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SEC weighs suit against SAC Capital

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Federal regulators are preparing a civil fraud case against SAC Capital Advisors, the $14-billion hedge fund run by the billionaire investor Steven A Cohen, according to a call that he held with the fund’s investors on Wednesday morning.

SAC said it had received a so-called Wells notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission, an indication that the agency was considering an enforcement action against the hedge fund.

Cohen briefly spoke to investors at the beginning of the call and defended the firm’s conduct. He thanked his investors for their support.

“We take these matters very seriously, and I am confident that I have acted appropriately,” Cohen said, according to a person who listened in on the call.

Last week, federal prosecutors accused Mathew Martoma, a former SAC portfolio manager, with corrupting a doctor who provided him with confidential data on a drug trial.

The secret information, authorities say, allowed SAC to earn profit and avoid losses totaling $276 million. For the first time in the government’s years of investigating SAC over improper trading, the charges connected Cohen to questionable trades.

The SEC also filed a parallel civil case against Martoma and CR Intrinsic, the SAC unit where he was employed.

Charles A. Stillman, a lawyer for Martoma, has said he expects his client to be “fully exonerated.”

A spokesman for SAC Capital, Jonathan Gasthalter, has said, “Cohen and SAC are confident that they have acted appropriately and will continue to cooperate with the government’s inquiry.”

On the call, Thomas Conheeney, the president of SAC, said Cohen had been deposed by the SEC related to this matter earlier in the year, and had been responsive to all of the commission’s questions. SAC did not allow investors to ask questions during the call.

A Wells notice from the SEC relates to possible civil action but does not imply that the Justice Department is preparing a criminal case against SAC or Cohen.

But the Wells notice is the boldest regulatory shot yet across SAC’s bow. The hedge fund and its founder have been squarely in prosecutors’ sights since the middle of the last decade, when a crackdown on insider trading began.

Criminal prosecutors have already linked five former employees to insider trading while at SAC, winning three convictions. But until the case against Martoma, none of the cases directly implicated Cohen.

Over the last two decades, Cohen has developed a reputation as one of Wall Street’s most successful traders, amassing a multibillion-dollar fortune. Built with only $25 million in capital, SAC has grown into an enormous firm with about 1,000 employees around the world.


© 2012 The New York Times Company

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