Hedge fund billionaire charged with insider trading

By the standards of Bernie Madoff's $60 billion swindle, the latest shenanigans from Wall Street are relatively small potatoes. But a hedge fund manager who Forbes ranked as the 236th richest person in America, worth $1.5 billion, just got charged with insider trading to the tune of $20 million. According to DealBreaker, an employee who had been fired may have turned him in.

Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of Galleon Group, was charged with four counts of conspiracy and nine counts of securities fraud. And DealBook reports that the head of the $7 billion hedge fund was not alone in plotting his $20 million in ill-gotten gains.

Charged with conspiracy and securities fraud along with Rajaratnam were five others. They were Mark Kurland, the president of another money manager, New Castle Partners; Danielle Chiesi of New Castle, who was once at Bear Stearns; an Intel Capital executive named Rajiv Goel; McKinsey & Co. executive Anil Kumar; and Robert Moffatt, an International Business Machines (IBM) executive.

The complaint alleges that $12.7 million of that $20 million in profit was gained by using inside information on three companies: Polycom (PLCM), Hilton (HLNQ) and Google (GOOG). The source of data to support the allegations came from an anonymous witness who started working with the FBI in 2007 and who helped record four telephone conversations.

Among some of the charges reported by Dow Jones Newswires, the alleged scheme involved several companies. Based on wiretaps, prosecutors allege in one case that Chiesi called Rajaratnam on his cellphone on July 24, 2008, to tell him that Web technology company Akamai (AKAM) was planning to "guide down" expectations for its earnings and that Akamai believed that its stock price would drop to $25 a share. Chiesi allegedly told him "Just keep shorting every day. We got a lot of days..." After Akamai announced that its earnings for the next quarter would miss analyst expectations, Rajaratnam allegedly called Chiesi to thank her for the information, prosecutors say.

According to The New York Times, Rajaratnam was ordered to post a $100 million bond as part of his bail conditions, though prosecutors argued for no bail because he posed a flight risk. Anil Kumar was released on a $5 million bond, the paper reported.

Given the wide network of people who remain in custody, this looks to become a bigger scandal. I predict someone will turn the story into a movie.

Peter Cohan is a management consultant, Babson professor and author of nine books, includingCapital Rising (due in June 2010). Follow him on Twitter. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.

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