Racketeering allegations are fun to throw around. My bank didn’t just overcharge me for an appraisal after I defaulted on my mortgage—it did so in a shady, mafia-like way, possibly in the back of a barbershop or social club in south Queens. Think a competing consulting firm’s being a little lax with its conflict of interest disclosures? File a RICO claim. Hedge fund being mean to you? Tell a court it’s basically a mobster. Ex-husband screwed you out of some money 20-plus years ago? He’s not just a deadbeat bastard: His whole hedge fund is a corrupt organization! The Supreme Court says: Bring as many RICO suits as you’d like.
But, fun as making them may be, RICO claims are a bitch to make stick. Why, ask the aforementioned ex-wife, Patricia Cohen. Or ask the prosecutors who considered but ultimately decided against filing criminal RICO charges against the aforementioned hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisers, run by her aforementioned ex-husband, Steve Cohen. It’s why prosecutors haven’t dared to file RICO charges against a trader in three decades.
But here’s the thing: Spoofing is also a bitch to prove. It’s only been against the law since Dodd-Frank, and the returns have not been good, since spoofing tends to look a lot like regular trading. But what if spoofing turns three JPMorgan precious metals traders into racketeers influencing a corrupt organization, in this case their own trading desk? Now, that sounds like a lot more fun, and maybe a story that will really sing in front of a jury.
Prosecutors accused Michael Nowak, who was the head of precious metals trading at the bank, along with Gregg Smith and Christopher Jordan, of organizing the precious metals desk as a RICO enterprise to engage in “spoofing,” as well as wire and bank fraud in which JPMorgan and its customers were the victims…. By building the case around RICO instead of just commodities manipulation charges, federal prosecutors are trying to avoid the problems they have had convincing juries in other cases that canceling orders is enough to prove a crime.
The Feds even have stool pigeons like in a real mob trial!
Prosecutors have two cooperating witnesses, John Edmonds and Christian Trunz, to help explain how the reported spoofing was accomplished and how JPMorgan was misled. Their testimony could be helpful in framing the case for the jury as one involving deception and not just spoofing.
I don’t know if any of this is gonna work. Probably not. But it’s gonna be a lot more fun than a run-of-the-mill spoofing trial.