Murder or suicide: The investigation into the death of Wayne Millard

The Toronto Star had a great article yesterday on the disappearance and death of Laura Babcock, and how the police conducted or failed to conduct their initial investigations. The case was handled by 22 Division, which also looked into the sudden death of Wayne Millard, another investigation which, in my opinion, raises serious questions and which I wrote about in April. That death in November 2012 was originally deemed a suicide, but some of the new facts that have come to light make it hard to understand just how this could have happened and why Wayne Millard’s body was released for cremation so quickly. Let me elaborate:

  1. The Toronto Sun reported more than a year ago that Wayne Millard was shot in the eye. This is, to say the least, unusual. (And given that this info. was leaked to the Sun by a police officer, it would seem to indicate that someone in the force wasn’t happy with the initial investigation.)
  2. Wayne Millard is alleged to have been killed with a trafficked gun. This info. was originally reported by the Hamilton Spectator and then backed up further by a report in the Toronto Star. How on earth did the original investigators miss this?
  3. A source who was on the scene at the Millard family home the night police investigated the death, said that those present included Dellen Millard, his mother and Wayne’s ex-wife, Madeleine Burns, and Dellen Millard’s ex-fiancee, who cannot be named due to a publication ban. As far as I can tell, these are the only people police initially questioned about Wayne Millard’s death. They did not talk to anyone at the multi-million dollar business he had just launched nor do they appear to have spoken to others with whom Wayne Millard had regular, even daily, dealings.
  4. Mark Smich had been living in the basement of the Etobicoke house Wayne and Dellen shared before Wayne’s death. It’s not clear whether police were aware of this or talked to Smich.
  5. Wayne’s family members were not told the cause of his death. A cousin and his aunt were not even notified he had died.

As much as there are many unanswered questions about the investigation into Laura Babcock’s disappearance, there are also questions about the Wayne Millard death, which need to be answered as well.

Dellen Millard, who has been charged with his father’s death, is pleading not guilty and none of the charges against him have been proven in court.

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The disappearance of Jeffrey Boucher: Was it suicide or foul play?

The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher by Ann Brocklehurst

Click photo to buy it on Amazon or read free sample

Update: I have just published a short ebook called, in a very self explanatory way, The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher. This was a case that had major media coverage at the beginning and then just slipped off the news agenda. The public was left hanging about what actually happened. My ebook, which is the length of a long magazine article, attempts to provide some answers.

Buy The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher on Amazon (or read free sample)


May 26: I haven’t written anything about the Jeffrey Boucher case since his body was discovered on the shores of Lake Ontario on March 29th, two and half months after he disappeared.

Before this discovery, I had thought there were four possible scenarios that could explain what happened to the 52-year-old Whitby father and teacher. These were:

  1. Accident
  2. Suicide
  3. Walk away
  4. Foul play

Clearly the discovery of the body means the third scenario, walk away, is out. And the fact that the body was found naked more than eight kilometres from Boucher’s suburban home makes it next to impossible for me to believe that this was just an accidental death. Boucher’s wife Kirsten says, as far as she knows, he never ran to the lake in the morning before school. What’s more, he had just been for a two-hour run ending at 10:30-ish the night before after a weekend of skiing.

Given all this, it’s hard to imagine any situation in which Boucher would have headed out for a 16K Monday morning romp to start the work week. Not to mention that his wife and daughter had been alarmed enough about his extended Sunday night absence that the daughter had taken the family van out looking for him and tweeted that he was missing.

To accept that he died by accident, you have to overlook the odd Sunday night goings-ons, think an anomalous 16K pre-dawn run to Lake Ontario ending in a sprint down an icy pier makes sense, clarify why Boucher’s body was found naked, and explain why a former lifeguard in superb shape couldn’t make his way to shore.

For me, that leaves two possibilities now remaining:

  1. Suicide
  2. Foul

Read more in The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher


There was ‘something off’ about alleged murderer Mark Smich

Accused killer Mark Smich gave off a bad vibe while selling cigarettes to underage students at Oakville high schools, according to one of his former customers.

“There was something off, something strange about him,” said the young man, whose name cannot be printed due to a publication ban covering all evidence relating to the trial of Mark Smich and his co-accused, Dellen Millard, for the first degree murder of Laura Babcock.

Smich’s former customer told police, who questioned him on a number of occasions, that he didn’t know his former cigarette supplier well. “I was not afraid, but not 100 percent comfortable” around him, he said.

Both Smich and Millard are pleading not guilty to all murder charges against them.

Accused murderer Mark Smich lived at home of Wayne and Dellen Millard

Accused Murderer Mark Smich

Houseguest Mark Smich (above) and his host Dellen Millard are charged with the murders of Tim Bosma and Laura Babcock. Dellen Millard is also accused of murdering his father Wayne. They are pleading not guilty to all the charges. (Photo: Facebook)

Since I wrote my Grid article on the Toronto Police investigations into the murders of Wayne Millard and Laura Babcock, a number of facts have come to my attention.

Mark Smich and his girlfriend, whose name cannot be printed due to a publication ban, were living in the basement of Wayne MIllard’s Etobicoke home for several weeks (at least) before he was allegedly murdered. They were not in a separate apartment, but right in the same house.

In the past, Dellen had had other friends live in the basement, and although his father was not happy with this communal living situation, he never kicked anyone out. Instead, Wayne used tactics like not stocking the fridge in the hopes that this would make the basement a less attractive crash pad.

After Wayne MIllard was allegedly murdered, Dellen; his mother, Madeleine Burns; and his ex-fiancee were all present as police investigated the death that night. Smich was not there.

The Hamilton Spectator reported last month that Wayne was killed with a trafficked gun.

At the time of Wayne’s death in November 2012, basement resident Mark Smich had  two convictions from drug possession charges, two fail to comply convictions and one conviction for impaired driving. The previous month, he had been charged with mischief under $5,000 for spray-painting an Oakville overpass.

Smich and Dellen Millard are charged with the first degree murders of Tim Bosma and Laura Babcock. Millard is also charged with the first degree murder of his father Wayne. Both men are pleading not guilty to all the charges against them.

If you have more information, please contact me at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com.

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Toronto police investigations into the deaths of Laura Babcock and Wayne MIllard

I have a new article in the Grid about the Toronto police investigations into the deaths of Laura Babcock and Wayne MIllard:

This past Thursday, there was a major breakthrough in the puzzling murder case of Tim Bosma, the Ancaster, Ont., man who put his Dodge Ram truck up for sale online last spring, went for a test drive with two prospective buyers, and never returned. The young father’s tragic death was one of the biggest stories of 2013, but for months there had been almost no news. The accused killers—Dellen Millard, the heir to an aviation company, and his friend Mark Smich—had both pleaded not guilty; the case was slowly winding its way through the courts.

 

Those who have been closely following the case weren’t expecting to hear much more until the trial begins in 2015. I had become increasingly pessimistic about whether two linked investigations by Toronto police involving Millard would ever yield results. So it was a huge surprise last Thursday when he was charged with two more first-degree murders: that of his father, Wayne, whose 2012 shooting death had been initially ruled a suicide; and that of Laura Babcock, a friend of Millard’s who went missing in 2012. (Smich is also facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of Babcock.)

Read the whole thing.

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Before Tim Bosma: The original investigations into Laura Babcock and Wayne Millard

Dellen Millard was accused of killing Tim Bosma in 2013. Then last week, he was charged in two more murders dating back to 2012—which raises the question: if Millard had been in custody sooner, would Bosma still be alive?

This past Thursday, there was a major breakthrough in the puzzling murder case of Tim Bosma, the Ancaster, Ont., man who put his Dodge Ram truck up for sale online last spring, went for a test drive with two prospective buyers, and never returned. The young father’s tragic death was one of the biggest stories of 2013, but for months there had been almost no news. The accused killers—Dellen Millard, the heir to an aviation company, and his friend Mark Smich—had both pleaded not guilty; the case was slowly winding its way through the courts.

Those who have been closely following the story weren’t expecting to hear much more until the trial begins in 2015. I had become increasingly pessimistic about whether two linked investigations by Toronto police involving Millard would ever yield results. So it was a huge surprise last Thursday when he was charged with two more first-degree murders: that of his father, Wayne, whose 2012 shooting death had been initially ruled a suicide; and that of Laura Babcock, a friend of Millard’s who went missing in 2012. (Smich is also facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of Babcock.)

While the Hamilton Police have been handling the investigation into Bosma’s death, Toronto Police Services has jurisdiction in Babcock’s and Wayne Millard’s alleged murders. Family and friends of Babcock have voiced concerns about how TPS dealt with her case. Journalists have also been critical. Even the typically cop-friendly Toronto Sun criticized homicide detective Mike Carbone for praising the Babcock investigators as “thorough” and “very diligent,” given the evidence of delays and confusion in the investigation.

Since last May, when I started covering the story of Dellen Millard, I have spoken extensively with friends and relations of his alleged victims and filed several access to information requests to better understand the process the police undertake when dealing with missing persons and suicides. My research raised serious questions about the investigations, whether basic protocols and procedures were followed, and, more significantly, whether Bosma’s death could have been prevented.

Laura Babcock, a 23-year-old recent graduate from the University of Toronto, disappeared in the summer of 2012. In the months before her death, her life started falling apart. Friends say she was struggling with mental illness, using recreational drugs, and moving from temporary home to the next. According to police, she had also begun advertising her services online as an escort. In late June, she met up with her ex-boyfriend Shawn Lerner, who loaned her his iPad so she could look for work, and he paid for her to stay at a west-end hotel. Then, in early July, she went silent. Lerner reported her missing to Toronto police on July 14; her parents followed up not long after.

Last December, I met up with Lerner at a north Toronto food court. He stressed to me that from the time he walked into the 32 Division police station near Yonge and Sheppard to report Babcock missing, no one seemed to care—allegations he’s made previously in the media. The officer on duty agreed to take the report, but Lerner says that he laughed at the suggestion that it might be possible to trace the iPad loaned to Babcock and accused Lerner of playing CSI. Then Lerner brought up the fact that Babcock had been using drugs. “As soon as they heard about the drugs, that’s when they just wrote her off,” he said.

Babcock’s cellphone bill shows that the last eight phone calls she made after she disappeared were to Dellen Millard. Babcock’s parents and Lerner have repeatedly stated that they gave the bill to police. They also followed up with Sgt. Stephen Woodhouse, the officer in charge of the investigation, but Lerner says the officer did not return his emails and that his voicemail was often full. (In a May 2013 National Post story, Woodhouse said that the original investigators were not aware of the relationship between Babcock and Millard, and that her phone records were not brought to their attention at the time.)

Dismayed by the lack of response, Lerner, who has acted as a kind of unofficial spokesman for the Babcock family, contacted Millard himself. Lerner still has the text messages he sent to the accused killer, who he knew casually through Babcock. In one text, Lerner wrote that he was not making accusations but trying to get information. Millard responded almost immediately to suggest a meeting.

When the two men met for coffee the next day, Lerner said that Millard initially denied having spoken with Babcock. But after Lerner produced the phone bill from his bag, Lerner said that Millard changed his story, saying Babcock had contacted him looking for drugs. Lerner says he passed this information on to Woodhouse.

By spring of 2013, the investigation into Babcock’s disappearance had pretty much stalled. Woodhouse had been transferred to another position. When asked about the case by theNational Post in May of that year, he said, “In a city of three million people, where do you start? We did the standard press release and put her picture out there…. We followed the leads that we had.”

In early June 2013, shortly after he was put in charge of the Babcock and Wayne Millard cases, homicide detective Mike Carbone spoke at a press conference. He made no mention of the major case management (MCM) system, which was implemented in Ontario in the late ’90s in response to the policing and communications failures revealed in the wake of the Paul Bernardo case. According to the TPS Policy and Procedure manual, the relevant pages of which were obtained through a freedom of information request, in any missing-persons case where foul play is suspected, the officer in charge must ensure that “a Major Case Manager is assigned to conduct the investigation in compliance with the Ontario Major Case Management Manual.” Police appeared to have not suspected foul play in the disappearance of Babcock, despite the fact she’d been missing for months, had left her passport with her parents, and had not made any financial transactions nor used her health card or phone since June 2012.

To the astonishment of reporters at the news conference, Carbone said that officers had only become aware of Babcock’s phone records in May 2013 as a result of the arrest of Millard for Bosma’s murder. Carbone later contradicted himself, saying that “at some point [during the investigation into Babcock’s disappearance] the officers from 22 Division would have conducted searches on her telephone and discovered those records.” When a reporter then asked if officers had ever spoken to Millard, Carbone replied: “I don’t believe the police interviewed Millard at the time.” I contacted Carbone a few weeks after the news conference and asked him to clarify this point, but he declined to comment due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

babcock-bkgd-878x494

Laura Babcock’s phone bill showed her last eight phone calls before she disappeared were to Dellen Millard

On Nov. 29, 2012, 22 Division police in Etobicoke were alerted by a 911 call to investigate the shooting death of 71-year-old Wayne Millard at the home he shared with his son, Dellen. Just before he died, Wayne had completed the building of a new, multimillion-dollar Millardair operation at the airport in Waterloo, Ont. A pilot by training, he had inherited the family aviation business and planned on running the new venture, which he called Dellen’s project, with his only child.

Until last week, police had released scant information about his death. At the Babcock news conference in 2013, Carbone declined to answer questions about who had phoned 911 or found the body. He also refused to confirm newspaper reports that Wayne had been shot in the eye. He did, however, praise the police who looked into the death and classified it as a suicide for their “very thorough” work.

The Toronto Police Service protocols for investigations of suspected suicides emphasize “the need to remain vigilant for the possibility of foul play…[when] the only witness or person present at the time of death or finding of the body is an intimate partner past or present.”

Again, foul play does not appear to have suspected. Investigators never contacted executives at Millardair, according to Al Sharif, a consultant to the business. And the only relatives who appear to have spoken to police are Dellen and his mother. Wayne’s aunt, June Neill, wrote a comment on his online obituary that she had not been told about her nephew’s death or about the reception in his honour. (She died in February 2014.)

Complicating matters is the fact that the people Dellen did inform about Wayne’s death were told that he had died of an aneurysm. They only learned that it was a suspected suicide after the Bosma murder. I’ve spoken to more than a dozen people about Wayne, and not one has said they could imagine him killing himself.

The Babcock disappearance was not the first time Dellen Millard’s name had been brought to the attention of authorities. But since TPS has released only the barest details about their investigations into the deaths of Babcock and Wayne Millard, it’s not known whether they checked for and knew about Dellen’s previous contacts with police, or just didn’t see them as significant.

In 2009, a former tenant at Dellen’s west-end Toronto rental property —who was engaged in a dispute with him before the Landlord Tenant Board at the time—reported to police that she had found Millard and his friends tampering with the engine of her car the night before her hearing. A few years back, a neighbour of the Millards (who asked not to be identified) complained to police that Dellen and his buddies sped dangerously down the child-filled street. (Nothing came of these complaints.) According to a November 2013 article in theToronto Star, Millard had once been stopped by police and issued a contact card—the tattoo on his wrist that read “ambition” was recorded at the time, a detail that led police to him in the Bosma case.

This past September, on a fine Monday morning, police descended once again on Dellen Millard’s farm, near Cambridge, Ont., where Bosma’s remains had been found months earlier. This time, though, they were searching for evidence related to the disappearance of Babcock. There were Toronto homicide detectives, uniformed officers from the local Waterloo force, forensic technicians in lab coats, and an OPP HAZMAT team with oxygen tanks strapped to their backs and gas masks covering their faces. The road was lined with fire trucks, buses, and vans carrying television news crews.

Soon after this search, the OPP confirmed that  it was in charge of the three Millard-related investigations under the auspices of the major case management system. As part of their responsibilities, they also began dealing with the press. In November, lead Det. Insp. Dave Hillman spoke to me frankly and openly about how major case management works and why everything crime- and justice-related seems to drag on for so long. But he declined then to provide any new information about the state of the individual investigations, which continue to be run by the Toronto and Hamilton police.

When I visited Toronto police headquarters in February to pick up some documents, I dropped by the media office to try once again to find out if there was anything at all they could tell me about the initial handling of the Babcock and Wayne Millard investigations. Would it be possible, for example, to say whether detectives looking into Wayne’s death knew about Dellen allegedly messing with his tenant’s car? Or could police explain why Wayne’s body was released for cremation when the coroner’s office said in May that the investigation into his death was still open?

Spokesman Mark Pugash politely explained that it simply wasn’t possible to provide answers. If a review of a criminal investigation is ever deemed necessary, it doesn’t take place until the criminal investigation is settled. Disciplinary actions don’t run concurrently.

There is little doubt the developments of the past week will have an impact on this story. Now that Millard has been charged with the murders of his father and Babcock, both cases are back in the headlines. It will be difficult to ignore any irregularities in the investigations. Was standard protocol followed? If not, will anyone be held accountable? And what are the Toronto police doing to ensure oversights don’t occur? The families and friends of the victims, and all the people of Toronto, have a right to know.

Who is Christina Noudga? Charged with accessory to Tim Bosma’s murder after the fact

Christina Noudga, shown here on a 2011 skydiving outing with boyfriend Dellen Millard, has been charged as accessory after the fact in the murder of Tim Bosma

Christina Noudga, shown here on a 2011 skydiving outing with boyfriend Dellen Millard, has been charged as accessory after the fact in the murder of Tim Bosma. Credit: Facebook

Christina Noudga, the girlfriend of Dellen Millard, has been charged as an accessory after the fact to murder in the death of Tim Bosma.

Noudga, 21, had been seeing Millard — who is charged with murdering Bosma, his father, Wayne Millard, and Laura Babcock — since the summer of 2011 shortly after he broke off his engagement to another Toronto woman.

Noudga lawyered up quickly after her boyfriend’s arrest and refused to give police a statement. She only talked after her arrest.

Noudga was also a friend of Laura Babcock, who disappeared in the summer of 2012 and made her last mobile phone calls to Dellen Millard. According to a friend of Babcock, Laura had told Noudga that she and Millard had become more than just friends. Police last year described Babcock’s relationship to MIllard as a non-traditional dating situation.

Noudga was a member of the “Help Us Find Laura” Facebook group before she took her profile down.

Last October, the Hamilton Spectator reported on a brief court discussion about having a certain woman removed from Milard’s “do not contact” list.

“At this stage, she has not given a statement to police and I can’t say she has relevant information,” Crown attorney Tony Leitch told the court.

For procedural reasons, the judge declined to deal with the matter and the woman. remained on the list. Due to a publication ban, the newspaper did not provide further details. There is more than one woman on Millard’s no-contact list.

How HFT firms access secure government briefings to get the jump on market-moving data

In which I pick up where Michael Lewis’s fascinating, new book Flash Boys leaves off


You start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the fuck it’s gonna take you.
-Det. Lester Freamon

In Montreal in the fall of 2007, a former journalism student of mine asked if I would serve as a reference for him. He hoped to be hired for what had in recent years become a rarity, a well-paid, entry-level journalism job. The position was at a local organization that I had never heard of and whose name is so very boring that I fear if I tell it to you, you may stop reading before my story has even begun.

So please consider before I reveal the name in question that it might have been picked not in spite of its boringness but precisely because of it. If you wanted to fly under the radar in the world’s financial and media capitals, could there be any better way to do so than as a representative of the Canadian Economic Press or CEP News for short?

Whether that utterly unsexy name was a stroke of inspired genius or sheer dumb luck, I will likely never know, but what I can tell you is that Canadian Economic Press was just one of several strange “news agencies” that I later discovered were tied to the secretive world of high frequency trading or HFT as it’s known. Along the way I also encountered many of the same things Michael Lewis did in Flash Boys : bumbling FBI agents, clueless government regulators and employees who didn’t know what the firms they worked for really did. Just like Flash Boys does, my HFT story ends with a microwave tower.

All of this happened because, as someone who is interested in the future of the troubled news industry, I was curious to find out how exactly how Canadian Economic Press planned to make money and who the people behind it were. The explanations provided by its marketing director, Paula Midena, made no sense to me. She said that CEP News had been founded to report on global economic news from a Canadian perspective, not a product for which there’s a booming market, and that the man in charge was Darren Corbett while the “original investor,” was Canadian Venture Media Corporation, neither of whom had profiles either on the internet or in various research-worthy databases.

Since Midena couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me more and no one else at Canadian Economic Press was available to talk, I posted the information I’d obtained on my blog and hoped that someone who knew about the situation would eventually find me and fill me in. The strategy worked and over the next few months I learned from anonymous commenters that Canadian Economic Press had suddenly shut down its Washington operations, that I should check out the D.C.-based Need To Know News (NTKN) agency, which had been started by Chicago traders and bore a strong resemblance to Canadian Economic Press, and that, according to a commenter using the name Tdot: “There’s tons of these news startups with bad business models. Here’s another one that’s hilarious, World Business Press (WBP Online) – Slovakian newswire, with an office in Canada, releases Canadian economic news… in English. How much demand can there be for that in Slovakia?”

Puzzled as I’d been by the advent of Canadian Economic Press, it was even more perplexing to learn that it was not alone. Beyond their acronymous names, CEP News, NTKN and WBP Online had a lot of other characteristics in common: very basic websites, mediocre news feeds, little to no information about who owned or ran the companies, and lots of young inexperienced reporters, almost none of whom seemed interested in how their employers were making money at a time when many traditional media companies were in deep financial trouble.

Once in a while, however, one of these employees would get curious, go rogue and send me an email. “At CEP, staff welfare goes to a whole new level,” wrote a journalist, whose Spidey senses were tingling. “Not only do you have free coffee, tea, juice and bottled water – there are fruitcakes, cupcakes, bread, cereal, cereal and fibre bars to go with it. Thats the breakfast sorted. Then every Friday – the ENTIRE Montreal staff (we’re looking at 25-30 people) get meals of their choice catered to the office all paid for by the company. The evening is rounded off at the Keg, a couple of streets from the Montreal HQ. Extraordinary isn’t it?”

Indeed it was and especially given the fact that CEP news had told the Canadian embassy in Washington that it had decided to close its D.C. bureau due to its investor pulling out. Determined to get to the bottom of the situation, I spent evening after evening on my laptop, glass of wine in hand, as I surfed the websites of forex trading companies registered in Cyprus and Belize, stalked the LinkedIn profiles of Montreal investment managers, and tried to decipher both Slovak company registration documents and the incomprehensible language on the websites of Chicago-based proprietary trading companies otherwise known as prop shops. On a few memorable occasions I thought I’d discovered the key to it all, but when I awoke the mornings after I quickly realized my theories made no sense. By the time CEP News folded in April of 2009, I still hadn’t figured out what was going on and was starting to doubt that I ever would.

It was in one of my dark moments that the email I’d been waiting for for almost a year and a half arrived. It was from a trader who, though he did not wish to be named, was prepared to reveal his identity, unlike almost everyone else. He informed me that Canadian Economic Press had been funded by a Montreal-based proprietary trading firm called Vigilant Futures (which has since changed its name to Vigilant Global.) In the early days, he said, Vigilant Futures and CEP News had even shared office space. Arvind Ramanathan, one of Vigilant’s two directors, and Marco Gomez, who ran CEP’s operations in the absence of the elusive Darren Corbett, had both worked together as traders at Refco before it collapsed amid scandal in 2005. When I phoned Ramanathan, he confirmed to me that Vigilant Futures had invested in Canadian Economic Press to help out his friend Marco, but that the venture hadn’t worked out and had had to close down.

Once I learned that a trading company had been behind Canadian Economic Press, I was forced to reconsider a theory I’d initially rejected about CEP’s and the other news agencies’ whole raison d’être, namely that their main goal was to gain access to secure government briefing sessions all over the world. These “lock-ups”, as they’re known, are where government agencies regularly release key financial indicators to reporters, who in turn disseminate the data to the public at what is supposed to be exactly the same time. When the information is surprising — better than expected unemployment figures, for example, or an unexpected hike in interest rates — financial markets react. The advantage and profits go to the traders who get their first.

Given that I had reported from lock-ups, as a journalist for Reuters, one of the big three financial news companies, I was convinced there was no way anyone could systematically leak sensitive economic information to traders. On the rare occasions that I’d seen someone unintentionally break a lock-up embargo, irate officials from the central bank or finance minister’s office were on the phone within minutes. Journalists worried about losing their jobs over an accidental leak while intentional leaking could result in criminal charges. Regulators were constantly on the lookout for suspicious trading patterns ahead of a key economic data releases and ready to pounce if they saw any signs of insider trading.

What I’d failed to figure out, however, was that it wasn’t necessary to leak to have an advantage in lock-ups. I still pictured traders waiting by their screens, with fingers on buttons, and ready to pounce when Reuters (now Thomson Reuters), Bloomberg and Dow Jones all delivered their news and numbers at the appointed time. I didn’t understand that simultaneous no longer meant at the same minute or second and that so-called high frequency traders now worked in milli and microseconds. I didn’t appreciate that the new best way to do things was with so-called machine readable feeds that were algorithmically programmed to buy and sell automatically without the need for any microsecond-sapping human intervention. I didn’t realize that a trade could be carried out in less time than it took to blink an eye and that several of the news agencies in the lock-ups were using their own dedicated fibre optic lines to send data directly to their clients, whoever those clients were.

I wasn’t the only person who didn’t get this. Neither did the folks in charge of the lock-ups, most regulators, law enforcement agencies and the upstart news services’ competitors. As an anonymous source would later succinctly explain it: “(The new news agencies) were light years ahead technology wise over DJ, Reuters, Bloomberg, AP, etc. They built highly optimized networks to transfer this data through ultra low latency switches and lines that the other guys never thought of. They also were optimized to this single rifle shot of data through a network where the big legacy guys were using systems/networks optimized for throughput and continuously publishing hundreds or thousands of stories simultaneously and continuously.”

Keeping all this in mind, along with the fact that the stated purpose of government lock-ups is to inform the public and not to provide an infrastructure for high frequency traders, the obvious next question became why no one had kicked the wonky news agencies to the curb? But when I tried to discuss this issue with those responsible for the lock-ups, they proved almost as secretive and loath to talk about their business as the HFTs had been about theirs.

There had been complaints about NTKN and its relationship to specific Chicago traders, some of which are documented on the internet, since its arrival on the scene in 2005 yet it still managed to keep its much coveted seat in the U.S. Department of Labor lock-ups . And though CEP News had its access to Office of National Statistics lock-ups in England — where it was briefly allowed entry, thanks to a newly hired staffer who already had valid press credentials — revoked, it easily gained admission to lock-ups in Ottawa and Frankfurt. Econolive, yet another strange news agency which sprung up at about the same time Canadian Economic Press went under in 2009, was welcomed into lock-ups in Ottawa, Washington, and, for a short while, London. Run by an Israeli American named Yakov (Yankey) Mermelstein, who had no background in the news business and a history of active participation in web trading forums, it also used the name Empire News and had a corporate address in Jerusalem.

I was starting to think that instead of an indecipherable investigative report on incompetence in the administration of G-7 lock-ups, I might be better off writing a sitcom script. The pilot could focus on an email I’d just received from the FBI — which did not from an fbi.gov address but rather from Concerned Citizen at forbrocklehurst@gmail.com. “Ms. Brocklehurst,” read the email, “Any chance you’d be willing to talk by phone about your posting Monday regarding the visitors to your site? If so, could you send me a number where I could reach you this morning?”

The blog posting in question showed that officials at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission were searching my website for information on the news agencies and their owners. Concerned Citizen, who had a thick southern accent and identified himself as a United States special agent named Bob, asked if I’d be willing to take my post down as it could interfere with his investigation . He said someone at the SEC had erred in not using secure computers for their research and buttered me up by telling me how he and his colleagues checked out my website regularly. This was a very big story, he said, hinting that there might be a scoop or two in my future if did him this favour, which I did indeed do.

While I had initial suspicions that Agent Concerned Citizen might be a hoaxer, he wasn’t. The FBI turned out to be even worse at secure surfing than SEC employees and somehow managed to leave information stored in their C-drive files, including employees’ first names, on my web traffic monitoring program. So when Agent Concerned Citizen failed to return my emails, I did what I should have done all along and published the evidence showing the sorry state of FBI computers.

Only last year did I finally learn from a series of Wall Street Journal articles how the FBI had spent years investigating what it deemed to be suspicious activity in lock-ups. In 2011, it had installed a hidden camera in the room where the U.S. Labor Department holds its media briefing sessions, the Journal reported. And that same year, the SEC had also subpoenaed computer hard drives used by Need To Know News’s reporters.

None of this led to any criminal charges being laid although the suspicions did eventually cause the Department of Labor to commission the dramatically named Clean Sweep Red Team Report, from Sandia National Laboratories. As a result of this investigation, the DOL announced in spring of 2012 that it would overhaul procedures for its lock-ups and that all media participants would have to reapply for permission to attend. In May, it said three previously accredited news agencies would no longer be eligible to file from lock-ups because they were not considered to be “primarily journalistic enterprises” that disseminate original news to a “broad public audience.” Those given the boot were NTKN, the Bond Buyer and RTT News, which had briefly employed CEP’s old marketing director. The agencies did, however, remain eligible to participate in a variety of other government lock-ups.

At about the same time as Clean Sweep Red, Statistics Canada proposed changes that would slow things down in the lock-ups it oversaw. It announced that it would delay its releases to the public by as much as 16 seconds as part of a new data-loading process onto its website. Given that 16 seconds is a veritable lifetime in a world where milliseconds can mean millions of dollars of profits, there was immediate pushback.

Since the arrival of the strange news agencies, the big three financial data providers had caught up and were now also offering clients the direct machine readable feeds that used to be exclusive to their smaller rivals. According to Thomson Reuters, “strenuous representations” were made to both StatsCan and then Industry Minister Christian Paradis, arguing that such a change could cause chaos on financial markets. Within two days Statscan had backed down and agreed to hold consultations. Although spokeswoman Gabrielle Beaudoin said in October 2012 that a decision would be forthcoming very soon, the situation remains unresolved to this day.

Without understanding how lock-ups have evolved to become a crucial part of HFT infrastructure, it’s difficult to appreciate how complex it is to make any changes to them. When there was a fuss last year over possible leaks from a U.S. Federal Reserve lock-up, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt opined that the institution of lock-ups was obsolete and that it made much more sense just to release data on the web. But take away the lock-up with all the special fibre optic lines — and, more recently, microwave networks — leading out of it and the financial industry would be back to looking at numbers on a screen and pushing old fashioned buttons.

Michael Lewis’s  Flash Boys ends in the wilds of Pennsylvania at the foot of a microwave tower, the latest frontier in the race for speed. It was not unfamiliar territory to me as I had learned about how microwave networks were 30% faster than the most sophisticated landlines last summer when it came to my attention that Vigilant Global, now owned by the Chicago trading firm DRW, had applied for permits to build wireless networks in both North America and Europe.

In England, Vigilant had stated in a position paper, that the failure to create such a network could result in job losses in London’s important financial industry. But such arguments failed to convince city councillours in Castle Point, Essex who voted against the Montreal company’s request to put two satellite dishes atop a local water tower. “I don’t understand why every two or three months we are getting applications for more equipment on this building, “ Norman Smith, a Tory councillor , told the local newspaper.“I am happy to approve applications to replace existing, tired equipment but not more. Enough is enough.”

Postscript: I am working to add links to this story, but wanted to get it out asap.

The mystery ending of Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys: FCC License No. 1215095

April 9 Update: Read my new article: How HFT firms access secure government briefings to get the jump on market-moving data

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You’re here because you googled FCC license 1215095, right? Perhaps you’ve already discovered the registrant, Converge Towers LLC, and its corporate ties to Cantor Fitzgerald, a New York financial firm best known for the devastation it suffered in the 9/11 attacks.

Or maybe that information is incorrect. (See the comments.) In my work, I discover quite a lot of errors and outdated information in internet databases. I haven’t actually called the FCC to check so for now, I can’t actually confirm anything about 1215095.

I think I might, however, know the story — or at least part of the story — Michael Lewis hints at at the end of his fascinating new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.

That’s because a couple of months ago I wrote a post about how Vigilant Global — a Montreal-based HFT prop shop was building its own microwave networks.

I later learned this was something of a trend so I wasn’t surprised, but rather perplexed, by the final paragraph of Michael Lewis’ fascinating new book, Flash Boys, where he writes about a microwave tower he discovers in the wilds of Pennsylvania:

The application to use the tower to send a microwave signal had been filed in July 2012, and it had been filed by … well, it isn’t possible to keep any of this secret anymore. A day’s journey in cyberspace would lead anyone who wished to know it into another incredible but true Wall Street story of hypocrisy and secrecy and the endless quest by human beings to gain a certain edge in an uncertain world. All that one needed to discover the truth about the tower was the desire to know it.

Any inside information I have about this situation comes mostly from the anonymous correspondents who have gotten in touch with me over the years due to my coverage of HFT. I have written about it from a completely different perspective than Michael Lewis, and I can’t help but wonder if the hint at the end of Flash Boys is pointing to this other HFT story.

For the record then, here’s what one of my anonymous sources told me about HFT firms’ microwave networks:

Vigilant (which is now owned by DRW) had the fastest microwave line from Chicago to NJ … They shopped themselves around and Tower just, and now regrettably, missed out. DRW needed better technology which is why they bought (Vigilant) — not because it was making a lot of money, in which case they wouldn’t have been for sale.

According to this anonymous source, there are also microwave networks between Chicago and Washington, D.C., where economic news and indicators, are regularly announced by government agencies. To get their hands on this information as quickly as possible, several HFT shops even set up not just their own private microwave networks but also their own “news agencies.” Vigilant Global, for example, funded the now defunct Canadian Economic Press or CEP News. And the Wall Street Journal had a front page story last summer on the connections between Need to Know News, its owner Deutsche Börse, and various Chicago HFT traders.

According to my anonymous source, “The firm that has probably made more money from DC news services than anyone else is Virtu (formerly Madison Taylor and EWT),” which  is now in the process of going public.

“I *think* Virtu was/is a NTKN client,” wrote my source in an e-mail. They were the early adopters on the EIA numbers (oil and nat gas inventories) and less so on the macro economic data. They also put these strategies on FPGA cards to bypass the OS which shaved microseconds of reaction time.  The telco is only one part of the latency and if all HFT clients get it at the same time the one who processes it first wins.”

HFT-related microwave operations are also under way in Europe too where my source says that Jump is rumoured to have bought a de-commisioned NATO telco tower in Belgium to secure the fastest London to Frankfurt route. He also said:

London-Frankfurt has three commercial providers  (that I know of): Colt, Perseus, Fixnetix.  CIC was recently trying to sell various assets that they’d put together. In Europe, the regulatory structure for link licensing is byzantine, and you have to deal with UK/Ofcom, France/Belgium, and Germany. I suspect that several household-name HFTs are already running their own routes. (Jump, Virtu, and Final probably.  Tower isn’t there yet but will be.  Allston and Getco are doubtful)  Not sure about the UK coast where the trans-atlantic cable terminates to London or London to Stockholm which all will be done if it isn’t already.

I can’t say that this is all clear to me, but for those of you that follow HFT and microwave networks maybe you’ll find something of interest here. If you do, I’d love to know about it. Please contact me at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com.

Oh, and if you want more on the telco aspect of all this, this Chicago Tribune article is detailed and interesting. Finally, here’s something I wrote on HFT and lock-ups.

Jeffrey Boucher Disappearance: Four Possible Scenarios

The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher by Ann Brocklehurst

Click photo to buy it on Amazon or read free sample

Update: I have just published a short ebook called, in a very self explanatory way, The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher. This was a case that had major media coverage at the beginning and then just slipped off the news agenda. The public was left hanging about what actually happened. My ebook, which is the length of a long magazine article, attempts to provide some answers.

Buy The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher on Amazon (or read free sample)


March 17: On the Whitby waterfront, the search is underway again for Jeffrey Boucher.

Just about everybody has their own pet theory as to what happened, including me. Let’s take a look at the possibilities:

Accident If Jeffrey Boucher had an accident, it is one hell of a coincidence given that he had supposedly gone out for a super long run the night before. His wife was so worried about his longer-than-usual absence that his daughter took the family van and went out looking for him. The same scenario repeated itself the next morning, when the daughter drove around the neighbourhood again while the mother called the police.

Suicide Men of Boucher’s age are at a higher-than-average risk for suicide. He was facing big life changes including retirement and his younger daughter leaving for college. But usually when someone commits suicide — including people who no one believes would kill themselves — there are after-the-fact signs and reasons. This does not appear to be the case with Jeffrey Boucher, whose wife Kirsten remains adamant he wouldn’t have committed suicide.

Walk away Again, when someone walks away, the preparations will usually be discovered once the person has made off. In this case, there don’t appear to be any clues whatsoever that Jeffrey Boucher was planning to bolt.

Foul Play Much has been made of the reactions of Boucher’s wife and younger daughter to his disappearance, but there’s no template for how to behave when personal tragedy strikes. Shock can explain a lot. As a result of their reactions, the wife and daughter have been subject to intense scrutiny. In contrast, there’s been comparatively little attention paid to Boucher himself.

Discussing people who may be the victims of crime is rightfully a sensitive topic and can sometimes turn into victim blaming. My training in this area is old school. Until charges are laid or there’s evidence that someone is guilty, you do not speculate in public. Of course, the media doesn’t always obey these rules. Just look at the speculation over whether the pilots of the missing Malaysian Airlines jet were involved.

I don’t believe all public speculation is  always wrong, but what I do know is that when you get into speculation, there’s always a danger someone innocent will be hurt and their reputation harmed. On the other hand, there are also negative consequences to not asking certain questions and I’m sure most people would agree that it’s not out of line to ask about the pilots of the missing jets.

Keeping that in mind, here’s what I’ve always wanted to know about Jeffrey Boucher’s Sunday night outing. Who on earth goes for a two-hour evening run after a full day of skiing and with a morning run planned for the next day? Was he going somewhere else? If so, where and why?

Alternatively, he could have done an evening run because he knew he wasn’t going to be running the next day, in which case the question becomes where was Jeffrey Boucher headed Monday morning and why?

Obviously, these questions imply a foul play scenario, which is the way I’m leaning. That doesn’t mean that I’ve ruled out the other three possibilities.

I would love to hear from anyone who might be able to help answer my questions on the Jeffrey Boucher case and especially about a sweater photo online late last year: ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com or leave a comment.