SEC Says House Insider Probe Involves Dozens of Funds, Firms

Jul 18, 2014 12:01 am ET

July 18 (Bloomberg) -- An insider-trading probe involving the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and a top staff member also includes dozens of hedge funds, investment advisers and other firms, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said in a court filing.

In arguing against the House’s motion to dismiss the case or send it to a court in Washington, the SEC told a Manhattan federal judge July 16 that the geographic scope of its investigation is “much wider” than described by lawyers for the House and involves a total of 44 entities.

The probe concerns some of the largest hedge funds and asset-management advisers in the U.S., the SEC said. Twenty-five of the 44 are based in New York, it said.

The agency subpoenaed the House committee and the staff member, Brian Sutter, for its inquiry into whether non-public information was illegally passed about a change in health-care policy that resulted in a spike in share prices of insurance companies. The case is testing whether U.S. insider-trading laws allow regulators to investigate the committee or its staff.

According to the regulators, minutes before the government announced the policy change, an analyst at Height Securities LLC sent clients a flash report outlining the proposal. Sutter may have been a source used by a lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig LLP who disclosed the health policy changes to the Height Securities analyst, the SEC said.

Trading Spike

The government announced an increase, rather than decrease, in payments to health insurers, boosting the shares of companies including Humana Inc.

“The Humana investigation is substantially concerned with the investor clients of Height Securities who received the subject Height e-mail, and who the commission believes may have engaged in relevant trading,” the SEC said in a filing to U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe. It didn’t name the investors.

Sanjay Wadhwa, senior associate director of the SEC’s New York regional office, said in a memo to the court that 25 of the firms the agency is looking at have headquarters in New York, while the rest are based predominantly in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois and California. One is in Washington. The probe is being handled by SEC lawyers in New York, he said.

2012 Law

The SEC cited a law Congress passed in 2012 that requires public officials to keep confidential non-public information about government matters that could move stock prices.

The House and Sutter are fighting the subpoenas. Their lawyers argued in a July 4 filing that staff members are “absolutely immune” from having to comply with subpoenas from a federal regulator in an insider-trading probe.

Kerry W. Kircher, the top lawyer for the House, said the information the SEC is seeking concerns legislative activities protected by the Constitution, which can’t be reviewed by federal judges. If Gardephe won’t dismiss the case, it should be moved to federal court in Washington, Kircher said.

The case is SEC v. The Committee on Ways and Means of The U.S. House of Representatives and Brian Sutter. 14-mc-00193. U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).