A former JPMorgan executive and two other traders are now awaiting the court’s decision on the gold and silver price manipulation charges against them. The jury is now deliberating on the most significant case impacting the precious metals market in history after its three-week trial, which commenced on July 8.
The said lawsuit involves Michael Nowak, the former head of the multinational financial services firm’s precious metals desk, gold trader Gregg Smith and Jeffrey Ruffo, an executive director specializing in hedge fund sales.
According to data provided to the court, the three combined to make $44.1 million over eight years – Nowak made $23.7 million, Smith $9.9 million and Ruffo $10.5 million.
“The defendants had power and influence, and together they abused their positions and rigged the precious metals markets for their own gain,” Matthew Sullivan, the case prosecutor, told jurors in Chicago.
As per Sullivan, the three conspired to defraud market participants via a manipulative trading tactic known as spoofing. All three men face years in prison if they are found guilty.
Spoofing is a scheme to place and then quickly cancel buy or sell orders to create the illusion of demand or supply and then profit from the price movement.
The defense team argued in their closing statement on July 29 that Nowak’s spoofing orders were legitimate and were executed about 25 percent of the time. David Meister, Nowak’s attorney, urged the jury to acquit his client as prosecutors couldn’t prove that he orchestrated the racketeering.
“If Mike was a racketeer, he must have missed the memo from Al Capone,” Meister said. “He is not a criminal mastermind from the government’s narrative.
Apart from the racketeering and conspiracy suits, Nowak faces 13 other charges that include fraud, spoofing and attempted market manipulation. Smith faces 11 additional charges and all of them have pleaded not guilty.
JPMorgan doesn’t break down its revenues in its earnings filings, but the documents submitted during the trial showed just how lucrative the precious metals and commodity markets are for the investment bank.
Bloomberg, which has been covering the trial, said the company saw annual profits related to trading precious metals markets of between $109 million and $234 million a year between 2008 and 2018. The bank also averaged $30 million a year trading and transporting physical bullion.
In 2020, the firm saw record revenues of $1 billion trading gold and silver and the market saw unprecedented demand as the world economy halted during the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been focusing lately on spoofing and other commodities manipulation. Back in 2020, JPMorgan already paid more than $920 million to settle criminal charges related to two schemes that are very similar to the latest suit. (Related: JPMorgan Chase busted by DoJ, forced to pay nearly $1 BILLION fine for trying to rig GOLD markets.)
The DOJ said back then that JPMorgan committed “tens of thousands of episodes of unlawful trading in the markets for precious metals futures contracts.” The investment bank also conducted “thousands of episodes of unlawful trading in the markets for U.S. treasury futures contracts and in the secondary (cash) market for U.S. Treasury notes and bonds.”
“For nearly a decade, a significant number of JPMorgan traders and sales personnel openly disregarded U.S. laws that serve to protect against illegal activity in the marketplace.
“The prosecution agreement, in which JPMorgan Chase and Co. agreed to pay nearly one billion dollars in penalties and victim compensation, is a stark reminder to others that allegations of this nature will be aggressively investigated and pursued,” William F. Sweeney Jr., FBI assistant director in charge of the New York field office, said at the time.
DOJ Criminal Division Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt said that case showed the nature and seriousness of the bank’s offenses and represents a milestone in the department’s ongoing efforts to ensure the integrity of public markets critical to the financial system.
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