Steve Feinberg’s big bets on war and weapons have gotten him into another financial mess – and this time his troubles are stoking concerns about potential conflicts of interest as he sits as an adviser to the White House.
The billionaire gun enthusiast’s buyout firm Cerberus Capital took a hit this spring as its US gunmaker, Remington, finally went bankrupt as losses piled up and investors fled amid outrage over school shootings, starting with the Sandy Hook, Conn., killings in 2012.
Meanwhile, Cerberus has been struggling to unload DynCorp, a US defense contractor that trains troops and police forces overseas, sources told The Post.
While Cerberus put DynCorp on the block this spring, it hasn’t had any takers as the Pentagon continues to scale back military operations in the Middle East and elsewhere, according to insiders. That’s despite the fact that Cerberus has been asking $1.3 billion for DynCorp — less than what it paid for the company eight years ago, sources said.
Cerberus’ DynCorp sale decision occurred in May about the same time that Feinberg was tapped by President Trump to chair the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB). The panel advises the president directly on the effectiveness of US intelligence agencies.
Cerberus declined to comment on the timing of the two events, but sources close to the buyout firm insist it’s coincidental, and has nothing to do with any conflict that might arise with Feinberg acting as a White House intelligence adviser while also owning DynCorp.
But Trump’s pending decision on whether to maintain troop levels in Afghanistan does cast a shadow over the DynCorp. auction, one source following the sale said. The risk that Trump will pull out of Afghanistan altogether as part of his “America First” campaign has made suitors nervous, sources said.
I think the seller is motivated but has a high bar,” one of the sources said. “It is unlikely anyone is going to pay the sticker price.”
When Cerberus bought DynCorp. in July 2010 for $1.5 billion, there were roughly 80,000 American troops in Iraq. Since then, President Obama largely pulled out of the country and this year, the number of US troops has fallen to about 5,000.
DynCorp’s Ebitda fell to $207 million last year — half of what it was in 2012, according to Moody’s Investors Service, and the company’s most likely buyer, Platinum Equity’s PAE, has lost interest, sources said.
This is not the first misfire for Feinberg. In 2014, Cerberus was forced to surrender control of IAP Worldwide, a money-losing contractor for military airfields, medical facilities and dining halls.
Meanwhile, Feinberg last year proposed to Trump that he expand the role for private contractors like DynCorp. in US military operations in Afghanistan, according to a report in the New Yorker.
If Feinberg as chair of the PIAB recommended similar US policies now that would end up benefiting DynCorp., the conflict could attract the interest of the Justice Department, according to Richard Painter, who served as the White House’s chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.
“I would not recommend that the president put anyone on PIAB who has a significant holding in a defense company,” Painter told The Post. “It is criminal if he makes a recommendation that will have an impact on his company.”
Former PIAB Board Member Philip Zelikow, who served under President Obama, sees less of a potential conflict.
“In my experience, which may be no guide, there was no discussion about anything directly related to the work of firms like DynCorp,” Zelikow said.
Separately, DynCorp. also faces a federal whistleblower lawsuit, in which former cost analyst for the company, Robert Reddell, alleges it hired a freight provider, Damco, which significantly overbilled the government for costs including fuel surcharges and oversized boxes netting both DynCorp and Damco unjust profits.
DynCorp allegedly billed the government $80 million for Damco work from 2011 through 2013, of which at least $30 million was “improper costs,” according to the 2014 suit, now in discovery phase.
Cerberus, Dyncorp and the White House declined to comment.