Georgia-based real estate developer Alexander Garkusha pleaded guilty on Monday to participation in an estimated $100 million insider trading scheme that involved hacking PR websites that Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE:EW), Align Technology (NSDQ:ALGN) and other major companies used.
Garkusha plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making him the 1st defendant criminally charged in the case to claim involvement. He was arrested with 4 other individuals in the 1st criminal case over securities fraud involving hacked inside information.
Prosecutors said Garkusha was amongst a group of traders who used the hacked data, stolen by hackers in Ukraine, to trade on the inside information.
In August, prosecutors charged 9 people for their alleged roles in the hacking ring that obtained corporate press releases from BusinessWire, MarketWired and PR Newswire before they were made public. The Ukrianian hacking ring generated more than $30 million in illegal trading profits, the feds alleged.
The operation began around February 2010, as alleged Ukranian hackers began to infiltrate press release distributors to gain access to the corporate news and financial results before it was made public. News from the releases was then passed to traders, who made illegal trades in stocks and options based on the stolen information, with foreign shell companies used to share the rewards, according to U.S. Justice Dept. prosecutors.
The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission brought a related civil suit charging many more defendants, and alleging that the thefts resulted in more than $100 million of illegal profits. The SEC seeking civil penalties and asset freezes, as well as the recoupment of illegal profits.
Although they might dodge insider trading charges, prosecutors can in turn dodge the problem by leveling wire fraud charges, which carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence. But the SEC case is bound by securities law, not federal criminal statutes, meaning its case might be harder to press, according to the Times.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.