Chris Collins says insider trading charges ‘meritless,’ vows to stay on ballot for re-election
Rep. Chris Collins on Wednesday said he plans to mount a “vigorous” defense against what he described as “meritless” charges and that he will remain on the ballot for re-election to Congress, hours after pleading not guilty in federal court in New York to charges tied to an alleged insider trading scheme.
“The charges that have been levied against me are meritless, and I will mount a vigorous defense in court to clear my name,” the New York Republican said at an event in Buffalo. “I look forward to being fully vindicated and exonerated - ending any and all questions relating to my affiliation with Innate.”
Mr. Collins, who did not take questions from reporters present, said he will remain on the ballot running for re-election in November.
Earlier in the day, the New York Republican pleaded not guilty after federal authorities charged him in connection to an insider trading scheme tied to Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., a biotech company where Mr. Collins was a board member and the largest stock holder.
“I believe I acted properly and within the law at all times with regard to my affiliation with Innate,” Mr. Collins said Wednesday evening. “Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have followed all rules and all ethical guidelines when it comes to my personal investments - including those with Innate.”
He said that “after today,” he won’t address any issues related to the company outside of a courtroom.
At the White House congressional picnic last year, the New York Republican received bad news about a clinical trial on a key drug from the CEO of the company, authorities said.
Mr. Collins, 68, then alerted his son, who told his girlfriend, her family members and others, who all rushed to dump shares in the company before the bad news went public, saving a combined $760,000, according to federal authorities.
Innate’s stock plunged 90 percent the day that news of the failed trial went public.
The congressman didn’t sell any of his own shares a point he reiterated Wednesday evening but he, his son Cameron, and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron’s girlfriend, lied to federal investigators in April about the matter, authorities said.
Mr. Collins said he believed in the company and still does, and that he’s “proud” of his affiliation with it.
He said without his investments it would have gone under, bringing a “premature end” to the development of the drug, which was supposed to help treat patients suffering from multiple sclerosis.
“We firmly believed we were on the verge of a medical breakthrough” before the drug was shown to be unsuccessful, he said.
Mr. Collins said the sizable investment he made in the company was ultimately wiped out.
“That’s OK - that’s the risk I took,” he said. “My real concern lies with the millions of people suffering [from] secondary progressive MS who to this day struggle without life-saving treatments for their deadly disease.”
Cameron Collins, 25, and Mr. Zarsky, 66, also pleaded not guilty Wednesday after they were also charged with conspiracy, securities and wire fraud, and making false statements to the FBI. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of between five and 20 years in prison.
Mr. Collins, an early endorser of President Trump, has emerged as a prominent backer of the president in the U.S. House.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, which also filed a complaint Wednesday, said Lauren Zarsky, the girlfriend, and Dorothy Zarsky, her mother, have agreed to settle charges filed against them tied to making trades by paying back their gains, plus interest and civil penalties.
Lauren Zarsky, a certified public accountant, also can’t practice before the SEC as an accountant for at least five years under the terms of her settlement.