Ex-Goldman programmer convicted

December 11, 2010, 1:05 AM UTC

A former Goldman Sachs computer programmer was convicted Friday of stealing the secret codes behind the firm’s high-speed trading programs.

Sergey Aleynikov, 40, was convicted in federal court in Manhattan. He will face as many as 10 years in jail at a sentencing scheduled for March.

Hands off, buddy

The verdict comes amid questions about the biggest U.S. banks’ increasing dependence on trading profits, and worries that practices such as high-speed trading are undermining the fairness of U.S. financial markets. One wag called the codes at issue in the Aleynikov Goldman’s “secret sauce.”

It’s an acquired taste, evidently. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said at a congressional hearing this week that

U.S. capital markets, which traditionally have been the envy of the world, are fractured, vulnerable to system failures and trading abuses, and are operating with oversight blindspots. The very markets we rely on to jump start our economy and invest in America’s future are susceptible to market dysfunctions that jeopardize investor confidence.

 But fast trading is far from the only abuse Levin and other skeptics are taking aim at. At that hearing, Levin presented evidence of the latest apparent abuse by Goldman (GS), which has been Wall Street’s most successful firm for some time and is widely suspected of pushing the ethical envelope to pad its bottom line.

Levin presented a series of emails depicting a plot by Goldman traders to manipulate the price of certain debt indexes for the sake of profiting at the expense of those betting against the indexes.

Goldman defended itself by saying the plan to “start killing the shorts in the street,” hatched by traders led by Michael Swenson, “sounds awful and is very disappointing,” and by pointing out that the effort failed. We can all rest easier knowing that, no doubt.