Resolving Complex Financial Cases
South Florida Legal Guide - 2010 Edition
In high school and college, Thomas Tew enjoyed catching passes on the football field. Today, his sport is boxing. In fact, the founder of the Tew Cardenas firm in Miami has recently refurbished an old warehouse on Biscayne Boulevard as a boxing gym. “It’s got boxing bags, spinning cycles, a ring and even a mixed martial arts octagon,” Tew says. “Boxing is great conditioning, and it provides me with a nice release from my practice.”
Through the decades, federal judges, state legislators, city and county officials and private businesses have called on Tew for advice in untangling complex financial and securities cases. In bankruptcies, receiverships and other types of workouts, he has consistently found solutions to satisfy creditors and keep a business going whenever possible.
“To me this type of financial practice is very rewarding,” says Tew. “I can go into a difficult situation and make a contribution. In our current economy, I’m doing a lot of receivership work, as it seems like we’re unwinding another case almost every day.”
For more than 30 years, Tew has lectured throughout the United States, published articles on complex securities and insurance litigation, and testified before the U.S. Congress on securities issues. His client list includes the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Florida Department of Insurance, the state Division of Securities and the state Attorney General.
“Tom has set a very high standard for the practice of law, both in his dedication to clients and his diligence in digging out the facts.” says Alvin Davis, managing partner, Squire Sanders & Dempsey, Miami. “He knows how to make a financial statement do a tap dance, and he gets right to the heart of the matter. He’s truly a lawyer’s lawyer.”
HANDLING HIGH-PROFILE CASES
Back in 1996, Miami Mayor Joe Carollo engaged Tew to help the city resolve a serious financial crisis. Under state law, a city that had run two years of budget deficits was considered to be in a state of “financial emergency.” Tew stepped into the case, and worked with then-Gov. Lawton Chiles and the State Financial Control Board to find a solution that stabilized the city’s finances and resulted in a solid fiscal recovery.
A few years later, Tew received a call from a county attorney in the Panhandle. After investing in derivatives and other exotic securities, Escambia County needed assistance in untangling the situation. “We were able to regain the county’s money through litigation, and several of the brokers who were selling the toxic portion of these securities went to jail,” Tew says. “A county with good people got snookered, and we were able to put them back on their feet.”
In 2008, the Florida Legislature called on Tew for advice in a much larger matter.
The State Board of Administration’s (SBA) Local Government Investment Pool was managing about $140 billion in assets that belonged to Florida cities, counties and school districts. Concerned about the pool’s investments in subprime mortgages, local governments withdrew about $16 billion before state officials froze the pool’s assets.
Together with Tanya Styblo Beder, chairman of New York investment advisory firm SBCC, Tew evaluated the pool’s strengths and weaknesses, and came up with 16 recommendations to restore public confidence in the pool. “We paid a great deal of attention to the need for internal controls,” says Tew. “The pool was in control of $140 billion, but had never had an audit.”
The state adopted those resolutions, and House Speaker Marco Rubio commended Tew and Beder for their work: “The efficiencies offered by the pool have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in extra earnings for local governments; we need to ensure this program is strong and ongoing.”
FROM FOOTBALL TO LAW
Born in Gainesville in 1940, Tew moved to Miami with his family at an early age. He played football at Coral Gables High School. As a freshman at Dartmouth College, he worked two jobs and played football his freshman year, and then received a scholarship that took off the financial pressure. Initially interested in math, he decided to major in philosophy, while considering law as a career.
“My grandfather was a lawyer in workman’s compensation,” Tew recalls. “He thought everyone should learn how to take notes in shorthand, so during the summer he sent me to shorthand school and I started working in a law office.”
A few years later, while studying law at the University of Miami, Professor Hugh Sowards introduced Tew to the world of business and securities. “These areas were far more appealing to me than the typical personal injury case,” he says.
Tew soon carved out a name for himself in his chosen areas of practice. Representing 41 state insurance commissioners, , he investigated the sales practices of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, a case that resulted in $20 million in regulatory fines and restitution of $76 million to 60,000 MetLife policyholders. He was appointed by a federal court in New York to a five-member committee charged with resolving more than $1 billion in claims arising from the Milken Securities litigation.
In 1986, Tew was appointed SEC equity receiver and U.S. bankruptcy trustee for a failed brokerage house in the $320 million ESM government securities fraud, with the ESM estate eventually paying more than 80 percent of creditor claims. Tew is proud of an order signed by U.S. Judge Jose A. Gonzalez, Jr. that stated: “The trustee has set a standard of excellence that can well serve as an example to all future bankruptcy trustees.”
BUILDING A FINANCIAL HUB
In addition to building his own practice, Tew has led Tew Cardenas to a position of prominence, and mentored younger attorneys on financial and securities cases. “I take the ‘pups’ to lunch and grill them on accounting and forensic issues,” Tew says. “A good portion of my practice today relates to accounting concepts, from Sarbanes-Oxley to GAAP (“generally accepted accounting principles”), and our firm has $200 million in verdicts and settlements against accounting firms.”
Unlike the 1960s, when Tew was starting his practice, South Florida now has a growing number of attorneys — including many Tew Cardenas “alumni” — who focus on complex financial cases. “We now have a very strong financial litigation bar,” Tew says. “It’s important for Miami to have that recognition on a national level.”
Meanwhile, Tew is enjoying spending time with his daughter Kristina, an actress in California, watching the University of Miami’s football team, skiing, golfing, and even trying sky diving on his 69th birthday. He’s also volunteering his time to help South Florida’s poor and minority groups learn more about the nation’s financial system, from opening a bank account to getting a home mortgage. “Living in Miami is always invigorating,” he says. “We seem to redefine ourselves every few years. I plan to keep on working until they throw me out.”
Harvey Bilt Photography
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