Insider Trading Updates: Cuban Jury to SEC – No Cigar; Heinz Tippees Revealed (But Who Were the Tippers?)

The SEC loses some and wins some insider trading cases:

The SEC’s five year old insider trading case against Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, came to a sad conclusion for the SEC on Wednesday when a federal jury acquitted Mr. Cuban of insider trading charges.

The SEC had accused Mr. Cuban of insider trading in the securities of Mamma.com, a publicly traded Internet search engine company. According to the complaint, in June 2004, Mr. Cuban sold his entire 600,000 share position in Mamma.com after learning from the CEO that the company was planning to conduct a PIPE offering. The complaint alleged that Cuban avoided losses in excess of $750,000 by selling his stock prior to the public announcement of the PIPE offering.

The SEC alleged that Mr. Cuban verbally agreed to keep confidential and not trade on the information that the CEO gave him about the private offering. Mr. Cuban denied any such agreement and the jury agreed. Possibly hurting the SEC’s position was the fact that their main witness, the Mamma.com CEO, did not testify in person.

And now for a win.

The SEC announced that they had come to a settlement with the previously unknown inside traders who pocketed 1.8 million in profits by trading call options in advance of the public announcement of the sale of the H.J. Heinz Company.

The SEC filed an emergency enforcement action earlier this year to freeze assets in a Swiss-based trading account used to reap the illegal trading profits in advance of the Heinz announcement.

In an amended complaint filed earlier this month, the SEC alleged that the order to purchase the Heinz options was placed by Rodrigo Terpins while he was vacationing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, and that the trading was based on material non-public information that he received from his brother Michel Terpins. The trades were made through an account belonging to a Cayman Islands-based entity. Rodrigo Terpins purchased nearly $90,000 in option positions in Heinz the day before the announcement, and those positions increased by more than 20 times the next day.

The Terpins brothers agreed to disgorge the entire $1.8 million in illegal profits made from trading Heinz options. The Terpins brothers also will pay $3 million in penalties.

Interestingly, the amended complaint does not reveal the identity of the “tipper” that provided the information to Michel Terpins, other than to say that the SEC believed that the “information source” had disclosed the information about the pending deal “in breach of a duty.”

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