Congress

Former Rep. Chris Collins sentenced to just over two years in federal prison

New York Republican pleaded guilty in October to insider trading charges

Former New York Rep. Chris Collins was sentenced to two years and two months in federal prison for insider trading. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Rep. Chris Collins was sentenced to two years and two months in federal prison Friday for insider trading crimes he committed, ending a legal process that evolved from the New York Republican calling the charges “meritless” shortly after he was indicted to him pleading guilty and proclaiming embarrassment for his actions.

Collins, who represented the Buffalo-area 27th District for seven years and was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president, pleaded guilty on Oct. 1 to participating in a scheme to commit insider trading and lying to the FBI to conceal his illegal activity. He resigned from Congress the day before his guilty plea.

“Collins’s hubris is a stark reminder that the people of New York can and should demand more from their elected officials, and that no matter how powerful, no lawmaker is above the law,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement Friday. 

The former lawmaker also has to pay a $200,000 fine and will be under one year of supervised release, according to the SDNY.

Although no final determination was made as to where Collins will serve his prison sentence, he could end up doing time about a nine-hour drive from his home in Marco Island, Florida. That facility could be FPC Pensacola, a minimum security federal prison camp.

“There was a recommendation for a camp in Pensacola, Florida,” SDNY spokesman Nicholas Biase said. “No determination was made by [District Judge Vernon Broderick].”

Sentencing guidelines called for Collins to serve 46 to 57 months in federal prison, but the U.S. Probation Office recommended a lesser penalty: one year and one day in jail, a supervised release term, and the $200,000 fine.

Collins’ lawyers argued the recommendation was too much for the 69-year-old to spend in jail. In a sentencing memorandum filed earlier this month, they said he should get a significant house arrest term and extensive community service, in addition to a substantial fine.

Several Republican lawmakers, including former Speaker John A. Boehner, who is Collins’ neighbor in Marco Island, Florida, wrote letters of support to Broderick on the former congressman’s behalf. Calls for leniency over a prison sentence included pleas from his family and friends.

Those calls for leniency weren’t the only letters sent to the judge in the lead-up to Friday’s sentencing. Former constituents of Collins asked Broderick to impose the maximum sentence on their disgraced congressman, some of whom called for him to pay back his salary from the date of his indictment to his resignation and to forfeit his federal pension.

Collins served on the board of directors for Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotechnology company, the success of which was largely contingent on the progress of MIS416, a drug designed to treat a form of multiple sclerosis. The drug failed the clinical trial, passage of which was required for the company to commercialize the drug and profit from it.

UNITED STATES - APRIL 18 - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the First Niagara Center, in Buffalo, N.Y., Monday, April 19, 2016. Rep. Chris Collins, pictured, was the first congressional endorsement for Trump. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Collins was the first incumbent member of Congress to endorse President Donald Trump in 2016. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

On June 22, 2017, while he was at the White House attending the annual Congressional Picnic, Collins received an email from Innate’s CEO informing him the drug failed its clinical test — a revelation that would inevitably sink the company’s stock. At that time, Innate had not publicly released the results and Collins, using this insider knowledge, called his son, Cameron, to alert him of the confidential news so Cameron and others close to the family could unload their shares of Innate to avoid losses.

Had the clinical trial been successful, it would have been a boon for Innate’s stock; however, when Innate publicly announced the trial failure of MIS416, the stock price dove 92 percent.

Those who were tipped off by Collins avoided $768,000 in losses, although the former congressman did not trade his shares and lost millions. Collins could not trade his shares because they were still held by a transfer agent in Australia.

Collins held approximately 16.8 percent of Innate’s stock — one of the largest holders of Innate securities — and Cameron Collins held approximately 2.3 percent of the company’s shares.

Prosecutors have previously noted that Collins is rather wealthy, with a fortune estimated conservatively of $13.8 million. They cite Collins’ possession of a baseball card collection and a coin collection, valued at $1 million each. Cameron has a net worth of over $21 million, according to prosecutors.

Michael J. Hook, Collins’ chief of staff at the time Innate’s stock crashed, held a substantial amount of shares in the company and was one of many who incurred large losses when the news of the failed drug trial was released to the public by Innate on June 26, 2017. Hook sold between $65,000 and $150,000 in Innate shares over the course of a two-day stretch from June 29 to 30 in 2017. 

The actions of the disgraced congressman propelled the House to ban members from serving on boards of public companies. The measure HR 6 created a new clause in the Code of Official Conduct, which became effective this year. It prohibits members, delegates, resident commissioners, officers or employees in the House from serving as an officer or director of any public company.

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