By Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Christopher Collins, a Republican U.S. congressman from New York who was one of President Donald Trump’s earliest supporters, was criminally charged on Wednesday with taking part in an insider trading scheme involving an Australian biotechnology company on whose board he served.
The indictment came as Collins, 68, was seeking a fourth two-year term in November’s elections, where Democrats hope to recapture the House of Representatives.
“These charges are a reminder that this is a nation of laws, and that everybody stands equal before the bar of justice,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a news conference in Manhattan.
Two lawyers for Collins, Jonathan Barr and Jonathan New, said in a statement that they were confident he would be “completely vindicated and exonerated.”
The indictment charged Collins, his son Cameron, and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins’ fiancée, with securities fraud, wire fraud and other crimes. All three also face civil charges by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Amanda Bassen, a lawyer for Zarsky, declined to comment. Lawyers for Cameron Collins could not immediately be reached. All three defendants were expected to appear in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan later Wednesday.
The case relates to Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd , where Christopher Collins sat on the board and held a 16.8 percent stake.
Prosecutors said that in June 2017, while attending the congressional picnic at the White House, Collins learned in an email from Innate’s chief executive that a trial for its proposed secondary multiple sclerosis drug MIS416 had failed.
According to the indictment, Collins immediately called his son and told him the news. Cameron Collins in turn told his fiancée, her parents and a friend, and Stephen Zarsky went on to tip his brother, his sister and a friend, the indictment said.
Christopher Collins did not trade his own Innate stock, which lost millions of dollars in value, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said the congressman knew he was “virtually precluded” from trading in part because he already faced a congressional ethics probe related to his Innate holdings.
However, prosecutors said others avoided more than $768,000 in losses when Innate’s share price plunged to 3.5 cents from 45 cents after the drug’s failure was announced.
Sydney-based Innate did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside business hours.
Collins represents New York’s solidly Republican 27th Congressional District, and nonpartisan analysts predict he will win re-election. The district includes areas surrounding Buffalo and Rochester.
Last October, the Office of Congressional Ethics said in a report that it had “substantial reason” to believe Collins may have used his office to help Innate.
It voted unanimously to send its case to the House Ethics Committee. Collins denied wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio, Howard Goller and Jonathan Oatis)