Insider Trading

The Call for a Statutory Insider Trading Law

Judge Jed S. Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) recently made headlines after urging lawyers to draft and advocate for a more straightforward insider trading statute to replace judicially-created insider trading law. During his keynote speech at the New York City Bar’s annual Securities Litigation & Enforcement Institute, Judge Rakoff explained that the law has become overly-complicated since courts were forced to define insider trading by shoehorning the concept into the fraud provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. As a result, increasingly suspect theories have been developed to address potential insider trading in an expanding variety of scenarios.

In promoting a statutory solution for insider trading law, Judge Rakoff pointed to the Europe Union (“EU”) as an example. He explained that the EU defined insider trading by statute in simple and broad terms, and avoided relying on the framework of fraud.  Considering Judge Rakoff’s influence and expertise in securities law, inquiry into the EU’s approach to insider trading is warranted.

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SEC Reportedly Centralizing Authority to Issue Formal Investigation Orders

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the acting Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has centralized authority to issue formal orders of investigation – a critical authority that triggers the ability of SEC staff attorneys to issue subpoenas.  The move, which was not publicized by the SEC, would curb existing powers of the Commission’s enforcement staff.

Since 2009, the power to issue formal orders of investigation had been “sub-delegated” to about 20 senior attorneys within the SEC’s Enforcement Division. However, according to the Journal report, acting SEC Chairman Michael Piwowar ordered the authority to be centralized exclusively with the Director of Enforcement. READ MORE

Insider Trading Around Private Placements: Was Tom Price’s Investment Down Under Above Board?

On February 10, the Senate confirmed Representative Tom Price (R-GA) as Secretary of Health and Human Services, where he will oversee the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). His nomination has not been without controversy, including several Senators and a coalition of public interest advocacy groups demanding an investigation into whether Price violated insider trading laws when he invested in an Australian pharmaceutical company last summer.  This highlights some basic precautionary steps that public companies can take when considering private placements.

The company Price invested in, Innate Immunotherapeutics, is working to develop a single product. The company is essentially a bet that the drug will succeed in clinical trials and receive FDA approval.  Price was introduced to the company by Representative Chris Collins (R-NY), who sits on the company’s board and is its largest shareholder.  The introduction was regarding a private placement that Innate was offering to select U.S. investors to raise additional working capital for a clinical trial and to “seek approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration for an Investigational New Drug programme in the United States,” among other purposes.  The private placement was priced at $0.18 USD per share, a 12% discount to the stock’s market price in early June 2016 (the stock is publicly traded on the Australian Securities Exchange).  Even though both Price and Collins sit on committees that oversee the health care and pharmaceutical industries, both invested in the private placement last summer.

President Trump nominated Price to head HHS on November 29, 2016.  By then, Innmate’s share price had risen to $0.58 USD.  The stock peaked at $1.39 USD on January 25, 2016, representing a 670% increase on the congressmen’s investments.  Last Friday, when the Senate confirmed Price, the stock closed at $0.71 USD.

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Salman v. U.S.: Supreme Court Resolves Insider Trading Split

On December 6, 2016, the United States Supreme Court affirmed an insider trading conviction in a case where the “insider” obtained no direct pecuniary benefit from the disclosure.  Justice Samuel Alito, writing for a unanimous court, held that a recipient of insider information may still be criminally liable where the insider initially gave the information to a trading relative or friend and thereby received a “personal benefit.”  The court heard oral arguments in October.

Salman v. United States concerned the prosecution of Bassam Salman, a recipient of insider tips from Michael Kara, his brother in law, who in turn received insider information from his brother, Maher Kara.  Salman knew that Michael, who also traded on the information, was getting tips from Maher, a Citigroup banker working on various health care deals.  Maher, the “tipper,” never received any financial or other concrete benefit in the exchange, but testified that he suspected Michael was trading on the information he provided and there was evidence the brothers had a close relationship. READ MORE

Supreme Court Weighs Insider Trading: Friends, Family, and Others

On October 5, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in US v. Salman, a closely-watched insider trading case in which the Ninth Circuit held that, where the insider had a close personal relationship with the tippee, a remote tippee could be liable for insider trading even in the absence of a pecuniary benefit to the tipper. In so holding, the Ninth Circuit declined to extend the Second Circuit’s 2014 decision in US v. Newman, which held that insider trading requires proof of “a meaningfully close personal relationship that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.”  Early analysis of the arguments in Salman suggests that the Court will, as some have previously predicted , “split the baby” by leaving Salman’s conviction in place while also adopting a rule that would not affect the result in US v. Newman.  Given the Court’s decision to grant certiorari in Salman rather than Newman, this result seems all the more likely.

Bassam Salman was convicted of insider trading after trading on information he received from Michael Kara, his brother in law, who in turn received that information from his brother, Maher Kara. Salman was aware that the information came from Maher, a Citigroup banker working on various health care deals and sharing information very openly with his brother.  Michael also traded on the information and, although he told Maher that he was not trading, Maher suspected otherwise.  Nevertheless, Maher never received any financial or other concrete benefit in the exchange, though there was evidence that he and his brother had a close relationship.

In Salman’s brief, he argued that his conviction was inconsistent with the Court’s seminal 1983 insider trading decision in SEC v. Dirks as interpreted by the Second Circuit in Newman: that insider trading requires proof of “at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.”  That is, to the extent that Maher offered material, non-public information to his brother in violation of his confidentiality obligations to his employer, that activity did not violate insider trading laws because Maher did not receive anything concrete in exchange.

From the outset of oral argument, several justices were noticeably skeptical of Salman’s arguments. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Anthony Kennedy questioned whether Salman’s conviction was just analogous to standard accomplice liability.  Justice Kennedy observed that where the tippee does the trading and benefits thereby, as in Salman’s case, the tippee is really the recipient of the “gift” of the tip and by traditional analysis is an accomplice to the tipper’s wrongdoing.

In addition, several justices repeatedly went back to Dirks, in which the Court said that it might be possible to infer the required personal benefit “when an insider makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend.”  As Justice Kennedy observed, Dirks suggested that “there’s a benefit in making a gift,” even if there is no pecuniary exchange.  Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer both observed that Salman’s suggested approach would be a significant departure from most courts’ interpretations of the original Dirks holding.  Justice Kagan noted that Dirks seemed to indicate that “it’s not only about when there’s a quid pro quo from the tippee to the tipper, but when the tipper makes a gift to the tippee, and in particular a relative or friend.”  Justice Breyer noted outright that if the court embraced Salman’s approach, it was “really more likely to change the law that people have come to rely upon than it is to keep to it.”

The government, by contrast, had urged that there was no conflict among the reasoning upholding Salman’s conviction, SEC v. Dirks, or US v. Newman.  The government urged that Michael and Maher had the kind of “meaningfully close personal relationship” that was not present in Newman, a case that involved several levels of remote tippees, none of whom had particularly close friendships much less a family relationship as in Salman.  By this logic, the result in Salman was entirely consistent with both Dirks and Newman because the “personal relationship” was sufficiently different and satisfied the precedent established by Dirks.

When the government lawyer took the podium, the justices continued to pose challenging questions, but many justices signaled an apparent belief that the government’s position was more acceptable. Some justices did seem concerned that under the government’s proposed rule, non-relatives or non-friends might be swept into liability, but Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben seemed ready to concede some ground on that front.  Toward the end of the argument, Justice Kagan asked whether the court could “separate out that strange, unusual, hardly-ever-prosecuted situation” of non-friends or non-relatives facing liability and Dreeben said he would be “fine with that.”  As described above, his response may open the door for the Court to uphold Salman’s conviction while leaving Newman unchanged.

SDNY Prosecutors Score First Post-Newman Insider Trading Conviction

On August 17, 2016, jurors in a New York federal court convicted Sean Stewart on criminal charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, and tender offer fraud after more than five days of deliberation.  Stewart, a former investment banker for JPMorgan and Perella Weinberg Partners, was charged with leaking confidential information about health care mergers to his father, Robert Stewart, on at least five occasions over the course of four years.  The case provides a victory to Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, after a series of setbacks in the form of unfavorable decisions in the aftermath of the Second Circuit’s decision in U.S. v. Newman, the repercussions of which have been covered extensively on this blog (see here, here).  As the first conviction post-Newman, U.S. v. Stewart provides some insight into the kinds of facts that might support an insider trading charge in the Second Circuit going forward and is thus worthy of analysis.

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Pro-Golfer Phil Mickelson Pays $1M to SEC to Settle Civil Insider Trading Claims, But Escapes Criminal Charges in Light of Newman

On Thursday, May 19, 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the arrest of renowned sports bettor William “Billy” T. Walters on an alleged years-long insider trading scheme conducted with his friend and business partner, Thomas C. Davis.  According to the indictment, from 2008 to 2014, Mr. Walters executed a series of profitable stock trades in Dean Foods and Darden Restaurants based on inside information repeatedly and systematically provided to him by Mr. Davis.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that these trades netted Mr. Walters over $40 million and charged him with conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud.

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Former Hedge Fund Manager’s Civil Rights Suit Against New York U.S. Attorney Permitted to Proceed into Discovery

Shortly into his tenure as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara announced a crackdown on insider trading, indicating that it would be his office’s “top criminal priority” and that investigations would utilize novel and “covert methods” to achieve convictions, including using wiretaps and informants.  According to Bharara, “every legitimate tool should be at our disposal.”  Over the next several years, federal prosecutors in Manhattan initiated nearly 100 insider trading cases against some of Wall Street’s leading names, and secured more than 80 convictions, many through guilty pleas.  For his work, Time magazine featured Bharara on its February 13, 2012 cover under the headline: “This Man is Busting Wall Street.”

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The Ripple Effects of U.S. v. Newman Continue: SEC Lifts Administrative Bar on Downstream Insider Trading Tippee and Tipper Requests that Third Circuit Vacate SEC Settlement

The ripple effects of the Second Circuit’s landmark insider trading decision, United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), were felt again last week.  On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or the “Commission”) ruled that Former Neuberger Berman Analyst Sandeep “Sandy” Goyal, whom the SEC previously barred from the securities industry after he pled guilty to insider trading, could participate in the industry again. The SEC’s rare decision to lift an administrative bar order resulted from Newman, (previously discussed at length here), which led to Goyal’s criminal conviction being vacated and the civil claims against him being dropped by the SEC.  Newman raised the bar for what prosecutors in tipper/tippee insider trading cases have to show by holding that tipper/tippee liability requires the tipper to receive a “personal benefit” amounting to a quid pro quo or pecuniary benefit in exchange for the tip and the tippee to know of that benefit.  Despite the SEC’s decision to drop the administrative bar against Goyal in light of Newman, as recently as SEC Speaks on February 19-20, 2016, SEC Deputy of Enforcement Stephanie Avakian affirmed that insider trading cases “continue[] to be a priority” for the Commission.   Nonetheless, the ripple effects of Newman continue to call the government’s ability to successfully bring both criminal and civil cases into question.

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Mark Cuban Challenges the Referee: the Constitutionality of SEC In-House Courts

in-house courts

After the repeated challenges to the SEC’s in-house courts as previously reported, Mark Cuban joined the debate by filing an amicus curiae brief in support of petitioners Raymond J. Lucia Companies, Inc. and Raymond J. Lucia (collectively “Lucia”) in Lucia v. SEC.  Cuban, describing himself as a “first-hand witness to and victim of SEC overreach” in a 2013 insider trading case brought against him in an SEC court, argued that the D.C. Circuit should grant the petitioners’ appeal because SEC in-house judges are unconstitutionally appointed.

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