US seeks halt in civil lawsuit accusing JP Morgan of manipulating metals market, citing criminal case

Key Points
  • The U.S. wants a federal judge to halt a civil lawsuit accusing J. P. Morgan of manipulating precious metals markets. The Justice Department cited an ongoing criminal case as its reason for the request.
  • A former J. P. Morgan trader pleaded guilty in Connecticut last month to manipulation charges.
  • In the guilty plea, the trader said he had learned to make bogus trade orders from senior traders at the bank and that he used the strategy hundreds of times with the knowledge and consent of his immediate supervisors.
The J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. headquarters in New York.
Amr Alfiky | Reuters

The Justice Department is asking a judge to put the brakes on a civil lawsuit against J. P. Morgan Chase, citing an ongoing probe into a "related criminal case" that involves alleged manipulation of precious metals markets.

The department wants a six-month postponement in the proceedings of the civil lawsuit, which was filed in 2015 by hedge fund manager Daniel Shak and two commodity traders. The government also says it could ask for a longer delay in the case, according to a court filing on Monday.

The move comes days after Shak's lawyer, David Kovel, sought permission to reopen questioning of two former J. P. Morgan traders and the bank's current global head of base and precious metals trading.

Kovel, in making the request with the Manhattan federal judge in the civil case, cited last month's guilty plea by one of those former traders, John Edmonds, in federal court in Connecticut.

Edmonds admitted making bogus bids on precious metals contracts while working at the bank from 2009 to 2015.

Neither J. P. Morgan Chase nor Kovel's clients have opposed the Justice Department's request.

In arguing for a delay, the Justice Department said Shak's lawsuit is "related" to Edmonds' criminal case and that Edmonds has "pleaded guilty and acknowledged his own participation in such conduct, as well as that of other traders."

"Edmonds awaits sentencing, but the broader investigation is ongoing," the Justice Department said. The U.S. wants to delay the civil case "to protect the integrity of its ongoing criminal investigation," it said.

J. P. Morgan did not respond to a request for comment by CNBC. Kovel declined to comment.

Tuesday night, after this story first was published, Judge Paul Engelmayer ordered the federal prosecutors to explain in detail by Monday why postponing proceedings in the civil lawsuit would not harm those involved, and why reopening questioning "would be detrimental to the Government's ongoing criminal investigation."

Englemayer also wrote that he regards Edmonds' guilty plea "as potentially highly consequential" to the civil case.

In his guilty plea, the 36-year-old Edmonds said he had learned to make bogus trade orders from senior traders at the bank and that he used the strategy hundreds of times with the knowledge and consent of his immediate supervisors. He admitted to working with "unnamed co-conspirators" at J. P. Morgan, according to the Justice Department.

Kovel wants to question Edmonds again as well as Michael Nowak, the bank's global head of base and precious metal trading, and former J. P. Morgan Chase Managing Director Robert Gottlieb. The three had previously answered questions under oath in the civil case.

Kovel said in court filings that Nowak was the immediate supervisor of Edmonds, while Gottlieb was Edmonds' mentor.

In his prior deposition, Edmonds said that Gottlieb sat only a "couple feet" away from him for about five years, and that he was "somebody [he] looked up to in the business," who helped guide and train him.

Nowak is described by Edmonds as his direct supervisor, with whom he would sometimes discuss trading strategies. Nowak was also the person responsible for overseeing the performance and risk of Edmonds' portfolio, according to the deposition.

Edmonds also stated in his prior deposition that he would enter precious metals trades for both Nowak and Gottlieb, among others.

The civil lawsuit claims Shak and his fellow plaintiffs lost tens of millions of dollars as a result of actions by J. P. Morgan's traders.