Michael Van Gilder, Insurance Executive indicted for Insider Trading – Van Gilder responds with profession of Innocence.

October 30, 2012

If your buddy or close friend shares information about what’s going on with their company, visit in your head (www.zipit.com – made up website) and keep your mouth shut.  You can’t know something that someone else does not know, act on it for personal gain, and expect to remain free.  Van Gilder, a young man, now faces substantial time in federal prison – something that is life changing.

Notice how simply his alleged crime started and how it mushroomed.  There is a lesson here for others to learn!

NEWS RELEASE

Insurance executive Michael Van Gilder, age 45, of Denver, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver on five counts of insider trading.  The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which today filed a complaint charging Van Gilder with civil insider trading violations, conducted a parallel civil investigation and substantially contributed to the criminal investigation of the case as well. The defendant allegedly traded based on inside information regarding a Denver oil and natural gas company called Delta Petroleum Corp.

According to the indictment, Van Gilder was the chief executive officer and a member of the board of directors of Van Gilder Insurance Company, an insurance business owned by the defendant’s family. Van Gilder was a close personal friend of an executive at Delta Petroleum. Delta Petroleum was a Denver-based oil and gas exploration and development company whose core area of operations was in the Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain regions. The company’s stock was traded on NASDAQ under the ticker symbol “DPTR.” Van Gilder at times arranged for and provided insurance policies covering certain of Delta’s business operations.

From November 5, 2007 and continuing until at least January 9, 2008, Van Gilder allegedly committed securities fraud by trading in securities based on material, non-public information.

Specifically, on November 8, 2007, Delta publicly announced and filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) a quarterly report disclosing its operational performance, revenues, earnings and other financial performance for its quarterly period which ended September 30, 2007. Three days prior to the disclosure, the financial publication Barron’s disseminated an article entitled “Day of Reckoning” focusing on Delta, expressing pessimism about the company and its stock. Following the publication of the article, the price of Delta’s common stock dropped $1.49 per share. Van Gilder was, at the time, a shareholder of Delta and held shares of its common stock and long-term call options to purchase Delta common stock in a brokerage account with Merrill Lynch and Company.

The Barron’s article was brought to Van Gilder’s attention. Based on the article, the defendant called his stockbroker and asked whether he should sell his shares of Delta. Later that day, Van Gilder spoke with a Delta executive. According to the indictment’s allegations, the executive conveyed to the defendant that Delta planned on announcing figures in its third quarter financial report that would not miss its third quarter forecasts and projections for its financial and operational performance, a first in a number of quarters that Delta would meet its projected numbers. At the time Van Gilder received this information, the financial and operational performance had not yet been publicly released and was not generally known to the investing public.

Based on this confidential material, Van Gilder decided not to sell his Delta investment but instead instructed his stockbroker to buy more Delta common stock on his behalf. As a result, the stockbroker purchased an additional 1,250 shares of Delta common stock at $15.55 per share. Several hours after he purchased the additional stock, Van Gilder emailed two friends and told them that the Barron’s article was “bogus” and that they should buy Delta stock because Delta “will hit their numbers.” In the November 8, 2007 third quarter results Delta disclosed earnings and other financial figures that were in line with or exceeding previous forecasts and predictions of its performance for the quarter.

In late November 2007, discussions also began for Delta to get a large cash infusion from a privately held investment company called Tracinda, owned by California resident Kirk Kerkorian, through a large equity investment by Tracinda in the oil and gas company. The indictment alleges that the Delta executive shared confidential information about the possible investment with defendant Van Gilder, and that, on November 26, 2007, following a series of calls and other communications, Van Gilder contacted his stockbroker and purchased an additional 1,750 shares of Delta common stock at $13.87 and $13.88 per share.

As the indictment further relates, the Delta Executive continued to share information about the confidential discussions about the contemplated Tracinda equity investment in Delta with defendant Van Gilder, as the confidential discussions progressed over the course of early December 2007. As result, according to the indictment, on December 8, 2007, Van Gilder, in turn, emailed his stockbroker to advise him that he “wanted to purchase as much Delta stock as possible” and two days later arranged through the stockbroker to purchase an additional 4,000 shares of Delta common stock at $17.64 per share. Within minutes of execution of these purchases, Van Gilder spoke by phone with a family member, who, several minutes later, instructed his own stockbroker to purchase Delta common stock.

On December 17, 2007, the Delta executive advised its board of directors of his discussions with Tracinda. The board authorized the executive to proceed with negotiations with Tracinda. That evening, the executive exchanged a series of text messages with the defendant regarding the board’s decision. Several hours later Van Gilder directed that $40,000 be wire transferred from a bank account to his Merrill Lynch brokerage account.

On December 19, 2007, a representative of Tracinda contacted the Delta Executive and made an offer for Tracinda to purchase a one-third interest in Delta through a purchase of Delta’s common stock at $17 per share. At the time, Delta’s stock was trading at approximately $14.65 per share. Tracinda’s overture remained confidential. Van Gilder, knowing about the overture, purchased 200 call options, entitling him to purchase up to 20,000 shares of Delta common stock at $20 per share. Delta continued negotiations with Tracinda, and on December 22, 2007, Tracinda agreed to increase its stock purchase to $19 per share. The indictment alleges that in a series of calls Van Gilder was informed of the progress of the confidential negotiations. Immediately following one of these conversations between Van Gilder and the Delta executive, Van Gilder sent an email to two of his family members, with the subject line entitled “Xmas present.” In the email, he advised the family members to purchase Delta stock because “something significant will happen in the next 2-4 weeks.”

On December 24, 2007, Van Gilder, through his stockbroker, purchased 3,000 more shares of Delta common stock at prices ranging between $15.63 and $15.65 per share, and 90 more call options to purchase up to 9,000 additional shares at $20 per share. On December 28, 2007, during the course of working to finalize the Tracinda stock purchase, the Delta executive exchanged a series of cell phone text messages with Van Gilder. As a result, the defendant caused $272,212 from a bank account to be wire transferred into his Merrill Lynch brokerage account. The following day Van Gilder emailed his stockbroker, requesting the broker to “get it on Delta asap.”

On December 29, 2007, Delta’s board of directors approved a finalized stock purchase agreement for Tracinda to purchase approximately 35% of Delta’s common stock for $19 per share. On Monday, December 31, 2007, before the commencement of NASDAQ’s regular trading hours, Delta and Tracinda issued a press release announcing the stock purchase agreement. Within an hour of the commencement of regular trading hours that day, Van Gilder’s stockbroker purchased an additional 4,000 shares of Delta common stock at prices ranging from $19.28 to $19.33 per share, and 114 additional call options. By the close of regular hours trading that day, Delta’s common stock price had risen $3.34 from its previous close of $15.51. Over the course of the next three trading days, Delta’s stock price continued to rise, closing at $22.82 per share by January 4, 2008. On January 9, 2008, Van Gilder sold the 290 call options that he had purchased between December 19 and December 24, 2007, realizing a profit of approximately $86,100 on the transaction.

The indictment charges Van Gilder with five counts of securities fraud, reflecting five transactions between November 6, 2007 and December 24, 2007 where Van Gilder purchased Delta common stock based on confidential insider information. If convicted on all counts, the defendant faces up to 100 years in federal prison, and up to $25 million in fines.

“Trading on inside information undercuts the fairness and transparency of our financial markets,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “This case demonstrates that in the highly networked world we now live in, insider trading knows no geographic boundaries. This office, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country, will continue to target insider trading wherever it may occur. Thanks to the hard work of this office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, the SEC, and the FBI, a Denver insurance executive has been charged for profiting using confidential information.”

WORDS FROM MICHAEL VAN GILDER:

Saturday greetings,

If you are getting this e-mail you are a family member or a friend of mine. There is a massive amount of gossip and press as a result of my having been charged yesterday in an indictment, so I feel compelled and have wanted to reach out to you so you hear directly from me.

Yesterday was nothing short of a tough and bizarre day. Emotions included anger, humiliation, depression and gratitude. The last emotion was created by the outpouring support from family, friends and truly amazing employees at Van Gilder Insurance. For this, I am extremely humbled and thank each and every one of you for your love, friendship and support.

I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be the cause of my employees fighting for our company and reputation. For this there is no end to my agony.

For starters please recognize that for legal reasons I cannot give you details regarding the assertions made in the indictment. I simply ask that you have faith in me, you know me, my character, and my family. This will be a grind but I’m confident you will see my side unfold as I strive to be exonerated.

I’m 45 years old, I’ve spent these years striving to build a sterling personal and business reputation, wow, did it hurt seeing what is in the press. . . . 100 years in prison and a $25,000,000 fine! Apparently reported by someone who has no clue about the federal sentencing process. While I feel I won’t spend one day in jail, “if,” I were guilty of these “allegations,” then it would be months of possible confinement, not years.

As you know, I have worked very hard to become C.E.O. of Van Gilder Insurance, an amazing 107 year old company started by my great-grandfather, Hal Van Gilder. During my more than 20 years with the company, our employees have become a family to me. As a leader it’s critical to recognize when change is needed. Knowing this legal situation was heating up it was critical that I separate what is personal from what is business, therefore I stepped down this past week as C.E.O. This indictment has nothing to do with Van Gilder Insurance; it is not named in the indictment because the company had absolutely nothing to do with any of the allegations contained in that document. This is strictly personal. I feel extremely fortunate to have a deep and talented leadership team and mature group of employees. Many of you know Don Woods, there could not be a better man to take the reins of Van Gilder. Of course my father Dell Van Gilder is our Chairman and remains highly active in the operations of our business.

By the way, I’m still working for our company and will continue to work to maintain its leadership status in our industry.

So what’s an indictment? As explained to me, an indictment is purely the vehicle in which accusations are brought against an individual in federal court. An indictment is just that, it is merely an accusation. It has absolutely no evidentiary value and is not considered evidence of any charge alleged in the indictment.

An indictment is returned after a limited and selected amount of information is presented by the government attorney to a grand jury, which consists of up to 23 citizens. The grand jury meets in secret, and the government prosecutor exclusively decides who he will call as a witness in order to obtain an indictment. No judge presides over this limited presentation of evidence and no attorneys for any witness or targeted accused can be present during the grand jury proceedings. Thus, my attorney was not permitted to attend these proceedings and cross examine any witness who testified. Finally, it takes only 12 of the 23 grand jury members to agree to the returning of an indictment.

In order for me to better understand the nature and quality of evidence needed to obtain an indictment versus unanimously convicting 12 jurors at trial beyond a reasonable doubt, this is what has been explained to me. It may take the relatively low weight of a 10 – pounds of selected evidence to convince 12 out of 23 grand jurors to return an indictment, but it will require the much heavier weight of a 100 – pounds of legally admissible evidence to convince each and every one of the 12 trial jurors to render a finding of guilt.

Until the 100 – pounds of evidence convinces 12 jurors unanimously of my guilt, I am presumed innocent of each and every charge in the indictment. This constitutional presumption of innocence is one of our bedrock constitutional rights. No one in the world, except the 23 grand jurors, has even heard the 10 pounds of selected evidence presented by the government, which is why I am hopeful that no one will prejudge me on the mere basis of an indictment but instead allow the judicial processes to unfold so I can have the right to my day in court. It goes without saying that I will defend this vigorously and fully expect to be exonerated.

I’ve been dealing with my situation for months now, I’d like to share with you how I’ve made a massive mental shift in the way I look at adversity.

No great man, woman, or company has achieved greatness without going through massive adversity.

Two examples:

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison before becoming president, leading the people. During that time in prison a white man taught him the white man’s language. Because of this, when he was released he was able to speak to all the people, thus allowing him the ability to be elected president. When asked don’t you wish you could have become President w/out the 27 years in prison? His response: NO! I needed every day to enable me to become president!

Steve Jobs founded Apple in his basement, later he was FIRED as C.E.O.! What did he do? He founded Pixar Entertainment. In the meantime Apple was spiraling down when he was asked to come back. You know the rest, Steve Jobs built the greatest company our planet has ever seen.

Through adversity comes growth, strength and determination!

Regardless of what happens to me, I am going to grow, get stronger, be smarter. I will become a better son, brother, father, friend, and leader.

You might think I’m going to stay home and hide, stay invisible? Wrong, I plan to be as visible as ever, I won’t let this beat me down.

Your outpouring of support has been nothing short of amazing, I am truly blessed.

Warm Regards and Love,

Michael

COMMENTS:  I have been to federal prison and served time with people who have been accused and convicted of doing less.  That said, I respect Van Gilder’s comments above and know first hand the emotional trauma that he’s experiencing (even as I write this article).

Now comes the hard part: (1) Generally the US Attorney wins their case.  Rarely do they bring an indictment that they do not win.  Their job is to win and they pride themselves on their winning percentage.  So with that said, while Van Gilder professes his innocence, all it takes is one of the allegations listed above to be found accurate and Van Gilder will be found guilty.  (2) Based on years of experience, negotiate a settlement!  If you fight for your innocence, know in advance that is a losing battle.  The statistics are not in your favor.  And, frankly, if you make the Fed’s spend money trying the case, they will work hard (very hard) to make your life a living hell and your prison time (if found guilty) substantial.

I believe in our system of justice and the fact that you are innocent till found guilty.  Likewise, I know from experience that they don’t indict unless they are fairly confident they will win.  Keep in mind, two things: (1) Martha Stewart did not go to prison for insider trading (and likely she had less info that Van Gilder had).  (2) Martha did go to prison for lying.  So now is the time to be squeaky clean.  Be careful what you say and make sure if you say it that it is the provable truth.  When the feds are out for you…they often win.  Just ask Wesley Snipes.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

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David Sokol of Berkshire Hathaway fame – A Business Ethics disaster! What motivated his behavior?

April 1, 2011

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has a reputation for being squeaky clean – a model ethical company.  At least that is the general perception from those on the outside who look in.  But this week – the unexpected resignation of David Sokol – Buffett’s heir apparent seems to show that all is not as it seems.

Picture from Midamerican.com

Telling CNBC, “I don’t believe I did anything wrong,” Sokol denied any wrongdoing with his personal investment actions while an insider at Berkshire.  According to a CNN report,

Buffett’s press release about the resignation came Wednesday in the form of an unusually candid letter in which he said Sokol’s resignation was “a total surprise.”

Buffett revealed that Sokol pushed him in January to buy chemical company Lubrizol. Though Buffett said he was “skeptical” at first, Berkshire purchased Lubrizol (LZ, Fortune 500) earlier this month for $9.7 billion — one of the largest acquisitions in the company’s history.

After Berkshire announced plans on March 14 to buy Lubrizol, Buffett said he found out that Sokol had bought 2,300 shares of Lubrizol on Dec. 14 — which he then sold on Dec. 21.

Then, on Jan. 5, 6 and 7, Sokol bought 96,060 Lubrizol shares pursuant to a 100,000-share order he had placed, with a $104 per share limit price.

“Dave’s purchases were made before he had discussed Lubrizol with me and with no knowledge of how I might react to his idea. In addition, of course, he did not know what Lubrizol’s reaction would be if I developed an interest,” Buffett wrote in the release.

WARREN BUFFETT WAS KIND…

While I have no inside knowledge, I suspect that Warren Buffett was kind with his public comments.  I can only imagine that he might have been furious to find that his trusted lieutenant was buying stock in advance of his recommendation to Buffett.  Interesting that Buffett said (seemingly protecting himself and Sokol) that “Dave’s purchases were made before he had discussed Lubrizol with me and with no knowledge of how I might react to his idea. In addition, of course, he did not know what Lubrizol’s reaction would be if I developed an interest.”

So here’s the question.  One – if Buffett felt that Sokol was his right hand man and heir apparent, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that Sokol would have expected Buffett to accept his recommendation?

Though Buffett said he was “skeptical” at first, Berkshire purchased Lubrizol (LZ, Fortune 500) earlier this month for $9.7 billion — one of the largest acquisitions in the company’s history.

Skeptical  –  but Buffett or rather Berkshire bought…so further evidence of the influence that Sokol had with Buffett.  So…Sokol buys the stock in advance of his recommendation feeling that there was a high probability that Buffett would bite.  Ethical or Unethical?

Buffett says that “he did not know what Lubrizol’s reaction would be if I developed an interest.”  Now…again I ask, how many companies would turn down an offer by Berkshire if the price were right.  One would naturally assume that this purchase…”one of the largest acquisitions in the company’s history,” made some folks at Lubrizol quite wealthy.  Oh…and had the potential to add to the personal coffers of Mr. Sokol.  Do you really think that Sokol expected that the shareholders of Lubrizol would turn this down.  My guess is that it was a deal done before the recommendation…otherwise he would not have recommended it.

INSIDER TRADING QUESTION:

I’m not an attorney, but how can this not be insider trading?  According again to a CNN report,

He also said that he did not have any control over Berkshire’s decisions to merge with other companies and he did not consider his investments to be insider trading.

He (Sokol) buys stock in advance.  He makes a recommendation to Buffett to buy the company.  Buffett follows the advice without knowing that Sokol had taken a position in the stock.  How can that not be insider trading?

LEGAL?  ETHICAL?

Assuming for a moment that Sokol’s actions are legal (which I hope there is some clarification on)…are they ETHICAL?  If ethics is doing the right thing so that there will be no practical question of propriety, then Sokol fails in my opinion…

WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?  YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

HERE’S THE NEWS RELEASE

OMAHA, NE—This press release will be unusual. First, I will write it almost as if it were a letter. Second, it will contain two sets of facts, both about Dave Sokol, Chairman of several Berkshire subsidiaries.

Late in the day on March 28, I received a letter of resignation from Dave, delivered by his assistant. His reasons were as follows:

“As I have mentioned to you in the past, it is my goal to utilize the time remaining in my career to invest my family’s resources in such a way as to create enduring equity value and hopefully an enterprise which will provide opportunity for my descendents and funding for my philanthropic interests. I have no more detailed plan than this because my obligations from Berkshire Hathaway have been my first and only business priority.”

I had not asked for his resignation, and it came as a surprise to me. Twice before, most recently two or so years ago, Dave had talked to me of resigning. In each case he had given me the same reasons that he laid out in his Monday letter. Both times, I and other Board members persuaded him to stay. Berkshire is far more valuable today because we were successful in those efforts.

Dave’s contributions have been extraordinary. At MidAmerican, he and Greg Abel have delivered the best performance of any managers in the public utility field. At NetJets, Dave resurrected an operation that was destined for bankruptcy, absent Berkshire’s deep pockets. He has been of enormous help in the operation of Johns Manville, where he installed new management some years ago and oversaw major change.

Finally, Dave brought the idea for purchasing Lubrizol to me on either January 14 or 15. Initially, I was unimpressed, but after his report of a January 25 talk with its CEO, James Hambrick, I quickly warmed to the idea. Though the offer to purchase was entirely my decision, supported by Berkshire’s Board on March 13, it would not have occurred without Dave’s early efforts.

That brings us to our second set of facts. In our first talk about Lubrizol, Dave mentioned that he owned stock in the company. It was a passing remark and I did not ask him about the date of his purchase or the extent of his holdings.

Shortly before I left for Asia on March 19, I learned that Dave first purchased 2,300 shares of Lubrizol on December 14, which he then sold on December 21. Subsequently, on January 5, 6 and 7, he bought 96,060 shares pursuant to a 100,000-share order he had placed with a $104 per share limit price.

Dave’s purchases were made before he had discussed Lubrizol with me and with no knowledge of how I might react to his idea. In addition, of course, he did not know what Lubrizol’s reaction would be if I developed an interest.

Furthermore, he knew he would have no voice in Berkshire’s decision once he suggested the idea; it would be up to me and Charlie Munger, subject to ratification by the Berkshire Board of which Dave is not a member.

As late as January 24, I sent Dave a short note indicating my skepticism about making an offer for Lubrizol and my preference for another substantial acquisition for which MidAmerican had made a bid. Only after Dave reported on the January 25 dinner conversation with James Hambrick did I get interested in the acquisition of Lubrizol.

Neither Dave nor I feel his Lubrizol purchases were in any way unlawful. He has told me that they were not a factor in his decision to resign. Dave’s letter was a total surprise to me, despite the two earlier resignation talks. I had spoken with him the previous day about various operating matters and received no hint of his intention to resign. This time, however, I did not attempt to talk him out of his decision and accepted his resignation.

* * *

Effective with Dave’s resignation, Greg Abel, presently President and CEO of MidAmerican Holding Company, will become its Chairman Todd Raba, President and CEO of Johns Manville, will become its Chairman; and Jordan Hansell, President of NetJets, will become its Chairman and CEO.

I have held back nothing in this statement. Therefore, if questioned about this matter in the future, I will simply refer the questioner back to this release.

Berkshire Hathaway and its subsidiaries engage in diverse business activities including property and casualty insurance and reinsurance, utilities and energy, finance, manufacturing, retailing and services. Common stock of the company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, trading symbols BRK.A and BRK.B.