NEW YORK (Reuters) - SAC Capital Advisors' $1.2 billion criminal settlement for insider trading received final court approval on Thursday, as a U.S. judge accepted a guilty plea from the hedge fund firm run by billionaire Steven A. Cohen.
At a hearing in Manhattan federal court, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain accepted SAC Capital's guilty plea to fraud charges
Thursday's settlement includes a $900 million fine. To resolve criminal and civil probes into insider trading, SAC Capital has agreed to pay more than $1.8 billion in total.
The U.S. Department of Justice has called the accord the largest insider trading settlement in U.S. history.
"These crimes clearly were motivated by greed, and these breaches of the public trust require serious penalties," Swain said. "The defendants' crimes were striking in their magnitude and strikingly indicative of a lack of respect for the law."
SAC Capital also agreed to be placed on probation for five years, and employ a compliance consultant, former federal prosecutor Bart Schwartz.
The sentencing marks the end of an era for SAC Capital, a hedge fund that last year managed $15 billion but found itself in federal investigators' cross-hairs. Eight employees have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial for insider trading.
An indictment unveiled in July alleged systemic insider trading took place at SAC Capital involving the stocks of more than 20 publicly-traded companies from 1999 through 2010.
"Today marks the day of reckoning for a fund that was riddled with criminal conduct. SAC fostered pervasive insider trading and failed, as a company, to question or prevent it," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said in a statement. "Today's sentence affirms that when institutions flout the law in such a colossal way, they will pay a heavy price.
SAC Capital agreed in November to plead guilty to four counts of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud.
The $900 million fine comes on top of a $900 million judgment approved in November by a different judge in a related civil forfeiture case.
That judgment gave SAC Capital credit for $616 million in earlier insider trading settlements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, resulting in SAC Capital paying an additional $1.2 billion as part of the criminal accord.
The Stamford, Connecticut-based firm rebranded itself as Point72 Asset Management on Monday and is shifting toward becoming a so-called family office to primarily manage Cohen's personal fortune, most recently estimated by Forbes magazine at $11.1 billion.
The settlement came amid a crackdown on insider trading on Wall Street by the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that has resulted in 80 individuals being convicted at trial or pleading guilty since October 2009.
They include Michael Steinberg and Mathew Martoma, two SAC Capital portfolio managers who were found guilty in separate criminal trials in December and February. Both deny wrongdoing and are expected to appeal.
Had Swain rejected the $900 million penalty, SAC Capital could have withdrawn its guilty plea.
The judge on Tuesday had raised questions about calculating the penalty and Schwartz's qualifications.
Cohen has not been criminally charged.
In July, the SEC launched an administrative action to bar him from the securities industry for failing to supervise Martoma and Steinberg and prevent insider trading.
Cohen, 57, has denied the SEC allegations, but has been in contact with the regulator regarding a possible settlement, a person familiar with the matter has said.
In court filings, lawyers for SAC Capital have said the firm is "chastened by this experience" and "deeply remorseful for the misconduct of each of the individuals who broke the law while employed by them."
The case is U.S. v. SAC Capital Advisors LP, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-cr-00541.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by David Gregorio