SAC has earned a reputation for being one of the world's most profitable hedge funds.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
In a move that could deal a death blow to one of the country's largest hedge funds, federal prosecutors announced criminal insider trading charges Thursday against SAC Capital, the firm run by billionaire investor Steven Cohen.The indictment charges that the hedge fund was guilty of both "unlawful conduct by individual employees and an institutional indifference to that unlawful conduct."
SAC Capital did not immediately reply to CNNMoney's requests for comment.
The indictment charges that the insider trading started in 1999. and that the firm hired research analysts and money managers specifically because they possessed insider information. It says the insider trading resulted in "hundreds of millions" of dollars of illegal profits and "avoided losses" for the hedge fund.
The indictment follows a wide-ranging investigation that has already implicated more than half-a-dozen current or former SAC employees.
Cohen himself has not been charged criminally, though the Securities and Exchange Commission announced civil charges against him last week, accusing him of failing to supervise employees who engaged in insider trading.
Investigators have been circling Cohen and SAC for years. The firm agreed in March to pay the SEC roughly $615 million in connection with alleged insider trading by employees including two portfolio managers, Mathew Martoma and Michael Steinberg.
Martoma and Steinberg have already been charged criminally and are awaiting trial. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Martoma is accused of selling and shorting shares of the pharmaceutical companies Elan ( and Wyeth based on inside information from drug trials that had not been publicized. The trades allegedly allowed SAC to generate profits and avoid losses worth $276 million in total. )
Steinberg is accused of insider trading in Dell (Fortune 500) and , Nvidia ( stock. An analyst who reported to Steinberg, )Jon Horvath, has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
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Investors have been fleeing SAC in droves over the past few months as the firm's legal troubles have mounted.
The indictment of the firm makes matters worse. The Justice Department could permanently shutter SAC, which reportedly employs about 1,000 people, with a conviction in the case.
The SEC, meanwhile, is seeking to bar Cohen for managing investor funds. He could also be barred from the financial services industry.
Even if the firm is closed and Cohen himself faces sanctions, he could still manage the massive personal fortune he has invested with SAC, said Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor and SEC lawyer. As of May, Cohen accounted for $7 billion out of the roughly $15 billion managed by SAC, according to Bloomberg.
Nonetheless, the criminal charges against SAC represent a significant step.
Prosecutors have generally been reluctant to indict companies since accounting firm Arthur Andersen essentially collapsed a decade ago -- taking down nearly 28,000 jobs -- after being convicted in connection with the Enron scandal, said Michael Clark, a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor. The conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
Subsidiaries of global banks Royal Bank of Scotland ( and )UBS ( have pleaded guilty in the past few months to criminal charges in connection with the Libor )rate-rigging scandal, though those pleas didn't affect the firms' ability to operate in the United States.
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