Four People Arrested and Charged in Cross-Country Insider Trading Scheme
NEWARK, NJ—The owner and operator of a stock trading operation and three of his associates were arrested today on charges arising from their alleged participation in a multi-year insider trading scheme that netted more than $3.2 million in illicit profits, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Steven Fishoff, 58, of Westlake Village, California; Ronald Chernin, 66, of Oak Park, California; Steven Costantin (a/k/a Steven Constantin), 54, of Farmingdale, New Jersey; and Paul Petrello, 53; of Boca Raton, Florida, are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Fishoff is charged with four substantive counts of securities fraud, Chernin and Petrello are each charged with two counts of securities fraud, and Costantin is charged with one count of securities fraud.
The defendants were arrested by FBI agents this morning at their respective residences. Costantin is scheduled to appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson in Newark federal court. Fishoff is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenly Kiya Kato in Riverside, California, federal court; Chernin is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carla Woehrle in Los Angeles federal court, and Petrello is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Lee Brannon in West Palm Beach, Florida, federal court.
“The defendants and their associates were entrusted with confidential, nonpublic information about companies, and, time and time again, they allegedly violated that trust by illegally trading the companies’ stock for substantial profits,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “They allegedly rigged the game so they would always win, and their profits came at the expense of legitimate investors, who were not privy to this inside information.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge, Newark, Richard M. Frankel stated: “Insider trading is an investigative priority of the FBI. The FBI is committed to stopping insider trading and will hold those who perpetrate these schemes accountable because their illegal activities undermine the integrity of the U.S. financial markets and weaken investor confidence.”
“We allege an insider trading scheme based on a short-selling business model designed to systematically profit on confidential information obtained under false pretenses,” said Sanjay Wadhwa, Senior Associate Director for Enforcement in the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “But the defendants’ short selling proved to be short-sighted as they overlooked the fact that their trading patterns would be detected and they would be caught by law enforcement.” According to the complaint unsealed today:
Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin, Petrello, and others, acting individually and through their associated trading entities, engaged in an insider trading scheme in which they netted more than $3.2 million in illicit profits over three years by executing illegal trades through trading entities that they controlled.
Fishoff is the president and sole owner of Featherwood Capital Inc. (Featherwood), a trading entity that he operates out of his home. Featherwood maintained numerous stock trading accounts in its own name and in various additional names under which Featherwood did business (DBAs), including Gold Coast Total Return Inc. (Gold Coast), Seaside Capital Inc. (Seaside), and Data Complete Inc. (Data Complete).
Chernin, an attorney who was disbarred in California for misappropriation of client assets, is a friend and longtime business associate of Fishoff. Corporate documents list Chernin as the president of Gold Coast and Fishoff as an officer. Chernin is president of the trading entity Cedar Lane Enterprises Inc. (Cedar Lane) and an officer of Data Complete.
Costantin, a former pipefitter by trade, is Fishoff’s brother-in-law and a friend and business associate of Chernin. Corporate documents list Costanstin as president of Seaside. In brokerage account documents, Fishoff identifies himself as Seaside’s owner. Costanstin is also the vice president and secretary of Cedar Lane.
Petrello is the president and owner of two trading entities: Brielle Properties Inc. and Oceanview Property Management LLC, and a friend and longtime business associate of Fishoff.
On numerous occasions, the conspirators obtained material, nonpublic information related to publicly traded companies and traded on that information before it became public. Between June 2010 and July 2013, Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin, and a business associate referred to in the complaint as “Trader A” expressed interest in participating in at least 14 stock offerings by publicly traded companies. Before providing these individuals with confidential information concerning the companies or the terms of the proposed sales, the investment bankers first required that Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin, Trader A, and their associated trading entities, agree to be “brought over the wall,” or “wall-crossed,” standard industry terms which meant that they were required to keep the information disclosed to them confidential and could not buy or sell the stock based on the information.
Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin, and Trader A agreed to these disclosure and trading restrictions and then flagrantly breached the agreements. In instances where Fishoff was not personally wall-crossed in an offering, Chernin and Costantin tipped Fishoff telephonically or by e-mail about the offering prior to the public announcement. Even where Fishoff ostensibly was a party to the confidentiality agreement, through his affiliation with the wall-crossed trading entity, Fishoff himself breached the agreement by trading on the confidential information and by providing the information to Petrello so that Petrello could engage in parallel trading. There were also instances where Chernin and Costantin violated the terms of the confidentiality agreements by trading themselves before the offering. The conspirators traded through the accounts of the trading entities or through related accounts that they controlled. The conspirators shared the proceeds of the insider trading scheme, with Fishoff wiring money to Chernin and Costantin for their services, and Fishoff receiving compensation from Petrello for the offering-related tips that Fishoff provided to him.
The conspiracy count with which each defendant is charged carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the aggregate loss to victims or gain to the defendants. Each of the substantive securities fraud charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel in Newark, for the investigation leading to today’s arrests and complaint. He also thanked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s New York Regional Office under the direction of Andrew Calamari. He also thanked special agents of the FBI, Los Angeles (Ventura Resident Agency and Riverside Resident Agency) and FBI, Miami (West Palm Beach Resident Agency) for their assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shirley U. Emehelu of the Economic Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, Sarah Devlin of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit and Barbara Ward, Acting Chief of the of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
This case was brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, please visit www.stopfraud.gov.