Congress

Chris Collins enters guilty plea in insider trading case

Former lawmaker leaves legacy of bolstered House rules in response to breach of public trust

Chris Collins is now a former lawmaker with a criminal record. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Chris Collins’ guilty plea on insider trading charges Tuesday, ended a seven-year congressional career marked by a breach of public trust that pushed the House to craft rules prohibiting members from serving on public company boards.

On Tuesday, the New York Republican pleaded guilty to two of eight counts he was charged with: conspiracy to commit securities fraud and false statements to the FBI, each of which carry a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, the New York Daily News reported. Under the plea deal, Collins agreed to not appeal a judge’s sentence ranging from 46 to 57 months, the newspaper reported.

The plea deal allows Collins to serve substantially less time in prison than the decades he faced if convicted of all the charges in the indictment.

“The actions I took are anything but what a model citizen would take. I am embarrassed and dismayed,” Collins said, according to the Daily News.

Collins resigned from Congress on Monday in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the same day a PACER court filing revealed he planned to change his earlier plea of not guilty. Collins’ resignation, which was recognized in a pro forma session Tuesday morning, drops the full number of the House to 433. The scheduling of that change of plea hearing was first reported by The Buffalo News.

Collins sat on the board of directors for Innate Immunotherapuetics, an Australian Biotechnology company, and was also one of the company’s largest shareholders.

Collins didn’t trade himself and his Innate stock declined by millions of dollars when the drug trial results were publicly revealed on June 26, 2017. But he provided the insider trading information to his son, who then relayed it to others.

Collins was already under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics for his Innate holdings.

The actions of the disgraced congressman propelled the House to ban members from serving on boards of public companies. House Resolution 6 created a new clause in the Code of Official Conduct, which is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2020, that prohibits members, delegates, resident commissioners, officers or employees in the House from serving as an officer or director of any public company. The Ethics Committee is required to develop by Dec. 31 regulations addressing other prohibited services or positions that could lead to conflicts of interest.

There is an Ethics Committee working group — led by Susan Wild, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Van Taylor, a Texas Republican — tasked with constructing rules governing the roles lawmakers can serve in outside entities, such as nonprofits and private companies.

Federal prosecutors charged Collins, his son and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins’ then-fiancée, in the insider trading scheme. Collins faced eight counts on these federal criminal charges: conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and false statements. The trial was scheduled for Feb. 3 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

At least half of Collins’ full-time staff left the office since he was indicted in August 2018. Seven of 14 full time staffers, including several of whom held senior roles, left. Those who departed include his deputy chief of staff, Michael Kracker, communications director Sarah Minkel, and health policy adviser Charlotte Pineda.

Lex Samuels contributed to this report.

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