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New York • The director of market intelligence at an investor relations firm was arrested on insider trading charges Tuesday and accused of using drafts of press releases to illegally earn nearly a million dollars.
Michael Lucarelli, 51, was a director at Manhattan-based Lippert/Heilshorn & Associates Inc. when he made the illegal trades over the last year, prosecutors said as they announced 13 securities fraud charges.
Lucarelli, wearing a tank top, slacks and sandals, was released on $500,000 bail after an initial appearance in federal court in Manhattan.
His attorney, Oscar Michelen, said in court that his client pleads not guilty. Outside court, Michelen said he would not comment on the charges until he can investigate them and speak with Lucarelli.
A magistrate judge ordered strict pretrial drug testing after a prosecutor said unidentified white powder was found when he was arrested at his Manhattan residence. As he left the courthouse, Lucarelli ran out of his sandals and left them behind as he fled photographers.
Authorities said Lucarelli made multiple illegal trades using information from the working drafts of press releases about upcoming earnings reports that his company prepared for its clients. They said he used four different brokerage accounts to carry out the trades, although two of the accounts were suspended in March by a brokerage firm that was not identified in court papers.
Prosecutors said he made more than $500,000 illegally by making trades in the securities of 13 of the firm's clients, while the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a civil complaint that his illicit earnings topped $950,000.
"Despite the well-known parade of convicted insider trading perpetrators over the past several years, Michael Lucarelli was not deterred and violated both his company's policies and his responsibility to its clients," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a release.
George Venizelos, head of the New York FBI office, said that rather than doing his job, Lucarelli "spent his days setting up brokerage accounts to make illegal trades using inside information from unwitting clients."
Keith Lippert, a founding partner at Lippert/Heilshorn & Associates, said authorities told the company about the insider trading on July 22. Two days later, the FBI obtained a search warrant to search Lucarelli's office, a criminal complaint said. Agents said they found a locked briefcase containing a draft press release for earnings results of Trex Co. Inc., a Winchester, Va.-based manufacturer of decking, railings and other outdoor items.
Agents photographed the press release and returned it to the briefcase "so as not to prematurely advise Lucarelli of the existence of our investigation," FBI Agent Edmund Rom wrote in the complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan.
Between July 25 and Aug. 4, the day Trex released its earnings report to the public, Lucarelli traded the company's stock, earning profits of $89,487, Rom said.
Lippert said his company, which employees about 28 people, had "fully cooperated with the authorities on every request," including providing access to information, access to company offices and "even making sure we kept Mr. Lucarelli in our employ until this day happened so it wouldn't hinder the investigation."
Lippert added: "We have insider trading policies in place to protect the integrity of clients and employees. It's very disconcerting when you have these policies in place that somebody would consciously violate them."