Greed on Wall Street set a new record, federal authorities said as they unveiled a massive insider trading case charging a hedge fund co-founder with engineering a trade that earned a staggering US$53 million in profits.
The illegal trade — the largest transaction ever prosecuted in Manhattan — was part of a US$78 million scheme involving at least seven financial industry professionals, US Attorney Preet Bharara told reporters.
“Today’s charges illustrate something that should disturb all of us: They show that insider trading activity in recent times has, indeed, been rampant and routine and that this criminal behavior was known, encouraged and exploited by authority figures in several investment funds,” Bharara said.
Of the US$78 million, nearly US$62 million was earned through tips provided by a Dell Inc employee to a former Dell worker who spread the information among his friends at at least five investment houses, including three hedge funds.
Bharara called it “a stunning portrait of organized corruption on a broad scale” and said it raised to 63 the number of people arrested in a government crackdown on insider trading.
So far, there have been 56 convictions.
“Each wave of charges and arrests seems to produce leads to lead us to the next phase,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice Fedarcyk said.
She said the arrests were not the last in a four-year-old probe dubbed Operation Perfect Hedge.
“If you are engaged in insider trading, what distinguishes you from the dozens who have been charged is not that you haven’t been caught; it’s that you haven’t been caught yet,” she said.
The criminal complaint in US District Court in Manhattan charged four of the men with conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud, among other charges. Three analysts charged in the other documents have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the government.
The insider trading plot was noteworthy for its size. Last month, hedge fund Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam began serving an 11-year prison term — the longest ever given in an insider trading case — for a scheme that prosecutors said produced as much as US$75 million in profits on dozens of trades over a multi-year period. That prosecution resulted in more than two dozen convictions and led to a spinoff probe that produced even more arrests.
Bharara said the case he announced on Wednesday was comparable to the one brought against Rajaratnam, of Sri Lanka. He highlighted its size, saying the co--conspirators netted more than US$61.8 million in illegal profits based on trades of a single stock from 2008 through 2009. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said the profits, combined with US$15.7 million earned on trades involving Nvidia Corp, reached nearly US$78 million.
SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami said it was disturbing that the case involved high-level executives at “some of the largest and most sophisticated hedge funds in the country.”
He said there was nothing wrong with fast-trading hedge funds, but they are already characterized by a lack of transparency and can pose a “grave threat to the integrity of the markets and the level playing field that is the foundation of those markets” when they use their considerable market power to influence those who possess inside information.