Thomas H. Dittmer

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Thomas Dittmer

Tom Dittmer is a retired commodities brokerage executive who co-founded REFCO in 1969 with his stepfather Ray E. Friedman, for whom the company was named. He retired as chairman of Refco Group in 1999.

Dittmer was a former U.S. Army honor guard at the White House, serving during the Johnson Administration. He was a lieutenant and part of the U.S. Army's prestigious 3rd Infantry Old Guard, and he served as a White House social aide.[1][2]

His connections to the White House would help Dittmer win a pardon for his stepfather, Ray E. Friedman, who was convicted in the 1950s of fraud in selling chickens to the U.S. Army.


Dittmer was raised in Sioux City, Iowa by his mother. His father was barely around during most of his upbringing. During his primary and high school years he overcame poverty, illness, dyslexia and a stutter.[3]

Dittmer went on to graduate from the University of Iowa. Later in life he wrote a thin biography titled "Talkin’ Big–How an Iowa Farm Boy Beat the Odds to Found and Lead One of the World’s Largest Brokerage Firms."[4]

In his book "Escape to the Futures," Leo Melamed wrote that Dittmer sold watches on the floor of the IMM to help make "extra cash."[5][6]

Dittmer would divorce his first wife, Francis and his second wife, Sandy Hill. He married Hill in 2001 and in 2007 she filed to dissolve the marriage, claiming Dittmer had misrepresented his wealth in a prenuptial agreement.[7] Dittmer would prevail in the lawuit brought by Hill.[8]

He met Frances "Frannie" Ronshausen in Washington, DC where she was a personal secretary to Democratic Texas Senator "Smilin'" Ralph Yarborough. She and Dittmer moved to Chicago and raised their children there. In 1994, the Dittmers moved to New York, but in 1999 they divorced amicably. Frances died in 2014 in a plane crash in which she was the only passenger.[9]


Under his leadership, Refco was one of the first U.S. futures firms to build an international presence. Dittmer took an early interest in bringing foreign customers to U.S. markets; when the Chicago Board of Trade launched night trading sessions in 1987 to capture Japanese demand for Treasury futures, he personally directed floor operations to make sure that the trading got off to a good start. In 2006, he was inducted into the Futures Industry Association Futures Hall of Fame.[10]

Refco was one of the most fined firms in the history of the futures industry. In 1979, it was fined a then-record $250,000 by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and Dittmer received a six month trading suspension.[11]

In 1999, the year Dittmer retired from Refco, the firm paid a $8 million fine to the CFTC for accusations it helped manipulate customer accounts. Dittmer promoted Phil Bennett from CFO to CEO of Refco and brought in Dennis Klenja, who had been the head of the enforcement division of the CFTC. The moves were seen by some on Wall Street as an attempt to clean up its image.

In 1999, Refco also suffered from customer defaults and Dittmer supposedly made a deal with Edwin L. Cox, a Texas businessman who was convicted of bank fraud and pardoned by U.S. President George H. W. Bush, to help restore the business. According to a lawsuit filed by Cox, Dittmer offered Cox 50% of Refco should the company rebound.[12]

As part of his exit from Refco, the trade publication Securities Week reported in December of 1999 that Dittmer's separation agreement included a lucrative provision that he would receive a payout should Refco ever went public or was bought.

The dispute occurred when a majority stack in Refco was sold in 2004 to Thomas H. Lee Partners and Dittmer received $85 million. Cox, who was then a Refco board member, claimed he was owned half and sued.[13] Dittmer settled with Cox for $39 million, however Cox and another director involved would later have to pay it in a settlement to the U.S. government after Refco went bankrupt in 2005 and it was determined the funds were part of a fraud that caused the company's demise.[14]

Dittmer was one of several Refco insiders who were sued by the Refco Litigation Trust for $400 million. The others sued by Trustee Marc S. Kirschner were Phillip R. Bennett, Tone N. Grant, John D. Agoglia, Edwin L. Cox, Sukhmeet "Mickey" Dhillon, Stephen Grady, Eric Lipoff, Santo Maggio, Peter McCarthy, Joseph Murphy, Frank Mutterer, William Sexton, and Robert Trosten.[15]

Bennett and Grant would be convicted of crimes related to the fraud and serve time in prison. Bennett was sentenced to 16 years and Grant 10 years.[16][17] Grant would die in prison in 2015 after suffering a stroke.[18]

Dittmer's first wife, Francis Dittmer, helped REFCO acquire an art collection that was later liquidated as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.[19]

Other Affiliations[edit]

Dittmer is a benefactor of the arts and education, a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago and Providence-St. Mel’s High School on Chicago’s west side.


He is a University of Iowa graduate.


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