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British billionaire, owner of Tottenham soccer team, arrested on insider trading charges

A man in a hat and sunglasses stands at a Florida golf tournament.
Joe Lewis, the British billionaire who owns the Tottenham soccer team, was taken into U.S. federal custody in New York City on Wednesday.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)
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Joe Lewis, the British billionaire who owns the Tottenham soccer team, was taken into U.S. federal custody in New York City on Wednesday, where he awaited an initial court appearance on insider trading charges alleging that he fed corporate secrets to romantic partners, personal assistants, friends and his pilots, earning them millions of dollars illegally.

Two pilots — Patrick O’Connor and Bryan “Marty” Waugh — were also arrested, authorities said. All three men were expected to appear in Manhattan federal court.

U.S. Atty. Damian Williams, who announced the charges Tuesday night in a video, said in a release that Lewis was accused of “orchestrating a brazen insider trading scheme” that utilized his access to corporate boardrooms to feed inside tips to friends and lovers.

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“Those folks then traded on that inside information — and made millions of dollars in the stock market — because, thanks to Lewis, those bets were a sure thing,” Williams said. “That’s classic corporate corruption. It’s cheating. And it’s against the law — laws that apply to everyone, no matter who you are.”

David M. Zornow, an attorney for Lewis, said his client had come to the United States “to answer these ill-conceived charges” and would fight them vigorously.

“The government has made an egregious error in judgment in charging Mr. Lewis, an 86-year-old man of impeccable integrity and prodigious accomplishment,” Zornow said in a statement.

Lawyers for the pilots did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment.

Lewis is charged with 16 counts of securities fraud and three counts of conspiracy. O’Connor, 66, of Preston Hollow, N.Y., and Waugh, 64, of Lynchburg, Va., each face seven counts of securities fraud and a conspiracy count.

Lewis has a fortune that Forbes estimates at $6.1 billion, with assets in real estate, biotechnology, energy and agriculture, along with Tottenham Hotspur, one of England’s most storied soccer clubs, which Lewis purchased in 2001.

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Under his ownership, the Premier League club has built a state-of-the-art stadium at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. It features an NFL field below the moveable soccer pitch, as Tottenham has a long-term agreement with the NFL to stage regular-season games in London.

Lewis’ Tavistock Group has stakes in more than 200 companies around the world, according to its website, and his art collection boasts works by Picasso, Matisse, Degas and more. His business connections include Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Justin Timberlake, with whom he built a Bahamian oceanside resort that opened in 2010.

According to the indictment, Lewis’ investments in various companies gave him control of board seats, where he placed associates who let him know what they learned behind the scenes. Prosecutors say Lewis improperly shared that confidential information between 2019 and 2021 to his chosen recipients and urged them to profit off of it.

At one point, according to the indictment, he even lended his two private pilots $500,000 apiece to buy stock in a cancer drug company that he knew had gotten — but not yet publicly disclosed — encouraging results from a clinical trial.

According to court papers, O’Connor texted a friend in connection with that loan to buy the stock, telling the friend the “Boss is helping us out and told us to get ASAP,” and assured the friend that, “All conversations on app is encrypted so all good. No one can ever see.”

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Lewis also gave the tip to his girlfriend, his personal assistant, a poker buddy and a friend with whom he had a romance, the indictment said. After the company announced the clinical trial data, the stock gained nearly 17% in a day, and Lewis’ friends and employees all eventually sold at a profit. The pilots repaid the loans at Lewis’ request, according to the indictment.

Another time, according to the filing, Lewis gleaned some closed-door information about a muscular dystrophy drug company in which he was a major investor. The information allegedly included a planned financial move and some clinical trial news.

Lewis’ biotech hedge fund signed a confidentiality agreement that prohibited disclosing the information or trading on it. But according to the indictment, he told his girlfriend to buy the company’s stock, then told the pilots the same as they flew the couple to Massachusetts from Seoul, where the two had been staying.

AP writers James Robson from Sydney, Ken Maguire from London and Larry Neumeister from New York contributed to this report.

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