Insider Trading: Former FrontPoint Partners Hedge Fund Manager Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges

Joseph “Chip” Skowron III, an ex- FrontPoint Partners Hedge Fund manager, has pleaded guilty to criminal charges involving insider trading activities that saved his financial firm more than $30 million in losses. Charges include conspiracy to commit securities fraud and to obstruct a Securities and Exchange Commission probe.

Skowron, 42, admitted that he received confidential information from Yves Benhamou, a French doctor working on clinical trials for a biotechnology company’s hepatitis C drug. After Benhamou notified him that there were certain problems with the medication, in 2008 Skowron had the hedge fund get rid of millions of dollars of shares in the company (the funds’ holdings of Human Genome Sciences Inc. (HGSI)), which is why the more than $30 million loss was averted.

This week, Skowron admitted to directing trades in six FrontPoint health-care funds based on the insider tip. He also said that he lied to the SEC in 2009 about whether Benhamou had given him material, nonpublic information. As part of his plea deal, Skowron will forfeit $5 million. He also could be ordered to serve 5 years behind bars. His sentencing is scheduled for later this year.

A few months ago, FrontPoint paid $33 million to regulators over the related losses that Skowron prevented when he sold the shares. Of the $33 million, $29 million was in disgorgement of avoided losses. The remaining $4 million was for prejudgment interest.

Following the former hedge fund manager’s guilty plea, FrontPoint issued a statement saying that Skowron lied and misled the financial firm’s internal compliance team, the federal government, and the external counsel retained to independently probe his actions. FrontPoint also pointed out that it was never accused of any wrongdoing in this matter.

Over the last two years, 47 hedge fund managers are among those that have pleaded guilty to or been convicted of insider trading. These outcomes are in part because federal government has stepped up its efforts to investigate insider trading on Wall Street.

Earlier this year, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan who has charged dozens of people with insider trading, said the scope of so many allegations indicated that the problem was a “corrupt business model” rather than an “occasional corrupt individual.” He condemned the “prevalence of illegal trading” that has been taking place on Wall Street.

Insider Trading
While legal insider trading, which involves a corporate insider selling stock in the company and reporting these trades to the SEC, does exist and is an acceptable practice, illegal insider trading is against the law. This type of insider trading involves the selling or buying of securities in a manner that uses material, nonpublic information and breaches a fiduciary duty or other relationship of confidence and trust. The person being tipped the insider information, the one tipping the information, or the actual person with the tip making the trade are among those who can be charged with committing illegal insider trading.

Ex-Fund Manager Pleads Guilty to Using Inside Tips, The Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2011

Insider Inquiry Steps Up Its Focus on Hedge Funds, New York Times, February 8, 2011

Former Hedge Fund Portfolio Manager Joseph “Chip” Skowron Pleads Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court to Insider Trading Scheme Involving Clinical Drug Trial, FBI, August 15, 2011

More Blog Posts:

Ex-Goldman Sachs Board Member Accused of Insider Trading with Galleon Group Co-Founder Seeks to Have SEC Administrative Case Against Him Dropped, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, April 19, 2011

44% of Insider Traders Convicted of Insider Trading in New York Manage to Get Out of Jail Before Even Serving Time, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, January 25, 2011

Janney Montgomery Scott LLC to Pay $850K to Settle Securities Charges Over Alleged Failure to Prevent Inside Trading, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 21, 2011

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