Former Nasdaq director charged with insider trading

Washington, D.C., May 26, 2011 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a former managing director of The NASDAQ Stock Market with insider trading on confidential information that he stole while working in a market intelligence unit that communicates with companies in advance of market-moving public announcements.

The SEC alleges that Donald L. Johnson traded in advance of such public announcements as corporate leadership changes, earnings reports and forecasts, and regulatory approvals of new pharmaceutical products. He often placed the illegal trades directly from his work computer through an online brokerage account in his wife’s name. Johnson obtained illicit trading profits of more than $755,000 during a three-year period.

Johnson also has been charged in a parallel criminal action announced by the U.S. Department of Justice today.

“This case is the insider trading version of the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “Instead of protecting NASDAQ client confidences, Johnson secretly traded on client information for personal gain, even using his NASDAQ office computer to make the trades.”

Antonia Chion, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, added, “Johnson brazenly stole nonpublic information from NASDAQ and its listed companies in breach of his duties of confidentiality to his employer and clients. Johnson assured at least one corporate official that she could share material nonpublic information with him because he was obligated as a NASDAQ employee to hold such information in confidence, and then he illegally traded on it.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Johnson illegally traded in advance of nine announcements involving NASDAQ-listed companies from August 2006 to July 2009. Johnson took advantage of both favorable and unfavorable information that was entrusted to him in confidence by NASDAQ and its listed company clients, shorting stocks on several occasions and establishing long positions in other instances. Johnson lives in Ashburn, Va., and worked in various positions for the NASD and NASDAQ for 20 years until his retirement from NASDAQ in September 2009.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Johnson worked in NASDAQ’s Corporate Client Group (CCG) from January 2000 to October 2006. He then transferred to the Market Intelligence Desk, a specialized department within the CCG that provides issuers with general market updates, overviews of their company’s sector, and commentary regarding the factors influencing day-to-day trading activity in their stocks.

The SEC alleges that Johnson had frequent and significant interactions with senior executives of NASDAQ-listed issuers, including CEOs, CFOs, and investor relations officers at his assigned companies. The corporate executives who shared nonpublic information with Johnson did so based on the understanding that it would be kept confidential and that Johnson could not use the information for his personal benefit.

For example, the SEC alleges that Johnson obtained illicit profits of approximately $175,000 by insider trading in the stock of United Therapeutics Corp. (UTHR). Johnson spoke by phone with executives at UTHR including the CFO and general counsel on Oct. 30, 2007, and he became aware of the successful completion of a trial for its drug Viveta (later renamed Tyvaso). Despite the nonpublic and highly confidential nature of the Viveta trial results discussed with him, Johnson purchased 10,000 shares of UTHR stock in his wife’s brokerage account on October 31. After UTHR issued a press release on November 1 announcing the successful trial results, Johnson began selling all of the stock that he had purchased the day before, placing sell orders online from his office computer at NASDAQ.

The SEC’s complaint charges Johnson with violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and seeks permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement of illicit profits with prejudgment interest and a monetary penalty. Johnson’s wife Dalila Lopez is named as a relief defendant in the SEC’s complaint for the purpose of recovering illicit profits in her possession.

The SEC acknowledges the assistance of the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The SEC brought its enforcement action in coordination with these other members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The SEC also acknowledges FINRA and NASDAQ for their assistance in this investigation.

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