Canarsie hedge fund exec faces 5 years prison for fraud: U.S. judge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York hedge fund founder who before turning age 30 lost nearly all of the roughly $57 million he oversaw in less than three weeks is expected to be sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to fraud, a federal judge wrote.

Owen Li, the founder of Canarsie Capital LLC, is also expected to be required to pay $56.8 million of restitution to his investors, and serve three years of supervised release, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet in Manhattan wrote on Thursday.

The judge is expected to formally sentence Li at an April 21 hearing, and can change his mind.

Scott Resnik, a lawyer for Li, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan declined immediate comment.

The punishment would cap the abrupt downfall of Li, a former trading assistant at a unit of Raj Rajaratnam’s Galleon Group who formed Canarsie, named for a Brooklyn neighborhood, in 2012.

Li pleaded guilty in December, when he was 29, to counts of securities fraud and making a false statement.

Prosecutors said his fund suffered catastrophic losses in January 2015 after he had moved nearly its entire portfolio into long, unhedged market index options whose value collapsed as prices moved in the opposite direction.

According to prosecutors, the collapse occurred after Li had lied to his investors by overstating Canarsie's performance, and misled the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about trades he had fraudulently reported to conceal his use of leverage and the size of an investment in Facebook Inc FB.O.

The SEC, which banned Li from the securities industry, said his trades caused $56.5 million of losses in his main fund from Dec. 31, 2014 to Jan. 16, 2015, leaving it with just $211,685 of cash.

It said he wrote to his investors on Jan. 20, 2015 to express “extreme sorrow” for the collapse.

Sweet said federal guidelines called for at least a 6-1/2 year prison term, but that Li deserved less because he “owned up” quickly, and cooperated with prosecutors despite knowing criminal charges were likely.

The judge said “this sort of acceptance of responsibility is extraordinary,” and expressed hope that his lack of criminal history and “manifest remorse” would allow him to eventually find work, rebuild his life and start repaying his victims.

The case is U.S. v. Li, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-00870.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York