Overstock.com (OSTK) CEO Patrick Byrne isn't much for unintentional irony, and he proved that in a press release on Wednesday, patting himself on the back for winning Ernst & Young's "Entrepreneur of the Year Award":
"This is a great win for the company," said Byrne. "I could not have done it in any other state but Utah or without the help of the entire Overstock.com team."
I've had occasion to differ with the good "doctor" on occasion, but not this time. Overstock.com and its CEO are very much a made-in-Utah phenomenon, though perhaps not in the way that Byrne may have wanted it construed.
In the nearly three decades since I began writing about securities fraud, Utah has stood out as the most receptive locale for that activity. So Byrne is definitely right in a general sense, in that his serial violations of the securities laws, from spit-on-the-sidewalk stuff like Regulation FD to gross violations of GAAP, definitely take place in hospitable terrain.
But he has considerably more reason to feel welcome in Utah than that. For one thing, what other state has an attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, who would do a CEO's bidding by smearing a critic of the company immediately after taking a campaign contribution? And then lie about the whole thing?
Thanks to Shurtleff and the legislature of a state Byrne has bought and paid for, Utah looked the other way while Byrne's aide, Judd Bagley, engaged in a Facebook pretexting scheme that would be a criminal offense in other states -- but not Utah. Take a bow, Mark Shurtleff and the Legislature of the great state of Utah!
Darn it, I don't know any state other than Utah where that could happen.
Utah is also host to one of the most supine press corps in the fifty states, which explains why the residents of this very fine state (through which I have had many a horseback-riding excursion), wouldn't have the foggiest idea about any of the foregoing unless they read financial blogs.
Heck, the company is nearing default on its bank debt and there's been not a peep on that in the Utah media.
But you can bet your bottom dollar that the Utah press picked up on the "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" while, with one exception, not mentioning any of the company's travails, even the company abandoning its costly O.co rebranding.
The exception is the Salt Lake Tribune, which had an article after the rest of the world had written about it, and violated journalistic norms by failing to mention that the story first appeared in Advertising Age. (It's on Google News but the link has dropped off the Trib's website.)
Not to worry. The next time Overstock.com has something it wants the hometown press to ignore, a setback or something vile, you can bet the media out there will ignore it as readily as it will churn out yet another puff piece on command.
Only in Utah!