Congress

Regardless of Rep. Collins’ appeals, government plans to proceed with trial against co-defendants

Trial for New York Republican and his son scheduled for February

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., wants to delay his trial for securities fraud charges scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020, according to prosecutors. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Even if his appeal is unresolved by the time Rep. Chris Collins’ securities fraud trial is set to begin in February, the government still wants to proceed with the trial of his co-defendants.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman wrote in a letter filed Tuesday to Judge Vernon Broderick that regardless of how any appeal filed by the New York Republican proceeds, the appeal would have no bearing on the Feb. 3 trial date for Collins’ son, Cameron Collins, and Stephen Zarsky, the father of his onetime fiancee who bought stock in part based on Cameron Collins’ recommendation.

Berman notes that the younger Collins and Zarsky — both of whom do not hold federal public office — have no privilege to assert under the Speech or Debate clause of the Constitution as Chris Collins has. That clause protects members of Congress from prosecution over particular legislative acts.

The letter also states that the younger Collins and Zarsky are not entitled to delay their trial pending the resolution of any interlocutory appeal by Collins. An interlocutory appeal is when a trial court ruling on a particular issue is under appeal but the case proceeds.

Cameron Collins’ fiancee, Lauren Zarsky, and Dorothy Zarsky, her mother, agreed to pay a combined $42,040 to the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid any federal charges related to Collins’ alleged insider trading, WHAM and the New York Law Journal reported in August 2018, citing court records. 

Chris Collins, his son and Zarsky face a wave of charges from their alleged roles in an insider trading scheme involving an Australian biotechnology company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. Collins served on the company’s board of directors and allegedly gave material, nonpublic information to his son about confidential drug test results so that his son and others could trade on the information before it was publicly available. They were able to avoid approximately $768,000 in losses, according to the Justice Department.

Rep. Collins, his son and Zarsky were indicted in August 2018 for insider trading and making false statements to the FBI. In August, Berman dropped three securities fraud charges against Chris Collins and two against his son in order to avoid unnecessary pretrial litigation that could delay the case, which the government originally wanted to begin in 2019.

The government responded to Chris Collins’ Aug. 26 letter which raised the concern that he plans to use an interlocutory appeal to delay the trial. Berman notes that the facts of the case are simple and the trial will be swift.

“The insider trading scheme unfolded over four days in June 2017; the defendants lied to the FBI during interviews on a single day in April 2018,” Berman wrote. “Trial will be short. It should last two weeks— or less.”

Berman cites several concerns for delaying the trial date which could prejudice the government’s case, including the risk that witnesses’ memories will fade and Collins’ reelection will also be an issue.

“That concern is particularly acute here, because any adjournment of the trial date will risk pushing the trial into the 2020 primary and general election cycle, a complication that the government warned of at the conference when the February 3 date was set,” Berman wrote.

Chris Collins faces eight charges, including conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and making false statements. He could face decades in prison if convicted on all charges.

Stephanie Akin contributed to this report.

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