NEW YORK — Insider-trading charges are being prepared against a vast network of consultants and traders across the US financial industry in a years-long probe that a report suggests will reveal a pervasive culture of backroom dealing.
The investigation could be the largest insider-trading probe in US history, The Wall Street Journal said Saturday citing people close to the issue, with federal officials examining if multiple, organized insider-trading rings reaped illegal profits of tens of millions of dollars.
Some charges could be brought before the end of the year, the Journal said.
The criminal probe is examining some three dozen companies in the probe, which is examining the “expert networks” to clients such as hedge funds and mutual funds, which connected managers of companies with investors in a bid to offer inside tracks on financial deals, according to the report.
Highlighting a focus on insider-trading by the Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara, the Journal noted he has called the issue a “top criminal priority” for his post.
“Illegal insider trading is rampant and may even be on the rise,” Bharara warned in a speech last month.
Pinpointing over a dozen companies based on both US coasts, the Journal reported that a federal grand jury in New York has already heard evidence in parts of the criminal probe.
Among those being investigated, the newspaper said prosecutors were examining whether bankers with the Goldman Sachs Group leaked information about transactions, including health-care mergers, in a bid to benefit investors.
Inside traders are generally known to profit after being tipped off on deals ahead of time — for example, giving them an opportunity to buy stocks before acquisitions, and then selling them after the shares rise in value.
As well as large financial firms like Goldman Sachs, the investigation is also examining independent analysts and research houses for providing non-public information to hedge funds. The report suggest the three-year probe has involved wiretapping the telephone conversations between consultants and investors.
In one case, a leading analyst at the small Oregon-based Broadband Research wrote to clients on October 26 explaining the firm was under investigation.
Analyst John Kinnucan, in an email sent to two hedge funds and two mutual funds and that was obtained by the Journal, said FBI agents had attempted to get him to help with the probe.
The officials were “thoroughly convinced that my clients have been trading on copious inside information,” Kinnucan wrote.
“(They obviously have been recording my cell phone conversations for quite some time, with what motivation I have no idea.) We obviously beg to differ, so have therefore declined the young gentleman’s gracious offer to wear a wire and therefore ensnare you in their devious web,” he wrote, according to the Journal.
In another part of the probe, trading firm First New York Securities anticipated mergers unveiled in 2009, and profited from that information, the financial daily said, citing people close to the investigation.
A spokesman for the 250-person firm acknowledged to the Journal that it was “one of more than three dozen firms that have been asked by regulators to provide general information in a widespread inquiry.”