| LANGONE'S 'LICENSE TO STEAL' CRACK NOT TOO SLICK |
By JOHN CRUDELE
June 15, 2006 -- WHILE being grilled by prosecutors about his friend Dick Grasso, Ken Langone - head of the NYSE compensation committee and Home Depot co-founder - had this to say: "There's an old saying, that if you have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, it's a license to steal."
"I shouldn't say that in front of a prosecutor, but anyway," Langone stammered, according to a record of that deposition.
What a dope!
As chatty as Langone was, Grasso was mute. He repeatedly took the Fifth - the Constitutional protection from self-incrimination - during testimony before the Securities & Exchange Commission last June.
He took it 168 times, in fact, during the 92 minutes he sweated before five lawyers for the SEC.
Try repeating "I assert my Fifth Amendment privilege" 168 times and see if your tongue isn't tired.
And Grasso would have repeated the phrase a thousand times if the SEC lawyer didn't kindly cut off their questioning on a certain subject whenever it became obvious that the former New York Stock Exchange head just wasn't going to give an inch.
How ludicrous was this whole Fifth exercise?
Grasso thought he might incriminate himself by giving out his home phone number. So he took the Fifth on that question also.
That was the fifth Fifth, by my count.
Yesterday we got copies of what Grasso has been telling investigators under oath, but only because a judge ordered their release.
The Post had requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act.
First came a partial copy of Grasso's testimony during a deposition before lawyers representing New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Neither Grasso nor Spitzer would release the full document, which - as I've reported before in Page Six - shows Grasso using NYSE funds for private planes, pretzels, gifts, flowers and other amenities of life that you and I would usually have to pay for.
With the judge's permission, Spitzer then released a 56-page transcript of Grasso's testimony before the SEC.
The government agency was looking into cheating by specialists on the NYSE trading floor.
Grasso repeatedly begged off the questions because of possible self-incrimination.
But it's clear where the SEC was going - it wanted to know if Grasso encouraged the cheating for some selfish reason.
Grasso did answer all of Spitzer's questions, many of which repeated queries that had been dodged before the SEC. And Grasso said he wasn't aware of anything illegal.
He did, however, concede that AIG head Hank Greenberg was a pain in the butt and was threatening to take his company's stock listing somewhere else if the NYSE couldn't get his stock up to a better price.
Ironically, Spitzer is simply trying to recover the many millions that Grasso received as compensation during his years as head of the NYSE.
So it's funny, isn't it, that all the questions seem to revolve around criminal activity - actions that have already sent some people to jail and will likely cost others their freedom.
Remember, Grasso wasn't just some ordinary Joe. As head of our nation's biggest stock exchange, he was supposed to be watching out for cheaters.
The NYSE was supposed to be self-regulating, if that phrase ever really meant anything.
If the SEC and the Justice Department now drop the ball after being stiffed by this stiff, they don't deserve to be in business.
My suggestion - again - is that prosecutors climb the ladder in their criminal probe of specialist trading on the NYSE floor and see if they reach Grasso.
And since Grasso's compensation could be directly affected by the amount of cheating he allowed, don't be surprised where the SEC ends up.
How's this for timing?
The trial of two specialists caught by the government began yesterday.
Any comment, Mr. Grasso? Or would you like to take the Fifth?