U.S. securities market regulators are pursuing a suspected insider trading ring that appears to have been operating in many stock and options markets over several months.
These guys are not market specific, said Cam Funkhouser, who is in charge of market surveillance for exchanges including the Nasdaq and the American Stock Exchange.
It's both men and women, working in concert with remarkable precision in timing.
Funkhouser would not say whether charges would be brought soon and did not give any further details about the case, other than to say tracking the suspects has been a team effort among the major exchanges and federal regulators.
Funkhouser says he has a direct line to senior investigators at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Options Regulatory Surveillance Authority and the NYSE, which allows him to bypass bureaucratic red tape.
The suspected case is one of many during the buyout boom in recent years that have forced securities officials and government prosecutors to investigate questionable trades ahead of market-moving news.
If you look at the trading in one case, said Funkhouser, referring to questionable synchronized trades that investigators are monitoring, it's kind of suspicious, but if you look over time, you're either really good or you're cheating, and no one's that good.
If the investigation leads to charges it will be another coup for securities cops.
In March, U.S. prosecutors filed criminal charges against more than a dozen people at some of the biggest firms on Wall Street in what was characterized as one of the most pervasive Wall Street insider trading rings since the days of Ivan Boesky and Dennis Levine in the late 1980s.
A senior UBS professional was accused of tipping off traders about proposed analyst upgrades and downgrades, and a Morgan Stanley lawyer was accused of passing on information about upcoming corporate acquisition announcements to her attorney husband.
The schemes included the use of disposable cell phones, discreet meeting places, coded messages and cash payoffs, rumored to be passed along in empty snack bags.
At least three have since pleaded guilty to insider trading charges.
Funkhouser's official title is vice president in charge of market regulation for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA. It is the consolidation of Nasdaq Stock market cop NASD and the in-house watchdog for the New York Stock Exchange.
Funkhouser says people with real information start getting sloppy and that helps unravel insider trading cases.
If we don't catch you the first time, we will get you the second time or the third time, he said.