On July 25, several indictments were unsealed and nine people were charged in one of the most significant crackdowns on insider trading in recent memory. The charges relate to four separate insider trading schemes, none of which seem to be related.
Some of the individuals charged held positions you might expect of those accused of insider trading: tech company executives, an investment banker. It wasn’t all so intuitive though, as one of the indictments concerned a man who was in training to become an FBI agent.
The big kahuna really could fall pretty easily into either category, depending upon your view of the modern Republican party. Republican Stephen Buyer, who served nearly two decades in Congress, from 1993 to 2011, was unceremoniously arrested this Monday for insider trading.
Given the misbehavior from various lawmakers that we’ve all had to begrudgingly endure in recent years, the idea that a former congressman should know better than to insider trade almost seems quaint. Yet, Buyer had several additional layers to his career that one might traditionally associate with more rigorous ethical development.
Before he went into Congress, Buyer earned his J.D. from the now-defunct Valparaiso University School of Law. Despite the fact that we work within the bounds of a supposedly unsparing code of professional conduct, many (most?) laypeople rightly scoff at the suggestion that lawyers are in any way more ethical than anyone else in any other profession. There is a lengthy roster of high-profile lawyers who have clearly turned to the dark side (see, for instance, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and that one who was just indicted for maybe killing his family, among other things). Even beyond the flashy examples, anyone who works regularly with more run-of-the-mill attorneys can confirm that a goodly proportion of them totally suck.
Yet this particular lawyer, Buyer, started on a seemingly good path. He used his law degree as an Army JAG officer. In addition to a stint in the active-duty Army, Buyer was in the United States Army Reserve for 30 years and achieved the rank of colonel. He had even more public service experience as an Indiana state deputy attorney general.
This was all before Buyer left Congress, however. After leaving Congress in 2011, Buyer formed the consulting outfit the Steve Buyer Group, and it was in this capacity that the Securities and Exchange Commission believes he went astray.
One client of the Steve Buyer Group was T-Mobile. According to the SEC, Buyer went to a golf outing with a T-Mobile executive in March 2018, where he learned about T-Mobile’s plan to acquire Sprint.
This information being nonpublic at the time, what Buyer should have done with it is nothing. Instead, he starting snatching up Sprint stock the very next day. By the time the merger was announced to the public, Buyer had purchased $568,000 worth of Sprint common stock, which he’d spread out over his personal accounts, a joint account with his cousin, and what the SEC refers to as “an acquaintance’s account” (Buyer, who is married, reportedly also had a mistress, and this is the acquaintance whose account was apparently utilized in the scheme). By April 2018, one month after Buyer’s golf outing with the T-Mobile executive, Buyer turned a quick profit of more than $107,000.
That wasn’t enough. In 2019, the SEC alleges that Buyer did more or less the same thing all over again when he learned nonpublic information through his consulting business that one of his clients, Navigant Consulting Inc., was going to be acquired by another of his clients, Guidehouse LLP. This time, he spread the proceeds over even more accounts, and realized even more of a windfall, to the tune of $227,000.
In a press release, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division Gurbir S. Grewal said, “We are committed to doing all we can to maintain and enhance public trust by leveling the playing field and holding Buyer accountable for illegally profiting from his access.”
Of course, all those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty, and Buyer will have the chance to put on a legal defense. But it’s not looking good for him. The SEC doesn’t advance these cases lightly, particularly not against a former congressman who rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. military. On the bright side, perhaps this prosecution will help bring some much-needed caution to the D.C.-to-lucrative-private-consultancy pipeline.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at email@example.com.