William Billy Walters outside the Southern District on June 1, 2016. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
A prosecutor told a federal jury Wednesday that the government has the goods on professional sports gambler William “Billy” Walters for insider trading.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara, in his opening statement at Walters’ trial before Southern District Judge P. Kevin Castel, said there is ample evidence that Walters traded on inside information on Dean Foods from the company’s former board chairman, Thomas Davis, now a government cooperator.
“Again and again, Walters would receive a phone call from Davis, and then, sometimes just minutes later, just minutes after speaking with Davis, Walters would call his stockbroker and make huge purchases of Dean Foods stock,” Ferrara said. In one instance, he said Walters bought four million shares after one of those calls, some of which the prosecutor said were made on prepaid “burner” phones to avoid detection.
But Walters’ attorney, Barry Berke, a partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, promised the jury that he would show Davis’ upcoming testimony was a pack of lies.
Davis, Berke said, “was in a desperate situation” when he first met with the FBI—he had stolen money from a charity, a fund for battered women that “he treated like his own personal piggy bank”—and he was worried about being prosecuted for cheating on his taxes and insider trading.
So, Berke argued, the former investment banker made up a story about Walters, “and those lies are going to be found out by you—the guards at the gates of justice.”
Walters, 70, is facing a 10-count indictment for trading on information and passing it on to others, including professional golfer Phil Mickelson. Mickelson was not charged in the case but reached a civil settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2016, agreeing to pay over $1 million in profits he made on trading the stock.
Walters made “enormous profits” trading on the stock—over $40 million between 2007 and 2013—and Davis, in financial straits, received a $1 million loan from Walters in return. He also used inside information from Davis to trade on a second company, Darden Restaurants, the prosecution said.
“The evidence will show that Walters often knew tomorrow’s news today, and he knew it because he had an insider” in what Ferrara described as an “I’ll scratch your back and you’ll scratch mine,” relationship.
Walters’ legal team has tried for the last four months to derail the trial because of admitted leaks from a grand jury probe by FBI agent David Chaves.
Chaves is now facing two investigations, and potential charges, for feeding information to newspapers about the probe, but Castel refused to dismiss the indictment, finding Walters was not prejudiced by the leaks.
Berke told the jury that Walters was one of the most successful sports bettors as well as a top-notch poker player, and he applied that same savvy, and nerve, to make money in the stock market.
“The prosecution is going to ask, ‘Who would bet tens of millions on a single trade or a single stock?’ Berke said. “Bill Walters would.”
Defending Walters with Berke are fellow Kramer Levin partners Paul Schoeman and Eric Tirschwell.
Along with Ferrara, assistant U.S. attorneys Daniel Goldman and Brooke Cucinella are representing the government in the case.