Jim Mazzo
Courtesy Versant Ventures
By Dan Primack
September 25, 2014

What on earth was Versant Ventures thinking?

In July 2013, the healthcare-focused venture capital firm announced that it had hired Jim Mazzo as an operating partner. In the accompanying press release, Versant noted how Mazzo also would be installed as CEO of portfolio company AcuFocus, and that previously was CEO of a company that was sold to Abbott Labs in 2009 for $2.8 billion. Not mentioned was how the Securities and Exchange Commission had charged Mazzo with insider trading related to that big sale, and that some others involved in the case already had been indicted in federal court.

Which brings us to yesterday, when Mazzo also was on the short end of a 41-count federal indictment. If Versant didn’t see this coming, then it had wrapped a few towels around its eyes and stuck its head in a bucket of mud. Or else, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t care.

The underlying case is that Mazzo allegedly discussed his company’s sale negotiations with friend and neighbor Doug DeCinces, who is best known as a Major League Baseball player in the 1970’s and 1980’s. DeCinces then allegedly used the nonpublic information to buy 90,000 shares in Mazzo’s company, called Advanced Medical Optics, which later announced the Abbott acquisition at a massive premium. Not only did DeCinces book around a $1.3 million profit on the trades, but he also told at least three of his friends, including former Baltimore Orioles teammate Eddie Murray.

Murray settled with the SEC, and has not yet been brought up on criminal charges. DeCinces and his friends also settled with the SEC, but are scheduled to go on trial for the criminal charges next February. That date may get moved back, now that Mazzo has been added to the defendants table.

Stephen Cazares, an assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, declined to explain why Mazzo was indicted two years later than were DeCinces and company. He did stress, however, that “insider trading can’t take place without an insider sharing information that breaches fiduciary duty to shareholders.”

Mazzo’s attorneys said that their client plans a “vigorous” defense, adding:

“The government has not alleged that Mr. Mazzo traded on inside information or profited from any trades by others. Nor has the government alleged any possible reason why Mr. Mazzo would have done so. Instead, the government claims that, for no apparent reason, he decided to give one friend nonpublic information about a corporate deal. The truth is that Mr. Mazzo never disclosed material, non-public information to Mr. DeCinces or any other investor – not to give a trading advantage to a friend, not for any reason.”

Calls to Versant Ventures were not returned. Same goes for calls to AcuFocus, which has raised more than $85 million in VC funding from such firms as Versant, The Carlyle Group (CG) and Medtronic (MDT). Mazzo and the company’s board of directors were said to be in the midst of a board meeting.

The full indictment is posted below:

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