NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --Who cares if the government nails Steve Cohen?
Author Bill Cohan was on target when he asked on Wednesday whether U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara is making wise use of precious government resources in trying to ensnare SAC Capital hedge fund giant Steve Cohen, but he left out one interesting possibility: what if Bharara flips Cohen?
Nailing Cohen on insider trading charges--and as Cohan points out, it's far from a slam dunk--will be unsatisfying to many of us who are still angry about the fact that, as Cohan puts it, "the people responsible for the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression continue to get off scot-free." We want to see top brass at Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, or maybe even Goldman Sachs (GS)or JPMorgan Chase (JPM) take a fall.
The difficulty is it isn't clear what laws were broken. Wall Street rewrote the laws--allowing banks to merge with securities firms, keeping over the counter derivatives free from regulation, making it okay to hide debt off the balance sheet--or even to shift in on and off just before the end of every quarter, as in the case of Lehman Brothers' "repo 105" transactions.Still, there may have been slip ups. It's supposed to be illegal to tie loans to other investment banking products, for example, but banks do it all the time Citigroup (C) , AIG (AIG), Bank of America (BAC), and other firms told bald lies to shareholders and have paid record penalties. Still, proving the kind of intentional wrongdoing required for a criminal conviction has proved difficult for prosecutors--at least when it comes to top management. But if there is information to be gotten, its likely Cohen has it. His giant hedge fund is all about finding information that can't be accessed anywhere else. The big securities dealers fall all over themselves trying to give SAC the best information they have so he will trade with them and allow them to ring up trading commissions. Cohen has had access to any head of any Wall Street bank he has wanted for years. If he is forced to cooperate with the government, we may finally see the kind of case we've been waiting for. -- Written by Dan Freed in New York. Follow @dan_freed