Federal regulators on Tuesday charged a Philadelphia investment broker and four others with illegally profiting on insider information that the broker learned from a friend he met at Alcoholics Anonymous.
The group allegedly made $1.8 million from the insider trading scheme, which stretched as far away as Hong Kong.
The Securities and Exchange Commission said Timothy J. McGee, a financial adviser at Ameriprise Financial Services, bought up shares of Philadelphia Consolidated Holding Corp. after learning the insurance company was about to be acquired. A Philadelphia Consolidated executive, whom McGee had known for a decade through AA, had confided that he was facing pressure at work related to the impending merger.
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The SEC said the pair had grown close, trained for triathlons together, and McGee had assured the executive many times that he would keep any information they discussed confidential. The SEC said McGee instead bought up shares of the insurer and tipped off an Ameriprise colleague, Michael W. Zirinsky.
Zirinsky purchased shares worth hundreds of thousands of dollars through his own trading account, as well as those of his wife, sister, mother and grandmother, and his father also traded on the information, according to the SEC.
Zirinsky then shared the tip with a Hong Kong-based friend, Paulo Lam, who passed it along to another friend. That man's wife, Marianna sze wan Ho, then also purchased a large amount of Philadelphia Consolidated stock, regulators said.
The insurer's shares surged 64 percent after Philadelphia Consolidated announced in July 2008 that it would be purchased by Japan's Tokio Marine Holdings. The Zirinsky family made $562,673 selling their shares and McGee made $292,128, while Lam netted $837,975 and Ho's take amounted to $110,580, the SEC said.
The civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charges McGee, Michael Zirinsky, Robert Zirinsky, Lam and Ho with insider trading. The SEC is asking that they be ordered to relinquish the profits from their stock sales and pay penalties.
“McGee stole information shared with him in the utmost confidence, and as securities industry professionals he and Zirinsky clearly knew better,” said Elaine C. Greenberg, Associate Director of the SEC's Philadelphia Regional Office. “As this case demonstrates, we will follow each link in a tipping chain all the way to Hong Kong if necessary.”
Lam and Ho have agreed to settle, with Lam paying the SEC $1.2 million and Ho paying $140,000. The SEC said neither Lam nor Ho admitted or denied the allegations as part of the deal.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a private group, aided in the case.