Are Expert Networks About To Be Exposed As The Ringleader In The Biggest Insider Trading Bust In History?

Tyler Durden's picture

Over a year ago, Zero Hedge published an expose in three parts (two of them in the form of direct letters to Andrew Cuomo) discussing the possibility that so-called "expert networks" are nothing less than legalized insider trading rings for the uber-wealthy, operating largely unsupervised, and leaking selective information to preferred clients. For those who may be new to this topic, we suggest catching up on Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Subsequently, we also suggested that expert networks would be implicated in the bust of Galleon Partners, the Goldman "Huddle", the collapse of FrontPoint Partners and, most recently, that expert networks may have been directly or indirectly involved in facilitating the record historical P&L of such hedge fund "titans" as SAC Capital. Today, via the Wall Street Journal, we realize that not only have the good folks at the SEC been diligently reading us for the past 13 months, but that we may have been right all along (once again). To wit: "Federal authorities, capping a three-year investigation, are preparing insider-trading charges that could ensnare consultants, investment bankers, hedge-fund and mutual-fund traders and analysts across the nation, according to people familiar with the matter. The criminal and civil probes, which authorities say could eclipse the impact on the financial industry of any previous such investigation, are examining whether multiple insider-trading rings reaped illegal profits totaling tens of millions of dollars, the people say. Some charges could be brought before year-end, they say." Good bye expert networks (and many, many hedge funds) - we hardly knew you. 

More from the WSJ:

 

The investigations, if they bear fruit, have the potential to expose a culture of pervasive insider trading in U.S. financial markets, including new ways non-public information is passed to traders through experts tied to specific industries or companies, federal authorities say.

One focus of the criminal investigation is examining whether nonpublic information was passed along by independent analysts and consultants who work for companies that provide "expert network" services to hedge funds and mutual funds. These companies set up meetings and calls with current and former managers from hundreds of companies for traders seeking an investing edge.

Among the expert networks whose consultants are being examined, the people say, is Primary Global Research LLC, a Mountain View, Calif., firm that connects experts with investors seeking information in the technology, health-care and other industries. "I have no comment on that," said Phani Kumar Saripella, Primary Global's chief operating officer. Primary's chief executive and chief operating officers previously worked at Intel Corp. (INTC), according to its website.

In another aspect of the probes, prosecutors and regulators are examining whether Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) bankers leaked information about transactions, including health-care mergers, in ways that benefited certain investors, the people say. Goldman declined to comment.

Independent analysts and research boutiques also are being examined. John Kinnucan, a principal at Broadband Research LLC in Portland, Ore., sent an email on Oct. 26 to roughly 20 hedge-fund and mutual-fund clients telling of a visit by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"Today two fresh faced eager beavers from the FBI showed up unannounced (obviously) on my doorstep thoroughly convinced that my clients have been trading on copious inside information," the email said. "(They obviously have been recording my cell phone conversations for quite some time, with what motivation I have no
idea.) We obviously beg to differ, so have therefore declined the young gentleman's gracious offer to wear a wire and therefore ensnare you in their devious web."

The email, which Mr. Kinnucan confirms writing, was addressed to traders at, among others: hedge-fund firms SAC Capital Advisors LP and Citadel Asset Management, and mutual-fund firms Janus Capital Group (JNS), Wellington Management Co. and MFS Investment Management. SAC, Wellington and MFS declined to comment; Janus and Citadel didn't immediately comment. It isn't known whether clients are under investigation for their business with Mr. Kinnucan.

Some more on expert networks:The consultants typically earn several hundred dollars an hour for their services, which can include meetings or phone calls with traders to discuss developments in their company or industry. The expert-network companies say internal policies bar their consultants from disclosing confidential information.

 

And it is not only the SEC who reads us:

 

Another aspect of the probe is an examination of whether traders at a number of hedge funds and trading firms, including First New York Securities LLC, improperly gained nonpublic information about pending health-care, technology and other merger deals, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Some traders at First New York, a 250-person trading firm, profited by anticipating health-care and other mergers unveiled in 2009, people familiar with the firm say.

A First New York spokesman said: "We are one of more than three dozen firms that have been asked by regulators to provide general information in a widespread inquiry; we have cooperated fully." He added: "We stand behind our traders and our systems and policies in place that ensure full regulatory compliance."

When all is said and done, First New York will only be the beginning.

As for representative transactions, here are some of the initial ones that have been leaked:

 

Transactions being focused on include MedImmune Inc.'s takeover by AstraZeneca Plc (AZN, ANZ.LN) in 2007, the people say. MedImmune shares jumped 18% on Apr. 23, 2007, the day the deal was announced.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca and its MedImmune unit declined to comment.

Investigators are also examining the role of Goldman bankers in trading in shares of Advanced Medical Optics Inc., which was taken over by Abbott Laboratories (ABT) in 2009, according to the people familiar with the matter. Advanced Medical Optics's shares jumped 143% on Jan. 12, 2009, the day the deal was announced. Goldman advised MedImmune and Advanced Medical Optics on the deals.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca and its MedImmune unit declined to comment.

 

It appears that if and when the hammer comes down (or specifically if the SEC finally has the guts to file formal charges) those who will have a lot of explaining to do are the who's who in the hedge fund world.

 

In subpoenas, the SEC has sought information about communications-- related to Schering-Plough and other deals--with Ziff Brothers, Jana Partners LLC, TPG-Axon Capital Management, Prudential Financial Inc.'s (PRU) Jennison Associates asset-management unit, UBS AG's (UBS) UBS Financial Services Inc. unit, and Deutsche Bank AG (DB, DBK.XE), according to subpoenas and the people familiar with the matter.

Representatives of Ziff Brothers, Jana, TPG-Axon, Jennison, UBS and Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Among hedge-fund managers whose trading in takeovers is a focus of the criminal probe is Todd Deutsch, a top Wall Street trader who left Galleon Group in 2008 to go out on his own, the people close to the situation say. A spokesman for Mr. Deutsch, who has specialized in health-care and technology stocks, declined to comment.

 

Could the hedge fund industry be about to experience its biggest insider trading bust? As much as we would like to believe so, the day when justice finally prevails over legal fees may still be far away. In the meantime, Zero Hedge is proud to have assisted in the exposure of this latest massive legal insider trading scam which favors the preferred and the wealthy over everyone else, precisely the kind of thing that makes investors hate the capital markets...