Michael S. Steinberg is "successful, steady, serious," said a lawyer for the most senior employee at SAC Capital Advisors to be charged with insider trading. And unlike the hard-charging billionaires who rule Wall Street's top hedge funds, Mr. Steinberg was a history and philosophy major who started at SAC as a low-level clerk, the lawyer said.
Federal prosecutors, however, view the trader through a darker lens. Mr. Steinberg, they said, tapped into a corrupt insider trading conspiracy to make "big money" for himself. He also, they say, pushed a lower-level employee at SAC to provide "edgy" and illegal information about technology companies.
Those dueling portrayals of Mr. Steinberg, a 41-year-old trader who was among SAC's earliest employees, emerged on Wednesday from opening arguments in his criminal insider trading trial at Federal District Court in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Steinberg is the first SAC employee to stand trial in the government's decade-long investigation of the hedge fund, which is run by the billionaire stock picker Steven A. Cohen.
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Mr. Steinberg's trial, which strikes at the heart of that investigation, is unfolding two weeks after SAC agreed to pay $1.2 billion and plead guilty to five counts of insider trading violations. The authorities indicted the fund in July, pointing to a "systematic" insider trading scheme that spanned several employees and more than a decade.