U.S. v. CONTORINIS Docket No. 11-3-cr.
692 F.3d 136 (2012)
UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Joseph CONTORINIS, Defendant-Appellant.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Decided: August 17, 2012.
Andrew L. Fish, Assistant United States Attorney ( Reed M. Brodsky, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY, for Appellee.
Before: WINTER, HALL, and CHIN, Circuit Judges.
WINTER, Circuit Judge:
Joseph Contorinis appeals from his conviction by a jury before Judge Sullivan for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and insider trading and from the district court's forfeiture order in the amount of $12.65 million. Appellant claims error in: (i) a jury instruction that allegedly did not adequately convey the definition of material, nonpublic information; (ii) the admission of evidence of contemporaneous trades by individuals who received inside information from the same source as appellant; and (iii) the amount of the forfeiture order entered by the district court. We hold that the district court properly instructed the jury on the definition of material, nonpublic information and acted within its discretion in admitting evidence concerning the trades by other individuals. However, we conclude that the court erred in ordering appellant to forfeit gains acquired by his employer but not by him. We therefore affirm appellant's conviction but vacate the forfeiture order and remand for further proceedings.
Given the jury's verdict, we view the evidence and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the government. United States v. Chavez,
During the relevant time period, appellant was employed, with Michael Handler, as a co-portfolio manager of the Jeffries Paragon Fund ("Fund"). The Fund invested in companies in the retail and personal products sectors. As portfolio managers, Handler and appellant made investment decisions but did not control disbursements of profits.
Sometime in 2000, appellant met and befriended Nicos Stephanou, who became an investment banker in the Mergers and Acquisitions group at UBS in 2002. Thereafter, appellant and Stephanou spoke on the telephone often, sometimes as much as 75 times a month. Stephanou regularly provided confidential information to several friends. These "tippees" included a California employee of a semiconductor company, an individual working in an import/export business in New York, and two individuals living in Cyprus.
On September 2, 2005, Albertsons grocery store chain ("ABS") announced that it was exploring options to increase shareholder value, including a possible sale of the company. Appellant then purchased a large amount of ABS stock on behalf of the Fund. On the same day, Stephanou was assigned to a team at UBS that was to represent a potential purchaser of ABS. Stephanou testified that he informed appellant of his role, and that appellant asked Stephanou to keep him informed about the deal.
Subsequently, on November 22, Stephanou received information suggesting that it was then more likely than not that an acquisition of ABS would occur. Stephanou conveyed that information to appellant and his other friends. On the same day, appellant purchased 250,000 shares of ABS on behalf of the Fund. He testified that this purchase was motivated by a worse than expected earnings report by ABS.
On December 6, Stephanou learned that the likelihood of the deal had been drastically reduced. Nevertheless, appellant purchased 126,000 shares of ABS the following morning. He testified that he believed that offers at the end of the bidding period, December 7, the next day, would increase the stock price. Appellant became unavailable for a few hours, and Handler began to sell ABS stock. Handler testified that he sold the stock because he mistakenly believed the bidding period was over. When appellant became available, appellant continued to sell. The Fund sold the vast majority of its position in ABS on December 7, closed out its long position on December 8, and then briefly went short. Appellant made the lion's share of these trades. The other tippees also closed out their positions in ABS during the same time frame.
On December 9, Stephanou was told that the deal was back on and could be announced on the 19th. That day Stephanou purchased shares of ABS, and several of his tippees did as well. Two days later, Stephanou was involved in a conference call discussing the details of the proposed transaction. Immediately following that call, Stephanou spoke with appellant, and the Fund purchased over $38 million of ABS the next day.
Stephanou testified that he learned on December 17 that the deal was going to happen and would be announced later in the week. Phone records showed that Stephanou spoke with appellant several times over the next two days. The Fund purchased over 300,000 shares of ABS between December 19 and 20. On December 21, several media outlets reported that talks had broken down and that the deal was unlikely to occur. Stephanou testified that he repeatedly relayed information about the deal to appellant. Phone records showed several calls between the two during this time. Until the media reports, the details looked positive, but ultimately it was determined that antitrust concerns in the Chicago market would hold the deal up. Stephanou then advised appellant that the transaction was not going forward. The next day, December 22, Stephanou sold his position in ABS, shorted the stock, and advised appellant and the other tippees of the moribund status of the deal. The Fund also sold all of its stock in ABS, and the other tippees did the same. However, media reports in the morning of December 22 stated only that the deal was uncertain, but not necessarily dead. Only after the markets closed on December 22, and Stephanou, his other tippees, and the Fund had sold all their ABS shares, did ABS announce that talks about the sale had been terminated. ABS stock dropped in price significantly the next morning.
In late December and into early January 2006, Stephanou received reports that the acquisition of ABS was back on track. In response, he purchased ABS stock on January 11. He also informed appellant that the deal was gaining traction and that a transaction would likely be announced in the coming weeks. On that day, appellant purchased approximately 1.1 million shares of ABS stock for the Fund. Stephanou's other tippees also bought ABS stock at this time. In his testimony, appellant attributed the purchase to a belief that comments by the CEO of one of the would-be purchasers implied that ABS would be acquired. On January 12, appellant purchased 900,000 additional shares of ABS. Then, on January 13, the New York Post announced that negotiations had reopened and the Fund purchased another 200,000 shares, bringing its holdings to over 2.3 million shares. The Fund sold 500,000 shares two days later but then repurchased
Prior to trial, appellant objected to evidence about the trades of Stephanou's other tippees. In denying appellant's motion to exclude that evidence, the court stated that it had considered the parties' arguments concerning district court opinions in United States v. Marcus Schloss & Co., Inc.,
Appellant also objected to the jury charge on the basis that the court's definition of "material, nonpublic information" did not adequately explain when confirmation of publicly known or rumored information can be considered material and nonpublic.
The jury found appellant guilty of conspiracy and insider trading on the counts relating to the trades made on December 22 and January 11. Appellant was sentenced to 72 months' imprisonment and was ordered to forfeit approximately $12.65 million — the profits made by the Fund on appellant's trades in his capacity as agent of the Fund.
This appeal followed.
a) Jury Instructions
We review jury instructions de novo to determine whether the jury was misled or inadequately informed about the applicable law. Henry v. Wyeth Pharm., Inc.,
As pertinent here, the crime of insider trading required the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stephanou had a duty to UBS not to convey material, nonpublic information about deals in progress to outsiders, See Dirks v. SEC,
Although appellant's denial of receiving any information from Stephanou no doubt reduced the importance of the definition of material, nonpublic information in the jury's deliberations — if it found appellant to be lying, the chances of an acquittal would be low — the government still had to prove that the information Stephanou claimed to have given appellant was material and nonpublic. Appellant claims that
The pertinent instruction read:
Appellant argues that this jury instruction did not properly inform the jury because it failed to include the following language, or variations thereon:
In appellant's view, the critical omission in the instructions given by the court was the lack of language indicating that general confirmation of an event that is "fairly obvious" to knowledgeable investors is not material, nonpublic information. Conversely, he objects to the court's instruction that stated, "[t]he confirmation by an insider of unconfirmed facts or rumors — even if reported in a newspaper — may itself be inside information. We disagree.
We first discuss materiality and nonpublic status as separate concepts. Information is material when there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable investor would find it important in making an investment decision. See United States v. Cusimano,
While the concepts of materiality and nonpublic status refer to different things, there is considerable overlap for purposes of insider trading analysis. The content of a piece of information may be of importance in affecting the share price but so well-known that it does not alter the mix of available information and is therefore not deemed to be material. Conversely, the same information, if previously unknown to the public, may alter substantially the mix of information and thus be deemed very material. Information also comes in varying degrees of specificity and reliability, and the extent to which a newly reported item of information alters the total mix may depend on the specificity or reliability of that information. See id. at 52.
In Elkind v. Liggett & Myers, Inc.,
Similarly, a tip that provides additional reliability to existing information about the
Insiders often have special access to information about a transaction. Rumors or press reports about the transaction may be circulating but are difficult to evaluate because their source may be unknown. A trier of fact may find that information obtained from a particular insider, even if it mirrors rumors or press reports, is sufficiently more reliable, and, therefore, is material and nonpublic, because the insider tip alters the mix by confirming the rumor or reports. Id.
We conclude that the district court's instructions adequately conveyed the applicable standards. The charge informed the jury that for information to be material it must be considered significant by reasonable investors. It conveyed to the jury that material, nonpublic information is information that either is not publicly available or is sufficiently more detailed and/or reliable than publicly available information to be deemed significant, in and of itself, by reasonable investors.
To the extent that appellant's suggested charges focused entirely on the content of reports or tips, excluding from consideration the reliability of the source, they misstated the law. See United States v. Abelis,
b) Evidence of Other Trades
Appellant also argues that the district court should have excluded the evidence concerning trades of other individuals under Fed.R.Evid. 403, which states that evidence may be excluded if its probative value is "substantially outweighed by a danger of ... unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, [or] misleading the jury."
Given the district courts' "broad discretion over the admission of evidence," United States v. McDermott,
On appeal, as in the district court, the parties' arguments focus on which of the differing district court opinions in Marcus Schloss and Ballesteros we should adopt. However, we are skeptical as to whether a general rule, rather than a case by case analysis, regarding admission or exclusion of evidence of trades by other alleged tippees in insider trading cases is appropriate. In Marcus Schloss and Ballesteros, the evidence of other trades was relevant to the extent of a particular conspiracy. See Marcus Schloss, 710 F.Supp. at 951; Ballesteros, 181 F.Supp.2d at 356.
Here, however, there is no allegation that appellant and the other tippees were co-conspirators. Rather, the other tippees were strangers to appellant. In that light, the government's argument that the evidence of the other trades tends to show that appellant traded on inside information arguably contains a danger of substantial prejudice. Appellant was a professional in
However, the relevance of the other trades is not limited to showing the motive for appellant's trades. Appellant challenged Stephanou's testimony as to his conversations with appellant, labeling him a "career criminal" and "a master liar" who concocted a tale involving appellant to obtain a lighter sentence.
Appellant's defense was not that he received information from Stephanou about the ABS negotiations and that it was both insignificant and a fraction of the information available to him. Rather, appellant denied ever receiving any information from Stephanou regarding any transaction on which Stephanou was working. Given that testimony and litigating position, the evidence of common trades had arguable probative value in support of the credibility of Stephanou's testimony that he shared common information with appellant and the others.
Admission of the evidence of other trades was thus a paradigmatic case of weighing probative value and danger of unfair prejudice that was within the considerable discretion of the district court. It may well be that appellant was entitled to a limiting instruction, but such an instruction was never requested.
c) Order of Forfeiture
The final issue is whether the district court erred in ordering appellant to forfeit $12.65 million, the total amount of profits made, and losses avoided, by the Fund in ABS trades. Appellant, who was an employee and small equity owner of the Fund, argues that he cannot be ordered to forfeit profits that he never received or possessed. We agree.
In reviewing an order of forfeiture, we review the district court's legal conclusions de novo and the factual findings for clear error. United States v. Sabhnani,
Forfeiture of funds or property can be either civil or criminal. In civil forfeiture, the United States brings a civil action against the property itself as an in rem proceeding — "[i]t is the property which is proceeded against, and ... held guilty and condemned as though it were conscious instead of inanimate and insentient." Various Items of Personal Property v. United States,
Forfeiture in criminal proceedings under 18 U.S.C. § 981 is an in personam proceeding. "The forfeiture serves no remedial purpose, is designed to punish the offender, and cannot be imposed upon innocent owners." United States v. Bajakajian,
This general rule is somewhat modified by the principle that a court may order a defendant to forfeit proceeds received by others who participated jointly in the crime, provided the actions generating those proceeds were reasonably foreseeable to the defendant. United States v. Fruchter,
Moreover, we are not aware of, and the government has not cited, any decision standing for the proposition that a defendant may be required to forfeit funds never acquired by him or someone working in concert with him. Neither our opinion in United States v. Royer,
We have reviewed appellant's other arguments and conclude that they are without merit. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm appellant's conviction, but vacate the order of forfeiture and remand for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
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