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Prosecutors Say SAC Encouraged Insider Trading

U.S. officials filed criminal charges against SAC Capital on Thursday. SAC is one of the country's biggest and most successful hedge fund companies. Federal prosecutors say the firm not only tolerated insider trading, it encouraged it. And they say the firm's billionaire founder, Steven Cohen, routinely chose to look the other way.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And the Justice Department took an unusual step yesterday when it indicted a firm for securities fraud. Officials say the hedge fund company SAC Capital and its founder Steven Cohen routinely tolerated and encouraged illegal activity by employees. SAC is denying charges that it engaged in massive insider trading over the years.

NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Connecticut-based SAC is one of the biggest and most successful hedge fund companies in the country, and U.S. officials say it got there by systemic corruption.

U.S. attorney Preet Bharara told the press conference yesterday that illegal activity at the firm was pervasive.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PREET BHARARA: SAC traffic and inside information on a scale without any known precedent in the history of hedge funds, as described in the indictment, the scope of illegal trading was deep, and it was wide.

ZARROLI: U.S. officials say portfolio managers were hired because of their personal contacts in the industries they covered, and were expected to solicit them for inside information at companies.

Officials say they then used the tips they received to trade for their own portfolios, and also gave them to Cohen so he, too, could use them to trade. Eight of the firm's employees have now been charged with insider trading, and most have pleaded guilty. And Cohen himself faces civil charges for failing to supervise his employees. The government says SAC had a compliance department that was supposed to look out for insider trading, but it was very weak. When it came upon employee emails inadvertently describing illegal activity, the government says compliance department officials rarely took any action. Instead, they would ask the employee to rewrite it, saying it was poorly worded. Yesterday's indictment leaves the future of SAC in question, says Columbia Law School Professor Dan Richman.

DAN RICHMAN: An indictment of this breadth and scope is understood by all concerns to be, if not a death knell, a very serious blow.

ZARROLI: SAC once had assets of more than $15 billion. Much of that has been withdrawn, as the investigation has dragged on. But some investors have stayed loyal to Cohen. The question now is what will happen to the firm's remaining funds. U.S. officials say they will attempt to seize illegally obtained money. But SAC said yesterday it hopes to work out an agreement that will protect its investors' interests and allow the firm to stay open until the case is resolved. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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