Three technology company executives and a salesman for an expert network firm were arrested and charged with leaking confidential tips to hedge funds, including secret details about Apple Inc's iPad ahead of its launch.
The case is part of a widening probe of insider trading, which intensified with a string of raids on hedge funds last month and subpoenas for information about their activities.
The charges relate to money managers' ties with so-called expert networking firms, which help investors meet business experts to research a specific industry.
Today's charges allege that a corrupt network of insiders at some of the world's leading technology companies served as so-called 'consultants' who sold out their employers by stealing and then peddling their valuable inside information, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office filed the case, said in a statement.
The probes into corporate corruption and insider trading will continue over the next many months and beyond, he said.
The defendants include an executive who worked for Flextronics International Ltd, a contract electronics manufacturer for Apple and other big technology companies.
Two others charged worked for chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd.
All were hired consultants for California-based expert networking firm Primary Global Research. The firm said it no longer worked with the three consultants, and had placed the account representative charged in the case on leave.
Authorities also announced the guilty plea of a fifth person, a former employee at Dell Inc, as part of the investigation.
The hedge funds that allegedly received the inside tips were not identified. But in the complaint, authorities said some of the information was obtained from a hedge fund analyst who has not been charged with any crime but admitted to participating in obtaining material, nonpublic information.
The defendants were identified as Walter Shimoon, 39, of San Diego, who worked at Flextronics; Mark Anthony Longoria, 44, employed by AMD as a supply chain manager in Round Rock Texas; and Manosha Karunatilaka, 37, of Marlborough, Massachusetts, who worked for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.
The FBI arrested two of the men in California, one in Texas and one in Massachusetts. They were expected to make initial court appearances in those jurisdictions, law enforcement sources said. They were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
Daniel DeVore, formerly a global supply manager for Dell, who worked as a consultant to the expert networking firm, pleaded guilty to related wire fraud and conspiracy charges on December 10, authorities said.
Names of the defendants' attorneys were not immediately available.
Dell said it is committed to the highest standards of ethics and integrity and will cooperate fully with law enforcement authorities.
An Apple representative declined immediate comment. AMD, Flextronics and Taiwan Semiconductor were not immediately available to comment on the case.
The government said it had intercepted phone calls in which Shimoon, a senior director of business development at Flextronics, leaked inside information about the release of the iPad as well as an updated version of the iPhone.
Flextronics was privy to those details in 2009 as an Apple supplier, according to the complaint. The iPad was launched earlier this year.
Referring to a top secret Apple project whose code name was K48 and which eventually become the iPad tablet computer, Shimoon is quoted in court papers as saying in an October 2009 telephone call: At Apple you can get fired for saying K48 ... outside of a, you know, outside of a meeting that doesn't have K48 people in it. That's how crazy they are about it.
The court papers also said that Longoria, who worked for AMD, had told several Primary Global clients what AMD's second-quarter 2009 revenue numbers and other financial data would be before they were officially released.
Longoria leaked tips to a hedge fund manager who is cooperating with the government, the court papers said. This hedge fund manager, Richard Choo-Beng Lee, had complimented Longoria's work to an executive at Primary Global Research, the complaint said.
The charges are part of a long-running insider trading investigation that included the 2009 charges against Galleon Group hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam and a score of others. Rajaratnam is set to go on trial next year.
A personal familiar with the case told Reuters that Karunatilaka, who had worked for Taiwan Semiconductor, had been approached this past summer by federal agents who sought his cooperation with the trading investigation.
The source said that Karunatilaka, while working for Primary Global, was approached by a number of hedge funds to provide information. The source said that one hedge fund he had dealt with was Level Global, whose offices were raided by the FBI in November.
(Reporting by Matt Goldstein, Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Grant McCool and Martha Graybow; Editing by Ted Kerr)