Stock advisor pleads guilty in tickets-for-tips scheme

The New England Patriots play the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
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The New England Patriots play the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

A former proxy advisory firm employee pleaded guilty Thursday to divulging nonpublic information in exchange for more than $30,000 in tickets and free meals.

In return for leaking information about how many shares clients held and how they voted on shareholder proposals, Brian Bennett accepted gifts and tickets to various sporting events, including Major League Baseball's opening day and an NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, according to court documents. ( Tweet This)

For years Bennett conspired with others at a proxy solicitation firm looking to gain private information.

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In one such instance co-conspirators at the soliciting firm sent messages to Bennett's personal email address, inquiring "I just love asking questions like this: opening day— 3/30— 2 or 4 tickets?" to which Bennett replied, "2 tickets is good."

The tickets-for-tips scheme went on for at least four years running from 2008 to 2012 as Bennett continued to divulge private shareholder voting information, according to court records. He also received tickets to college sports, including a University of North Carolina basketball game and a football game at University of Oklahoma.

Court filings didn't name Bennett's employer or the firm where he traded tips for perks, but a source familiar with case told CNBC that Bennett conspired with employees from proxy solicitation firm Georgeson while working at Institutional Shareholder Services.

A Georgeson company spokeswoman declined to comment on Bennett's case, but told CNBC, "Georgeson determined that two employees acted outside of our policies, placed them on administrative leave in April 2012 and subsequently terminated their employment."

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For its part, Institutional Shareholder Services, which settled a $300,000 penalty with the SEC in May 2013, declined to comment.

"The FBI hopes this case sends a strong warning to those individuals and companies who are also buying inside knowledge," special agent Vincent Lisi said. "They are just as responsible as those selling it and the FBI will use every resource we have to shut them down."

Bennett faces a maximum prison sentence of five years and three years of supervised release as well as a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.

Bennett's sentencing is planned for mid-January.

—CNBC's Jim Forkin and Dan Mangan contributed to this report.