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Ex-Rep. Chris Collins Gets 26-Month Prison Sentence in Insider Trading Case


Jan. 18, 2020

But when Collins learned about a critical drug trial that had failed, he set in motion a chain of events that led to a federal indictment, the end of his career in Congress and, on Friday, a 26-month prison sentence and a $200,000 fine.
The judge, Vernon Broderick of U.S. District Court in Manhattan, said that Collins had a higher obligation to obey the law, given his position in the House and on the board of the drug company, and that he had committed a crime that in many ways went to the heart of the country’s financial system.
“You had a duty to meet, and you betrayed that duty,” the judge said.
The sentence capped a stunning fall for Collins, of western New York, who rose to prominence after he became the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, in the 2016 campaign and emerged as one of the president’s most ardent supporters.
Collins delivered an extended statement before he was sentenced, sobbing and shuddering at times, apologizing to those he hurt and lied to, including his family, his constituents, the FBI, his former colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump.
“People feel sorry for me. They shouldn’t,” he said in court. “I did what I did, and I violated my core values.”
Tearfully, he suggested that at some point after his arrest he might have contemplated suicide but thought better of it, thanks to his daughter’s intervention. “I was in a dark place,” he said. “I climbed out of it because of her.”
Collins said that his sentencing was probably his final public appearance and that he could no longer face his former constituents.
“What I’ve done has marked me for life,” he said. “I stand here today as a disgraced former member of Congress that will have that asterisk by my name.”
Collins, 69, pleaded guilty Oct. 1 to providing nonpublic information, admitting that he called his son, Cameron Collins, about the failed drug trial; the warning allowed his son to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial losses. Chris Collins also admitted that he had lied to the FBI about the scheme.
Collins’ lawyers, citing what they said was their client’s long history of public service, had asked Broderick to sentence Collins to probation, combined with a substantial period of home detention and extensive community service.
But the office of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, sought a sentence of close to five years, writing to the judge Monday that Collins “came to embody the cynical idea that those in power who make the laws are not required to follow them.”
Collins, a wealthy entrepreneur who was first elected to Congress in 2012 from the 27th District in western New York, was narrowly reelected for a fourth term in 2018, months after he was indicted. Initially, he had said he would abandon his reelection bid and suspend his campaign.
He resigned his seat Sept. 30 last year and pleaded guilty the next day to charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and making false statements. He faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Even before his indictment, Collins’ ties to the Australian drug company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, had raised ethical questions in Congress, where he sat on a House committee with jurisdiction over health care companies.
Collins was a member of Innate’s board of directors and owned nearly 17% of its stock, a federal indictment said.
According to the indictment, Collins was attending the annual Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn of the White House on June 22, 2017, when he received an email from Simon Wilkinson, chief executive of Innate.
Wilkinson’s email, sent to Collins and other board members, reported that an experimental multiple sclerosis drug called MIS416 that the firm was developing had failed the clinical trial — “extremely bad news,” Wilkinson wrote in the email, according to the indictment.
The indictment said Collins responded, “Wow. Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???”
Collins quickly set out to reach his son to warn him of the bad news. The congressman called repeatedly, finally reaching him from the White House lawn on his seventh try, divulging information that was not public in a call that lasted 6 minutes and 8 seconds, according to the indictment.
“I was devastated by that news, in thinking about the multiple sclerosis patients we would not be able to treat,” Collins said in court when he pleaded guilty last year. “I was in a very emotional state at that moment in time, and I called my son, Cameron.”
By selling Innate stock before news of the failed drug trial became public several days later, Cameron Collins, 27, avoided losses of about $570,000, prosecutors said. He also passed the information to others, including his fiancee’s father, Stephen Zarsky, 67, who avoided losses of about $144,000, the government said.
Cameron Collins and Zarsky were also indicted; each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and both are to be sentenced next week.
Several of Chris Collins’ former congressional colleagues wrote to the judge on his behalf, including John Boehner, the former Republican speaker of the House, and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
The court also received scores of letters from Collins’ former constituents and others, most opposing leniency.
“As I read those letters,” Collins said Friday, “I thought I was reading my eulogy, my obituary.”
Broderick, after imposing the sentence, told Collins that although the case was tragic for him and his family, his challenge was to “make some good come out of this bad situation.”
“It’s not your obituary,” he added.
The government had placed Collins’ assets at more than $13.8 million, which included a baseball card collection and a coin collection, each worth more than $1 million.
Collins’ wealth no longer stems from his interests in Innate Immunotherapeutics. The company changed its name to Amplia Therapeutics in September 2018 and now trades at a nickel a share.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .
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