Monday, May 09, 2016

Rise and Fall of California's Onetime Biotech Guru Steve Burrill

Two years ago, the investment empire of California biotech maven Steve Burrill was crumbling amidst allegations of fraud and mismanagement.

Steve Burrill
Today Burrill has all but vanished from the San Francisco scene that he once dominated. He has agreed to repay nearly $5 million and pay a $1 million penalty. He has been barred by the Securities and Exchange Commission from the securities industry.

All that and more was covered by Thomas Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle in a piece Sunday about Burrill, named in 2002 as one of the world's top visionaries by Scientific American. Lee's article  ran on the front page of the California newspaper's business section.

According to the SEC, Burrill misused company funds for such things as charitable contributions, gifts for his wife and girlfriend, trips to Europe, jewelry and private jets.

Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. said in a March 30 press release,
“Burrill spent his fund’s capital on whatever he pleased, and elevated his own interests above those of investors.”
Burrill was once a sought-after speaker at such events as the national BIO conference, which draws upwards of 16,000 attendees. In 2006, wearing his trademark pink ties, he presided over an international stem cell conference in San Francisco that was a bit of a celebration of California's new stem cell agency.

Lee brought to his story a fresh perspective from Minnesota, where Burrill promoted a $1 billion biotech park in a rural elk farm that involved a Woodland, Ca., real estate firm, Tower Investments.

Lee, who wrote about the proposal as a reporter in Minnesota, said that Burrill "personified the idea that (Minnesotans), too, could create an economic miracle out of nothing." Lee continued,
"Burrill did not respond to a request for comment left through his attorney or messages sent to him through LinkedIn. Public records do not list a current address or phone number. The office in the Presidio of San Francisco listed on his website is vacant, with his name off the building directory and the space up for lease. No one seems to know his current whereabouts."
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