Another NYSE salvo -- on the <i>Financial Times</i> letters page

The very public and very fierce war of words over the Richard Grasso saga continued today with the former New York Stock Exchange chairman and CEO's spokesman taking another PR pro to task on the editorial page of the Financial Times.

The very public and very fierce war of words over the Richard Grasso saga continued today with the former New York Stock Exchange chairman and CEO's spokesman taking another PR pro to task on the editorial page of the Financial Times.

Suggesting an ethical misstep, Grasso spokesman Eric Starkman, president of Starkman & Associates, criticized Brian Maddox, Financial Dynamics MD of media relations, for failing to disclose his occupational interest in a lawsuit involving Grasso in a Wednesday letter to the FT. Starkman pointed out that FD represents NYSE broker-trader firm LaBranche & Co. The letter was signed by Maddox, whose letter criticized Grasso and a May 24 FT editorial, and listed only his town of residence.

The lawsuit in question is an attempt by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to secure the return of at least $100 million of the controversial $188.5 million retirement package that led to Grasso's resignation from the exchange.

Initially a Grasso supporter, G. Michael LaBranche, chairman, president and CEO of LaBranche & Co., joined the call for Grasso's removal on September 13, 2003.

In his own letter to the FT, published today, Starkman wrote, "If Mr. LaBranche chose to level his criticisms of Mr. Grasso through Mr. Maddox rather than pen them himself, he is a coward. If Mr. Maddox submitted his letter on his own initiative, he is fortunate to work in a profession that does not appear to enforce basic standards of honesty."

Maddox told PRWeek that the letter was intended as a personal letter, expressing his own opinion on the matter.

In the initial letter, Maddox wrote, "The pay, kept secret and arrived at through means which appear to border on deception, far exceeds any reasonable level, as even you acknowledge by suggesting Mr. Grasso return much of it."

Moreover, Starkman took issue with Maddox's claim that seat-owners were "deprived on their return," citing that the cost of a seat rose almost three-fold during Grasso's tenure. Starkman also charged that NYSE issuers are more concerned about LaBranche's agreement to pay $41.6 million in restitution and $21.9 million in civil penalties, as a result of an exchange investigation into the trading practices of some of its specialists.

Starkman would not comment further on the letter.

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