July 22, 2024

DealBook: Expert Network Consultant Is Convicted in Insider Trading Case

8:37 p.m. | Updated
During the insider trading trial of the expert network consultant Winifred Jiau, the government’s central witness referred to her as “the Poohster.” And as is the case in the adventures of Winnie the Pooh, it was a sweet tooth that brought her down.

On Monday, Ms. Jiau was convicted of selling technology company secrets to hedge fund traders for hundreds of thousand of dollars, payoffs she referred to in code as “sugar.” Though most knew the technology consultant as Winnie, some of her hedge fund clients called her the Poohster, after the bear always in search of a pot of honey.

Ms. Jiau, 43, was charged, tried and convicted in less than eight months, and now faces up to 25 years in prison when she is sentenced on Sept. 21.

Her lawyer said Ms. Jiau would appeal the verdict, which jurors at the United States District Court in Manhattan reached after about six hours of deliberating.

Her trial was the first involving an expert network firm, a niche Wall Street business that connects investors with industry experts. Ms. Jiau worked at Primary Global Research, a company in Mountain View, Calif., that has come under heavy scrutiny. At least seven people connected to the firm have been charged with crimes related to insider trading.

“Winnie Jiau gave new meaning to the concept of social networking,” said Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for Manhattan. “She used and exploited friends at public companies for the purpose of obtaining, and then selling, inside information. With today’s conviction, another link in a corrupt network has been broken.”

The jury foreman, Susan Kohlmeyer, an educator from Westchester County in New York, expressed dismay about corruption in the world of finance.

“I was despairing when I heard from those witnesses about what goes on in the system,” she told reporters outside the courthouse, according to news wire reports. “I hope that hedge funds will be re-examined, because there’s a lot of corruption.”

Ms. Jiau was one of just five insider trading defendants to fight the government’s charges this year. All have been found guilty.

In the trial of Ms. Jiau, the central witness for the government was Noah Freeman, a former hedge fund portfolio manager at SAC Capital Advisors, who testified that he had received illegal stock tips from her.

At trial, Mr. Freeman said tips from Ms. Jiau were “absolutely perfect” but bemoaned her often rude behavior. She could be difficult to contact and was often unreasonable about wanting to be showered with gifts, he testified.

Mr. Freeman said that in addition to being paid $120,000 a year by him and his co-conspirators, she expected the men to send her presents, including gift certificates to the Cheesecake Factory and three iPhones. Perhaps most frustrating, he said, were the lobsters.

Ms. Jiau on more than one occasion requested lobsters be delivered to her in California, including for Thanksgiving in 2007. Those lobsters, however, died at FedEx after Ms. Jiau failed to collect them in time.

A native of Taiwan, Ms. Jiau settled in California after earning a master’s degree in statistics from Stanford University. Her lawyer, Joanna C. Hendon, told jurors that while the information that Ms. Jiau obtained about companies may have been nonpublic, it was not material.

She said a significant portion of evidence against her client was the result of a simple twist of fate. One of the hedge fund managers implicated in the scheme, Samir Barai, has hearing problems and often recorded calls with Ms. Jiau so he could listen to them afterward. Three of those conversations were played at trial. Mr. Barai pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.

In instant messages and e-mails with Mr. Barai, Ms. Jiau referred to her tips as “recipes,” her tipsters as “cooks” and the money for her information as “sugar.” At times, Ms. Jiau could be tough.

In June 2008, during the final year of what prosecutors say was Ms. Jiau’s foray into insider trading, she sent a note to Mr. Barai letting him know where things stood — and that she wasn’t the only one who craved sweets.

“Cooks are on strike now,” she wrote to Mr. Barai in an e-mail.

“So drop some of your extra sugar to me,” she continued. “Cooks don’t talk to me without sugar.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fe20986491c919099ba5e84ded90e216

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