SAC's Steinberg sought 'illegal edge,' prosecutor tells jurors
NEW YORK Nov 20 (Reuters) - A lawyer for Michael Steinberg, a one-time top deputy at Steven A. Cohen's fund SAC Capital Advisors, said Wednesday his client was being unjustly vilified by a former employee acting out of his own self-interest.
But a federal prosecutor countered that Steinberg actively sought an "illegal edge" through trades on secret information cultivated through a "corrupt circle" of analysts, including one working at SAC who has pleaded guilty to insider trading.
"He did it to get an illegal edge over ordinary investors who played by the rules," prosecutor Antonia Apps said.
The two lawyers were making opening statements in the U.S. District Court in New York in the trial of Steinberg, the first employee of Cohen's once-powerful hedge fund to go to trial on insider trading charges.
Earlier this month, SAC agreed to plead guilty and pay $1.2 billion to resolve fraud charges stemming from the insider trading probe. A federal judge is considering whether to accept the plea.
Nine current or former SAC Capital employees have been charged or implicated in wrongful trading while at the hedge fund. Six have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. A separate trial in an insider trading case against another former SAC Capital fund manager, Mathew Martoma, is set for Jan. 6.
In their statements on Wednesday, both sides focused heavily on a former SAC analyst, Jon Horvath, who allegedly passed non-public information about two technology companies to Steinberg in 2008 and 2009.
Apps said prosecutors would show how Steinberg pressed Horvath to try harder to get coveted secret information. She told jurors Steinberg knew the information he was receiving and trading on was coming from "corrupt sources" inside companies including Dell Inc and Nvidia Corp.
For his part, Barry Berke, Steinberg's lawyer, laid out a portrait of Horvath as a deceitful rogue who took advantage of Steinberg and lied to him about the sources of his company information.
"Mr. Horvath chose his self-interest over the truth and claimed that Mike Steinberg was responsible for his misdeeds," Berke said.
Horvath pleaded guilty in 2012.
Steinberg, 41, faces five counts of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud on claims he traded in Dell and Nvidia based on inside information.
At the time, he was managing a portfolio for SAC's Sigma Capital Management hedge fund. He is now on leave from the fund.
The probe of SAC Capital is part of a decade-long crackdown on insider trading by New York federal prosecutors.
Throughout her presentation on Wednesday, Apps peppered her statements with the term "edge," a term that prosecutors have used to describe what Cohen demanded of his subordinates.
In a 2011 deposition in a lawsuit by an insurer, Cohen said, "I hate that word" when a lawyer asked him if it was used at SAC to describe an advantage over other investors.
One term almost entirely absent from the statements was "hedge fund." Apps used it sparsely and Berke, adopting a folksy style and opening his remarks with a parable about a thief, a farmer and a well, called SAC and its hedge fund peers "institutional investors."
Berke also made colorful use of photographs in a slide presentation he used to accompany his statement, putting an unflattering photograph of Horvath next to a picture of a younger, smiling Steinberg.
Opening statements followed a day-and-a-half process to select 12 jurors and four alternates. The nine women and three men on the jury include an unemployed home health aide, two accountants and a massage therapist.
Among those ultimately excluded, at the urging of Steinberg's lawyers, were two women and one man who said they had participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011.
The case is U.S. v. Steinberg, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-cr-00121.
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