Jury finds ex-Goldman trader Tourre committed fraud

New York jurors Thursday ruled that an ex-Goldman Sachs trader nicknamed "Fabulous Fab" defrauded investors in marketing a mortgage-linked security, handing the government a big victory.

Former Goldman Sachs bond trader Fabrice Tourre arrives at Manhattan federal court with his lawyers in the civil fraud case against him, in New York, August 1, 2013. New York jurors on Thursday found Tourre committed fraud by selling mortgage-linked bonds that were likely to fail.

Fabrice Tourre, 34, was found liable on six of the seven counts of fraud alleged by the Securities and Exchange Commission during the two-week civil trial. The jury returned the verdict on the second day of deliberations.

Tourre, clad in a grey suit with a purple tie, sat silently as the verdict was read. After riding an elevator down in silence, Tourre avoided all comment as cameras followed him outside the court on a rainy Thursday.

Tourre's attorneys declined comment through a spokesman.

Tourre, who is French, gained renown as "Fabulous Fab" after referring to himself by his nickname in an email message to his girlfriend that the government introduced as evidence. Legal analysts said Tourre's personal emails were among the most damaging evidence in the case.

US District Judge Katherine Forrest set a three-week deadline for attorneys from both sides to provide briefs on the next steps in the civil case. Possible penalties against Tourre include a large fine and a barring from future work in the securities industry.

The verdict marks an important victory for the SEC, which has struggled to prosecute fraud cases in the aftermath of the crisis.

The case focused on whether Tourre had misled investors in preparing and marketing a complex security transaction known as a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) that cratered after the housing bust.

Tourre was left to fight the case himself after Goldman settled with the agency for $550 million in 2010 without admitting fault.

Tourre insisted during testimony that he had not misled investors. But the jurors' verdict showed they did not believe his version of events.

A written statement by SEC co-director of enforcement Andrew Ceresney said Tourre "put together a complicated financial product that was secretly designed to maximize the likelihood that it would fail, and marketed and sold it to investors without appropriate disclosure."

"We will continue to vigorously seek to hold accountable, and bring to trial when necessary, those who commit fraud on Wall Street," Ceresney said.

The SEC had depicted Tourre as a slick operator who misled investors on key details of the transaction.

At Goldman Sachs in early 2007, Tourre designed the complex "Abacus" CDO investment, which packaged higher-risk mortgage-backed securities.

During the trial, a former executive with financial group ACA, Laura Schwartz, testified that she believed from her interactions with Tourre that a hedge fund led by John Paulson was betting the value of Abacus would rise when in fact Paulson was betting it would fall.

In addition to ACA, Dutch banking giant ABN-Amro and its German cousin IKB lost money on Abacus. The SEC estimates investors' losses at about $1 billion in all, while Paulson made $1 billion and Goldman Sachs gained $15 million commissions.

Tourre's defense attorneys communicated confidence after the defendant's marathon testimony, surprising observers by not calling any defense witnesses.

The defense argued that the investors in question were highly sophisticated players who understood the investment and were not misled by Tourre.

Tourre's attorneys also noted that Paulson's beliefs that the housing market was overvalued were well-known at the time due to prominent news coverage.

The defense also sought to win sympathy from jurors from Tourre's personal story, which included a rise in finance from a modest background in France and subsequent fall due to a case that it depicted as trumped-up and weak on evidence.

Mark Rifkin, a securities attorney at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz who followed the case, said Tourre in the "Fabulous Fab" email and other messages to his girlfriend was "bragging about how important he was."

The emails made Tourre an easy target and the government "decided not to pick on anyone who would fight back a little harder," Rifkin said.

"What is surprising is that a young, inexperienced, relatively low-level banker is the only person the government has sought to hold liable for the wrongdoing."

Anthony Sabino, a law professor at St. John University's Peter J. Tobin College of Business, said the candor in the emails damaged Tourre's defense.

"The jury found his explanations lacking credibility," Sabino said.

About the author

Writer: AFP
Position: News agency