Pay-To-Play Hedgie Living The Good Life After Plea Deal

Sep 23 2009 | 2:46am ET

Crime may not pay, but cooperating with the authorities seems to be working out just fine for Barrett Wissman.

A key witness in the upcoming trials stemming from the pay-to-play scandal at New York’s public pension fund, Wissman has already pleaded guilty to securities fraud. But while prosecutors muster their case against the power brokers they say shook down investment firms seeking business with the New York State Common Retirement Fund, Wissman was sitting down to dinner with Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins.

Wissman spent his enforced summer vacation—he’s resigned from both IMG Artists, which he formerly chaired, and HFV Asset Management, the Dallas hedge fund he worked for—in Italy, drinking fine wine and eating fine foods at a wine-and-music festival he helped found, The Wall Street Journal reports. While in Cortona, he tasted cheese, took tai chi classes, enjoyed violin performances and sat down for an interview with Hopkins. He even made it into an article on the online version of Wine Spectator magazine, praising a 2004 Fattoria Petrolo Toscana Galatrona merlot.

Some warn that Wissman’s jet-setting—despite his agreement to pay $12 million in fines—could be ample fodder for the defense attorneys of the five men set to stand trial in the pay-to-play case. But despite the luxurious trip, Wissman’s lawyer says his client leads a relatively simple life. In fact, William Brewer says his client’s status as a patron of the arts will only boost his standing in front of a jury.

“I can't imagine that Barrett's role as principal of a New York-based international arts agency has any bearing on his credibility other than to enhance it,” Brewer told the Journal. “Since the time he began cooperating with the AG's office, Barrett's international travel has been for business on behalf of the clients of IMG Artists, and on behalf of the work that he and hundreds of others do to promote and advance the arts.”

Besides, Wissman didn’t know that the festival would ply him with Chianina beef and fine mozzarella cheese.

“He thought he was going to be having a hamburger,” Brewer averred.

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