SEC Obtains Asset Freeze Against Front Running Equity Trader

The Commission’s revamped inspections program, which now utilizes a risk based approach and works more closely with the Enforcement Division,, continues to uncover wrongful conduct resulting in enforcement actions. This time the program discovered a front running trader who used his position for personal profit through secret trades in his wife’s account at the expense of the firm’s institutional clients. SEC v. Bergin, Civil Action No. 3:13 cv 1940 (N.D. Tx. Filed May 23, 2013).

Daniel Bergin is a highly experienced equity trader at registered investment adviser Cushing MLP Asset Management, L.P. The firm, which has about $2.5 billion under management and sponsors benchmark indices for master limited partnership issues, specializes in publicly traded energy infrastructure MLPs, royalty trusts and other energy income investments. Like other firms, Cushing employs traders such as Mr. Bergin to place client orders and particularly large ones in advantageous market centers in a manner which minimizes price movements unfavorable to the client. Mr. Bergin, who has been at Cushing since 2008, was the trader primarily responsible for Cushing’s equity trades.

Beginning in 2011 Mr. Bergin put his personal interests ahead of those of his employer and its clients, according to the SEC. Specifically, he began using brokerage accounts first at Fidelity Investments and later at Scottrade to trade ahead of firm clients. For example, on August 15, 2011 he was directed to buy 85,000 shares of Targa Resources Corporation, symbol TRGP. About two minutes after receiving the instruction in an email he began placing orders to acquire a total of 15,000 shares of the security in his wife’s Fidelity account. One his personal orders began executing he placed the firm orders. Later that day Mr. Bergin sold the shares of TRGP he purchased in his wife’s account, reaping a profit of $11,826.56. Mr. Bergin continued making similar trades throughout the period. Overall he had profits of about $1.7 million from same day, illegal trades.

At the time Mr. Bergin placed these trades, the firm had an ethics policy which precluded such transactions. He was also required by Commission rules to make periodic reports regarding the accounts to the firm which he failed to do.

In November 2011 Fidelity terminated the accounts of Mr. Bergin and his wife. This action followed a review by Fidelity Surveillance of the trading in the accounts and the corresponding transactions on behalf of Cushing’s clients. Fidelity’s affiliate, National Financial Services, LLC, was the clearing firm for one of Cushing’s executing brokers.

Subsequently, Mr. Bergin opened accounts with Scottrade and continued his illegal trading. Mr. Bergin did not disclose the Scottrade account in his wife’s name to the firm. Yet repeatedly throughout the period he executed certifications assuring the firm that he had disclosed all personal brokerage accounts and securities transactions although he had not. Similarly, in February 2013 he failed to disclose his wife’s account during an interview with the Commission’s staff.

The Commission’s complaint alleges violations of Exchange Act Section 10(b) and Investment Company Act Section 17(j). An asset freeze was obtained at the time the complaint was filed to prevent Mr. Bergin from transferring any additional cash from the brokerage accounts. The case is in litigation. See also Lit. Rel. No. 22707 (May 24, 2013).

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