Michael Douglas appeared in an unusual role this week -- as the spokesman for a Federal Bureau of Investigation public service announcement targeting Wall Street insider trading.
In the movie 'Wall Street' I play Gordon Gekko, a greedy corporate executive who cheated to profit while innocent investors lost their savings, Douglas says in the PSA, which is featured on the FBI's website and was shown on CNBC and Bloomberg Television. The movie was fiction, but the problem is real.
The spot includes a clip from the 1987 Oliver Stone film, where Gekko famously insists that greed, for lack of a better term, is good. Douglas won an Academy Award for his original portrayal of the white-collar criminal, and reprised his role in the 2010 sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
The PSA is part of Perfect Hedge, a five-year-old securities fraud investigation operation that Bloomberg described as the largest ever in the world of hedge funds. As of late February 2012, 59 people had been found guilty and at least 64 people charged with insider trading as part of Perfect Hedge.
David Chaves, a senior FBI agent who is on the team that first launched Perfect Hedge, explained to Bloomberg that Douglas has a personal stake in exposing insider trading, in part due to a perplexing response to his portrayal of Gekko.
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Douglas reportedly told Chaves that he was startled over the positive response he received as Gordon Gekko. Chaves quoted Douglas as saying, I don't know what's wrong with Wall Street but I would be approached all the time, people would 'high-five' me or shake my hand for being this terrible man who stole people's money. Where are the values? The culture has to change.
FBI Spokesman J. Peter Donald said the FBI was thrilled to have Douglas -- who wasn't compensated for appearing in the PSA.
We couldn't think of a better person to do it, said Donald. The PSA is a great way for us to get out our message and to encourage people to pick up the phone and call us with a tip on securities fraud or insider trading, he continued. The FBI is in a position to encourage people to do the right thing.
Donald said he couldn't comment on Thursday's Washington Post report warning potential whistleblowers that tips brought to the FBI wouldn't likely yield any cash reward -- in contrast to claims filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which could result in a significant payout if a tip leads to a high-ticket sanction.
Chavez told the Post that he would like to see people be patriotic and just do the right thing instead of being motivated by money, and told Bloomberg he hopes the Douglas PSA will act to further deter would-be fraudsters.
We're hearing more and more how people are staying away from inside information, Chaves told Bloomberg of the response to the Perfect Hedge operation, but added, We're still developing cases so there are clearly people out there still breaking the law.
Asked if the FBI might consider using a Hollywood celebrity to battle white-collar crime in the future, Davis said, It will be a challenge to find the next Michael Douglas.