US Courthouse, New YorkBy Andrew Longstreth

NEW YORK, Jan 6 (Reuters Legal) – The recent flurry of insider-trading arrests by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney has set Wall Street on edge. But if recent history is any guide, people found guilty of that crime tend to get off relatively easy, a Reuters Legal analysis suggests.

The analysis covers sentences imposed in 2009 and 2010 in 15 insider-trading cases brought by the U.S. Attorney in New York, representing virtually all those imposed in that court during this period. Of these, 13 sentences, or nearly 87 percent, were lighter than the terms prescribed by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines — and seven of the sentences carried no prison time at all. The data from 2009, culled from a report issued last year by law firm Morrison & Foerster, reveal that only one prison term, for 63 months, was issued for insider trading in 2009.

The routine practice of departing downward from the guidelines in insider-trading cases is particularly striking given the much lower rate at which judges in the New York federal court typically do so. According to U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics from fiscal 2009, New York federal judges departed downward from the guidelines in 57 percent of all cases, a full 30 percentage points lower than for insider-trading cases alone. (more…)