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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Amid Geopolitical Concerns, Major Philanthropy Continues to Forge Ahead…Creatively
By Geoff Nudelman
Sat, Feb 24, 2024 3 min

Even amid two international conflicts and an upcoming U.S. presidential election, some philanthropic leaders are optimistic about the direction of overall giving through 2024.

Penta spoke with heads of several non-profits and leading philanthropists to gauge whether charitable giving will continue its reported slump from 2023 or rebound alongside renewed interest in various political and economic issues.

“Contrary to what some might expect, philanthropy has had resilience in these times,” says Stacy Huston, executive director of Sixdegrees.org, a youth empowerment non-profit based in Virginia founded by actor Kevin Bacon in 2007.

Huston’s view echoes recent data from the biennial Bank of America Study of Philanthropy published last year, which found that while affluent giving is largely down, the value of the average philanthropic gift is up 19%, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

The notion of what these gifts look like is changing, and is partially responsible for the growth. Philanthropy can be executed through more avenues than ever, whether through celebrity association, tech titans stewarding large endowments, or  athletes using their platforms to advocate for and create meaningful change.

“The industry and movement is creating new models, and you want to get it right,” says Scott Curran, CEO of Chicago-based Beyond Advisers. “No one should take their foot off the gas pedal.”

Curran spent a number of years with the Clinton Foundation in its infancy before leaving in 2016 to open his own consultancy, which focuses on philanthropy strategy at the highest levels. Curran and his team work with celebrities, athletes, multi-generational family foundations, and other affluent givers who need guidance in directing their philanthropic efforts. It’s a growing area of interest: Over half of affluent households with a net worth between US$5 million and US$20 million have, or are planning to establish, “some kind of giving vehicle” within the next three years, according to the Bank of America report.

Corporate philanthropy, rather than individual giving, is the cornerstone of Marcus Selig’s work as chief conservation officer at the National Forest Foundation, a Congressionally chartered non-profit based in Montana responsible for protecting millions of acres of public lands.

“Our outlook is business as usual,” he says, advising that giving may slow down, but not enough for the foundation to change course.

Factors such as political polarisation in the U.S. and the wars in Eastern Europe and the Middle East are pushing nonprofits to consider their niche, and how they might work with other groups, both on the corporate and philanthropic levels, Selig says.

“It leads to a little more sharing on the ground in what needs to be done,” he adds.

Steve Kaufer , founder of Massachusetts-headquartered e-commerce giving platform Give Freely and founder of TripAdvisor, says that the economy has a much bigger role in election years, as he looks to build and grow something that can act as a “counterbalance.”

“There’s a trend towards democratisation, and acting collectively can lead to greater impact,” he says.

Kaufer’s new platform hopes to leverage the everyday philanthropist through online shopping dollars to benefit major charity partners like UNICEF and charity:water, who earn funds as shoppers choose an organisation to benefit through an online clickthrough process.

“Whether a good year or bad year, e-commerce will continue to keep growing,” he says. “Nobody doubts that.”

Whether a legacy foundation, corporation or individual, the political landscape this year is requiring some to exercise caution as they consider what their own charitable actions might be and how it could be viewed more broadly. For the personal philanthropist, every move is now scrutinised more closely. On the nonprofit side, entities are exercising more due diligence to understand if a specific donor aligns with their mission and that there aren’t any underlying issues that could cause greater pushback.

“You have to be able to walk the walk,” Huston says. “For example, we’ve had to turn down very large donor checks from corporations because there’s a Reddit stream calling them out on their human rights practices.”

She adds that even a routine charity activation could now be aligned with a political party, and that adds complexities to how a higher-profile organisation like Six Degrees can activate, especially as the film Footloose turns 40 in 2024 (which Bacon starred in).

“A lot of organisations and states want to align themselves with this feel good moment, and we should be able to stand side by side with everyone, but we have to be aware,” she says.

Another topic attracting donor interest today is  mental health, an area that historically has been underfunded and under-resourced by philanthropy, according to Two Bridge partner Harris Schwartzberg, who has been closely linked to the mental health space for more than a decade.

Today, the issue for mental health nonprofits is less about resources and more about societal divisiveness and polarisation around the topic. There’s an “overwhelming demand” for solutions, but the space is in a “perfect storm” for the broader political issues to make things worse, Schwartzberg says.

In Curran’s opinion, the storms brewing are troublesome, but they are also creating new opportunities for corporate and personal giving. The  current state of philanthropy is one of “dynamic, expansive, and blurred lines,” meaning a careful blending of targeted giving combined with an understanding of the broader geopolitical landscape could lead to a successful overall philanthropic strategy.

“There are a lot of headlines that distract, but shouldn’t,” he says. “2024 needs more serious philanthropists than ever.”

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