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Florida lawyer sentenced to more than 2 years for insider trading scheme

NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A Florida lawyer was sentenced to two years and three months in prison on Thursday for engaging in insider trading based on information that he improperly obtained from his law firm's databases and also passed on to a friend.

Walter "Chet" Little, 44, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla in Manhattan. He had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit insider trading in November. He agreed at the time to forfeit about $450,000, his profit from the scheme.

Little tearfully apologized to his family and former colleagues before being sentenced.

"There is no justification," he said in describing his conduct.

Little was charged with conspiracy and securities fraud in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court in May 2017. A friend accused of receiving tips from him, Andrew Berke, was also charged. Both were arrested in Florida, where they lived.

Little was a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner at the time prosecutors say the trading took place. The firm has previously said it learned about the activity at issue in June 2016 and reported the matter to authorities.

Little left Foley in 2016 and joined the law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. Prosecutors said in a court filing that he did not tell the firm that he had been fired from Foley for insider trading.

LIttle no longer works as a lawyer, according to his most recent court filing.

Prosecutors said that beginning in 2015, Little used Foleys document management system to access information about at least seven law firm clients including Oshkosh Corp and Harley-Davidson Inc, even though he billed no work for them.

They said that after learning about upcoming mergers, earnings and other events involving those companies, Little bought and sold stock and options ahead of public announcements, making more than $320,000 in profit.

Little also passed the inside information to Berke, prosecutors said. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Berke was an executive at a logistics company who since 2013 has lived in the same community as Little - Apollo Beach, Florida.

Prosecutors said that by placing trades based on the inside information, Berke earned around $660,000.

Berke pleaded guilty to conspiracy and securities fraud charges in December. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 7. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)