Thursday, October 13, 2011
Hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam was sentenced today to an 11-year prison sentence, reportedly the longest sentence ever for insider trading, by Southern District of New York Judge Richard J. Holwell. The sentence was below the approximately 19- to 24-year sentence requested by the government and above the approximately six to eight years requested by the defense.
The Southern District United States Attorney's Office has focused its guns on insider trading offenses, bringing 52 cases in the last two years, 49 of which have resulted in convictions. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has called insider trading on Wall Street "rampant," has claimed that harsh insider trading sentences are a deterrent because they "convince rational business people that the risk is not worth it." Indeed, since an individual's decision whether to cross the line to trade on confidential information is often based on the individual's benefit v. risk analysis, insider trading may well be one of the relatively few areas of criminality where harsh sentences do actually serve as a deterrent. The Rajaratnam case, which involved a pattern of seeking inside information from tipsters and trading on it for millions of dollars in profits, and cases like it, should be distinguished from those cases which involve a single instance of insider trading based on a casual tip where the decision to trade is not so deliberate and therefore not so deterrable.
The 11-year sentence given to Rajaratnam is the second double-digit insider trading sentence imposed in the Southern District in the past few weeks. A few weeks ago, Judge Richard Sullivan sentenced Zvi Goffer, a former trader at Rajaratnam's firm, Galleon Group, to a 10-year term. While Rajaratnam's criminal involvement was of far greater magnitude than Goffer's, Rajaratnam had serious medical problems and a considerable history of good works, which may well have led to a lesser sentence than he would have received otherwise. Of course, some judges sentence more severely, or more leniently, than others.