By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Wednesday charged a former Goldman Sachs employee <GS.N> and his father with insider trading on confidential information about Goldman's exchange-traded fund strategy.
The case is the latest effort by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to crack down on insider trading on Wall Street and is the first time the agency has gone after insider trading involving ETFs.
In a complaint filed with the SEC's internal administrative court, the SEC said that Spencer Mindlin, who worked on Goldman's ETF desk from September 2007 until his resignation in August 2009, and his father, Alfred Mindlin, had made at least $57,000 in illicit trading profits.
Robert Knut, an attorney for the Mindlins, said the SEC's accusations against his clients were without merit.
"Spencer Mindlin did not provide any non-public information to make any securities trades," Knut said, adding that Spencer Mindlin was merely helping his father understand and execute a trading strategy. "The Mindlins did nothing wrong, and the SEC should not have brought these charges."
The commission said Spencer Mindlin, 33, was able to get nonpublic information about Goldman's plans to buy and sell securities underlying the SPDR S&P Retail Exchange-Traded Fund, which replicates the performance of the Standard & Poor's Retail Select Industry Index <.SPSIRE>.
The SEC said he then tipped off his father, 68, a certified public accountant who resides in Massapequa, New York, and Delray Beach, Florida. Together, the SEC alleges, the father and son traded illegally in four different securities that underlie the ETF.
"With his father's helping hand, Spencer Mindlin exploited his inside knowledge of Goldman's complex hedging strategies to line his own pockets," said George Canellos, director of the SEC's regional office in New York.
The SEC said the trades by the father-son duo were made in a brokerage account under a family member's name, and that Spencer Mindlin did not disclose them to his employer.
Andrea Raphael, a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, said the firm cooperated fully with the investigation. "All of the trading was conducted in private, undisclosed accounts held outside of Goldman Sachs and none of the trading involved client information," she said.
The insider trading allegedly occurred in December 2007 and March 2008 at times when Goldman's ETF desk was trading stocks in the S&P-linked fund because of scheduled quarterly changes to the index. At the time Goldman was the largest institutional holder of the ETF.
The agency alleges that Spencer Mindlin knew about Goldman's planned trades ahead of the rebalancing, and was able to profit from transactions in thinly traded, lesser-known companies such as Sport Supply Group Inc and PC Mall Inc <MALL.O>, among others.
Knut, the Mindlins' lawyer, said that his clients' trading strategy was based on "the well known rebalancing phenomenon within the ETF industry and publicly available information."
Also on Wednesday, a federal court in New York postponed sentencing for Raj Rajaratnam, the trader at the center of the government's probe of insider trading by hedge funds, until October 13, but gave no reason for the delay. Trader Zvi Goffer and consultant Winifred Jiau were sentenced to 10 years and four years in prison, respectively, in separate insider trading cases stemming from the hedge fund probe.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Aaron Pressman, Andrea Shalal-Esa; Jessica Toonkel and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Eddie Evans, Ted Kerr, Phil Berlowitz)