramirez voluntarily left the company in March, saying he wanted to start his own business.

"We found not a shred of evidence that he violated any standard of conduct," said firm spokesman Peter Rose.