NEW YORK – SAC Capital Advisors pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges Friday, satisfying a deal with the government that requires the Connecticut-based hedge fund to pay a record $1.8 billion to settle charges that it allowed, if not encouraged, insider trading to occur for more than a decade.
The plea came in U.S. District Court in Manhattan four days after the government announced that the once influential hedge fund owned by billionaire Steven A. Cohen had reached the deal that also required it to shut down its operations to outside investors.
But Judge Laura Taylor Swain did not immediately accept the plea, saying she'd wait until a probation report is made. She set a sentencing date for March 14, assuming she accepts it.
The plea was entered by Peter Nussbaum, SAC's longtime general counsel, to a single count of wire fraud and four counts of securities fraud. The plea was entered on behalf of SAC Capital LP, SAC Capital Advisors LLC, CR Intrinsic Investors LLC and Sigma Capital Management LLC.
In pleading guilty, Nussbaum said SAC Capital wanted to "express our deep remorse" for its crimes.
"This happened on our watch and we are responsible for that misconduct," he said.
Nussbaum then described the crimes of several former SAC employees who had pleaded guilty to insider trading charges. But a prosecutor insisted the crimes went well beyond those individuals.
The plea does not stop the government from continuing a criminal investigation that already has led to criminal charges against at least eight former SAC employees. Most have pleaded guilty.
Cohen is not among those criminally charged, although the Securities and Exchange Commission accused him in a civil action in July of failing to prevent insider trading at the company, which he founded in 1992 and which bears his initials. The SEC sought to fine Cohen and bar him from managing investor funds. Cohen has disputed the allegations.
SAC Capital rose to prominence over the last two decades as Cohen created a competitive environment for portfolio managers with huge bonuses for trading successes and swift punishment for losses.
The government has said that the breakneck pressure at the firm contributed to an environment where the rules were bent and laws were sometimes broken to achieve success.
As the company grew, so did Cohen's riches and reputation. He became one of the highest-profile figures in U.S. finance and the 40th-richest American, with a net worth of $8.8 billion, according to Forbes.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told a news conference Monday that the settlement should send the message that "no institution should rest easy in the belief that it is too big to jail."