I knew Wall Street trader John Mulheren, in 1988, when Mulheren was being prosecuted for allegedly trying to kill Ivan Boesky .In the wild financial days of the 1980’s there were a lot of flamboyant characters on Wall Street. However, none was more interesting or more fun than John Mulheren. He was brilliant, athletic and personable, and made as much as $25 million in 1986.
He also thought Wall Street should be fun. He like to say that trading stocks was so simple that even a chimpanzee could do it. He proved his point one day by taking a chimpanzee dressed in a suit and tie and letting it run loose on the Floor on the New York Stock exchange. (There was a slight nod to this in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street where at one point Leonardo DiCaprio is briefly shown carrying a chimp in a suit.)
Then in 1988 it all came crashing down. Ivan Boesky who had been a friend and mentor of John’s was arrested for insider trading. In return for a lighter sentence, Boesky cooperated with the the government and named people who were also involved in insider trading. John felt sorry for Ivan, until one day John was at home listening to the news and heard the newscaster say that “John Mulheren” was one of the people Boesky named.
John went berserk. He rummaged through the house looking for his gun. His wife asked him what he was doing and he he told her he was going to go kill Ivan Boesky. She knew from the tone in his voice that he was not kidding. She ran to the phone and called the police.
John suffered from bi-polar disorder. His wife knew that when John was up he was really up but when he was down there could be real problems. Killing Boesky was not just an idle boast. He could really do it.
John found his gun and was in his car pulling out of his driveway when the police arrived. But the police could not arrest him. They had made the mistake of driving onto his property. Mulheren pointed out that it was perfectly legal for a man to have a registered firearm on his own property.
The police left and John went back into the house. But he left the gun in his car. One hour later he got back in his car the and drove out to kill Boesky. He was only about a mile from his house when the police arrested him. They had waited down the road just in case he came out again.
John ended up spending 1 month in Rikers Island jail. The charges were eventually dropped. His lawyers were able to convince the court that the whole incident was the result of John’s failure to take the Lithium he needed to manage his bi-polar condition.
Still, one month on Rikers is a long time. It turns out that John’s time on Rikers Island was made somewhat easier by another celebrity inmate. Anthony Salerno also happened to be on Rikers Island at that time. He was better known as “Fat Tony”, and was the Street Boss of the Genovese crime family.
John Mulheren was petrified being on Rikers Island. He was scared being locked in a cell and even more scared when the cell door opened. John did not realize that for a few hours each day the cells were open and the prisoners could wander around and visit each other. John decided that the best thing he could do was to just sit on his bunk and never leave his cell except to eat. He just wanted to stay out of trouble until his lawyer could get him out of jail.
The cells were all open and John was sitting on his bunk when Fat Tony and two very large muscular prisoners walked into the cell. John started sweating profusely, but Fat Tony gave a friendly smile and said, “Hi. I’m Tony Salerno and I run this place.”
Fat Tony was thrilled to have a multi-millionaire in “his” jail. He sat down on the bunk next to John and explained how things worked. Once a week someone would show up at John Mulherne’s house and John’s wife was to give that person an envelope full of cash. In return, John’s life at Rikers was going to be very easy. No one was going to bother John in any way. He would be as safe as if he was still in his Wall Street office.
For a little extra cash Tony could arrange special items. There was no point eating the terrible jail food when Tony could bring in any kind of gourmet items requested. A nice beer, or a vintage bottle of wine would also make the time in jail pass faster. Tony could even arrange for a certain type of woman to visit John in his cell, if that was desired.
John, of course, was no fool and he quickly signed up to be one of Fat Tony’s best “customers”. He bought the protection, the special food, and even the vintage wine. In fact, he got everything on Tony’s menu except the prostitute.
John Mulherne was out of jail but not yet out of legal trouble when I met him. I was with a group of people who visited his house in Rumson New Jersey. We were trying to get him to invest $1 million to help buy a company in Canada.
With all he had been through and with all the problems still hanging over him, it would have been understandable if he were depressed or even morose. Instead, he was friendly, funny and a charming host.
At one point, someone asked a very insensitive question. The head our our group actually said, “With everything that has been going on, do you actually have a million dollars to invest right now?”
Instead of being insulted John gave a hearty laugh and said, “Are you kidding? I spent more than a million dollars last month on legal fees.”
John Mulheren was found guilty of securities fraud in 1990, but in 1991 his conviction was overturned on appeal. He eventually returned to the business and with the money he earned became a well known philanthropist.
The prosecution and the jail stay along side some very dangerous criminals would have made most people bitter. But John had always been different than most people. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, John gave so generously to charity that Mayor Rudolf Giuliani named him an “honorary police commissioner.” What is incredible about this is that before being mayor, Giuliani was the U.S. attorney who had prosecuted John Mulheren.
In case you are wondering, John never did invest the $1 million into the Canadian venture we were pitching to him. It turned out that he was right too. It ended up being a terrible investment.
John Mulheren died in 2003 at the age of 54. Today’s Wall Street has a lot more computer trading, and a lot fewer characters. It is more regulated and supposedly safer for the average investor. But some of the magic of it is gone too. There is probably not a single person trading stocks today whoever brought a chimpanzee in a suit to work.