New Jersey governor Chris Christie personally invited hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen to his re-election victory party last week just hours after Cohen paid a $1.2 billion penalty and his fund, SAC Capital, pleaded guilty to criminal insider-trading charges, the FOX Business Network has learned.
Cohen was among the roughly 2,400 people who attended Christie’s victory bash at the Asbury Park Convention Hall, as well as a private dinner Christie had with a handful of supporters, according to people close to Cohen with direct knowledge of the matter. Cohen was one of the few who received a personal invitation from the governor to attend, these people say.
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Further raising eyebrows is that the invitation came just hours after Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara announced a plea deal with Cohen’s hedge fund that includes the largest fine in the history of insider-trading cases, a guilty plea and an agreement by SAC to end its business of managing money for outside clients.
Cohen wasn’t charged in the criminal complaint, but remains under criminal investigation for alleged insider- trading. He is also being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in a civil case for failure to supervise people at his firm ensnarled in the feds' insider-trading crackdown; two of those former executives, portfolio managers Michael Steinberg and Mathew Martoma, are awaiting criminal trials. The SEC is seeking to ban Cohen from the securities business.
Cohen, with a net worth of approximately $9 billion, has maintained that he’s done nothing wrong. So far this year he has paid $1.8 billion to settle civil and criminal insider-trading charges filed by the federal authorities against SAC, once one of the largest and most successful hedge funds that has seen outside investor cash flee amid the scrutiny.
Christie and Cohen are said to be friends; one person with direct knowledge of the matter said the New Jersey governor had heard that Cohen was depressed amid the legal pressure, including last week’s guilty plea, and “told Steve to get off his couch” urging Cohen to attend his victory celebration.
Cohen reluctantly agreed, this person said.
A spokesman for SAC declined to comment. A spokesman for Christie’s re-election campaign said, “Mr. Cohen was in attendance on Election Night along with nearly 2,400 other attendees.” He had no further comment on Cohen's attendance at the private dinner.
In February 2012, the FOX Business Network reported that Cohen and Christie were spotted at an upscale Manhattan restaurant discussing politics as they dined on expensive steaks served with a $355 Sassicaia “Super Tuscan” red wine. At the time, Christie was raising money for fellow Republican Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential election bid, which Cohen also supported.
Christie, himself a former US Attorney from New Jersey, is considered a front-runner for the 2016 Republican nomination following his landslide victory over his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono.
“Hanging with Steve Cohen certainly doesn’t make Christie a man of the people,” said political analyst Hank Sheinkopf. “It could make a great negative ad for Republican opponents, not to mention Democrats who will raise the point he’s getting involved with Wall Street people who might have done bad stuff.”
Christie is already receiving support from other Wall Street executives such as financier and Home Depot (NYSE:HD) co-founder Ken Langone.
Langone attended the victory party as well, and has been actively raising money for a possible Christie presidential run.
"I pray to God that he runs for President, and I will do anything I can to help him make that decision,” Langone told FOX Business.