2:54pm

Thu August 1, 2013
Law

Former Goldman Sachs Trader Found Liable For Fraud

Originally published on Thu August 1, 2013 3:48 pm

Transcript

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In New York City today, a victory for the Securities and Exchange Commission: A federal jury held former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre liable on six of the seven counts against him. The SEC had accused Tourre of intentionally misleading investors about a mortgage-backed security just as the housing sector was beginning to collapse. The investment created huge losses.

For more on the verdict, we're joined by NPR's Dan Bobkoff, who's been watching the trial. Hi there, Dan.

DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: So the jury found Tourre liable on almost all the charges. And it was only the second day of deliberations.

BOBKOFF: Right. And this was a very complicated case. They had to parse complicated jargon about things like synthetic collateralized debt obligations. Some of the jurors were even seen nodding off during the case, but it took them less than two days to come to a verdict.

CORNISH: So remind us what this case was all about.

BOBKOFF: The heart of this case was about whether Tourre fraudulently misled investors about the intentions of a big hedge fund manager named John Paulson. Back in 2007, Paulson was betting that the housing market would collapse. Goldman Sachs and Tourre let Paulson help assemble this Abacus investment so that he could short it. That's, obviously, a clear conflict of interest, and that was never disclosed. And Tourre was giving investors the impression that Paulson would be investing alongside them, but Paulson was on the other side of the bet, hoping it would go bust.

And, of course, the thing did go bust. Individual investors lost hundreds of millions of dollars. And Paulson made a cool $1 billion on the deal. So the jurors agreed that Tourre made intentional misstatements and omitted key information when talking with the investors, and that was enough to convict him on six of the seven counts. And we should say here that Goldman Sachs already settled its part of the case a few years ago. Tourre decided he wanted to clear his name, but as we saw today, that didn't happen.

CORNISH: Here's the thing. Tourre's legal team seemed pretty confident a few days ago? What happened there?

BOBKOFF: That's right. They surprised many people when they didn't call any witnesses, and many interpreted that as a sign that they thought the jury was heading to acquittal. The defense did its best to present Tourre as this upstanding Frenchman who volunteered to come to the U.S. to fight this lawsuit, and the defense tried to convince the jury that the investors in Abacus should have known better, that there were all these newspaper articles about Paulson shorting housing at the time. But this was a civil case, and the SEC only had to prove that Tourre omitted key information or failed to correct mistakes.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, this is being described as a historically important victory for the SEC. How come?

BOBKOFF: Yeah. A lot of people have been waiting for some heads to roll on Wall Street after the financial crisis, and very few have, of course, very few top executives have even faced any charges. And the SEC specifically has had trouble in cases against individuals. So this is a key win showing that the SEC will and can hold Wall Street workers accountable for fraud. And, you know, the SEC took some heat for bringing this case against a midlevel figure like Tourre, but it was an easier case to prove. And now with this win, the SEC says it will continue to hold individuals like him who break the law accountable.

CORNISH: So, Dan, what's next for Fabrice Tourre?

BOBKOFF: Well, on the short term, he faces potentially thousands of dollars in fines, and the SEC could decide to bar him from the securities industry altogether. He actually gave some interviews to The Wall Street Journal ahead of the verdict, and he said he's aware that he could end up as the face of the mortgage madness that led to the crash in '07-'08 and that he called himself Fabulous Fab, probably doesn't help his legacy. But he appears to be thinking beyond Wall Street already. He's now a Ph.D. student in economics at the University of Chicago, so maybe we'll see him on a faculty someday teaching the lessons of the financial crisis.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Dan Bobkoff speaking with us from New York about the case of Fabrice Tourre. Dan, thank you.

BOBKOFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.