Articles Posted in

Published on:

By William M. Sullivan, Jr. and Jay B. Gould

Under the Second Circuit’s new ruling, prosecutors have two large hurdles they must clear to convict under securities laws. First, they must prove that a defendant knew that the source of inside information disclosed tips in exchange for a personal benefit. Second, the definition of “personal benefit” is tightened to something more akin to a quid pro quo exchange.

For years, insider trading cases have been slam dunks for federal prosecutors. The United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York had compiled a remarkable streak of more than eighty insider trading convictions over the past five years. But that record has evaporated thanks to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s ruling in United States v. Newman, in which the Second Circuit concluded that the district court’s jury instructions were improper and that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction.

The Second Circuit relied upon a thirty year old Supreme Court opinion, Dirks v. SEC, 463 U.S. 646 (1983), and highlighted the “doctrinal novelty” of many of the government’s recent successful insider trading prosecutions in failing to follow Dirks. Accordingly, the Court overturned insider trading convictions for Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson because the defendants did not know they were trading on confidential information received from insiders in violation of those insiders’ fiduciary duties. More broadly, however, the Court laid down two new standards in tipping liability cases, both likely to frustrate prosecutors for years to come.

Tougher Disclosure Requirements

Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Securities and Exchange Commission rules 10b-5 and 10b5-1 generally prohibit trading on the basis of material nonpublic information, more conventionally known as insider trading. In addition, federal law also prohibits an individual (the “tipper”) from disclosing private information to an outside person (the “tippee”), if the tippee then trades on the basis of this private information. This disclosure—a breach of one’s fiduciary duty—is known as tipping liability. As with most crimes, tipping liability requires scienter, a mental state that demonstrates intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud. In these cases, the government must show that the defendant acted willfully—i.e., with the realization that what he was doing was a wrongful act under the securities laws.

Until last week, willfulness had been fairly easy to show, and that was one of the principal reasons for the government’s string of successes. Prosecutors only had to prove that the defendants traded on confidential information that they knew had been disclosed through a breach of confidentiality. In Newman, however, the Second Circuit rejected this position outright. The Court held that a tippee can only be convicted if the government can prove that he knew that the insider disclosed confidential information in exchange for a personal benefit, and one that is “consequential” and potentially pecuniary.

This distinction may seem minor, but its impact is enormous. The government now must prove—beyond a reasonable doubt, no less—that a defendant affirmatively knew about a personal benefit to the source of the confidential information. From the prosecution’s perspective, this is a massively challenging prospect.

Tightened “Personal Benefit” Standards

The Second Circuit also clarified the definition of “personal benefit” in the tipping liability context. Previously, the Court had embraced a very broad definition of the term—so broad, in fact, that the government argued that a tip in exchange for “mere friendship” or “career advice” could expose a trader to tipping liability.

The Court retreated from this position and narrowed its standard. Now, to constitute a personal benefit, the prosecution must show an exchange “that is objective, consequential, and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature” —in other words, something akin to a quid pro quo relationship. This, too, complicates a prosecution’s case significantly.

Implications of the Ruling

What effect will this ruling have moving forward? Of course, one effect is obvious from the start: prosecutors are going to have a much more difficult time proving tipping liability. But as with many new appellate cases, it may take some time to see how this rule shakes out on the ground in the trial courts. Here are a few things to keep in mind over the next few months and years.

  • This ruling may cause some immediate fallout. For example, there are currently several similar cases in New York that are pending for trial or appeal, and these may now result in acquittals or vacated convictions. In fact, some defendants who previously took guilty pleas in cooperation with Newman and Chiasson’s case are considering withdrawing their pleas in light of this decision. Moving forward, look to see the SEC and potential defendants adjusting their behavior and strategies in light of this ruling. In fact, just this week, a New York Federal Judge expressed strong reservations about whether guilty pleas entered by four defendants in an insider trader case related to a $1.2 billion IBM Corp. acquisition in 2009 should remain in light of Newman.
  • This is also welcome news for tippees who did not interact directly with the source of the inside information. Although the source of the leak may still be prosecuted as usual, this ruling may shield a more remote party from an indictment. As the Newman court noted, the government’s recent insider trading wins have been “increasingly targeted at remote tippees many levels removed from corporate insiders.” Now, without clear evidence that the insider received a quantifiable benefit and that the tippee was aware of such benefit for providing the information, cases against such “remote tippees” will be tremendously more difficult to prove.
  • But, caution should still reign where tippees deal more directly with tippers. The tippees in this case were as many as three or four steps removed from the tippers. It is not difficult to imagine the Court coming out the other way if Newman and Chiasson had been dealing with the tippers themselves.
  • One enormous question mark is to what extent the standards expressed in this case will affect the SEC’s civil enforcement suits. We will have to wait and see, but traders should still use caution. Because civil suits require a substantially lower burden of proof and lesser standard of intent compared to criminal cases, it is possible that these new rules may offer little protection from a civil suit. Additionally, SEC attorneys will probably emphasize this distinction to courts in an attempt to distinguish their enforcement suits from Newman and Chiasson’s criminal case, but whether this tactic is effective remains to be seen.
  • Although the Court refined the meaning of a personal benefit, the definition is still purposefully flexible. This case tells us that abstract psychic benefits—friendship, business advice, church relationships—are not enough, but what about anything just short of exchanging money, favors, or goods? We don’t yet know, and for that reason clients should exercise care.
If you have any questions about the content of this alert,   please contact the Pillsbury attorney with whom you regularly work, or the   authors below.
Jay B. Gould (bio)San Francisco


William M. Sullivan (bio)Washington, DC



The authors wish to thank Robert Boyd for his valuable assistance with this client alert.


About Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
Pillsbury is a full-service law firm with an industry focus on energy & natural resources, financial services including financial institutions, real estate & construction, and technology. Based in the world’s major financial, technology and energy centers, Pillsbury counsels clients on global business, regulatory and litigation matters. We work in multidisciplinary teams that allow us to understand our clients’ objectives, anticipate trends, and bring a 360-degree perspective to complex business and legal issues—helping clients to take greater advantage of new opportunities, meet and exceed their objectives, and better mitigate risk. This collaborative work style helps produce the results our clients seek.

Published on:

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that on December 16, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois entered a Consent Order for permanent injunction against AlphaMetrix, LLC (AlphaMetrix), a Chicago-based Commodity Pool Operator (CPO) and Commodity Trading Advisor (CTA), and its parent company AlphaMetrix Group, LLC (AlphaMetrix Group). The Order requires AlphaMetrix to pay restitution of $2.8 million and a civil monetary penalty of $2.8 million and requires AlphaMetrix Group to pay disgorgement of $2.8 million. The Order also prohibits AlphaMetrix from further violating anti-fraud provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), as charged.

The Order stems from CFTC charges that AlphaMetrix failed to pay at least $2.8 million in rebates owed to some of its commodity pool participants by investing the rebate funds in the pools and instead transferred the funds to its parent company, which had no entitlement to the funds. Nevertheless, AlphaMetrix sent these pool participants account statements that included the rebate funds as if they had been reinvested in the pools, even though they were not (see CFTC Press Release 6767-13, November 6, 2013).

A civil action filed by the court-appointed receiver remains pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In that action, the receiver seeks to recover funds from former officers of AlphaMetrix and AlphaMetrix Group.

The CFTC cautions victims that restitution orders may not result in the recovery of money lost because the wrongdoers may not have sufficient funds or assets.

Published on:

With interest rates and credit spreads near historic lows and equity valuation above historical averages, many people are concerned that the Federal Reserve, by artificially keeping rates low, has created a 2007 type asset bubble in the capital markets where many securities are priced to perfection. What happens to the financial markets when the Fed begins to raise interest rates or there is some other economic shock to the financial system, and what impact will this have on the hedge fund industry? We recently saw a glimpse of this from mid-September to mid-October when we experienced a slight tremor in the capital markets which saw asset prices decline and volatility spike. This was followed by an onslaught of negative articles from the mainstream media relative to the hedge fund industry.

Agecroft Partners believes there is a low probability of another 2008 type market selloff in the near future. However, if it were to occur, the outcome in the hedge fund industry would be very different than what was experienced in 2008. The hedge fund industry is structurally much more stable today than in 2008. As describe below, such stability would result in significantly less redemptions and an avoidance of a complete seizing of inflows.


Read this article and additional publications at

Published on:


On November 25, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) brought charges against a Swiss-based bank that should serve as notice to all non-U.S. banks that maintain relationships with clients who have moved to the U.S., as well as U.S.-based banks that provide services to clients who have relocated to other countries.  The SEC found that HSBC’s Swiss-based private banking arm violated U.S. securities laws by providing investment advisory and brokerage services to U.S. clients without being properly registered as either an investment adviser or a broker-dealer.  HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) agreed to admit wrongdoing and pay $12.5 million to settle the SEC’s charges in a combination of disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and penalties.

How often do financial institutions, foreign or U.S., put themselves in the position of willfully violating the securities and banking laws of other countries?  Pretty routinely, as it turns out.  By way of example, suppose you are a citizen of a European Union country with a local banking relationship.  You work for a large multi-national company that offers you a promotion, but that new job is in New York.  Not one to decline an opportunity, off you go to the Center of the Universe.  You open a new bank account at a local New York bank, but you maintain your European bank relationship because you have a consolidated banking, investment advisory and brokerage relationship there that has worked quite well for you.  The relationship manager at your European bank certainly does not want to give up the revenue stream from your lucrative relationship, particularly now that you are making so much more money and you are willing to purchase and sell stocks more frequently.  Multiply this scenario several times over and before you know it, this certain European bank is routinely providing banking, investment advisory, and brokerage services to U.S. residents without being properly registered to do so.

This same scenario can and often does play out in reverse.  A U.S. citizen moves to a foreign country and maintains his banking, investment advisory and/or brokerage relationships with a financial institution that is not qualified to do business in the client’s new country of residence and before you know it, the U.S. financial institution is in violation of the laws of the country in which its client now resides.  And, not to gratuitously pick on any particular jurisdiction, the provision of such services in some countries pourrait être criminelle.

In the case of HSBC, the SEC found that HSBC Private Bank and its predecessors began providing cross-border advisory and brokerage services in the U.S. more than 10 years ago on behalf of at least 368 U.S. client accounts and collected fees totaling approximately $5.7 million.  HSBC relationship managers traveled to the U.S. on at least 40 occasions to solicit clients, provide investment advice, and induce securities transactions.  These relationship managers were not registered in the U.S. as investment adviser representatives or licensed brokers, nor were they affiliated with a registered investment adviser or broker-dealer (or “chaperoned” by a registered U.S. broker-dealer).  The relationship managers also communicated directly with clients in the U.S. through overseas mail and e-mails.  In 2010, HSBC Private Bank decided to exit the U.S. cross-border business, and nearly all of its U.S. client accounts were closed or transferred by the end of 2011.

According to the SEC’s order, HSBC Private Bank understood there was a risk of violating U.S. securities laws by providing unregistered investment advisory and brokerage services to U.S. clients, and the firm undertook certain compliance initiatives in an effort to manage and mitigate the risk.  The firm created a dedicated North American desk to consolidate U.S. client accounts among a smaller number of relationship managers and service them in a compliant manner that would not violate U.S. registration requirements.  However, certain relationship managers were reluctant to lose clients by transferring them to the North American desk and stalled the process or ignored it altogether.  HSBC Private Bank’s internal review revealed multiple occasions when U.S. accounts that were expected to be closed under certain compliance initiatives remained open.  HSBC Private Bank admitted to the SEC’s findings in the administrative order, acknowledged that its conduct violated U.S. securities laws, and accepted a censure and a cease-and-desist order.

Foreign financial institutions, even those that have U.S. affiliates that are properly registered and regulated as banks, investment advisers, or broker-dealers should undertake a review of their client accounts to determine whether they are providing services that are in violation of applicable law.  It is possible, perhaps even likely, that even if a non-U.S. financial institution has properly registered U.S. entities, services are being provided to certain clients outside of those entities as a result of historical relationships.  U.S. banks should also determine whether they are providing financial services to relocated clients in countries that would either prohibit such services or require some form of notification or registration.  A failure to abide by the laws of non-U.S. countries could also place a U.S. institution in the position of violating certain U.S. laws that require diligence of and compliance with the laws of other countries.