NEW YORK — Lawyers for Michael Steinberg on Friday asked a judge to give the former SAC Capital portfolio manager a reduced sentence for his conviction on insider-trading charges involving the once-giant hedge fund.
In a 65-page sentencing memo, defense lawyer Barry Berke cited Steinberg's charitable work and argued that his offenses reflected "a lesser degree of culpability compared to many other insider trading defendants."
"He did not know about, let alone authorized, any payments to obtain illegal inside information," Berke wrote in the memo to U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan. "In addition, Mr. Steinberg lacked knowledge about significant details of the conspiracy that were known to other co-conspirators..."
Berke also filed letters in which relatives and associates of Steinberg, a former top lieutenant to hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen, attested to his character, active philanthropy and dedication to family.
A Department of Probation report recommended that Steinberg be sentenced to a prison term of 51 to 63 months for his December conviction on one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and four counts of securities fraud. Prosecutors are likely to recommend a longer term in a court filing due next week.
Berke, however, asked Sullivan to impose a prison sentence of no more than 24 months at a scheduled May 16 sentencing, and requested that Steinberg be permitted to remain free on bail pending appeal.
A nine-woman, three-man jury took two days to convict Steinberg after government evidence in a five-week trial showed he traded in shares of tech firms Dell and Nvidia based on non-public information provided by a research analyst. The trades netted an estimated $1.9 million in illegal profits for the hedge fund, prosecutors argued.
Steinberg is one of eight ex-SAC Capital employees — and the closest to Cohen in the firm's hierarchy — convicted in insider-trading cases. The convictions played a key role in the record $1.8 billion insider-trading settlement that required SAC Capital to permanently cease handling investments for outside clients.
U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain approved that settlement on April 10, the final legal step shuttering what was once one of Wall Street's most profitable and envied hedge funds. The hedge fund has become a so-called family office that manages the estimated $9 billion to $11 billion personal fortune that has won Cohen regular Forbes magazine rankings as one of the world's richest individuals.
Cohen has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing. But he faces a Securities and Exchange Commission administrative proceeding that alleges he failed to properly supervise Steinberg and other employees involved in insider trading.
Steinberg's anticipated appeal is expected to repeat a defense contention raised before the trial — that prosecutors improperly steered the case assignment to Sullivan.
Unlike other judges in New York's southern federal district, Sullivan's rulings in some insider-trading cases have not required prosecutors to prove defendants knew that corporate tippers who leaked non-public information acted to get a "personal benefit" in return for the disclosure.
Steinberg was "at least four steps removed" from the alleged tippers who provided secret information about Dell and Nvidia, Berke argued in an April 2013 court filing and repeated in the sentencing memo. As a result, the question of whether the government would have to prove that Steinberg knew the tippers' motivation was "a particularly important one," Berke wrote.
Sullivan's legal instructions to jurors in Steinberg's case ultimately did not require them to find such proof in order to convict.
A three-member federal appeals court panel in New York focused on the issue during an April hearing in which the judges questioned prosecutors about the process in which Sullivan was assigned to preside over a different insider-trading case.