NEW YORK (Reuters) - A defense lawyer channeling Donald Trump, an informant dubbed “Gossip Queen” and a secret stash of cash.
Jurors had plenty to keep them riveted on Wednesday at the second of back-to-back Wall Street insider trading trials.
The opening statements in the Manhattan federal court trial began with a prosecutor, Andrew Fish, turning around to point his right forefinger at one of the three defendants, securities trader Zvi Goffer, and call him “the ring leader of this criminal scheme.”
Goffer, 34, who once worked at Raj Rajaratnam’s Galleon Group and two other trading firms, is on trial with his brother and fellow trader Emanuel Goffer, 32, and another trader, Michael Kimelman, 40. The trial comes a week after Rajaratnam was found guilty of insider trading by a jury in the same courthouse.
Lawyers for the three defendants, who have all pleaded not guilty, quickly set about attacking the government’s case.
“Zvi Goffer, you’re fired. That’s what Raj Rajaratnam told Zvi Goffer,” Goffer’s lawyer, William Barzee, said as he began his opening statement, echoing the well-known real estate developer Trump’s trademark phrase on his reality TV show. “He was fired because he lost so much money.”
Barzee said his client waded into “the river of gossip” of Wall Street for tips and speculation, not for improperly leaked secrets as the government charges. “He was like a gold prospector searching for gold in a river,” Barzee said.
Prosecutors have described the broad Galleon probe as the biggest investigation ever of insider trading at hedge funds.
The Goffer brothers and Kimelman are accused of bribing two lawyers at the prominent law firm Ropes & Gray with tens of thousands of dollars for secret information on takeover targets. The case of each man will be decided separately at the trial, which is expected to last up to five weeks.
Barzee told the jury that another lawyer -- Jason Goldfarb, who the government says also passed tips to the defendants -- was a workers’ compensation lawyer who had nothing to do with corporate mergers.
He said Zvi Goffer had a nickname for Goldfarb -- GQ.
“It stood for ‘Gossip Queen.’ That was the kind of guy Jason Goldfarb was. He would repeat anything that he ever heard from anyone” talking to Zvi Goffer “endlessly about dozens and dozens of stocks.” Goldfarb has pleaded guilty.
Fish said the Goffers and Kimelman used disposable mobile phones, tried to cover up their tracks in documents and instant messages and paid informants in cash. He said they “stored illegal gains in safe deposit boxes.”
Zvi Goffer worked at Galleon between January 2008 and August 2008. The jury heard that Goffer, his brother and Kimelman started a trading firm together in August 2008 called Incremental Capital LLC.
The men were arrested and charged in November 2009, weeks after Rajaratnam’s arrest in an investigation that extensively used FBI phone taps for the first time in an insider trading probe. Up to 60 recordings could be played at the trial.
If convicted, each could face up to 25 years in prison.
Emanuel Goffer’s lawyer, Michael Ross, said in his opening remarks that his client was the No. 1 trader at two firms before jointly forming Incremental Capital.
“The point I want to make is this: People can be successful by making the right guesses,” he said.
Kimelman’s lawyer, Michael Sommer, ridiculed the government’s allegations against his client.
“Nothing on tape, nothing from an informant, no throwaway phone, no payments. It’s simple,” said Sommer.
The case is USA v Zvi Goffer et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-00056.
Reporting by Grant McCool, editing by Dave Zimmerman, Gary Hill
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