SAC Capital Advisors pleaded guilty last Friday to securities fraud claims brought by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. If approved, the deal would require SAC to pay a $1.2 billion penalty, including a $900 million criminal fine and $284 million civil forfeiture, and to cease operation of its outside investment business. Appearing on behalf of SAC, Peter Nussbaum, general counsel for the hedge fund, offered the plea of five counts of securities and wire fraud charges based on the allegations that the company allowed rampant insider trading among its employees. More than merely turning a blind eye, SAC allegedly went out of its way to hire portfolio managers and analysts who had contacts at corporations and failed to monitor and prevent trades based on their inside knowledge.
Mr. Nussbaum expressed “deep remorse” for each individual at SAC who broke the law, taking responsibility for the misconduct which occurred under SAC’s watch. He also noted that “even one person crossing the line into illegal behavior is too many,” but emphasized that despite the six former employees that SAC admitted engaged in insider trading, “SAC is proud of the thousands of people who have worked at our firm for more than 20 years with integrity and excellence.” The six former employees, Noah Freeman, Richard Lee, Donald Longueuil, Jon Horvath, Wesley Wang and Richard C.B. Lee, had already pled guilty to insider trading-related claims. Critics have called for the judge to reject the plea, arguing that SAC has not taken enough responsibility. Prosecutors have indicated that had the case gone to trial, evidence would have shown that far more than six people were involved in the insider trading there. Read More
Following a defense verdict in the insider trading case brought against him by the SEC, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has not been sitting on the bench—but rather using his blog to stay on the offensive. Since the October 16, 2013 verdict, Cuban continues to post about the case on his blog—including, just a few days ago, blogging about when his own blog became the focus of the trial. According to his October 26 post, an SEC attorney asked him during trial if everything he posted on his blog was true information, to which he replied that it was meant more “to communicate a point” and stimulate discussion. Following up, the SEC attorney asked: “If you post on your blog that you think the Lakers are going to stink in 2013 . . . you’re not telling this jury that that’s an opinion you don’t honestly hold, right?” Cuban posted that the courtroom “cracked up” when he replied “This year?”, before going on to answer: “Well, no. In 2004, I wouldn’t say it. They had Shaq, they had Kobe, they actually went to the finals . . . To answer your question, if I said in 2004 that they stink, I didn’t believe it.” In an earlier blog entry, Cuban also poked fun at the former Head of Enforcement—posting about internal emails, disclosed earlier in the case, in which SEC attorneys commented on photos of Cuban. Read More
The second quarter of 2013 saw the largest quarterly percentage decline in new securities actions since before the 2007/2008 financial crisis. New filings in the first quarter plummeted by 41 percent, from 352 in the first quarter to 234 in the second quarter. This drop represents a 55 percent decrease in the number of new securities actions filed as compared to same period last year (Q2 2012). It has been approximately five years since we have seen a lower number of quarterly filings.
The number of new securities fraud cases also plummeted, falling 59 percent from the prior quarter, with the number of new filings decreasing from 149 to 61. There were also quarterly declines in newly-filed shareholder derivative actions, which decreased from 43 filings in the first quarter to 37 in the second quarter, and breach of fiduciary duty cases, which fell from 99 new filings in the first quarter to 71 in the second quarter.
Not only did the number of securities actions filed drop significantly, but so too did the average settlement amounts. The average settlement for all types of securities cases in the second quarter was just over $37 million, a marked decrease from the average settlement amount of $69.3 million during the first quarter of 2013.
What’s going on? There are a number of factors that may be contributing to these downward filing trends. The stock market has been strong, so many investors have little to complain about. Moreover, the surge in suits against U.S.-listed Chinese companies appears to have run its course, and no new scandal or market development has yet become the next “big thing” that will drive increased filings. In addition, SEC enforcement activities have continued to shift into areas (such as insider trading and whistleblowing) that do not always spawn parallel private litigation. It remains to be seen whether the recent appointment of new SEC personnel or a renewed focus on accounting fraud cases by regulators, which is anticipated by some analysts, will cause a variation in these trends moving forward.
Source = Advisen D&O Claims Trends: 2013 Report (July 2013)
In 2008, Rajat Gupta made a handful of short phone calls to his friend Raj Rajaratnam. The information that Gupta conveyed to Rajaratnam in those phone calls is now likely to cost Gupta millions of dollars, two years in prison, and the loss of his livelihood. These are the fateful consequences of the government’s use of wiretapping to uncover evidence of insider trading on Wall Street.
In June 2012, after a weeks-long trial and relying heavily on recorded conversations between Gupta and Rajaratnam, a jury convicted Gupta of three counts of federal securities fraud and one count of criminal conspiracy. The jury found that Gupta, a former director of Goldman Sachs, had provided Rajaratnam with material non-public information regarding Goldman’s then-unreported financial results and an imminent investment by Berkshire Hathaway at the height of the financial crisis. Though the court found that Gupta did not receive “one penny” in return for providing the information, he was convicted and ultimately sentenced by Judge Jed Rakoff to two years in prison and assessed a $5 million fine, a heavy penalty for his gratuitous generosity to his friend, Rajaratnam. To prove insider trading, the government is not required to prove that the “tippee” receive any direct financial benefit in recompense for transmitting material nonpublic information in violation of a duty of nondisclosure.
It is important to note that Gupta’s brief phone calls, which later became the key evidence used against Gupta in the criminal trial, were recorded by federal criminal prosecutors without Gupta’s knowledge or consent. (The SEC can seek to obtain wiretap evidence from criminal proceedings through civil discovery.) While the nation debates NSA snooping, this is a reminder that the Department of Justice could be listening to and recording your most sensitive domestic telephone conversations with court authorization. Gupta’s criminal prosecution was only possible because federal law enforcement officials had obtained warrants to record telephone communications of Gupta’s friend, Rajaratnam – telephone conversations that happened to include Gupta – based on evidence of possible insider trading. Gupta’s criminal conviction was then used to underpin his civil liability. The use of federal wire taps, previously the weapon of choice in organized crime prosecution, to generate the evidence needed to pursue both criminal and civil insider trading cases is a watershed moment in securities enforcement. Read More
In a decision rendered from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, Judge Ronald Guzmán granted summary judgment on the SEC’s insider trading claims as to three defendants but allowed claims as to one defendant to proceed to trial. The SEC’s claims against all of the defendants focused on suspiciously-timed sales and other circumstantial evidence, but failed to identify specific tippers who provided defendants with inside information. The case highlights the SEC’s aggressive strategy in pursuing insider trading claims without direct evidence of tipping. The court’s decision also underscores the importance of pursuing motions during discovery in order to preserve arguments, or obtain sanctions establishing evidentiary points, in order to later use discovery misconduct to bolster otherwise thin bases for liability.
Defendant Yonghui Zhang worked full time for a company called Global Education & Technology Group, Ltd. (“GEDU”). GEDU was founded by Zhang’s younger brother and sister-in-law, and provides educational programs and services in China including consultation concerning higher education opportunities in the United States. Zhang purchased 7,900 GEDU American Depository Shares on the NASDAQ for almost $40,000 on the last trading day before GEDU announced its acquisition by Pearson plc. Zhang had never purchased GEDU stock for himself, spent more than three times his annual salary to purchase the securities, and made a profit of close to $50,000. Zhang moved for summary judgment, relying on his testimony that he had no knowledge of the Pearson acquisition and pointing to the SEC’s failure to identify a specific “tipper” who told him about the acquisition.
The Court denied his motion. Zhang’s office was on the same floor as his brother and sister-in-law’s offices, and Zhang had numerous communications with them and with GEDU senior management aware of the Pearson acquisition. Zhang argued that the SEC did not point to any particular records of communications or opportunities to communicate, but the SEC had sought those types of details and Zhang failed to provide them in discovery. Read More
Rule 10b5-1, enacted in August 2000, codified the SEC’s position that trading while in possession of material non-public information is sufficient to establish liability for insider trading. The rule also provided an affirmative defense for individuals who could prove that the purchase or sale of stock was made pursuant to a pre-existing written plan executed before the individual became aware of the material non-public information. These so-called 10b5-1 plans have long been considered to be an efficient way to trade company stock without raising suspicion of insider trading or another improper motive.
However, recent news stories have reignited concerns that corporate insiders may be abusing 10b5-1 trading plans to trade on material non-public information. An April Wall Street Journal article reported that not only has the use of 10b5-1 plans by non-executive directors nearly doubled between 2006 and 2011, but a significant percentage of the plans were being used to unload all or a large percentage of the directors’ holdings in a short period of time. An earlier November 2012 Wall Street Journal article analyzing thousands of trades made by corporate executives found evidence that company insiders did statistically much better than expected in realizing trading profits. Together, these articles suggest that the lack of transparency and regulation of 10b5-1 trading plans has allowed them to be misused as vehicles to effectuate opportunistic trades.
In the latest development in an SEC lawsuit filed Friday, February 15, U.S. District Judge Rakoff extended a freeze on a Swiss Goldman Sachs account linked to possible insider trading in H.J. Heinz Company call options. The complaint alleges that these options were bought for $90,000 the day before the ketchup maker agreed to be bought by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. and Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital, giving the mystery investors $1.7 million in profits. The SEC said that the timing and size of the trades were suspicious because the account had had no history of trading Heinz stock over the last six months.
On Friday, February 15, Rakoff approved an emergency court order to freeze the assets in a Swiss trading account, which would prevent the investors from taking the profits out of the account until they showed up in court to “unfreeze” them. At a hearing the following week, none of the investors showed up. Rakoff relished: “They can hide, but their assets can’t run.” Read More
It has been over three years since the SEC filed its insider trading charges against Galleon Management and Raj Rajaratnam. When that complaint was filed, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, Robert Khuzami promised to “roll back the curtain” and “look at patterns across all markets” for illegal insider trading. Last month, Mr. Khuzami echoed those remarks when he announced that the SEC had filed its largest-ever insider trading case and warned “would-be insider traders” that the SEC is “here to stay.”
In that case, SEC v. CR Intrinsic Investors, LLC, the SEC alleges that a group of hedge funds and their managers made $276 million in illicit profits by improperly trading on insider information about pharmaceutical clinical trial results. One of the defendants, a medical consultant for an “expert network” firm who allegedly provided the inside information on which the trades were based, entered into a settlement with the SEC and a non-prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice. The case against the portfolio manager who allegedly made the trades, and the investment adviser with whom he was affiliated, is ongoing.
Last week, the SEC filed yet another insider trading complaint, this time against ten individuals who made stock trades in advance of four merger and acquisition transactions. In SEC v. Femenia, the SEC claims to have identified a “massive, serial insider trading scheme obtaining at least $11 million in illicit trading profits” centered around a former investment banker who misappropriated the information and “tipped” his personal friends about the upcoming deals. According to the SEC, those personal friends (who are also defendants in the case) traded on the information and paid a portion of their profits to the investment banker. In some instances, the information was even “tipped” a second time to friends and family members of the original “tippee.”
According to the SEC’s statistics, it has brought 58 enforcement actions for insider trading in 2012, the second-highest total in the last ten years and the most in any year since 2008. Those numbers confirm that the SEC really is “here to stay” on insider trading.
In a case involving all of the hallmarks of the housing and economic crisis, on September 25, 2012 the SEC announced that it had charged three Nebraska bank executives and the CEO’s son with violations of securities fraud and insider trading laws stemming from subprime lending, undercapitalization, and the ultimate demise of TierOne Bank.
TierOne Bank was a century-old thrift that had traditionally focused on loans to the agricultural and residential sectors in Midwestern states, but like many banks caught up in the housing boom, in 2004 TierOne expanded into riskier loans in then-exploding markets such as Nevada, Florida, and Arizona. All of these markets would collapse just a few years later, leaving banks like TierOne with significant losses on their books. As a result, in June 2008, the Office of Thrift Supervision gave TierOne a choice: maintain elevated core and risk-based capital ratios or face enforcement action—the top leaders at TierOne allegedly chose neither.
Rather than increase capital ratios or accept an OTS enforcement action, CEO Gilbert Lundstrom, COO James Laphen, and Chief Credit Officer Don Langford allegedly materially understated TierOne’s loan and OREO losses. Not to be confused with the cookie, “OREO” in the banking context refers to “other real estate owned”—in this case real estate that TierOne had repossessed. Though TierOne was left holding real estate from failed markets around the country, its executives allegedly ignored the fact that the value of these assets was based on stale and inadequately discounted appraisals, and consequently made misstatements in its 2008 10-K and a number of other filings. Read More
On July 11, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved a new rule, which will require the national securities exchanges and self-regulatory organizations like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to establish a market-wide consolidated audit trail. The new consolidated audit trail will improve regulators’ ability to monitor and analyze trading activity. With the approval of Rule 613, the exchanges and FINRA must jointly submit to the SEC a comprehensive plan of how they plan to develop, implement, and maintain the consolidated audit trail. Rule 613 also requires that the consolidated audit trail collect and identify every order, cancellation, modification, and trade execution for all exchange-listed equities and equity options in all U.S. markets. Read More