Tuesday, Jun. 9, 2009 - Sacramento Bee
Arvco Capital Research of Stateline, Nev., whose chairman, Alfred Villalobos, served on CalPERS' governing board in the 1990s, calls itself one of the world's top "placement agents" – and has been among the most successful at attracting investment business from the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
Placement agents – middlemen paid to open doors for private equity firms and other money managers – are at the center of a multistate investigation into public employee pension fund corruption.
A former employee of another placement agent firm – Wetherly Capital Group in Los Angeles, which has successfully represented clients before CalPERS and CalSTRS – has pleaded guilty to paying fees to a New York political operative who has been charged with selling access to his state's pension fund. Dozens of subpoenas have been issued by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and his California counterpart, Jerry Brown.
Five of CalPERS' seven investments with Arvco clients have lost money so far, according to staff reports, although experts say it's typical for private equity deals to do poorly in the early years. No performance data were available for two of the deals.
The records show CalPERS accepted fewer than 10 percent of the proposals made by private equity firms represented by placement agents.
Two placement agents stand out for their success rates on behalf of clients. Arvco scored on seven of eight investment pitches. Wetherly Capital won CalPERS' business six times out of ten.
Either way, Wetherly is among the best at placing CalPERS' business. Weinstein said his firm represents only the top private equity firms.
Villalobos' firm has bragged of its prowess as a placement agent. In a statement distributed for a green-technology investment conference that Arvco co-sponsored last summer in New Delhi, India, the firm described itself as "one of the five major private capital placement agents in the world" and said it had secured more than $16 billion since 1994.
Villalobos' dealings with CalPERS have generated controversy before.
After serving on CalPERS' board from 1993 to 1995, he approached the big pension fund in 1997 on behalf of Dallas private equity firm Hicks Muse Tate & Furst, The Bee reported at the time. Villalobos was able to lobby CalPERS legally because he'd left the pension fund more than a year earlier.
The board approved a $100 million investment with Hicks Muse. The vote was highly unusual because the board overruled its staff, which had concerns about the deal and recommended against the investment.
Three years later, the board turned down a $250 million investment pitched by Villalobos on behalf of CIM Group of Los Angeles because the deal hadn't yet been reviewed by CalPERS staff. Eventually, the staff recommended a $50 million investment and the board agreed.
In 1993 Villalobos resigned as Los Angeles' deputy mayor for economic development after the Los Angeles Times reported that he had suffered huge gambling losses and filed for personal bankruptcy in the 1980s.
Alfred Villalobos, a former deputy mayor to Mayor Richard Riordan, has listed his compound in a Woodland Hills gated community at $3.6 million.
Villalobos was five months into his job as chief deputy in charge of economic development in 1993 when he resigned, to spend more time with his children and grandchildren, he said at the time.He was the second of five deputy mayors to leave the Riordan administration.