UK billionaire Joe Lewis, owner of Tottenham soccer team, charged with insider trading in US

Lewis exploited his entrée to various corporations to reap lucrative secrets, passed them on to people in his own inner circle and prompted them to trade on the knowledge, prosecutors said

Tottenham Hotspur owner Joe Lewis (L) and chairman Daniel Levy in the stands.
Tottenham Hotspur owner Joe Lewis (L) and chairman Daniel Levy in the stands.Dylan Martinez (Reuters)

British billionaire and Tottenham soccer team owner Joe Lewis has been indicted on charges of slipping confidential stock tips to his romantic partners, private pilots and other pals, U.S. prosecutors said Tuesday.

Lewis exploited his entrée to various corporations to reap lucrative secrets, passed them on to people in his own inner circle and prompted them to trade on the knowledge, prosecutors said. They said the stock transactions made millions of dollars for Lewis and his cronies.

“As we allege, he used insider information as a way to compensate his employees and shower gifts on his friends and lovers,” Manhattan-based U.S. attorney Damian Williams said in a Twitter video announcing the insider trading case. “It’s cheating, and it’s against the law.”

David M. Zornow, an attorney for Lewis, said his client had come to the U.S. “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. The charges include securities fraud and conspiracy.

With a fortune that Forbes estimates at $6.1 billion, Lewis has investments that span from real estate to biotechnology, energy to agriculture — and, of course, sports. He bought Tottenham, one of England’s most storied soccer clubs, in 2001.

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 doled out that confidential information between 2019 and 2021 to his chosen recipients and urged them to profit on it.

At one point, according to the indictment, he even loaned 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.

“Boss is helping us out and told us to get ASAP,” the pilot texted when advising a friend to buy the stock, too, according to the filing. In later texts telling the friend about the loan, the pilot reasoned that “the Boss has inside info” and “knows the outcome.”

“Otherwise why would he make us invest,” the pilot added.

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, the indictment said, 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 in the swanky Four Seasons Hotel.

The stock price shot up after the clinical trial results and the financial move were announced, and the girlfriend more than doubled her money, netting about $850,000, according to the indictment.

Yet another stock tip concerned a third pharmaceutical company, which Lewis was negotiating to acquire, the indictment said. It said Lewis advised his pilots and two personal assistants, who were working on his 98-meter (322-foot) mega-yacht, to buy in. And they did, before the merger plan became public and bumped up the stock price.

On still another occasion, the indictment said, Lewis learned through a hand-picked board member that an Australian agricultural firm was bracing for significant losses from a monsoon flood. He quickly urged the pilots to sell, according to the indictment, but their broker wasn’t able to dump the shares before the company went public with the news.

“Just wish the Boss would have given us a little earlier heads up,” one of the pilots lamented to the broker by email.

The indictment doesn’t mention Tottenham, one of Lewis’ most visible investments.

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.

The club’s most celebrated current player is England captain Harry Kane, though he will become a free agent at the end of the season.

But the London team, founded in 1882 and nicknamed Spurs — after its full name, Tottenham Hotspur — has found trophies hard to come by. Its last piece of silverware was the English League Cup in 2008, although it did advance to the Champions League final -- European club soccer’s most prestigious tournament — in 2019. Liverpool won.

Fans have become increasingly frustrated by Spurs’ lack of success and high coach turnover. Much of the anger has been directed at club chairman Daniel Levy.

Spurs also was among teams involved in 2021 in the aborted plan for a European Super League, which prompted widespread protests from supporters.

A message seeking comment was sent to the team, which is on tour in Singapore.

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