WASHINGTON — The chief of an Iowa-based brokerage firm that has been unable to account for $220 million in customer money was found in his car at company headquarters, with a tube connecting the vehicle's tailpipe to the interior, authorities said Tuesday.
Employees of Peregrine Financial Group discovered Russell Wasendorf Sr. in the vehicle Monday, along with a suicide note that prompted investigators to notify the FBI, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said.
The sheriff declined to discuss the contents of the note, except to say it was "a form of documentation that caused alarm, at least concern for us to get federal authorities involved."
Emergency crews were not sure how long Wasendorf had been in the car, Thompson said.
The condition of Wasendorf, Peregrine's founder and chairman, was unclear. The local hospital declined to say whether he had been treated there.
A day after Wasendorf's apparent suicide attempt, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed civil fraud charges against the firm, accusing it and Wasendorf of misusing customer funds and failing to keep them separate from company money.
The commission said Peregrine falsely reported to the agency that it held more than $220 million in customer funds when it actually had only $5.1 million. The agency is asking the court to freeze the firm's assets and appoint a receiver to take over the firm. Industry regulators froze accounts at Peregrine on Monday.
In a statement to clients, the firm acknowledged Wasendorf's suicide attempt but provided no information on his condition, saying only that his actions provoked investigation of "some accounting irregularities."
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