* Trustee submits first bill to estate of bankrupt broker
* Seeks 3 pct of amount returned to customers
* Asks for payment periodically, instead of in lump sum
* Itemized bill includes charges for media interviews
By Tom Polansek and Ann Saphir
CHICAGO/SAN FRANCISCO, March 25 The trustee
unwinding Peregrine Financial Group is seeking $3.7 million as
payment for his eight months of work to return money to former
customers of the failed broker, court documents show.
Ira Bodenstein, the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee and a
lawyer in Chicago, said he is claiming roughly three percent of
the $123.3 million he has returned to former Peregrine
customers, as allowed under the U.S. bankruptcy code.
His filing described the bill as "appropriate in light of
the results and benefits achieved through his efforts on behalf
of the estate and its creditors."
The amount returned to customers represents less than a
third of the funds they had deposited at the broker just before
their accounts were frozen when the futures broker collapsed in
Founder Russell Wasendorf Sr., 65, is serving a 50-year
prison sentence for stealing close to $215 million from his
customers over nearly 20 years.
Bodenstein late on Friday asked a federal bankruptcy judge
in Chicago to pay him an initial installment of $1.2 million and
said he will "seek the balance... at a later date."
As regulators closed in on his fraud last summer, Wasendorf
made a botched suicide attempt outside his $24 million
headquarters in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which investigators say was
financed with money siphoned from customers.
Wasendorf pleaded guilty in September to embezzlement and
other crimes and last month began serving his sentence at a
high-security federal prison in Indiana.
Thousands of customers are still missing money, and a
federal judge has said they will likely never be fully repaid.
The money used to pay Bodenstein will come from Peregrine's
estate and would otherwise be used to pay back customers and
Bodenstein "has done a pretty good job, but seeing him bill
the statutory max to fraud victims who stand to lose half their
assets" is disconcerting, said James Koutoulas, a hedge fund
manager who has been working to help former Peregrine clients
get their money back.
Bodenstein could not immediately be reached for comment
while on vacation on Monday. His lawyer did not immediately
respond to a request for comment.
Bodenstein has spent 747 hours, at a rate of $475 an hour,
working with former Peregrine employees, customers, regulators,
and law enforcement officials to unwind the futures broker,
according to court documents. That amounts to about $355,000
worth of work, the filings show.
The trustee included in his filings an itemized billing of
his work, including interviews with news reporters.
He billed $475 for an hour-long interview with a Chicago
Tribune reporter in September and on several occasions lumped
together his charges for time spent talking with the press and
former Peregrine customers.
The dates for several of the times he billed for press
interviews coincide with dates on which he spoke with Reuters
(Additional reporting by Nick Brown in New York; Editing by Tim