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Hedge fund defends owner facing SEC charges

Steven Cohen, chairman and chief executive of SAC

Steven Cohen, chairman and chief executive of SAC Capital Advisors Credit: Bloomberg News, 2012

Attorneys for hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen are disputing federal civil charges that he failed to prevent insider trading at SAC Capital Advisors, saying he didn't read an email at the center of the allegations.

Cohen's lawyers call the Securities and Exchange Commission's charges "unfounded" in a paper sent Monday to employees of the firm.

The SEC said Friday two of Cohen's portfolio managers gave him information in 2008 that suggested they had access to inside data. Cohen, 57, faces possible fines and could be barred from managing investor funds. He has until Aug. 8 to formally respond to the allegations.

His lawyers say he "had every reason to believe" that one of the managers used only public information and that he didn't read the email from the other manager.

Stamford, Conn.-based SAC Capital, which until recently managed more than $15 billion in assets, is at the center of the biggest insider trading fraud cases in history.

The SEC says Cohen, a Great Neck native who lives in Greenwich, Conn., failed to prevent the two managers from illegally reaping profits and avoiding losses of more than $275 million. Rather than raise any red flags, Cohen praised one of the managers and rewarded the other with a $9-million bonus, the SEC said.

Part of the case hinges on an August 2008 email that included advance information on Dell Inc.'s quarterly earnings. The SEC says it was sent to one of the two SAC portfolio managers and forwarded to Cohen. Minutes after it was forwarded, Cohen began selling his $11-million holdings of Dell stock, the SEC says.

Cohen's lawyers say he didn't read the email and wasn't told about it. Cohen received hundreds of emails a day and he didn't read most, they say.

They say that Cohen decided to sell his Dell stock for "unquestionably legitimate reasons." That was because he became aware that a portfolio manager at an SAC affiliate, who had originally recommended that Cohen buy Dell stock, was selling a portion of his Dell stock.

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