Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Steven A. Cohen is a Wall Street legend. Born into a middle class family in an affluent Long Island town, he longed from an early age to be a star on Wall Street. He went to Wharton and in 1992 launched the hedge fund SAC Capital, which he built into a $15 billion empire, almost entirely on the basis of his wizard-like stock trading. He cultivated an air of mystery, reclusiveness and extreme excess, building a 35,000 square foot house in Greenwich, flying to work by helicopter and amassing one of the largest private art collections in the world. On Wall Street, he was revered as a genius: one of the greatest traders who ever lived. That public image was shattered when SAC Capital became the target of a sprawling, seven-year criminal and SEC investigation, the largest in history, led by an under-recognized but determined group of FBI agents, prosecutors and SEC investigators. Labeled by prosecutors as a "magnet for market cheaters" whose culture encouraged relentless pursuit of an information "edge"--and even "black edge" (inside information)--SAC Capital was ultimately indicted and pled guilty to charges of securities and wire fraud in connection with a large-scale insider trading scheme. Cohen's company paid record criminal and civil fines of nearly $2 billion and Cohen was forced to stop managing other people's money. But as Kolhatkar shows, even as the company bearing his initials plead guilty, Cohen was never actually put out of business. He was allowed to keep trading his own $10 billion fortune (in 2014, he made over $2 billion in profit) and can start a new hedge fund in only a few years. Though his company and several of his employees were convicted or plead guilty to insider trading, Cohen himself walked away a free man. This is a riveting, true-life thriller that raises an urgent and troubling question: Are Wall Street titans like Cohen above the law?

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