Bear Stearns High Grade Fund Criminal Trial – It’s Not Just Emails

Opening statements in the criminal trial of Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, the former portfolio managers for the Bear Stearns High Grade Funds, start today in federal court in Brooklyn, NY. The High Grade Funds imploded in 2007 causing $1.4 billion in investor losses. Prosecutors have charged Cioffi and Tannin with securities fraud and Cioffi with insider trading. The media coverage so far has focused almost exclusively on emails sent by Cioffi and Tannin regarding their personal thoughts about the Funds. The government alleges that Cioffi and Tannin thought the Funds were in serious trouble but then told investors on conference calls that everything was fine. While emails are often sexy and this is an important part of the case, the defense will likely argue that the email quotes were taken out of context and that the portfolio managers were simply analyzing the prospects of the Funds and were not intentionally lying to investors.

The press has not focused much on two just as important aspects of the prosecution’s case which should be easier to prove. First, according to the prosecutors, on the investor conference calls, the managers told investors that there was a lesser amount of investor redemptions in the High Grade Funds than there actually were. Here, the government can argue that Cioffi and Tannin clearly knew how much in redemptions were put in by investors yet they told investors a different number so investors wouldn’t run for the exits. The redemption amounts are undisputed facts and much less susceptible to defense spinning.

Second, the prosecutors allege that Cioffi and Tannin used their personal investments in the Funds as part of their pitch to investors, to invest in, and stay invested in the Funds. In early 2007, the government alleges Tannin told investors he was adding to his position. Also, Cioffi redeemed $2 million of his own personal monies in 2007 and did not notify investors. The government can argue that Tannin lied to investors about his own personal investments in order to keep them in the Funds. Also, that Cioffi, because he used his own personal investments in the Funds as a marketing tool, wilfully omitted his $2 million personal redemption in order to induce investors to stay in the Funds. The longer the Funds were alive, the better chance Cioffi and Tannin could continue to reap their multi million dollar annual bonuses.

Both of the these arguments are not as reliant on what Cioffi and Tannin believed when they wrote certain emails. Since it is unlikely that Cioffi and Tannin will testify at the criminal trial, the prosecutors may want to focus more on the redemption issues.