At the University of Tampa, Anthony Viggiano and three classmates faced off against another school in the 2018 “Ethics Invitational.” Hosted by the CFA Institute’s local branch, the competition tested which team could best tackle dilemmas they’d face as financial professionals.
(Bloomberg) — At the University of Tampa, Anthony Viggiano and three classmates faced off against another school in the 2018 “Ethics Invitational.” Hosted by the CFA Institute’s local branch, the competition tested which team could best tackle dilemmas they’d face as financial professionals.
Viggiano’s team won and walked off with a $1,000 prize.
A few years later, on Wall Street, first at Blackstone Inc. and then at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Viggiano failed multiple ethical challenges, according to federal prosecutors, who charged him with being at the center of an insider trading scheme.
According to the government, Viggiano, now 26, shared information about upcoming mergers and acquisitions with a pair of friends, pocketing a lot more than $1,000.
One friend, Christopher Salamone, 35, is from the same neighborhood in Baldwin, New York, where Viggiano grew up. The tips led to more than $300,000 in illicit gains, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors also charged Stephen Forlano, a college buddy, with trading on information provided by Viggiano. Forlano made approximately $114,000, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which filed a parallel civil suit.
Lawyers for all three men declined to comment for this story. Salamone pleaded guilty on Sept. 21 and is cooperating with prosecutors, the Justice Department said. Forlano’s lawyer said on Thursday that his client denied the allegations.
The alleged scheme started in the summer of 2021, when Viggiano was at Blackstone and learned that the firm was about to buy several assets from American International Group Inc.
The first tips to Forlano paid off, but Viggiano hit a stumbling block. He resigned in October 2021, after six months at Blackstone. The firm had discovered a month earlier that he had been personally trading securities without approval from the legal and compliance department, according to the SEC.
By February 2022, he landed a job at Goldman Sachs. There, according to prosecutors and the SEC, he started sharing information with Salamone.
The pair were close and trusted each other, having grown up on the same block in Baldwin. They shared something else: Viggiano’s father and Salamone’s mother are “romantic partners,” according to the SEC.
Over the next year most of their trading talk was either in person or on Signal, the encrypted messaging service.
Viggiano gave Salamone cash, which he deposited into his bank account and then into a trading account. Over the next nine months, Salamone bought stock or call options in six stocks recommended by his friend. In all, Salamone’s trading resulted in $322,000 in illicit gains, according to the SEC.
At the University of Tampa, Viggiano impressed one classmate as a striver, a knowledgeable accounting major with an entrepreneurial bent. He served on a Dean Advisory Group, and was president of Beta Alpha Psi, an honors organization for students in the financial field, according to a UT Student Alumni Association profile on Facebook.
Viggiano launched a business with Forlano, a New Jersey native who played center on the UT hockey team. In 2018 the pair set up an investment business, Fury Capital. Forlano was president and Viggiano — who had the nickname ‘Rigatoni’ — treasurer.
It was dissolved in 2022 and reported $72,000 in income, according to data from Lexis Nexis.
The insider trading was more profitable for Forlano, according to prosecutors. In addition to the $114,000 he made, he passed tips onto five friends and family members, who made another $110,000.
One recipient of the tips was Forlano’s former college roommate, Nathan Bleckley, a U.S. Army captain. Bleckley, who is being sued by the SEC, made about $25,000, and passed the tips to more people. He is not facing criminal charges.
Bleckley’s lawyer on Thursday said that his client “places a high priority on doing what’s right.”
“We eagerly anticipate closing this chapter of his life and moving on to the next one,” said the lawyer, Todd Spodek.
Bleckley, who won the 2019 Gen. Hal Moore Award as the top cadet in the University of Tampa’s ROTC program, didn’t act on his friend’s first tip, back in July 2021, complaining that he was low on funds.
“Great call sorry I wasted it,” Bleckley texted.
“broooo I didn’t wanna leave a trail but rigatoni literally works for” Blackstone, Forlano responded, using his nickname for their fellow UT alum.
Bleckley complained that his friend didn’t use the right code word for a sure thing.
“If you say ‘mallard of all mallards’ I know fire away with everything I got,” Bleckley, who was on the lacrosse team and carried a 3.44 GPA at UT, texted Forlano.
‘Go Mallard Baby’
Two weeks later, the two friends were exchanging messages on another deal, with Forlano exclaiming “go mallard baby.” Bleckley bought and eventually sold 526 shares of Harmony Biosciences Holdings Inc. stock, making about $1,735, according to the SEC.
Back at the University of Tampa, Viggiano was a bright student and budding entrepreneur. The guy who had a lot of knowledge about finance and accounting.
He thought that knowledge would help him stay out of trouble, even after he had been approached by law enforcement.
“Viggiano told Salamone not to worry, because they had traded the right way using ‘smokescreens’ to avoid detection,” according to the SEC complaint.
Viggiano advised Salamone to buy other stocks in the same sector to serve as the “smokescreens,” according to the government. The SEC Market Abuse Unit’s Analysis and Detection Center, which uses tools to detect suspicious trading patterns, eventually identified Viggiano as a possible source for the information that led to trades by Salamone, Forlano and Bleckley.
The FBI interviewed Viggiano and Salamone in June 2023. Afterwards, the two men spoke, but Salamone was recording the conversation.
According to the indictment, Viggiano said to Salamone, “You have both the people here who executed trades. What you’re missing is the f[***]ing dots. Right?” he said. “They have me” at Goldman Sachs “having access to this information, and the over here is…trading that loosely connects to me. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon.”
Salamone asked Viggiano if there are any traces of him providing information to Forlano. His friend said there wouldn’t be any evidence, because he used Signal or Xbox 360 chat.
“There’s no tracing that,” Viggiano said, according to the indictment.
After the DOJ unsealed the indictment, Maxwell Grimard, president of the CFA Society Tampa Bay, said the ethics competition was “generally a well received and productive event.”
But he acknowledged that it’s “an unfortunate thing that a past participant now is involved in something that is counter to what they learned about.”
“It is ironic that past performance is no indication of future results,” he said.
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