Rajaratnam jury hunkers down, mirrors other trials

By @ibtimes on

The jury in Raj Rajaratnam's insider trading trial completed a fifth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict on Friday, mirroring the time jurors have spent in other high-profile, complex white-collar cases.

This is probably a sign of a very good and thoughtful jury, Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford University said about the deliberations in the Galleon Group hedge fund founder's trial. Very good juries, in complicated cases, take time.

Prosecutors have accused the Sri Lankan-born Rajaratnam, 53, of reaping as much as $63.8 million illegally by trading on inside tips about such companies as chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc and Wall Street's Goldman Sachs Group Inc. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

A conviction would likely result in more use of secretly recorded phone calls in federal prosecutions. An acquittal would be a huge blow to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has made investigating suspected insider trading a priority.

Several other prominent white-collar crime trials have had lengthier deliberations.

Jurors needed 11 days in 2005 to convict two former Tyco International Ltd officers, Chief Executive Dennis Kozlowski and Chief Financial Officer Mark Swartz, of looting the company. An earlier prosecution ended in a mistrial.

Onetime WorldCom Inc chief Bernard Ebbers waited eight days in the winter of 2005 before being convicted on charges of securities fraud and inflating the phone company's statements.

Former Enron Corp chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling waited six days before being convicted in 2006 for their roles in one of corporate America's most spectacular implosions.

And jurors needed 21 days over six weeks in 2005 to acquit former HealthSouth Corp chief Richard Scrushy of accounting fraud. He was later convicted in a separate trial.

Some deliberations take less time. A jury took three days in 2004 to find that Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, had obstructed justice.

NOT A SLAM DUNK?

In the Rajaratnam trial in Manhattan federal court, the jury asked for exhibits or audio replays of phone taps on Tuesday and Wednesday. It has not since made any requests related to evidence. Deliberations are due to resume on Monday.

Jurors have been locked in a room adjoining the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell. They have emerged twice to listen to replays of 15 phone taps. Other than that, they have been seen in the courtroom only to tell the judge at the end of each session that they were still deliberating.

The longer it goes, the less of a slam dunk the prosecution has, said Cornelius Hurley, a Boston University law professor. It should make it easier, the wiretaps. You have the exact, contemporaneous words of the defendant.

The verdict essentially hinges on whether the government has convinced jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Rajaratnam traded on material nonpublic information from people who had a duty not to disclose it, and knew it was wrong.

They may be weighing the idea presented by the defense that Rajaratnam's investing strategy relied on myriad pieces of information from a range of sources and did not use material nonpublic information, said Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University in New York.

Jurors began deliberations on Monday, after seven weeks of often complex evidence. They are trying to reach unanimity on nine counts of securities fraud and five counts of conspiracy.

Gershman said jury deliberations in Rajaratnam's case could go on for a while.

Unless you hear those magic words deadlock, impasse, we are unable to reach a verdict, the judge will let them go on for many, many more days, Gershman said.

The case is USA v Raj Rajaratnam et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 09-01184.

(Reporting by Carlyn Kolker, Grant McCool and Jonathan Stempel)

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