Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., one of President Donald Trump’s earliest and most vocal supporters, was charged with insider trading Wednesday. He was accused of having sold his stock in an Australian pharmaceutical company before the results of one of its failed drug tests became public, federal prosecutors said.
The charges against Collins stem from his involvement with Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., a drugmaker based in Sydney whose primary business was the research and development of a medication designed to treat a form of multiple sclerosis, according to an indictment.
In June 2017, just minutes after receiving a private email from the company’s chief executive that a test for the drug had failed, Collins, who sat on the firm’s board of directors and was one of its largest shareholders, called his son, Cameron Collins, who sold their shares in the company, avoiding losses of more than $750,000, the indictment said.
“We will answer the charges filed against Congressman Collins in court and will mount a vigorous defense to clear his good name,” Collins’ lawyers, Jonathan Barr and Jonathan New, said in a statement. “It is notable that even the government does not allege that Congressman Collins traded a single share” of the company’s stock.
According to a federal indictment, Innate Immunotherapeutics’ chief executive, Simon Wilkinson, sent an email to the company’s board of directors, including Collins, at 6:55 p.m. June 22, 2017, explaining that the test for the drug, known in its trial stage as MIS416, had failed.
Collins, prosecutors say, was attending the Congressional Picnic at the White House at the time. Fifteen minutes later, the indictment said, he wrote back to Wilkinson, saying, “Wow. Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???”
Phone records included in the indictment show that Collins immediately called his son, missing him six times before they had a brief conversation. Prosecutors contend that it was during that conversation that Collins told his son about the failed drug test. The following morning, at 7:42 a.m., the indictment said, Cameron Collins placed an online order with his brokerage firm, selling more than 16,500 shares of Innate Immunotherapeutic stock.
The indictment also charges Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins’ fiancee, with participating in the scheme.
Collins was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, in February 2016, and that decision transformed him from a backbench member to one of the few lawmakers with any kind of relationship with the president after Trump won the White House that November.
Early in the Trump administration, he served as an informal liaison for the White House to Capitol Hill and would brag about how the president would call him on his cellphone unannounced.
His endorsement also helped make Collins a fixture on cable television, with numerous appearances on the CNN program of Chris Cuomo. There was a winking irony to those appearances, as Collins had long feuded with the host’s brother, Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York. Collins said last year of the elder Cuomo, “You can’t believe anything this governor says.”
Cuomo pushed for his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, to run against Collins this year instead of seeking re-election, but Hochul has said she prefers her current role.
Collins first won the Buffalo-area seat in 2012, defeating Hochul. The 27th District is one of New York’s most conservative; it is where Trump won his highest percentage of vote in the state, with nearly 60 percent.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Alan Feuer and Shane Goldmacher © 2018 The New York Times