Ex-US Rep Collins gets over two years in insider trading case

NEW YORK (AP) — The first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump to be President was sentenced on Friday to two years and two months in federal prison after admitting he helped his son and others dodge USD800,000 in stock market losses when he learned that a drug trial by a small pharmaceutical company had failed.

Ex-Congressman Christopher Collins, 69, was sentenced by US District Judge Vernon S Broderick in Manhattan after the Republican pleaded guilty last October to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to law enforcement officials.

Collins broke down and apologised to his family and his former constituents and colleagues.

“I stand here today as a disgraced former member of Congress,” he said.

“My life has been shattered.”

The sentence came even after Collins’ lawyers argued he was sorry and should face no prison time in the insider trading case.

Former Republican US Representative Christopher Collins, (C) is surrounded by reporters as he leaves federal court, in New York. PHOTO: AP

Prosecutors, however, argued he should go to prison for nearly five years. They said Collins and his son, Cameron, were worth a total of USD35 million when they conspired to sell shares in a pharmaceutical company before devastating news was made public.

The trading, prosecutors said, enabled Cameron Collins and friends to dodge USD800,000 in losses.

Collins’ attorneys requested leniency, citing his contrition, advanced age, charitable works and a low chance that he would commit any more crimes.

“This is a sad and tragic day for Chris and his family,” defence attorney Jonathan Barr said. “He stands before you humbled, penitent and remorseful.”

Collins had been a vocal Trump supporter, becoming the first member of Congress to endorse him as a presidential candidate. He also called for an end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible campaign collusion and blamed former President Barack Obama’s administration for failing to push back on Russia.

He vehemently denied wrongdoing when he was charged in 2018, with a spokeswoman calling a House Ethics Committee inquiry into Collins a “partisan witch hunt.”

When he spoke on Friday, he fought back tears and displayed the Boy Scout’s three-fingered sign, breaking down several times as he spoke about the scout code he violated, including a vow to be trustworthy.

“I violated my core values and there is no excuse, none whatsoever,” he said, looking at members of the media seated in the jury box during much of his remarks.

“My life has been shattered. My reputation has been shattered. Worst, my family has been shattered,” he said. He added that he was in a “dark, dark place,” wondering how to go on when his daughter pleaded with him to recover.

“I climbed out of the hole because of her,” he said as his wife and daughter, who fought tears of their own.

Collins had represented western New York since his election to the state’s 27th Congressional District in 2012. He resigned when he decided to plead guilty to a single conspiracy count, leaving the district’s constituents without representation in Congress.

“Lawmakers bear the profound privilege and responsibility of writing and passing laws, but equally as important, the absolute obligation of following them,” Geoffrey Berman, the Manhattan US attorney, said in a statement.

“Collins’ hubris is a stark reminder that the people of New York can and should demand more from their elected officials, and that no matter how powerful, no lawmaker is above the law.”

Prosecutors faulted Collins for campaigning for a reelection race he won after his arrest and then continuing to serve. They said Collins learned that Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd, whose board he sat on, had failed a drug trial when he received a telephone call while he attended the annual Congressional Picnic at the White House on June 22, 2017.

Knowing that Innate’s stock would plunge when news got out, Collins “from the White House lawn” tried to reach his son to tip him off so he could sell his shares, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said he then conspired with family members to claim Cameron Collins and friends sold shares because they were spooked by a temporary halt in the trading of the stock rather than because they knew the stock price would fall 92 per cent for the company headquartered in Sydney, Australia, with offices in Auckland, New Zealand.