Tavistock founder and and Tottenham Hotspur owner Joe Lewis.
Tavistock founder and and Tottenham Hotspur owner Joe Lewis. Image Credit: AP

New York: Joe Lewis, the British billionaire and owner of the Tottenham Hotspur soccer team, has been criminally charged in New York for orchestrating a "brazen" insider trading scheme.

Prosecutors said Lewis exploited his access to corporate boardrooms by passing tips about companies in which he invested to friends, personal assistants, private pilots and romantic partners, enabling them to reap millions of dollars of profit.

"None of this was necessary. Joe Lewis is a wealthy man," US Attorney Damian Williams said in a video on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter.

"But as we allege he used inside information as a way to compensate his employees or shower gifts on his friends and lovers," Williams continued. "That's classic corporate corruption. It's cheating. And it's against the law." Lewis, who founded the investment firm Tavistock Group, was charged with 16 counts of securities fraud and three counts of conspiracy, for alleged crimes spanning from 2013 to 2021.

"The government has made an egregious error in judgment in charging Mr. Lewis, an 86-year-old man of impeccable integrity and prodigious accomplishment," Lewis' lawyer David Zornow said in an emailed statement.

"Mr. Lewis has come to the US voluntarily to answer these ill-conceived charges, and we will defend him vigorously in court," Zornow added.

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Lewis is worth $6.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Insider trading has long been a focus of Williams' office, dating to 2009 when a crackdown began under one of his predecessors, Preet Bharara.

‘The boss has inside info’

Lewis was accused of having from 2019 to 2021 passed material nonpublic information about companies such as Mirati Therapeutics, Solid Biosciences and Australian Agricultural Co.

He was also accused of having from 2013 to 2018 conspired to defraud Mirati, the US Securities and Exchange Commission and investors by using shell companies and other means to hide his more than 20% stake in the cancer therapy company.

Prosecutors said that in some insider trading cases, Lewis lent money to recipients of his tips, including in Oct. 2019 when he wired $1 million to two pilots so they could buy more Mirati shares.

The indictment quoted one pilot texting a friend that "Boss lent Marty and I $500,000 each for this," and that he thought "the Boss has inside info" because "otherwise why would he make us invest." Both pilots allegedly repaid their loans soon after Mirati announced favorable results from a clinical trial, causing its stock price to rise 16.7%.

"Loan payback for MRTX," the second pilot wrote in his records.

Lewis is also known for taking a nearly 10% stake in Bear Stearns in 2007, shortly before the Wall Street bank narrowly avoided collapse and was bought by JPMorgan Chase at a fire-sale price. His losses were estimated at more than $1 billion.