Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a former hedge fund portfolio manager with insider trading in a bio-pharmaceutical company based on confidential information about negative results of the company’s clinical drug trial. The SEC alleges that Dr. Joseph F. “Chip” Skowron, a former portfolio manager for six health care-related hedge funds affiliated with FrontPoint Partners LLC, sold hedge fund holdings of Human Genome Sciences Inc. (HGSI) based on a tip he received unlawfully from a medical researcher overseeing the drug trial. HGSI’s stock fell 44 percent after it publicly announced negative results from the trial of Albumin Interferon Alfa 2-a (Albuferon), and the hedge funds avoided at least $30 million in losses. In a parallel action today, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced criminal charges against Skowron.
Simultaneous with the filing of the SEC’s complaint, the six hedge funds named as relief defendants agreed to settle with the Commission and pay disgorgement of $29,017,156.00 plus prejudgment interest of $4,003,669.00 without admitting or denying the allegations. The proposed settlement is subject to court approval.
The SEC previously charged the medical researcher – Dr. Yves M. Benhamou – who illegally tipped Skowron with the non-public information. According to the SEC, Benhamou served on the Steering Committee overseeing HGSI’s trial for Albuferon, a potential drug to treat Hepatitis C. While serving on the Steering Committee, Benhamou provided consulting services to Skowron through an expert networking firm. But over time, he and Skowron developed a friendship. By April 2007, many of their communications were independent of the expert networking firm. Benhamou tipped Skowron with material, non-public information about the trial as he learned of negative developments that occurred during Phase 3 of the trial.
According to the SEC’s amended complaint, Skowron gave Benhamou an envelope of containing 5,000 Euros while they were attending a medical conference in Barcelona, Spain in April 2007. The cash was in appreciation for Benhamou’s work as a consultant. In February 2008, after the illegal HGSI trades were completed, Skowron asked Benhamou to lie about his communications with Skowron, which he did. In late February 2008, Skowron met Benhamou in Boston and attempted to hand him a bag containing cash in appreciation for his tips on the Albuferon trial and his continued silence. Benhamou refused the cash. However, while attending a medical conference in Milan, Italy in April 2008, Skowron gave Benhamou another envelope containing $10,000 to $20,000 in cash that Benhamou accepted.
The six hedge funds are FrontPoint Healthcare Flagship Fund, L.P., FrontPoint Healthcare Horizons Fund, L.P., FrontPoint Healthcare I Fund, L.P., FrontPoint Healthcare Flagship Enhanced Fund, L.P., FrontPoint Healthcare Long Horizons Fund, L.P., and FrontPoint Healthcare Centennial Fund, L.P.