June 6, 2011 – By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former portfolio manager at hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors testified a consultant on trial for insider trading regularly provided "absolutely perfect" information in exchange for payments.
Noah Freeman, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors in the hope of getting a lighter sentence, said Winifred Jiau tipped him about results and trends at chipmakers Marvell Technology Group Ltd <MRVL.O> and Nvidia Corp <NVDA.O> from 2006 to 2008.
The tips would often start two weeks before a quarter ended and continue until just before quarterly results were released, Freeman told a Manhattan federal jury on Monday.
"She provided us with almost the complete financial results before they were announced," Freeman said under a second day of questioning by federal prosecutor Avi Weitzman. "It gave us the ability to know what the company was going to say before they said it. That gave us a huge leg up."
Freeman worked during the period, first for Boston-based hedge fund Sonar Capital Management, and starting in June 2008 for SAC. He admitted ignoring SAC compliance rules in talking with Jiau, a former Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd <2330.TW> employee and consultant at Primary Global Research.
Jiau's trial is the first in a portion of a broad-based insider trading probe that focuses on so-called expert networking firms, which match industry experts with money managers seeking information about various business sectors.
Freeman testified that he gave some of Jiau's information to Sonar's chief, Neil Druker, who then traded on it.
He was not asked if Druker knew the tips involved inside information. Druker has not been charged with wrongdoing.
Steven A. Cohen, the famed trader who oversees $12 billion at SAC, also has not been charged with wrongdoing.
Freeman said on Friday he told federal agents that "more than a dozen" people he worked with over the years were involved in criminal conduct.
A lawyer for Druker on Friday called Freeman a dishonest former employee who is "falsely seeking to implicate others at Sonar" in exchange for leniency.
Freeman's guilty plea in February was the first by a former SAC employee. The fund has said it fired him at the start of 2010 for poor performance, and that it did not know he had trafficked in inside information.
The Taiwanese-born Jiau is accused of securities fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors allege she leaked tips in exchange for more than $200,000 of fees. She has pleaded not guilty.
Jiau, 43, has been jailed since her December arrest after a judge called her a flight risk. She could face 25 years in prison if convicted.
Freeman, 35, called Jiau's tips about Nvidia an "exact match" and similar tips on Marvell "absolutely perfect." The tips resulted in $5 million to $10 million of profit on Nvidia, while tips on Marvell left him "break-even," he said.
The Harvard University graduate also said he passed tips to his former close friends Donald Longueuil, who once worked at SAC, and Samir Barai, of Barai Capital Management. They have also pleaded guilty.
The government played three recorded phone calls it said showed Jiau providing advance financial results. In one, Jiau told Freeman about Nvidia's upcoming quarterly revenue and correctly suggested it would announce a stock buyback.
Prosecutions against other insider trading defendants, including the now-convicted Galleon Group hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, also relied heavily on such calls.
CHEESECAKE AND LOBSTERS
Freeman testified he preferred using Primary Global because it billed by the month rather than the hour, effectively giving him a "season pass."
He said SAC payments to that firm would take the form of higher trading commissions, to avoid scrutiny by the hedge fund's compliance department.
An SAC spokesman declined to comment.
In exchange for tips, Freeman said he and Barai each at first paid Jiau $1,000 a month, and later $5,000 after her tips proved accurate. Freeman also said he gave her gifts such as iPhones and a $300 Cheesecake Factory gift certificate.
Freeman said he and Barai often referred to Jiau, who is known as Wini, as "Pooh" or "Poohster" -- a reference to Winnie the Pooh -- but that she could be "very, very difficult," often rescheduling meetings or making phone calls at odd hours.
Once, Freeman said, he asked his Sonar secretary, who he said did not like Jiau, to ship 12 Maine lobsters that Jiau wanted as a gift, for Thanksgiving Day.
"Winnie never picked up her lobsters," the secretary later wrote by email. "Typical Winnie to leave 12 lobsters to die at fed ex. She has no heart."
The case is U.S. vs. Jiau, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-cr-00161.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by John Wallace and Andre Grenon)