The government’s latest insider trading prosecution provides a cautionary tale to executives: Don’t use your company’s computer to research how not to get caught. And if you do, study harder than Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. exec Robert Ramnarine.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey charged Ramnarine, 45, of East New Brunswick, N.J., with three counts of criminal securities fraud on Thursday. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also brought a parallel civil case against Ramnarine. According to the complaints, Ramnarine, who just last month landed a promotion as assistant treasurer of capital markets at Bristol-Meyers, made more than $300,000 in illegal profits by misusing nonpublic information he learned in the course of advising BMS on potential acquisitions. (You can read the DOJ complaint here and the SEC complaint here.)
Both complaints allege that Ramnarine used his work computer in November 2011 to do some unusual Internet surfing. Among other things, he searched for phrases like “can stock option be traced to purchase” and “illegal insider trading options trace,” and he viewed articles like “Ways to Avoid Insider Trading” and “Types of Insider Trading.”
Ramnarine also purportedly read a press release on the SEC’s own website announcing an enforcement action based on insider trading in advance of acquisitions. But according to the complaints, his research didn’t dissuade him from making illegal trades on inside information involving BMS acquisition targets ZymoGenentics Inc., Pharmasset Inc., and Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc.
“Ramnarine tried to educate himself about how the SEC investigates insider trading so he could avoid detection, said Daniel Hawke, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit, in a statement. “[O]ur charges against Ramnarine should serve notice that when you violate insider trading laws, no matter how you scheme, you will be caught.”
We’ll be interested to see if Ramnarine fights back. We couldn’t ascertain Thursday if he’d already retained counsel, but a good defense lawyer could point to plenty of good reasons why Ramnarine would read articles about insider trading and surf the SEC’s web site. Those Internet searches about tracing illegal trades, on the other hand, may be tough to get around.
According to the DOJ, federal agents arrested Ramnarine Thursday morning. He was scheduled to appear in the afternoon in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arlo in Newark.