In his swift climb up the Northern California financial media ladder, John Sakowicz didn’t just claim to have founded a multi-billion dollar offshore hedge fund. To hear Sakowicz tell it, he’s a man with impeccable Wall Street cred—a man who’s spent much of his life toiling in finance.
“I am a 30-year veteran of Wall Street,” he writes in his profile at SeekingAlpha.com, a financial web site. “I have cofounded a billion-dollar, unregistered, offshore hedge fund, and have worked for UBS, Dean Witter, Colonial Management Associates, Spear Leeds Kellogg, Merrill Lynch, and Alex Brown & Sons.”
He’s said that he’s worked as a trader on the floors of the New York Stock Exchange, the New York Mercantile Exchange and the Commodity Exchange, and he says he’s a general partner in an offshore investment advisory group called Templar Advisors. Since Sakowicz’s ascent began last year, his columns on the country’s plummeting economy have appeared in the North Bay Bohemian—as well as the Boho’s other Bay Area papers. He’s appeared on Al Jazeera and KPFA as a pundit. He started “The Truth About Money,” a bi-weekly radio show on KZYX. And he scored an endorsement from the Institute for Public Accuracy, the San Francisco organization that connects experts and journalists.
As with the multi-billion dollar hedge fund, there’s little evidence to support Sakowicz’s claims of being a veteran of the financial world.
Templar Advisors, for instance, is a new operation. Paperwork establishing the company as a limited liability corporation was filed earlier this month with the Secretary of State’s office. His talk show co-host and attorney Steven Schectman, a pot lawyer from Humboldt, is listed as Templar’s contact.
At UBS, a spokesman said Sakowicz was with the company from December 2004 to September 2007. His official title, said Kris Kagel, the spokesman, was “financial advisor trainee.”
“If you’re a financial advisor with no prior experience, that’s the training course,” Kagel said. “It’s for rookie financial advisors.” Kagel wouldn’t comment on Sakowicz’s departure from UBS. But in a conversation between Schectman and Gretchen Giles, editor of the Bohemian, Schectman told Giles that Sakowicz went on “medical leave” from UBS after the firm “retaliated against him for a medical condition,” Giles said.
Several of the other companies listed on Sakowicz’s résumé had no record of his employment—including Colonial Management Associates (which was acquired by Columbia Management, which is now a division of Bank of America), Spear Leeds Kellogg (which was acquired by Goldman Sachs), Dean Witter (which merged with Morgan Stanley), Merrill Lynch and Alex Brown, now a division of Deutsche Bank.
Stock exchange spokespersons said they have no record of Sakowicz working on their floors either. (Sakowicz’s employment at Dean Witter and Merrill Lynch could only be verified through The Work Number, a third-party service used to give HR information to potential employers. Those companies could not say how far back in time The Work Number goes. At the other companies, spokespersons checked Sakowicz’s employment history.)
Sakowicz referred all questions to Schectman, who declined to comment for this story.
In an article on the web site of Sakowicz’s alma mater—John’s Hopkins University—Sakowicz makes other work claims that can’t be verified. The story, published in 1997, reports that at the time Sakowicz was a gay activist and poet living in Colorado Springs. He had recently been awarded a grant from Pen Foundation International for writers with HIV or AIDS, the story says, and he had published work in “mainstream periodicals like the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly”—perhaps the two most prestigious magazines in American journalism—but that he was refocusing his attention on the gay press.
“I have a view that's not necessarily politically correct,” he’s quoted as saying at the time, “and that needs to be heard by my own kind.”
The Pen grant appears legitimate—his name is listed by the organization as a winner of a 1996 award—but neither the New Yorker nor the Atlantic have any record of Sakowicz’s byline, according to magazine spokespersons. Nor do they have any record of John “Sakowitz,” a byline he used when first publishing with the Bohemian several years ago.
The John Sakowicz of those first Bohemian stories is very different from the jubilant backslapper he resembles on KZYX: In an autobiographical piece published in 2001, he describes himself as a “dropout” and “loser,” as a “superaloof hippie guy living in the mountains with his dogs.” At the time, he wrote, he had been managing a campground for three years near Pike’s Peak in Colorado. When Sakowicz pitched his financial column to the Bohemian he never mentioned that he had previously written for the publication, Giles said.
These images of a gay poet activist-cum-hippy dropout are just two incarnations of a man who appears to have reinvented himself several times over the last three decades. Anyone who read his letter to the editor of this newspaper two weeks ago knows that, for a time, he was a Republican operative involved in a scandal that reached the highest levels of state office in Massachusetts; he also worked at the county jail in Ukiah before scoring the gig at KZYX.
It’s not clear how his incarnation as Mendo’s leading financial pundit will turn out. John Coate, the general manager of KZYX, has said he researched Sakowicz’s background and was satisfied with what he found. Giles says that Sakowicz—who freelances for the Bohemian—does not have any stories planned for the future.