Hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors has been charged in federal court in Manhattan with wire fraud and four counts of securities fraud.
The charges come a week after a civil suit against company founder Steven A. Cohen for failing to prevent insider trading at the company.
Prosecutors said the alleged crimes date back to 1999 and continued until at least 2010. Four employees have already been criminally charged with insider trading, and two of them have pleaded guilty.
The current criminal charges cap a seven-year probe at a company federal prosecutors and the FBI say had a pervasive culture of insider trading.
SAC’s "relentless pursuit of an information 'edge' fostered a business culture within SAC in which there was no meaningful commitment to ensure that such 'edge' came from legitimate research and not inside information," the indictment says. "The predictable and foreseeable result, as charged herein, was systematic insider trading by the SAC entity defendants resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal profits and avoided losses at the expense of members of the investing public."
Numerous portfolio managers and research analysts obtained insider information from dozens of publicly traded companies, prosecutors say. The indictment alleges managers and analysts were often hired because of their potential for getting insider information.
The problems at SAC stemmed from a breakdown in internal controls and ethics, with the indictment saying the firm had "an institutional indifference" to rule breaking.
Cohen, one of Wall Street’s most high-profile figures, has avoided personal criminal charges but is frequently cited in the indictment as "the SAC owner." But the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges last week saying he received "highly suspicious information" that should have caused him to "take prompt action to determine whether employees under his supervision were engaged in unlawful conduct."
In response a spokesman said the allegations had "no merit" and that Steve Cohen "acted appropriately at all times."In a statement released Thursday, SAC Capital responded to criminal charges, saying it "has never encouraged,promoted or tolerated insider trading and takes its compliance and management obligations seriously."
It is unusual for the Justice Department to bring a criminal prosecution against an entire organization because the legal turmoil could completely shut it down.
When accounting firm Arthur Anderson was convicted in 2002 of destroying Enron-related documents before the energy giant's collapse, the firm collapsed, costing thousands of jobs. There are already reports that SAC's clients are pulling their money from the Stamford, Conn.-based firm, which once managed $15 billion in assets.