The SEC is really teed off about insider trading on golf courses

August 18, 2014, 6:27 PM UTC
A ball sits on a tee during the second r
A ball sits on a tee during the second round of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia. AFP PHOTO /Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo by Robyn Beck AFP—Getty Images

In case there was any confusion, the Securities and Exchange Commission wants everyone to know that golf courses and country clubs are not safe harbors when it comes to trading insider information.

The SEC said Monday that it is charging two golfing buddies, a former bank executive in Massachusetts and his friend, over an alleged insider trading scheme that regulators say got its start with stock tips passed amongst the friends at their local country club.

The SEC said Patrick O’Neill, a former vice president at Boston-based Eastern Bank, tipped off “fellow golfer” Robert Bray in 2010 about his then-employer’s plans to buy Wainwright Bank & Trust. According to the complaint, filed Monday in federal court in Boston, Bray bought shares in Wainwright ahead of the eventual acquisition later that year and then sold off those shares after the $163 million deal was announced, reaping about $300,000 in what the government alleges were ill-gotten funds.

This is the latest instance of the SEC targeting supposed golf course patter in the hopes of stamping out insider trading. Last month, Fortune reported that the SEC’s Boston office filed insider-trading charges against a group of seven “golfing buddies,” all of whom socialized at their local country club, and who the government said had passed around insider tips that reaped more than $550,000 in illegal profits.

“Country clubs or similar venues may give people a false sense of security that leads them to think they can get away with trading on unlawful stock tips,” Paul Levenson, director of the SEC’s Boston office, said in a statement. “But as in any social setting, people who trade securities based on confidential information they receive are taking a huge risk that their illegal tipping and trading will be identified by the SEC.”

In the most recent complaint, the SEC highlights the social nature of O’Neill’s relationship with Bray, noting that “they were both golfers and members of the same local country club and they socialized at the country club’s bar.” The government adds that Bray’s construction company at one point paid O’Neill’s then college-aged son to create a computer rendering of a townhouse that the company later built.

O’Neill and Bray are charged with violating federal securities laws, for which the SEC is seeking repayment of any illegal profits, plus interest, as well as additional financial penalties.

The game of golf also shared headlines with insider trading allegations in an especially high-profile instance earlier this year, when reports linked professional golfer Phil Mickelson to a sports gambler named Billy Walters, who allegedly got a heads up from Carl Icahn ahead of the activist investor’s 2011 attempt to buy Clorox. However, it was later reported that federal officials couldn’t find evidence linking Mickelson to any illegal trades.

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