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EXCLUSIVE: Drexel Burnham’s Levine: “Nothing but the Greatest Respect” for Milken After Trump Pardon

John Jannarone

By John Jannarone

One of Michael Milken’s top lieutenants who was a central player and informant in the 1980s insider trading scandal said he has “nothing but the greatest respect” for Mr. Milken after his pardon from President Donald Trump this week.

“It is what it is,” Dennis Levine, a former Managing Director at defunct investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, told CorpGov on the sidelines of a conference near Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach late Wednesday. “I have nothing but the greatest respect for Mike.”

Mr. Milken, in news that wasn’t entirely surprising given his support from former film producer and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, received a pardon Tuesday related to convictions for securities fraud and racketeering three decades ago. The pardon does not impact Mr. Milken’s ban from the securities industry, CNBC reported.

Mr. Levine was also banned from the securities industry following a 1986 guilty plea to white-collar crimes . Mr. Levine, who worked for years as mergers-and-acquisitions banker, first at Citigroup, Inc. and ultimately Drexel Burnham, allegedly used information to front-run M&A transactions and hid profits in overseas bank accounts. He eventually shared information with prosecutors that fueled one of the largest securities fraud investigations ever, leading to the downfall of notorious stock speculator Ivan Boesky and later Mr. Milken.

Speaking to CorpGov, Mr. Levine remained loyal to Drexel Burnham’s culture, which many have described as overly aggressive and even corrupt. “We are out of the box thinkers and that’s the way we have always been,” he said in response to a question about his experience at Drexel Burnham.

Dozens of former Drexel Burnham executives have gone on to have illustrious careers on Wall Street despite any cloud that lingered over the firm, including Ken Moelis of Moelis & Company, Leon Black of Apollo Global Management, Inc., and Rich Handler of Jefferies Financial Group, Inc.

Mr. Levine was contrite regarding his own actions in the 1980s. “I can’t unring the bell,” he said to CorpGov. “I made some mistakes when I was very young and paid a price. I don’t have as much money as I once did.”

He also emphasized that he was able to focus on his career as a consultant and his family over the last three decades. “It takes resolve,” he said.

At the conference, Mr. Levine also spoke as part of an onstage panel, where he was asked about his days working for Mr. Milken. He recounted an early morning phone call from Mr. Milken – who was awake at 3am in Beverly Hills –  who asked him to meet with corporate raider Ron Pereleman. The purpose was to arrange a “highly confident letter” from Drexel Burnham indicating the investment bank could raise money with junk bonds to purchase cosmetics giant Revlon, Inc.

These days, Mr. Levin acknowledged, the “highly confident letter” has fallen out of favor and been replaced by firm commitment letters indicating financing is in place. But at the time, the brash takeover tactic shook up Wall Street. “We changed the world,” Mr. Levine said.

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