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Former BofA Broker Acquitted on 29 Counts

The verdict in a case that dealt with alleged illegal trading of mutual funds is a setback for Spitzer's Wall Street crackdown.

June 10, 2005|From Reuters

In a defeat for New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer, former Bank of America Corp. broker Theodore Sihpol was acquitted Thursday by a Manhattan jury of 29 counts of helping a hedge fund trade mutual funds illegally.

New York Supreme Court Justice James Yates declared a mistrial on four other counts on which the jury deadlocked.

Lawyers said the verdict might erode some of Spitzer's clout as the financial services industry's most prominent crime fighter. The trial was the attorney general's first in his probes into Wall Street stock research, mutual fund and insurance practices.

"This is a very significant blow to Eliot Spitzer's enforcement efforts," said Robert Heim, a partner at law firm Meyers & Heim in New York. "Mr. Sihpol's victory will strongly encourage other defendants to consider going to trial rather than settling."

A jury of seven women and five men found Sihpol not guilty of 29 counts of grand larceny, fraud and scheming to defraud, and falsifying business records. It deadlocked on two other fraud counts and two counts of falsifying records. The trial lasted nearly six weeks and jury deliberations took six days.

Yates set a June 23 hearing at which prosecutors may say whether they plan to retry the 37-year-old Sihpol on the four remaining counts. Sihpol still faces a Securities and Exchange Commission action and other civil lawsuits.

"He is now going to get on with his life, reclaim his reputation and find a new job," said Evan Stewart, one of Sihpol's lawyers. "This isn't the end of his legal affairs, but it's the end of the most important part, because it dealt with his liberty."

Darren Dopp, a spokesman for Spitzer, called the verdict "disappointing," but said his office "will continue to aggressively pursue the interests of investors."

Spitzer, a 2006 Democratic candidate for governor in New York, has extracted more than $2 billion in settlements from fund firms in his probes into the $8-trillion mutual fund industry.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America settled with regulators for $675 million, and Canary Capital Partners settled with Spitzer for $40 million. Neither admitted wrongdoing.

Prosecutors had alleged that from May 2001 to July 2003, Sihpol helped the Canary hedge fund make improper mutual fund trades that harmed ordinary investors.

Spitzer said Sihpol arranged manual and electronic trading systems to let Canary conduct "late trading" by trading funds as late as 6:30 p.m. at the 4 p.m. price. He likened the practice to betting on a completed horse race.

The trading helped Canary generate market-beating returns by using late-breaking news to make profit or avoid losses.

The defense said Sihpol thought the trades were proper, made no attempt to conceal them and had no criminal intent.

"Those of us who have believed in Ted Sihpol are euphoric," defense lawyer Paul Shechtman said.

Sihpol had faced up to 30 years in prison. He has been out of a job since Bank of America fired him in September 2003 after Spitzer filed his complaint against Canary. Sihpol is married and has a 3-year-old son.

Canary, which had been based in Secaucus, N.J., was run by Edward Stern, whose billionaire father Leonard ran Hartz Mountain Corp.

Spitzer is pursuing other high-profile cases. In May, he accused American International Group Inc. and former Chief Executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg of accounting fraud.

The attorney general is also suing former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso, saying his $188.5-million compensation package violated state not-for-profit law.

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