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Associated Press/Freddie Mac
David Kellerman in an undated photo.

Reports Suggest David Kellermann Is Latest High Profile CEO to Commit Suicide

April 22, 2009 06:30 PM
by Anne Szustek
Kellermann, Freddie Mac acting CEO, was found dead in his home Wednesday morning. His death, still under investigation, is a suspected suicide.

He “Inspired All Who Worked With Him”

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Investigators have said that the death involved no signs of foul play and, according to early reports, Kellermann's wife reported a suicide. Police have not yet released any details about the death, but autopsy results will be available within days.

While a suicide has not yet been determined, it is clear that 41-year-old Kellermann had been facing considerable professional stress. The Securities and Exchange Committee and the Justice Department have been questioning executives at mortgage finance company Freddie Mac about their accounting practices, Bloomberg reports.

Both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have been under duress since the mortgage giants were seized by government regulators last year, and became the center of a debate in Congress over bailout details. Later, both Frannie and Freddie's books were investigated for evidence of accounting inpropriety.

MSNBC reported today on the specific pressures Kellermann may have been facing, including "an ongoing accounting investigation by regulators; the prospect of continued housing-related losses; and uncertainty about the long-term viability of the company."

John Koskinen, Freddie Mac’s interim CEO, issued a statement following the death, speaking of Kellermann's many talents. “His extraordinary work ethic and integrity inspired all who worked with him. But he will be most remembered for his affability, his personal warmth, his sense of humor and his quick wit. David was a friend to many in the Freddie Mac family, and we mourn his passing," he said.

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Background: Recession woes weighing heavy on financiers

The recession has taken a heavy toll on financiers. In January, Patrick Rocca, an Irish financier, was found shot dead at his home in the posh Dublin suburb of Holmeleigh in an apparent suicide.

In 2007, Rocca had an estimated fortune of £429.9 million ($647 million). He was heavily involved in property markets by way of his company Accorp Properties and apparently had heavy investments in Irish banks pegged for nationalization due to credit crunch concerns. The suddeness of his death was a great surprise to those who ran in his circles.

But he isn't the only high profile businessman to have fallen prey to the stresses of today's economic climate.

The morning of Dec. 23, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, 65, the founder and CEO of Access International Advisors, an investment fund that lost $1.4 billion it had invested in Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, was found dead at his office in midtown Manhattan.

A source close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it seemed “highly likely” that he committed suicide, Reuters reported. Authorities indicated that “de la Villehuchet was found in his office with injuries to his arms, having apparently slit his wrists,” according to The New York Times DealBook.

In January, German financier Adolf Merckle was found dead on train tracks in the small town of Blaubeuren, Germany. Authorities ruled it a suicide, although locals suspect foul play. On Oct. 28, Merckle, who had holdings in the financial and cement sectors, apparently lost €400 million ($530 million) in a short squeeze on Volkswagen stock. According to The New York Times, Merckle’s main investment company VEM Vermögensverwaltung owed 30 creditors, including Royal Bank of Scotland and Deutsche Bank.

The same week as Merckle’s death, Steven Good, the chair of well-known Chicago real estate auction firm Sheldon Good & Co., was found in a forest in Kane County, Ill., on the Chicago metro’s outskirts, dead in an apparent suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said authorities. Paralleling reactions to Rocca’s death, Good’s friends and associates expressed disbelief at his passing: "The guy was just very positive, always smiling, always telling you a story," Chicago Association of Realtors spokesperson Barbara Matthopoulos, told CNN. "Everyone is really very shocked."

According to mental health experts, there is a rise in suicides during recessions. Type-A personalities—often the profile of high-ranking financiers—often have a harder time dealing with financial difficulty, as they see their losses, whether they hit their companies or their own portfolios, as a personal failure.

"I am seeing it, in particular, in people who are prone to shame. They build their whole identity around being successful. If they don't have someone watching them, they are at risk," Chicago-area psychologist Nancy Molitor told CNN in January.

“Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline went from 412,768 in 2007 up to 540,041 in 2008,” CNN reported. And according to the calculations of M. Harvey Brenner, public health professor for Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Texas Health Center, there may be as many as 1,200 additional suicides above the annual average of 32,000 due to the recession.

These numbers show that a small percentage of Americans will take their lives due to the economic crisis.

But there’s something different about this recession. Brenner says this downturn, unlike others, has particularly hit the ultra-wealthy, who are often unaccustomed to going through life without a financial cushion.

"You would think these people have such wonderful lives," Molitor told CNN. "Yet they are capable of losing much more, because they have so much more."

Reference: Help for depression and anxiety online

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