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Not Much in the Name of Progress: Pequot, Samberg, and Martha Stewart

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Jun 1, 2010 10:53 am

Not Much in the Name of Progress: Pequot, Samberg, and Martha Stewart

Bill Singer's Comment:  Usually, I put my comment at the end of my column.  However, I've decided to break with tradition and go for the ever-edgy comment at the top of the page.  Moreover, unlike much of my verbose grandiosity, this is going to be short. 

Let me tick off some dates for you:

In December 2001, Martha Stewart sold Imclone Systems, Inc. shares in response to an insider trading tip. In 2003, Stewart was indicted for her 2001 insider trading. In March 2004, Stewart was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators.  In July 2004 Stewart was sentenced to serve a five month term in a federal correctional facility and a two year period of supervised release (to include five months of electronic monitoring) and fined $30,000. In August 2006, the Securities and Exchange Commission settled its related civil case against Stewart for a five-year bar from serving as a director, or as the CEO, CFO (or other officer roles in which she would be responsible for preparing, auditing, or disclosing financial results), of any public company.

What sort of got lost in the shuffle was that Stewart's illegal sales helped her avoid about $46,000 in losses.  Not millions in losses. And not millions in profits. Just a measly five-figures in avoided losses. Nonetheless, the dollars were not the point.  Wrong is wrong and illegal conduct is illegal conduct.  Or so we're told that's the way the regulation of Wall Street is supposed to go.


Now, let me tick off a more recent insider trading case.


In May 2010, long after Wall Street crashed and burned, long after Madoff, long after far too many bungled regulatory investigations, and long after Martha Stewart was released from prision, the SEC announces the conclusion of another high-profile insider trading case against Pequot Capital and its CEO Arthur Samberg.  Just like with Stewart, the alleged insider trading happened in 2001.  Unlike Stewart's avoidance of a $46,000 loss, Pequot/Samberg realized about a $14 million gain.  Unlike the government's juggernaut prosecution of Stewart, Samberg (and his firm) got to write out a check for $28 million and he agreed to cease future association with any investment adviser.


So tell me, if Stewart's trading took place in December 2001 and Pequot/Samberg's trading took place eight months earlier in April 2001 -- why was Stewart at trial by 2004 but Pequot/Samberg's case is first resolving in 2010? And given that the fact patterns seem quite similar, why didn't Stewart just get to write out a fat settlement check instead of going to jail?Ain't progress grand?


I mean, seriously, how do you reconcile the two cases in this day and age?


Below, I reprint, verbatim, the material portions of the SEC's Press Releases for the Stewart and the Pequot/Samberg matters. I simply ask you to compare the case against Stewart with the just-announced settlement against Maybe I misunderstood SEC Chair Schapiro's tough talk about putting some bite into securities regulation? 


Bill Singer