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Former D.C. lawyer charged in $32M insider-trading scheme

NEWARK, N.J. — A former Washington, D.C., lawyer and a stock trader were arrested Wednesday and charged with running an insider trading scheme straight out of the movie “Wall Street” that brought in so much money the suspects spoke at one point about burning $175,000 in cash to avoid detection.

Matthew Kluger of Oakton, Va., and Garrett Bauer, of New York, face multiple counts of insider trading and obstruction in addition to single counts of conspiracy and money laundering. Authorities said the scheme netted more than $30 million in profit over the last five years.

“Their ‘greed is good’ mentality eventually led to their criminal acts being exposed,” said Michael Ward, head of the FBI office in Newark, using the famous line spoken by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie.

Bauer, 43, is accused of reaping the lion’s share of the profits. He appeared in handcuffs and ankle shackles in U.S. District Court in Newark on Wednesday afternoon. He did not enter a plea and was ordered detained until a bail hearing. Kluger, 50, was to appear in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

According to the criminal complaint, Kluger illegally took information on upcoming company mergers from his law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and passed it on to a middleman who has not been identified.

The middleman would pass the information to Bauer, who would buy stock ahead of the mergers. Among the mergers were Adobe Systems’ acquisition of Omniture, Hewlett-Packard’s acquisition of 3Com and Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems.

The Oracle-Sun merger made the scheme more than $11 million in illicit profit, the complaint alleges.

In a statement emailed Wednesday, the law firm said: “We were shocked to learn of the conduct the government has alleged a former employee committed against us and two other prominent law firms. We have provided our full support to the federal investigation and will continue to do so. In light of the pending actions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the SEC, we are not in a position to comment further.”

Authorities allege the conspiracy dates back to the mid-1990s when Kluger worked for prominent New York law firms Cravath Swaine & Moore and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, though the substantive counts released Wednesday relate to activity when he worked for Wilson Sonsini.

Evan Chesler, head of Cravath, said his firm “has very strong policies designed to prevent” what Kluger is alleged to have done, and said the company is cooperating fully with the investigation.

In a statement, Skadden also said it is cooperating with investigators and said: “We have strict policies that protect our clients’ confidential information, which we monitor closely. It would be deeply disappointing if these policies were not followed in this instance.”

Bauer and Kluger were able to escape detection by using prepaid, disposable cellphones and by not having direct contact before the stock purchases, according to Daniel Hawke, regional director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s market abuse unit.

During one phone conversation recorded by the unnamed coconspirator, Bauer allegedly tells the person to destroy $175,000 in cash because his fingerprints are on it.

“You know what, if you feel better burn the money and I’ll give it back to you,” Bauer says.

“Burn it?” the person asks.

“I would burn it in a fire,” Bauer responds.

It is not known whether the money actually was destroyed.

In seeking detention for Bauer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Beck said investigators seized two trading accounts belonging to Bauer worth a total of $20.5 million and bank accounts worth more than $37 million. Bauer’s attorneys, William Davis and Donald Derfner, called the amounts “exaggerated, by a lot.”

If convicted, Bauer faces 12 to 15 years in prison by a conservative calculation, Beck told U.S. Magistrate Mark Falk. The government is seeking to seize his $6.65 home on New York’s Upper East Side and another home in Boca Raton, Fla.