In the 1960s, executives at the Allied Crude Vegetable Oil Company carried out the Salad Oil Scandal. They used fake soybean oil inventory to secure loans from American Express and manipulated soybean oil futures contracts. A whistleblower exposed the fraud, causing financial market upheaval with bankruptcies, liquidations, loan losses, and mergers.
The Salad Oil Scandal, one of the worst corporate scandals of the early 1960s, involved executives at the Allied Crude Vegetable Oil Company in New Jersey. They discovered that banks would provide loans secured by the company's soybean oil or salad oil inventory. To deceive inspectors, the company filled their holding tanks mostly with water and added a thin layer of oil on top. This deception allowed them to pass inspections while hiding the fact that the majority of the inventory was water. In 1963, the scam was exposed, revealing a staggering loss of over $175 million in salad oil. The scandal had a significant impact on the financial markets and became a notable event of that time.
Detailed Look at the Salad Oil Scandal
Anthony De Angelis, a commodities trader and founder of Allied, was the mastermind behind the Salad Oil Scandal. He was convicted of fraud and conspiracy and served a seven-year prison sentence.
Initially, Allied's profits primarily came from exporting U.S. soybean oil and related products. However, De Angelis aimed to further boost the company's profits. In the early 1960s, he devised a plan to use Allied's significant inventory of soybean products as collateral for loans. The loan proceeds would then be used to purchase oil futures, manipulate the soybean oil market and drive up prices. American Express was one of the major lenders providing loans to Allied during this time.
To deceive lenders, Allied began falsifying records, inflating the amount of soybean oil in storage to obtain more loans. Despite sending inspectors to verify inventory levels, American Express failed to detect the presence of water at the bottom of Allied's tanks.
Uncovering the Scandal
The fraudulent activities came to light when an anonymous whistleblower contacted American Express, urging them to closely examine one of Allied's largest soybean oil tanks. Upon inspection, the deception was uncovered, revealing the extent of the fraud.
De Angelis' Merits in the Past
Anthony De Angelis had a history of financial fraud before the salad oil scandal. He was involved in schemes where he defrauded the government and took advantage of government programs. Even after serving prison time for the salad oil scandal, De Angelis continued to participate in fraudulent activities.
Consequences of the Scandal
The Salad Oil Scandal in 1963 had far-reaching consequences. After Allied Crude Vegetable Oil Refining Corporation declared bankruptcy, soybean oil futures experienced a sharp decline of more than 20%. Anthony De Angelis, the mastermind behind the scandal, also filed for personal bankruptcy, leaving American Express to bear the burden of the defaulted loans. This resulted in a significant decrease in American Express's market value. The scandal's impact spread beyond American Express, weakening other Wall Street firms. These events coincided with the financial chaos following the assassination of President Kennedy.
As a result of the scandal, Ira Haupt & Co. was liquidated due to customer margin calls, and J. R. Williston & Beane had to merge with a competitor. Notably, investor Warren Buffett took advantage of the scandal's fallout and made a successful investment by purchasing a 5% stake in American Express.
The Salad Oil Scandal of the 1960s serves as a cautionary tale of corporate fraud and its devastating impact on financial markets. The scandal resulted in bankruptcies, liquidations, loan losses, and mergers, leaving a lasting legacy in the financial world.