By Jody Godoy
NEW YORK (Reuters) -British billionaire Joe Lewis pleaded guilty to U.S. insider trading charges on Wednesday after being accused last year of a scheme that prosecutors said was designed to enrich friends and associates, and apologized to a judge for his conduct.
Lewis, 86, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and two counts of securities fraud under an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan. As part of the plea deal, Lewis can appeal if the judge in the case sentences him to prison time, his lawyer David Zornow said.
Sentencing was scheduled for March 28.
Lewis, whose family trust controls a majority of the Tottenham Hotspur soccer team, was charged in July 2023 with passing inside information on his portfolio companies to two of his private pilots as well as friends, personal assistants and romantic partners, enabling them, according to prosecutors, to reap millions of dollars of profit.
Addressing U.S. District Judge Jessica Clarke during a hearing on Wednesday, Lewis said he knew at the time that what he was doing was wrong.
“I am so embarrassed and I apologize to the court for my conduct,” said Lewis, who in July had entered a plea of not guilty.
Lewis was charged by federal prosecutors with 16 counts of securities fraud and three counts of conspiracy for conduct that occurred from 2013 to 2021. While Lewis will not plead guilty to the other counts under the terms of his deal, Clarke said she may consider them for sentencing purposes.
“The law applies to everyone, no matter who you are or how much wealth you have,” Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement.
The pilots, Patrick O’Connor and Bryan Waugh, also were charged. They also pleaded not guilty in July.
Broad Bay Ltd, a Bahamian entity owned by Lewis that prosecutors said helped him hide his ownership of Mirati Therapeutics shares, also entered a guilty plea on Wednesday and agreed to pay a $50 million fine. Broad Bay also agreed to five years of probation. Its plea agreement requires Lewis and his companies to resign seats they control on the boards of U.S. companies.
FROM LONDON TO THE BAHAMAS
Lewis, who got his start in business after taking over a pub his father owned in London’s rough-and-tumble East End, is now worth an estimated $6.2 billion, according to Forbes. He sold the business, founded the investment firm Tavistock Group, and moved to the Bahamas, which is known for its low tax rates.
Lewis once split his time between the Bahamas, a luxury estate in Florida and property in Argentina. He has been free on $300 million bond secured by his yacht, named the Aviva, and private aircraft.
The terms of his bail restrict Lewis from traveling outside the United States, boarding his yacht or traveling in his personal aircraft unless it was to attend a court hearing. Lewis is limited to traveling between New York, Florida and Georgia, where he owns property.
His sentencing was set for the same day that another disgraced Bahamas billionaire, FTX cryptocurrency exchange founder Sam Bankman-Fried, is scheduled to be sentenced over his conviction on charges of stealing billions of dollars from customers. Bankman-Fried’s sentencing is in the morning and Lewis’ in the afternoon, both in the same courthouse.
According to its website, Lewis’ Tavistock is an investor in the Bahamas waterfront luxury real estate development Albany, where Bankman-Fried lived and was arrested in 2022.
Prosecutors have said Lewis gleaned inside information about four companies in which he had invested through his hedge fund and tipped friends and associates between 2019 and 2021.
The companies, according to prosecutors, included Mirati and BCTG Acquisition Corp, a blank check company that his hedge fund founded and took Tango Therapeutics public in a merger in 2021.
Lewis hid the size of his holdings in Mirati by investing through a trust and a shell company registered in the name of his granddaughter and an employee, according to prosecutors. Mark Herr, a spokesman for Lewis, said in a statement that Lewis did not engage in improper trading in his own accounts.
(Reporting by Jody Godoy and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)