Love and Deceit: Work-From-Home Era Spawns ‘Pillow Talk’ Insider Trading
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Love and Deceit: Work-From-Home Era Spawns ‘Pillow Talk’ Insider Trading

Lawyers say recent securities-fraud cases have a new twist: they are the product of the daily humdrum of two adults doing their jobs remotely

By CORINNE RAMEY
Wed, Jan 10, 2024 9:20amGrey Clock 4 min

Steven Teixeira’s use of his girlfriend’s laptop began innocently enough when she asked him to keep an eye on her work email while she went to fitness classes and ran errands.

As they weathered the pandemic from their apartment in Queens, N.Y., he gave in to temptation. His sweetheart worked as an executive assistant at Morgan Stanley, and her calendar invites included meetings about planned mergers and acquisitions that involved the investment bank.

Teixeira, a compliance executive at a payment-processing company whom she intended to marry, used the information to trade in advance of the deals. It netted him thousands in profits, promises of Rolex watches from friends he tipped off, and the scrutiny of federal officials probing insider trading. He pleaded guilty to a dozen fraud charges in June.

There is a rich history in securities fraud of “pillow talk” cases, in which insider traders glean confidential information from romantic partners. The Covid era offered a twist: Secrets weren’t spilled in the bedroom or over a bottle of wine, but during the humdrum routine of two adults working from home.

“During Covid, there was an uptick in brazen conduct,” said Edward Imperatore, a defence lawyer at law firm Morrison & Foerster. “In a work-from-home environment, people acted with more impunity.”

Another recent case snared a boyfriend who was training to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Seth Markin pleaded guilty in December to trading on information he purloined from his lawyer girlfriend, an associate in the Washington office of law firm Covington & Burling.

In 2021, she was working on a pharmaceutical acquisition from her one-bedroom apartment, where Markin spent days at a time. According to prosecutors, she trusted him because he told her he had a security clearance, was going to be an FBI agent, and wanted to marry her.

Prosecutors said Markin passed on tips that led to at least 20 people trading based on confidential information. “I knew that my behaviour was wrong,” Markin told the judge during his plea hearing. He is scheduled to be sentenced in March.

Representatives for the FBI and Covington declined to comment.

In Teixeira’s case, he was aided by a mouse-jiggler he bought that ensured his girlfriend’s laptop wouldn’t lock when she wasn’t using it, according to court documents. He has been cooperating with prosecutors and is scheduled to testify this year at the trial of his former friend, Jordan Meadow, who at the time was a stockbroker with Spartan Capital Securities. Meadow made more than $700,000 trading on Teixeira’s information and used the tips to advise clients who made millions, prosecutors allege.

“Yo you see UFS,” Meadow texted Teixeira, referencing the stock symbol of a company involved in a $3 billion deal, according to the indictment. He then asked for more nonpublic information, texting, “Feed me.”

Meadow has pleaded not guilty to the eight charges he is facing. Lawyers for Meadow and Spartan declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley, and a lawyer for Teixeira didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission settled with a New Jersey man who it accused of illegally trading on inside information he heard when his domestic partner, who worked in marketing for an IT company, participated in calls from home, including an 11:30 p.m. videoconference in a home-office adjacent to their bedroom. Although he typically discussed his trades with her, in this case he hid them, executing the transactions from his work office, the SEC said. The man, who didn’t admit wrongdoing, paid $180,000.

One thing hasn’t changed since the earliest days of pillow talk: It is usually the men who can’t resist the urge to take advantage of their confidential information.

“Insider trading is an equal opportunity crime,” said Dixie Johnson, a partner at law firm King & Spalding who advises companies on how to avoid such situations. “But the cases we see usually have involved men doing the trading.”

Not that female romantic partners have always been innocent bystanders. In 2002, adult-movie actress Kathryn Gannon, known on screen as Marylin Star, pleaded guilty to trading on tips from an investment bank CEO with whom she was having an affair. She was sentenced to three months in prison.

A decade later, former beauty queen turned hedge-fund consultant Danielle Chiesi pleaded guilty to securities fraud for her role in a sprawling insider-trading ring. In a sentencing submission, she blamed a toxic relationship with her boss—and lover of 20 years—who urged her to get inside information.

One challenge for prosecutors is determining whether the partner who is privy to the information was in on the crime, said former federal prosecutor Brendan Quigley.

“Do they say, ‘Oh, my God, I would never give information to my spouse or significant other?’ It depends not only on what actually happened, but also on the nature of their relationship,” said Quigley, who prosecuted insider-trading cases in Manhattan.

For defense lawyers, pillow-talk cases can be difficult to handle at trial, particularly if one partner testifies against another. “To a juror, this is the bad boyfriend,” said Imperatore, the defense attorney. “He’s acting badly in a relationship in a way that goes beyond the four corners of insider trading.”

Not surprisingly, many such relationships don’t survive. Teixeira and his girlfriend split up, as did Markin and his.

Former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner and her husband, William Marovitz, divorced about a year after the SEC accused him of illegally trading Playboy stock based on information gleaned from his wife—despite her explicit instructions not to. Marovitz didn’t admit wrongdoing in a 2011 settlement.

One woman whose husband recently settled insider-trading charges involving confidential information related to her employer said coping with the allegations strengthened their bond.

“It felt like an injustice,” said the woman, who wasn’t identified in court papers. “It brought us closer together.”



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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