As reported by Chris Herring over at the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, the trial of former Bear Stearns hedge fund managers Matthew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi is scheduled to commence next Monday. And now the government has obtained Tannin’s e-mails from his private Google account. Tannin had closed the Google account on the advice of his counsel. Prosecutors suspected that Tannin was hiding something. Google released the e-mails a few days ago. U.S. District Judge Frederic Block for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has ruled that since the e-mails have been released, the government cannot explore whether Tannin was trying to hide anything from investors in his personal e-mails, stating that it would confuse the jury and citing the fact that the government already intends to present 38 witnesses and over 500 exhibits in its case against the defendants.
E-mails between Tannin and Cioffi allegedly expressing concern over the health of the hedge funds have already been released to the public. The newly-produced e-mails are expected to reflect similar alleged concerns by the defendants.
As reported by CNN, Cioffi and Tannin are the only two persons to face criminal charges resulting from the worst financial crisis in U.S. history since the Great Depression. The defendants are alleged to have misled investors in two of Bear Stearns’ hedge funds to believe that the condition of the funds was better than it in fact was. The hedge funds collapsed in the Spring of 2008, resulting in over $1 billion in losses to investors.
Legal observers have characterized Cioffi’s and Tannin’s prosecution as a “test case” and have cited the government’s need to make an example to discourage similar conduct in the financial sector. Although Cioffi and Tannin may have offered the government what it believed to be its most clear cut case, commentators have noted it may be difficult to prove that Cioffi and Tannin possessed an alleged intent to defraud investors rather than merely being misguided or stupid, given the fact that very few foresaw the subprime mortgage crisis and the collapse of the market.