When you decided to pick up this book, chances are the one thing you knew about me was that I’m a convicted felon.
In America, we’re careful to repeat the adage that someone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. But let’s be honest. Let’s be frank. This is you and me talking here. Most of the time, when someone is indicted and brought to trial for a financial crime, we assume that he (or she, but usually he) is likely to have done something wrong. And if that defendant is found guilty by a jury of his peers? Then the assumption becomes an accepted fact. The jury heard all the facts and made an educated pronouncement. The system worked.
Or did it?
It was alleged that on August 8 of 2007, I bought shares of stock in a company called 3Com six weeks before a large takeover deal for that company was announced. It was further alleged that I bought this stock because I had illegal information about the trade. When I was arrested, it was along with several other traders from more than one firm. Some of these men—when convicted—would see prison terms that set new records for sentences given in insider trading cases. These men were charged with making multiple illegal trades and perpetrating a vast conspiracy of illegal insider information.
I was, again, charged with making one illegal trade. (And, later on, with “conspiring”.) The case against me was so illusory that the government offered me an unprecedented non-cooperation probation/no jail plea deal the day after my indictment, which I later turned down.
It is not my project, here, to convince you of my innocence. What I do hope to convey is exactly what it feels like when a routine work decision made years before—which you don’t even remember very well—becomes the sole focus of your existence, and the linchpin of your fate and your family’s future. What it feels like when the crushing pressure of a federal indictment comes down with all its force on what had been an enduring marriage. What it feels like when you begin to realize that those whom you have trusted are ready to betray you completely.
You probably know that the law prohibits “insider trading.” What you may not realize is that there is no clear definition of what “insider trading” actually is. None. Go check. Google away, I’ll wait. No statute spells it out. No law book provides a comprehensive accounting of its parameters. (When it came to my case, even the judge got confused.)
In the United States, the law avoids criminalizing conduct that is not clearly defined . . . but securities fraud is an exception. In some quarters, there’s a debate over whether it even makes economic sense to criminalize trading on inside information. The market is awash in rumors and insights from all sides, all the time. The line between good information and tainted information is not always clear. The flow of information—of all kinds and qualities—is constant. I was not charged with any pattern of illegal trading. I was charged with a single trade so unremarkable that I could barely remember it.
And it still destroyed my life.
If you are reading this, you are probably curious about what I went through. Well, I went through hell. But what does a man want when he is going through hell? When he is in hell, and sees only more hell ahead of him? When there is no foreseeable course except to continue forward through the fire and brimstone?
That one, I can tell you for sure.
He wants to keep on going.