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New Breed of SAC Capital Hire Is at Center of Insider Trading Case

Peter Lattman | The New York Times
Monday, 26 Nov 2012 | 6:03 AM ET

When Mathew Martoma walked onto the trading floor at SAC Capital Advisors ix years ago, he represented a new breed of employee at the giant hedge fund.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

Steven A. Cohen, SAC's billionaire founder, had burnished his reputation as a market wizard by surrounding himself with hard-charging traders — many of them former college jocks and frat boys who thrived in the fund's competitive, testosterone-fueled environment.

But the brainy and unassuming Mr. Martoma, armed with a Stanford business degree and an expertise in biomedicine, was part of a wave of SAC hires in a crack new research unit. They were just as driven but had more distinguished pedigrees, hailing from top investment banks and elite schools. They were drawn to the firm, in part, by the lavish annual bonuses Mr. Cohen bestowed upon his top performers, sometimes reaching into the tens of millions of dollars.

When Mr. Martoma walks into Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday morning, he will represent something else: the latest in a growing list of former SAC employees who find themselves accused of breaking the law.

The case against Mr. Martoma, made in a criminal complaint filed by the government last week, represents a watershed moment in its multiyear investigation of insider trading at SAC. For the first time, prosecutors have linked Mr. Cohen to trading activity that the government contends was illegal.

Mr. Martoma has rebuffed efforts by federal authorities to persuade him to plead guilty and cooperate, said a person briefed on the investigation who was not authorized to discuss the case. But if he were to "flip," Mr. Martoma could help the government with its investigation of Mr. Cohen.

The government has placed Mr. Martoma, 38, at the center of what it calls the most lucrative insider-trading scheme it has ever uncovered. Mr. Martoma is charged with corrupting a doctor who had access to secret drug data, then using that information to gain profits and avert losses totaling $276 million. Mr. Martoma closely collaborated with Mr. Cohen on the questionable trades, prosecutors contend. Mr. Cohen, 56, of Greenwich, Conn., has not been charged, and there is no allegation that he knew the information was confidential. Through a spokesman, Mr. Cohen said that he had at all times acted appropriately.

Charles A. Stillman, a lawyer for Mr. Martoma, who will appear before a federal magistrate judge Monday, said he expected his client to be exonerated.

But with Mr. Martoma's arrest last week, the clouds over SAC, which is based in Stamford, Conn., and Mr. Cohen have darkened. The government has now implicated five former SAC employees in its sweeping investigation into insider trading; three have admitted their crimes. Three other SAC alumni have also been charged with illegal trading after they left the firm; two have pleaded guilty.

Former employees of Mr. Cohen, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the case against Mr. Martoma highlighted SAC's high-stress, pressure-packed culture. They described a ruthless place where those who helped Mr. Cohen make money would earn fortunes, while laggards could be fired abruptly, even for a single wrong-way trade.

Though SAC, with about 1,000 employees, manages about $14 billion in assets and has pushed into more esoteric investment strategies, at its core the firm buys and sells stocks. Mr. Cohen and his staff are known for relentlessly digging for information about publicly traded companies to form a "mosaic," building a complete picture of the company's prospects that gives the firm an edge over other investors.

SAC hired Mr. Martoma to help Mr. Cohen gain that edge. The son of Indian immigrants, Mr. Martoma was born Ajai Mathew Mariamdani Thomas, but changed his name in 2003, according to legal records. Raised in Merritt Island, Fla., outside Cape Canaveral, Mr. Martoma graduated summa cum laude from Duke University in 1995, where he studied biomedicine, ethics and public policy. After college, Mr. Martoma worked in Washington at the National Human Genome Research Institute.

He spent a year and a half at Harvard Law School, then dropped out to earn a business degree at Stanford University. He blended his passion for medicine and a desire to work on Wall Street by pursuing a career as a stock analyst covering health care companies. After a stint at a smaller hedge fund, Sirios Capital Management n Boston, Mr. Martoma joined SAC.

He became part of a new unit, CR Intrinsic, which was set up as a research engine of SAC. CR Intrinsic (the CR stands for Cumulative Return) was led by Matthew Grossman, an ambitious young analyst who became Mr. Cohen's right-hand man. Mr. Grossman had worked at Tiger Management, the hedge fund known for its rigorous research and longer-term investment horizon.

With a deep network of contacts in the pharmaceutical and biotech fields, Mr. Martoma made a mark at CR Intrinsic. The volatile health care stocks in which Mr. Martoma specialized had long been favorites of Mr. Cohen's, offering the potential for big returns through betting on the outcome of events like clinical trials for promising drugs.

To bolster his knowledge, Mr. Martoma tapped into expert-network firms, which employ consultants who match money managers with industry specialists, including public company employees.

For an information-driven hedge fund like SAC, the temptation to exploit the expert-network relationship was immense, two former employees said.

Two of the former SAC employees who have admitted to insider trading said they used expert-network firms to obtain secret information about public companies. And of the roughly 70 insider trading cases that federal prosecutors in Manhattan have brought in the last three years, more than a dozen have involved expert networks.

Mr. Martoma's case began in 2006, when the expert-network firm Gerson Lehrman Group onnected him to Sidney Gilman, a neurology professor at the University of Michigan and a specialist in Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Gilman, who moonlighted as a consultant for Gerson Lehrman, helped oversee clinical trials for bapineuzumab, or bapi, a new Alzheimer's drug being jointly developed by Elan and Wyeth.

He also brazenly leaked to Mr. Martoma secret data about the trials throughout 2008, according to the government, violating his duty to the drug companies and breaching his agreement with Gerson Lehrman not to divulge confidential information to money managers. Dr. Gilman earned $108,000 from his work for SAC, the government said.

At first, Dr. Gilman's positive updates on the Alzheimer's drug trials emboldened SAC to make big bets on Elan and Wyeth, prosecutors said. Mr. Martoma worked closely with Mr. Cohen on the investments, highlighting the drug companies in his weekly "best ideas" list submitted to Mr. Cohen. SAC accumulated $700 million worth of Elan and Wyeth shares, making it one of the fund's largest bets.

Prosecutors say that in July 2008 Dr. Gilman received more complete results about bapi showing problems with the drug's efficacy. He then shared those results with Mr. Martoma, the government contends.

With the public announcement of the data just a week away, Mr. Martoma e-mailed Mr. Cohen on a Sunday, according to the complaint. Within the hour, the two were on the phone and spoke for 20 minutes, prosecutors say.

Over several days, SAC not only sold its entire positions in Elan and Wyeth, but shorted, or bet against, the drug companies' shares, the government said. On July 29, the companies announced results of the drug trial and their shares sank. SAC avoided about $194 million in losses by selling the stocks and then made $83 million by shorting them, according to court filings. Still, SAC paid Mr. Martoma a $9.4 million bonus in 2008 that was largely attributable to his contributions on the Elan and Wyeth trades, prosecutors said. But the firm fired him in early 2010 after his stock picks flagged. The case against Mr. Martoma stemmed in part from a referral made to federal securities regulators. In 2008, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority observed unusual short-sales in the drug stocks and noted the abnormal activity, regulators said.

Prosecutors recently reached a nonprosecution agreement with Dr. Gilman, meaning they will not charge him. The Justice Department rarely strikes nonprosecution agreements with individuals. The government's deal with Dr. Gilman, legal experts say, could put pressure on Mr. Martoma to strike a plea deal and cooperate.

Alain Delaquérière contributed reporting.

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