UNITED STATES NEWS

UK billionaire whose family trust owns Tottenham soccer club pleads not guilty to insider trading

Jul 26, 2023, 8:38 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Lewis, the British billionaire whose family trust owns the Tottenham Hotspur soccer club, pleaded not guilty in New York on Wednesday to insider trading charges alleging that he fed corporate secrets to romantic partners, personal assistants, friends and his pilots, earning them millions of dollars illegally.

Lewis was released on $300 million bail, using a yacht and private plane as collateral, after he entered the plea in Manhattan federal court. Two of his pilots, Patrick O’Connor and Bryan ‘Marty’ Waugh, also pleaded not guilty to related charges and were each released on $250,000 bail.

All three must remain in the United States.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, who announced the charges Tuesday night in a video, said Lewis was accused of “orchestrating a brazen insider trading scheme” that utilized his access to corporate boardrooms to feed inside tips to friends and lovers.

“Those folks then traded on that inside information — and made millions of dollars in the stock market — because, thanks to Lewis, those bets were a sure thing,” Williams said. “That’s classic corporate corruption. It’s cheating. And it’s against the law — laws that apply to everyone, no matter who you are.”

David M. Zornow, an attorney for Lewis, said his client had come to the U.S. “to answer these ill-conceived charges” and would fight them vigorously.

“The government has made an egregious error in judgment in charging Mr. Lewis, an 86-year-old man of impeccable integrity and prodigious accomplishment,” Zornow said in a statement Tuesday.

Wearing a gray three-piece suit, Lewis said, “Not guilty, your honor,” when asked for his plea. He and his lawyers declined to comment as they left court.

Lawyers for the pilots did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment.

Lewis was charged with 16 counts of securities fraud and three counts of conspiracy. O’Connor, 66, of Preston Hollow, New York, and Waugh, 64, of Lynchburg, Virginia, each face seven counts of securities fraud and a conspiracy count.

Lewis has a fortune that Forbes estimates at $6.1 billion, with assets in real estate, biotechnology, energy and agriculture. He bought an interest in Tottenham Hotspur, one of England’s most storied soccer clubs, in 2001.

Under his ownership, the Premier League club built a state-of-the-art stadium at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion.

Today, a trust benefiting members of Mr. Lewis’ family is the majority owner of ENIC, the holding company that owns the team. Lewis himself is not a beneficiary of that trust and relinquished operational control of the club last October, according to corporate filings.

Lewis’ Tavistock Group has stakes in more than 200 companies around the world, according to its website, and his art collection boasts works by Picasso, Matisse, Degas and more. His business connections include Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Justin Timberlake, with whom he built a Bahamian oceanside resort that opened in 2010.

According to the indictment, Lewis’ investments in various companies gave him control of board seats, where he placed associates who let him know what they learned behind the scenes. Prosecutors say Lewis improperly doled out that confidential information between 2019 and 2021 to his chosen recipients and urged them to profit off of it.

At one point, according to the indictment, he even loaned his two private pilots $500,000 apiece to buy stock in a cancer drug company that he knew had gotten — but not yet publicly disclosed — encouraging results from a clinical trial.

According to court papers, O’Connor texted a friend in connection with that loan to buy the stock, telling the friend the “Boss is helping us out and told us to get ASAP,” and assured the friend that “All conversations on app is encrypted so all good. No one can ever see.”

Lewis also gave the tip to his girlfriend, his personal assistant, a poker buddy and a friend with whom he had a romance, the indictment said. After the company announced the clinical trial data, the stock gained nearly 17% in a day, and Lewis’ friends and employees all eventually sold at a profit. The pilots repaid the loans at Lewis’ request, according to the indictment.

Another time, according to the filing, Lewis gleaned some closed-door information about a muscular dystrophy drug company in which he was a major investor. The information allegedly included a planned financial move and some clinical trial news.

Lewis’ biotech hedge fund signed a confidentiality agreement that prohibited disclosing the information or trading on it. But according to the indictment, he told his girlfriend to buy the company’s stock, then told the pilots the same as they flew the couple to Massachusetts from Seoul, where the two had been staying.

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AP Soccer writer James Robson contributed from Sydney and Sports Writer Ken Maguire contributed from London. AP writer Larry Neumeister contributed from New York.

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Find more AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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UK billionaire whose family trust owns Tottenham soccer club pleads not guilty to insider trading