Without former U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell, there probably would not have been any prosecution of Rajat Gupta, the former Goldman Sachs director and McKinsey chief convicted Friday of insider trading and conspiracy. In 2010, Holwell ruled that prosecutors could use wiretap evidence in their case against Galleon Group hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, rejecting defense arguments that the government is not authorized to use wiretaps to investigate insider trading. If prosecutors hadn’t been able to use those Rajaratnam wiretaps – in which Rajaratnam obliquely referred to tips from a Goldman insider – it’s unlikely the government would have gone to trial against Gupta, since the tapes were the only link between Gupta’s alleged tips and Rajaratnam’s trades.
Sometime in the next few days of testimony in the prosecution of former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta, U.S. Senior District Judge Jed Rakoff will probably take a moment to give jurors what he has described in previous trials as a “heads-up.” Rakoff will offer the jury a preliminary instruction on what insider trading is. If you think that’s an easy task, you should look at the proposed instructions the government and defense counsel from Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel submitted to Rakoff this week. The two sides agree that Rakoff should use phrases like “material non-public information,” but beyond that they’re each trying to use the preliminary instruction to sway jurors.
Remember the children’s game Telephone? One kid whispers something in another kid’s ear, the second kid turns around and whispers what she heard to the next child, and so on down the line. At the end, the last one to receive the whispered message says aloud what she heard, the kid at the start of the chain announces the original phrase, and everyone laughs because the message was inevitably mangled as it was passed along. That’s why courts have a rule barring hearsay. Witnesses can testify about conversations they participated in, but they can’t generally tell jurors what they heard secondhand about discussions they weren’t directly involved in, because hearsay isn’t considered sufficiently reliable.
From the beginning of the criminal prosecution of Rajat Gupta, it was clear that the government didn’t have the sort of evidence usually at the heart of insider-trading cases. Gupta didn’t profit directly from the tips he allegedly passed to Raj Rajaratnam, who has since been convicted of insider trading. In fact, as his lawyer, Gary Naftalis of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel has said repeatedly, Gupta lost millions in his investment with Galleon, Rajaratnam’s hedge fund. That evidentiary gap has left space for Naftalis to argue that the government unfairly targeted his client because of Gupta’s high profile as a former head of McKinsey and director at Goldman Sachs. It also puts pressure on prosecutors to link Gupta directly to Rajaratnam’s tainted trades, since nothing else shows he was part of the conspiracy.
Jed Rakoff has bounced back quite nicely, thank you, from his appellate smackdown in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s collateralized debt obligation case against Citigroup. In the unlikely event you’ve forgotten, earlier this month the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the SEC’s case before Rakoff, finding a strong likelihood that the government and Citi would prevail in their argument that the judge overstepped his bounds when he rejected their proposed $285 million settlement. Despite the notably critical language in the three-judge panel’s per curiam ruling in the Citi case, Rakoff, a U.S. Senior District Judge in federal court in Manhattan, seems undaunted in his determination to hold the SEC accountable. On Tuesday, he ruled that the agency must disclose documents used to prepare Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein for his deposition in the Rajat Gupta insider trading case.
The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission apparently do not have the evidence to assert a classic insider-trading case against former Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble director Rajat Gupta. Typically, the government brings insider-trading cases against people who profited directly from trades based on confidential information. Gupta doesn’t fall into that category. Neither the SEC nor the DOJ claims that he realized any direct profits from the trades Galleon Group chief Raj Rajaratnam allegedly made based on his tips. Indeed, Gupta’s lawyer, Gary Naftalis of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, has said many times that Gupta “lost his entire investment” in Rajaratnam’s hedge fund. “[Gupta] did not trade in any securities, did not tip Mr. Rajaratnam so he could trade, and did not share in any profits as part of any quid pro quo,” Naftalis told Reuters in a statement.
Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta and his lawyer, Gary Naftalis of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, declared what might seem to be a very strange kind of victory last week when the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to drop its administrative proceeding against Gupta. The two-page stipulation between Gupta and the SEC makes it clear that the SEC isn’t giving up on its claims that Gupta engaged in insider trading when he allegedly passed confidential information about Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble to Galleon Group hedge fund chief Raj Rajaratnam. All Gupta won was a pledge that the agency will sue him in federal court. And that is indeed a huge victory.