Peregrine trustee hires PricewaterhouseCoopers forensic accountants

CHICAGO, July 25 Wed Jul 25, 2012 2:45pm EDT

CHICAGO, July 25 (Reuters) - Peregrine Financial Group's bankruptcy trustee has hired a team of forensic accountants to help figure out what remains at the failed futures brokerage after its CEO's arrest and confession to years of stealing from customers.

PricewaterhouseCoopers was hired over the weekend and started work on Monday, Ira Bodenstein, the trustee, told Reuters on Wednesday. Their task is to secure data and gather information, he said.

Peregrine filed for bankruptcy on July 10, a day after the firm's CEO Russell Wasendorf Sr. attempted suicide and left a signed note describing how he bilked customers of more than $100 million over a nearly 20-year period, forging bank statements and intercepting mail between his bank and the firm's auditors at the National Futures Association.

"The simple fact is that Wasendorf's forgeries fooled us, and fooled us for longer than any of us would like," NFA President Daniel Roth told lawmakers earlier Wednesday. [ID: nL2E8IOGNG]

Customers of the failed firm have had their accounts frozen for more than two weeks, and have not received any of their money back.

The hiring of PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests the trustee is seeking independent confirmation of how much money is actually at the firm and in customers' accounts, a first step before any money can be released.

Bankruptcy trustees are typically reluctant to release any money before they know what is actually there, for fear of giving some creditors more than their fair share.

Peregrine's faked financial statements included printouts of daily online reports of bank balances, cashier's checks, bank deposit tickets and reports on customer fund balances to regulators, NFA's Roth said.

Forensic accountants are used to trace money transfers and balances, among other things.