SEC Files Charges Against SAC Capital's Steve Cohen

Jul 19 2013 | 2:17pm ET

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against hedge fund manager Steven Cohen for failing to supervise two senior employees and prevent them from insider trading under his watch.

The SEC alleges that Cohen received highly suspicious information that should have caused any reasonable hedge fund manager to investigate the basis for trades made by two portfolio managers who reported to him – Mathew Martoma and Michael Steinberg. According to the Feds, Cohen ignored the red flags and allowed Martoma and Steinberg to execute the trades. Instead of scrutinizing their conduct, Cohen praised Steinberg for his role in the suspicious trading and rewarded Martoma with a $9 million bonus for his work. The SEC alleges Cohen’s hedge funds earned profits and avoided losses of more than $275 million as a result of the illegal trades.

SAC Capital says the charges are unfounded.

"The SEC's administrative proceeding has no merit," Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesman for SAC, told FINalternatives. "Steve Cohen acted appropriately at all times and will fight this charge vigorously. The SEC ignores SAC's exceptional supervisory structure, its extensive compliance policies and procedures, and Steve Cohen's strong support for SAC's compliance program."

The SEC disagrees.

“Hedge fund managers are responsible for exercising appropriate supervision over their employees to ensure that their firms comply with the securities laws,” said Andrew Ceresney, Co-Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “After learning about red flags indicating potential insider trading by his employees, Steven Cohen allegedly failed to follow up to prevent violations of the law.  In addition to the more than $615 million his firm has already agreed to pay for the alleged insider trading, the Enforcement Division is seeking to bar Cohen from overseeing investor funds.”

According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings against Cohen, portfolio managers Martoma and Steinberg obtained material non-public information about publicly traded companies in 2008, and they traded on the basis of that information.

The SEC charged Martoma and his tipper with insider trading in an enforcement action last year, and charged Steinberg with insider trading in a complaint filed earlier this year.

In connection with those cases, CR Intrinsic, an affiliate of Cohen’s firm S.A.C. Capital Advisors, agreed to pay more than $600 million in the largest-ever insider trading settlement. Another Cohen affiliate, Sigma Capital, agreed to pay nearly $14 million to settle insider trading charges.

The SEC’s investigation found that in his supervisory role, Cohen oversaw trading by Martoma and Steinberg and required them to update him on their stock trading and convey the reasons for their trades. On at least two separate occasions in 2008, they provided information to Cohen indicating their potential access to inside information to support their trading.  However, Cohen stood by on both occasions instead of ascertaining whether insider trading was taking place.

According to the SEC’s order, Cohen watched Martoma build a massive long position in the stock of two pharmaceutical companies – Elan and Wyeth – based on their joint clinical trial of a drug with the potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Cohen allowed this despite repeated e-mails and instant messages to Cohen from other analysts at CR Intrinsic advocating against it. The analysts questioned whether Martoma possessed undisclosed data on the results of the trial. Cohen responded by saying it was “tough” to know whether Martoma knew something, but that he would follow Martoma’s advice because he was “closer to it than you.”  In later exchanges of instant messages, Cohen further remarked that it “seems like Mat [Martoma] has a lot of good relationships in this arena.”

Cohen also was told about a doctor who had provided his portfolio managers with potentially non-public information about the clinical trial, but failed to express any concern about the use of that information.  During his e-mail exchanges, Cohen displayed no concern that Martoma might possess non-public information or about his use of such information to inform investment decisions at his firm.  Instead, Cohen encouraged Martoma to talk further with a doctor familiar with the clinical trial.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that after months of building up the massive position and being bullish on both Elan and Wyeth, Martoma had a 20-minute phone conversation with Cohen on July 20, 2008. According to Cohen, Martoma said that he was no longer comfortable with the Elan investments that CR Intrinsic and SAC held. 

The SEC alleges that despite Martoma’s abrupt change in view and red flags that he likely received confidential information about the clinical trials from a tipper, Cohen failed to take prompt action to determine whether an employee under his supervision was violating insider trading laws. Starting the next morning, Cohen oversaw the liquidation of his and Martoma’s positions in Elan and Wyeth and the accumulation of a short position instead.

According to the SEC’s order, Cohen also supervised Steinberg while he was involved in insider trading of Dell securities in August 2008. After being looped into a highly suspicious e-mail between Steinberg and other firm employees reflecting the clear possibility that they possessed material non-public information about an upcoming earnings announcement at Dell, Cohen again failed to take prompt action to determine whether Steinberg was engaged in unlawful insider trading.  Instead, Cohen liquidated his Dell shares based on the recommendation of Steinberg, who continued short selling Dell shares in his Sigma Capital portfolio based on the confidential information.  Dell’s stock price dropped sharply after its August 28 earnings announcement, and funds managed by Cohen’s firms profited or avoided losses totaling at least $1.7 million. 

Three hours after the earnings announcement, Cohen e-mailed Steinberg: “Nice job on Dell.”

 

 


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