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Wissman a high-living witness in a high-profile trial

By A. James Memmott

September 21, 2009 at 9:01am

A guilty plea to security fraud and a $12 million fine haven’t kept Barrett N. Wissman, a Dallas hedge-fund manager, from traveling to Italy, enjoying a fine Merlot and hobnobbing with celebrities.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Wissman’s lifestyle hasn’t changed all that much since he pleaded guilty in April and agreed to be a cooperating witness in an upcoming high-profile trial.

Wissman, the former managing director of HFV Asset Management LP, is expected to testify against two men charged along with him. The case involves the alleged shakedown of millions of dollars from investment firms to gain access to the New York State pension fund.

According to the original Securities and Exchange Commission complaint, Wissman paid a kickback so that HFV could manage money invested in the fund.

In addition, Andrew Cuomo, the New York state attorney general, charged Wissman with receiving $12 million in “finders fees” from other firms so they could manage fund money.

He reportedly did little work for these fees. Wissman has agreed to pay the money back over a period of three years.

Carlyle Group LLC, the private equity firm founded by Steven Rattner, the Obama administration’s former auto czar, is reportedly one of the firms that paid fees to have access to the fund.

Wissman, who has not been sentenced for his involvement, is not expected to go to prison because of his cooperation in the case, the Journal reports. Authorities have allowed him to travel abroad as long as he alerts them beforehand.

Until he stepped down in June, Wissman was chairman of IMG Artists. He continues to own the firm that represents many classical musicians and conductors. Violinist Itzhak Perlman, soprano Renee Fleming and conductor Andre Previn are among IMG’s clients.

In 2003, Wissman, who is a classically trained pianist, co-founded the Tuscan Sun Festival in Cortona, Italy, along with his wife, cellist Nina Kotova, and Frances Mayes, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun. The festival features concerts and other events.

Wissman attended the festival this August. His legal troubles did not put a damper on his time in the small city, where he has celebrity status, the Journal reported.

The festival featured actor and painter Anthony Hopkins and performances by violinist Joshua Bell and other IMG clients.

According to the online edition of The Wine Spectator, Wissman enjoyed a dinner in Italy hosted by James Suckling, the magazine’s European bureau chief.

Suckling gave the details of the menu - “simple and yummy food” - and noted that Wissman particularly enjoyed one of the wines, a 2004 Fattoria Petrolo Toscana Galatrona. “He had never had such a fine Merlot before,” Suckling wrote.

The Journal speculated that defense attorneys in the upcoming trial might point to Wissman’s time at the festival as proof that he is an “an unremorseful jet-setter.”

Wissman’s lawyer said the activities were related to business and would enhance his client’s credibility.

Wissman is expected to testify against Henry “Hank” Morris and David Loglisci, defendants in the pension fund case.

Morris was a political adviser to Allen G. Hevisi when Hevisi was New York’s comptroller and had authority over the pension fund. Loglisci was the chief investment officer of the fund.

Morris and Loglisci are also charged with coercing investments in the low-budget film Chooch from firms seeking access to the pension funds.

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