Analysis: Rajaratnam Defense Gambles and Loses Big

Wednesday, 11 May 2011 03:43 PM

 

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As a court official read the verdict aloud in a Manhattan federal courtroom, hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam's lead lawyer John Dowd began ticking off the "guilty" counts on his verdict sheet.

Before the official could say "guilty" 14 times, Dowd put his pen down, tucked his glasses away, and leaned back in his chair. It had been a long trial. He had lost.

Then, an hour or so later, the 69-year-old veteran defense lawyer and former U.S. Marine Corps captain was once again his combative self. "We'll see you in the Second Circuit," the federal appeals court, he told reporters.

Rajaratnam's conviction Wednesday on all 14 securities fraud and conspiracy charges he faced came as little surprise to legal experts who said the government case against the Sri Lankan-born founder of Galleon Group was overwhelming.

Lawyers not involved in the case said Dowd did a good job trying to show the one-time billionaire amassed a "mosaic" of information from his own research, and analyst and news reports, to make his trades.

Still, Rajaratnam's phalanx of lawyers from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP proved unable to overcome the more than 40 wiretapped phone calls that prosecutors said showed Rajaratnam talking about his own insider trading.

The defendant, 53, did not testify. But his voice was heard over and over at trial as the government played recordings of his telephone conversations that were tapped by the FBI.

Rajaratnam "was a highly unsympathetic defendant whose own words tightened the noose around his neck," said Andrew Stoltmann, a partner at Stoltmann Law Offices PC in Chicago.

"A billionaire hedge fund manager, in this sort of environment, post-2008 financial crisis, is probably one of the least sympathetic white-collar defendants who could appear before a New York jury," he added. "Rajaratnam gambled he could convince this jury of his innocence, and he lost."

Prosecutors accused Rajaratnam of reaping as much as $63.8 million illegally by trading on inside tips from 2003 to 2009 about companies including chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc and Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

WITNESS ON THE HOT SEAT

Getting 12 jurors to vote to acquit may have become much harder when the presiding judge, Richard Holwell, last November decided to admit the evidence from the wiretapped calls. Such evidence is traditionally used in organized crime cases.

A low moment in the defense case came when prosecutors got former Galleon President Richard Schutte to admit on cross-examination that Rajaratnam put $15 million into Schutte's hedge fund just eight weeks before trial.

Schutte denied being paid to testify for Rajaratnam.

But the admission appeared to catch the defense off-guard, shining a spotlight on one of its two main witnesses, and diverting attention from its insistence that all the major government witnesses had to be lying under oath.

Dowd is perhaps best known for his report that led to the 1989 ban of former Cincinnati Reds star Pete Rose from Major League Baseball.

At times during the Rajaratnam trial, the defense team appeared less dynamic than the smaller, younger group of federal prosecutors pursuing the hedge fund manager.

The prosecution was led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Reed Brodsky and Jonathan Streeter, both in their early 40s.

Three weeks ago, Dowd looked exhausted as he completed what could be the final closing argument of his career, reading almost entirely at a lectern from notes.

Afterward, he slumped in his chair, shutting his eyes periodically as Streeter delivered his rebuttal. Dowd has said the Rajaratnam trial will be his last.

"Millions of dollars were spent" on Rajaratnam's case, said Michael Koblenz, a partner at law firm Mound Cotton Wollan & Greengrass in New York and a former federal prosecutor. "I'm surprised they didn't try to work out a deal."

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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