WASHINGTON (AP) — Steven A. Cohen will be barred for two years from managing other people's money after reaching a civil settlement with federal regulators who accused the billionaire hedge-fund manager of failing to prevent insider trading at his firm, SAC Capital Advisors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission announced the settlement of the long-running case, brought by the agency in July 2013, on Friday. Cohen wasn't fined under the agreement, and neither admitted nor denied the SEC's allegations.
Federal prosecutors had accused SAC Capital, one of the biggest and most successful hedge funds, of engaging in illegal insider trading on an epic scale while its founder and owner Cohen enabled the misconduct.
Legal experts have said the SEC's action against Cohen, focusing on his supervision of subordinates, suggested the government may not have had enough evidence to charge him with insider trading. And rather than seek higher penalties in a federal lawsuit, the SEC chose to bring the case against Cohen before an administrative law judge at the regulatory agency, where the legal burden of proof is lower.
The regulators originally sought to permanently bar Cohen from the financial industry. But under the settlement, he would be able to resume managing outside money after two years, and he is paying no financial penalties — a favorable outcome for Cohen in a high-profile case.
"Having the opportunity to accept outside capital again does not necessarily mean we will," Cohen said in a memo to the employees of his current firm, which evolved from SAC but has a smaller scope.
SAC agreed in 2013 to plead guilty to criminal fraud charges and to pay $1.8 billion. It was the largest financial penalty at the time for insider trading, according to prosecutors. Cohen himself never faced criminal charges.
Cohen, who lives on a sprawling estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, is one of the highest-profile figures in American finance and one of the country's richest men. He has been among the handful of upper-tier hedge fund managers who pull in about $1 billion a year in compensation. He founded SAC in 1992, naming it with his initials, and carved a reputation as a savvy investment manager.
In the settlement with the SEC, Cohen was banned until 2018 from managing outside money or supervising others in the financial industry. In addition, Cohen's current firm — which replaced SAC and only mainly invests Cohen's personal fortune — was required to submit to SEC inspections and to hire an independent consultant to monitor its compliance with securities laws.
"Before Cohen can handle outside money again, an independent consultant will ensure there are legally sufficient policies, procedures and supervision mechanisms in place to detect and deter any insider trading," SEC Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney said in a statement.
SAC, based in Stamford, Connecticut, managed an estimated $15 billion in assets at one point in 2013. It was at the center of a major insider trading case. Eight individuals, many of them former SAC portfolio managers, were criminally charged with insider trading. Six of them pleaded guilty and two were convicted at trial. But a federal appeals court ruling led prosecutors to drop the charges against seven of the eight last October.
As part of its plea deal with the government, SAC stopped taking in funds to manage from outside investors — transforming into a "family office" investing mainly Cohen's money. The company was renamed Point72 Asset Management.
SAC also agreed to pay a $900 million fine and forfeit another $900 million to the government. Over 10 years, prosecutors said, the company earned hundreds of millions of dollars illegally as its portfolio managers and analysts traded on inside information from at least 20 public companies: including Elan, Dell, Nvidia, Wyeth and Foundry Networks.
The SEC alleged in its July 2013 case that Cohen failed to prevent two of his SAC portfolio managers from illegally reaping profits. In its new order issued Friday, the SEC said there was one portfolio manager, Mathew Martoma, whom Cohen failed to supervise. The regulators said Martoma's illicit trades brought SAC profits and avoided about $275 million in losses. Martoma provided information to Cohen in 2008 that suggested he had access to inside information, the SEC said. But rather than raise any red flags, Cohen rewarded Martoma with a $9 million bonus, according to the SEC.
Martoma was convicted of insider-trading charges; he has appealed the conviction. Martoma earned the $9 million bonus after persuading a medical professor to leak secret data from a trial of a potential breakthrough Alzheimer's drug between 2006 and 2008, according to prosecutors.
Cohen had disputed the SEC's allegations when it brought the civil action against him. An SAC spokesman said then that Cohen "acted appropriately at all times" and would "vigorously" fight the SEC action.
Cohen's representatives declined to comment Friday.
In a memo to the 800 or so employees of Point72, also located in Stamford, Cohen said the settlement should not lead to complacency at the firm.
"We must continue to do business at the highest ethical and professional levels and in a way that is fully transparent," he wrote.