Former Microsoft manager charged with insider trading
A former Microsoft senior manager was charged Thursday with insider trading after tipping a friend to secret financial deals and information.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Former Microsoft senior manager Brian Jorgenson was home with his wife and four kids one day last month when the FBI showed up.
“The doorbell rang and I went and opened it and there they were, about a dozen of them,” he said. They showed him a search warrant.
Not wanting to frighten his children, ages 8, 5, 3 and an infant, Jorgensen led the entourage of agents into the family’s Lynnwood home. “I told my wife to gather up the kids,” he said. “The agents were nice enough to let them leave for a few hours.”
Jorgensen stayed, deciding it was time to “man up” and confess to his crimes.
Knowing he faced criminal prosecution, Jorgenson on Tuesday told The Seattle Times that he tipped a friend to nonpublic, proprietary Microsoft financial information three times in the past 18 months, allowing them to make money in the stock market.
He estimated his friend made more than $200,000, although Jorgenson says it is hard to say exactly how much money was made since he didn’t have direct access to his friend’s trading accounts.
In exchange, Jorgenson said his friend gave him about $40,000.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors unsealed a complaint charging Jorgenson and another man, Sean Stokke, each with 35 felony counts of insider trading, alleging they made nearly $400,000 through a series of transactions based on insider information passed to Stokke by Jorgenson.
At the same time, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil lawsuit asking they forfeit those profits.
The federal charges allege that Jorgenson and Stokke were planning to use the money to start a hedge fund they intended to call “BioHawks Investment Group.”
It alleges they knew what they were doing was illegal and attempted to cover their tracks by using throwaway “burn” telephones, and Jorgenson took $10,000 in cash to try to hide the trail.
Both appeared Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Seattle. They didn’t enter pleas and were released on their own recognizance.
“Greed” is what Jorgenson said drove his decision to take that first step onto a slippery slope back in 2012. On the day the feds showed up at his door last month, it became a precipice.
Sitting in a 44th-floor conference room in his attorney Angelo Calfo’s law firm in the Wells Fargo Plaza in downtown Seattle, the smooth-faced Jorgenson — who looks much younger than his 32 years — fairly oozes remorse. He talks, but frequently looks down at the polished table. He fidgets. His voice catches, his eyes mist, and he rushes into the worst parts of the story first.
Other times, he scarcely has the words to describe what has happened. He has had a hard conversation with his 8-year-old son “about responsibility,” Jorgenson said. As for his parents?
“They’re disappointed,” he said.
Calfo said his client insisted on taking his crimes public and talking to the media.
“It’s important for Brian to be out front on this,” he said.
Jorgenson worked at Microsoft for three years as a $130,000-a-year senior manager in the company’s Treasury Group before he was fired when the trading scheme was uncovered last month.
It was a good job and a good company, and Jorgenson said he has been working with compliance officials there to put together a video to warn other workers of the sorts of temptations they can face.
A Microsoft spokesman said the company has zero tolerance for insider trading. The spokesman says Microsoft helped the government with its investigation.
Two days before he expected to surrender to the FBI, and likely facing prison time — insider trading carries a penalty of up to 20 years — Jorgenson marvels at how he convinced himself to become a cheat.
In the spring of 2012, Jorgenson learned of confidential negotiations between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble in which Microsoft was planning to invest hundreds of millions to buy a percentage of the bookseller’s Nook division, giving it a foothold in the e-reader and electronic-tablet market as it was attempting to compete with Amazon’s successful Kindle and Apple’s iPad.
Anyone investing in Barnes & Noble ahead of the announcement of the deal would stand to make a considerable profit, Jorgenson explained.
“I struggled with this,” Jorgenson said.
He knew it was wrong, but he found reasons to look past that. “I lied to myself,” he said. He saw news stories about how members of Congress were allowed to pass on the sort of insider information that he couldn’t.
“I told myself, ‘Members of Congress can do it.’ ”
He said he called his friend, an experienced day trader, and they convinced one another it would be OK.
“I asked him if he’d be comfortable with me passing on information,” Jorgenson said. “I told him we would make money. He said, yep, he’d be comfortable with it. So I gave him the information.”
His friend invested several thousand dollars in Barnes & Noble stock, and the April 30 public announcement of a $300 million deal between Microsoft and the bookseller sent the stock soaring. Jorgenson said he isn’t sure but believes his friend made more than $100,000 on that deal alone.
The federal complaint unsealed Thursday says the transaction netted nearly twice that much.
Jorgenson said he provided insider information to his friend two other times, both involving Microsoft financial forecasts. In each instance, he says his friend was able to turn the information into a stock profit.
“I am sorry,” Jorgenson said. “It was just greed. I was focusing too much on the material things. This is an aberration of who I am.”
Still, he spent the money. Part of it, he said, went to prepay tuition to send two of his children to a private Christian school.
Jorgenson hopes his very public and painful mea culpa will be a lesson to others who find themselves tempted.
“I’m hoping that this mess I’ve created can be my message,” Jorgenson said. “I made some stupid, stupid decisions that have put my future, and the future of my family, in jeopardy.
“If this is God’s way of getting the greed out of my heart, then this is good,” he said. “This is what I want to happen.”
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3706