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SEC charges hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, Omega Advisers with insider trading

SEC alleges Cooperman used insider information about an asset sale to generate illegal profits, sought to cover tracks.

Billionaire Leon Cooperman and his Omega Advisors hedge fund were charged Wednesday with insider trading, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced.

The SEC accused Cooperman of buying into Atlas Pipeline Partners ahead of a deal, using his status as one of its largest shareholders to acquire nonpublic information about an upcoming transaction.

"We allege that hedge fund manager Cooperman, who as a large APL shareholder obtained access to confidential corporate information, abused that access by trading on this information," said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement. "By doing so, he allegedly undermined the public confidence in the securities markets and took advantage of other investors who did not have this information."

In a statement to CNBC, Cooperman said the charges are "without merit" and he plans to fight them.

According to the civil complaint, 73-year-old Cooperman generated illegal profits in 2010 after an unnamed Atlas Pipeline Partners executive provided him confidential information. When Atlas struck a deal to sell its Elk City, Oklahoma, operating facilities, its shares' value increased by more than 30 percent.

Leon Cooperman, chairman and chief executive officer of Omega Advisors LLC.
Scott Eelis | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Leon Cooperman, chairman and chief executive officer of Omega Advisors LLC.

The SEC says in the complaint that Cooperman called Atlas a "s---ty business" in 2010. However, after a conversation with the unnamed company executive where he learned about the expected M&A deal, he began buying more securities in July 2010. He allegedly told the company executive with whom he spoke about the Atlas deal that he would not use confidential information to trade, according to the SEC, but "did not abide by his agreement to maintain in confidence, and not trade on the basis of, the Elk City sale information," the complaint states.

After investigators subpoenaed Omega and Cooperman, the complaint says, he contacted the unnamed executive and "attempted to fabricate a story in case" they were both questioned about the trades. Further, the complaint states, Cooperman violated securities laws by failing to report information about holdings he owned in a timely manner.

The complaint says an unnamed family member of Cooperman's spoke with a colleague about the trade after the Elk City deal was announced. When the colleague of Cooperman's family member said that trades in Atlas stock were "fishy," the unnamed family member responded, "Somebody should investigate that," according to the SEC complaint.

Cooperman and Omega Advisors say they plan to fight the charges. Further, Cooperman said the SEC sought a settlement with him and his fund which he called "unacceptable."

"We will vigorously defend ourselves," he said.