Earlier this month, a federal jury found former New York bond trader Jesse C. Litvak guilty of defrauding clients on mortgage bond trades and violating federal securities laws.
After two days of deliberation at the United States District Court Branch in New Haven at 141 Church St., on March 7th, the jury found Litvak guilty on 15 criminal counts, ten of them related to securities fraud. The former trader had been accused of deceiving clients in order to maximize profits as a bond trader for Jeffries and Company, an investment firm headquartered in New York City. Litvak is scheduled to be sentenced May 30 and faces up to 20 years in prison for each count involving securities fraud.
“[The] verdict shows plainly and powerfully that Wall Street professionals are not above the law,” U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said in a statement. “The jury rightly rejected Mr. Litvak’s shameful claim that he did nothing wrong because many on Wall Street engage in the same conduct.”
Original court documents filed on Jan. 25 2013 charge Litvak with committing securities fraud by deceiving buyers, committing major fraud against the United States in connection with the U.S. government’s Trouble Asset Relief Program, and providing false statements to the federal government. The complaint alleges Litvak was involved in inflating prices and fabricating trade partners in deals made between May 2009 and August 2011.
Industry standards allow traders to withhold pricing information from their customers, but require traders to be truthful when revealing prices and markups.
“Jesse Litvak may have worked in a complicated industry, but what he did was very simple,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Francis told Reuters. “He lied to his customers to boost his profits. That is fraud, and that is a crime.”
Litvak’s lawyer Patrick Smith said that his client was extremely disappointed in the verdict, adding that his client’s former bosses approved of his actions. Smith added that he believes his client simply offered “fibs that are accepted as part of the culture of Wall Street.”
Smith said his client never thought he was committing a crime, adding that Litvak’s statements to his clients did not impact their decision-making with regards to the bonds.
“Jesse Litvak’s state of mind was that this was something all traders did, and that it was an accepted practice,” Smith told. “He never thought of it as fraud, and it wasn’t fraud.”
Smith added that Litvak plans to appeal the decision.
According to the prosecutors, Litvak’s actions allegedly resulted in his clients paying more than $2 million in excess. Prosecutors further accused Litvak of misrepresenting pricing details to generate a larger commission for himself.
Many think this guilty ruling could set a new precedent for prosecution of other traders in similar financial fraud cases related to the 2008 economic crisis. University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business Professor Amit Seru said that people are going to be more cautious in the aftermath of the trial. He added that the government does not only want to punish those who engaged in illicit activities related to the financial crisis, but also deter others in the future.