Stella Case No. 049, Originally Published: 21 May 2003
When he was just 17 years old, Cole Bartiromo made a killing in the stock market — using, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says, fraudulent schemes over the Internet.
The SEC filed charges in two sets of cases. In one, the SEC says, Bartiromo artificially inflated stock prices in a pump-and-dump scheme. In the second, he ran an investment company that offered “guaranteed” profits of up to 2,500 percent over a few days or weeks, but (obviously) didn’t deliver them. Without admitting guilt, Bartiromo turned over about $1.2 million in profits. SEC fines are apparently still pending against him.
That wasn’t the only penalty, however: Bartiromo, a high school student, played left field on his school’s varsity baseball team. The school kicked him off the team.
Thanks to the SEC’s case, Bartiromo has seen how the court system works. “I’ve seen plenty,” he says, such as “motions, court filings, everything.” Wouldn’t a smart kid like that want to put such hard-earned knowledge to work? You bet.
Acting as his own attorney, Bartiromo has sued Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo, Calif., for not letting him play baseball. According to his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, his “civil rights” were violated by not being allowed to play, since college recruiters and professional team scouts couldn’t see how good he was out there in left field. That meant the school destroyed his “potential baseball career” and, consequently, his multi-million-dollar salary. He demands $50 million in compensation for his lost earnings.
Bartiromo, now 18, claims in his lawsuit that the banishment from the team was based on “personal vendettas” against him by the school’s administrators because of their “jealousy/anger/spite of Bartiromo’s local fame.” He lost an appeal at the time, but his lawsuit alleges he was denied “due process” because all the members of the athletic review board were “against him,” and no baseball coaches were included. He said his acceptance of the decision at the time was “coerced.”
The suit, which Bartiromo wrote himself, includes a litany of other charges, including being called to the school’s office to answer charges of “bogus infractions,” and having some personal details about him removed from the school yearbook. “Instead of savoring every final moment of that final year to remember, Bartiromo has been left with thoughts of horror and the discrimination he endured,” he complains in his suit.
Bartiromo claims the SEC is seeking a “nine-figure” ($100 million or more) penalty against him in a still-pending case. “I wish we could get this over with so I can move on,” he says. “I can’t do anything until this is settled. I’m just sitting on pins and needles here.”
With the SEC looking over his shoulder, Bartiromo is staying away from a stock market career. And with his potential baseball career shot, what does he plan to do for a living? (No, he doesn’t plan to become an attorney.) That’s right: he hopes to become a rap artist.
“I have a story to tell like no other,” he says, without any hint of a rhyme. “Every other musician’s story is a rags-to-riches story. They whine about poverty then make it big. I had it all, I was at the top and I’m now hitting rock bottom. The only way to express that is through rap and hip-hop.”
Well, that and through frivolous eight-figure lawsuits, of course.
- “Teen in Internet Fraud Cases Sues School for $50 Million”, Los Angeles Times, 17 May 2003
- “SEC Files More Charges Against California Teen”, Associated Press, 29 April 2002
- “Litigation Release No. 17296″, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, 7 January 2002
First things first: Bartiromo’s lawsuit was apparently dismissed.
In 2004, Bartiromo was sentenced to 33 months in prison for the second scam (he had faced a possible maximum of 35 years), and dubbed himself “The Dollar Scholar”. News site The Daily Beast had a different title for him: “Sultan of Sleeze”, because he likes to reveal people on his blog, including naming (and publishing photos of) rape victims and children. “ANYONE affecting ANYONE else is subject to public scrutiny,” he said on his site, which is now offline.
“What makes his story particularly strange is that this man who blames the media for his own inescapable past now seems to want to make a name for himself, at least in part, by destroying the reputations of others,” writes Brandy Zadrozny in The Daily Beast. “Bartiromo wants a second chance by denying one to anyone else.”
In 2005, he was assessed a $1.2 million civil penalty for the first scam. By the end of 2010 he had apparently not paid any of that: it had increased to $2.7 million due to interest. The IRS also sent him a $1.1 million tax bill for the second scam.
He maintains his victims are partially to blame: “If you decide to invest, you’re taking a risk, you’re making a gamble, so hopefully you put in your research.” If they didn’t, shrug. His parents are among his victims: they lost their retirement savings by trying to help him.
Just two weeks before his probation ended, Bartiromo was arrested for violating his probation and sent back to the federal pen for 13 months.
Sources: “He Bullies Kids and Calls It News”, The Daily Beast, 26 June 2014 (updated 12 July 2017); “Former Teen Swindler Tries to Start Over”, Orange County Register, 12 December 2010; “Cole Bartiromo”, Wikipedia, accessed 6 December 2020.
My 2020 Thoughts on the Case
“Reality got distorted with me behind that computer screen,” Bartiromo said in 2010. “I was a teen. Get over it.”
Um, yeah: the people who lost their life savings will enjoy hearing that advice.
I give real props to Wikipedia for the job it did to figure out the timeline of Bartiromo’s crimes. It’s here if you want all the gory details.
Readers had plenty to say about the Blair Hornstine valedictorian case: I was flooded with letters. Following is just a small sample.
Harold in Utah: “I’m confused by some of the numbers. It states that she has a GPA of 4.6894, with 23 A-pluses. But if an A is worth 4.0 (BTW, I really don’t see the need for 4 decimal places), then an A-plus is worth at most 4.33 (most schools use 4.3). Therefore, no number of A-pluses can possibly result in an legitimate average higher than 4.33.”
Unfortunately, the source stories didn’t explain the school’s grade scale. The implication was that academic classes were weighted more heavily than non-academic classes, such as physical education — which she was not required to take. That’s the basis for the school saying there wasn’t a “level playing field”.
Harry in Utah: “The idiocy of viewing education as a competitive playing field rather than a mechanism for bringing out the best in all students is evident throughout — education isn’t a competition, it is a way to expand the mind, and the best methods should be applied for all students, [not just the disabled].”
Jon in Washington: “It seems to me that Ms. Hornstine learned … that a lawyer and a judge can help redefine standards. She’s learned that standards, principle, and integrity are the pillars of humanity, until you’ve got a chance to sell them for a lot of money through whining. And her education will continue — she will learn that having someone give you a prize (the title ‘Valedictorian’ in this case) is nowhere near as fulfilling as earning it yourself. She’ll learn that her prize is only good for a limited time. She’ll learn, upon entering the work force, that the prize is worth less — much, much less — than the integrity, principles, and dignity she sold. And she’ll learn that no amount of money can buy those things back.”
Lisa in Indiana: “I have to wonder: when did ‘co-valedictorian’ become a stigma? Okay, great, Blair’s GPA was the highest in her class, but her superintendent was right on the money: 2 other classmates, without receiving special attention, were close to her GPA. I can only assume if they had been given the same 1-to-1 attention that Blair did, they would have matched — or exceeded — her GPA. If they had exceeded it, without the individual attention that Blair received, would she then have claimed that they had an unfair advantage because they *weren’t* handicapped? Sadly, I suspect she might have.”
Melissa in California: “I was valedictorian back in the days when one B ruined it all — no making up points with weighted classes. The school created their own problem when they introduced subjectivity into the system to start with.”
Karen in Florida: “In my graduating class, there were FOUR valedictorians, it being felt necessary to recognize the accomplishments of four exceedingly outstanding students (I was #5 in class rank; I guess I just missed my chance!) People like this student have come to think that they’re ‘entitled’ by virtue of this or that, or even by virtue of their mere existence. They’ve forgotten how to be honored, and how to accept recognition graciously.”
But not everyone was anti-Blair.
Jim, a lawyer in New Mexico: “I usually defend people and corporations who get sued. Had the situation you described in this article happened here, there is a possibility that my firm would have been hired to defend the school district. While I agree that asking for 2+ million dollars was out of line, I think you have unfairly portrayed the situation here. The school should have definitely been sued to enforce that Blair was awarded the honor of sole valedictorian. You do not cite any of the facts of her disability, but often disabled persons need the reasonable accommodations given them to cope with their disabilities. How much of the individual attention Blair received was due to the fact that she missed class or had less time because she was in medical care or therapy for her disability? How much of a struggle was it for her to miss out on study groups and such because she could not get there or was unfairly shunned by her classmates because her disability precluded her from being like them?
“The very real point is that she and the school agreed on what were reasonable accommodations for her disability to allow her to compete on an ‘even playing field’ ahead of time, and she did everything the school asked her to do to EARN, not be handed, her grades. Then the principal, after the fact, says, ‘Wait a minute, it’s okay for you people to compete as long as you don’t win. It must have been too easy; it’s unfair to the other students. You have to share the honor with those who didn’t do as well as you.’ It is absolutely wrong for the school to change its criteria after the fact and diminish this award for this student who worked hard to meet all of the criteria set out for her. As far as the suit goes, it should have been filed. However, the request should have been simply for an injunction to make the school do the honorable thing and uphold its part of its commitment. In discrimination cases, and the school definitely discriminated against her, Plaintiffs who prevail are awarded attorneys fees for having to sue to get others to do the right thing.”
Last, Michael in Missouri: “As a Stanford alum, I’m glad she picked Harvard!”
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