The trial of Bear Stearns hedge fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin got underway last week. As reported by attorney Jacob Zamansky in Forbes and the New York Daily News, the parties gave opening statements on Thursday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Sinclair argued that Bear Stearns financial officer Matthew Tannin allegedly told investors on 11 occasions that he was putting more of his own money into Bear Stearns’ troubled High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Fund and High-Grade Structured Credit Enhanced Leveraged Fund. Tannin allegedly told investors that it would be “silly” to redeem their investments. Sinclair also told the jury that Cioffi failed to disclose to investors that he had transferred $2 million of his own money to another Bear Stearns fund. The prosecution cited alleged incriminating e-mails between Cioffi and Tannin in which the defendants allegedly acknowledged that the subprime mortgage market was “toast” and that they should “close the fund.” Sinclair argued that Cioffi’s and Tannin’s actions were allegedly to save their bonuses and reputations. He spoke to the jury for about 45 minutes.
In contrast, Cioffi’s attorney, Dane Butswinkas, delivered a two hour opening statement using charts and exhibits to show the complexity of Bear Stearns’ management structure, hedge funds and the operation of the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) market. Butswinkas argued that the defendants were the victims of market forces beyond their control and that the defendants did their best to predict the future performance of the market and the funds. Tannin’s counsel, Susan Brune, also spent approximately two hours explaining to the jury about hedge funds, CDOs and market risk. Brune attributed the failure of the funds on a “run on the bank” and argued that the funds’ investors were well aware of the risks. Brune characterized the prosecution’s theory as “I lost my money, therefore there has to be a fraud.” The defense argued that the e-mails were taken out of context, and that worrying about markets is not a crime.
Nearly 300 investors kept their investments in the hedge funds, which lost $1.4 billion in July of 2007. The two hedge funds had experienced positive growth until the preceding quarter, however an internal Bear Stearns report showed that securitized subprime mortgages were losing value fast.