Leader of Real Estate Investment Firm Admits Role in $658 Million Ponzi Scheme and Multimillion-Dollar Tax Evasion Conspiracy
NEWARK, N.J. – The former head of corporate communications for a biopharmaceutical company today admitted her role in an insider trading scheme, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.
Lauren S. Wood, 33, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez to an information charging her with securities fraud. Stemming from the same alleged conduct, Usama Malik, also of Washington, D.C., was previously charged in a three-count indictment with insider trading, securities fraud, and securities fraud conspiracy.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
From 2018 through October 2020, Malik was the chief financial officer (CFO) of a New Jersey-based biopharmaceutical company listed on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange. On April 6, 2020, the company publicly announced for the first time that its breast cancer drug – an antibody-based drug designed to treat certain breast cancer patients who had very limited treatment options beyond chemotherapy – had proven effective in pre-market clinical trials. In October 2020, another biopharmaceutical company acquired the company for which Malik worked for approximately $21 billion.
Malik was among the first, and one of the few, employees who received the material non-public information about the breast cancer drug before the public announcement. Within minutes of obtaining that information, Malik passed it along to Wood, who lived with Malik at the time and was formerly employed by the same company. Before April 6, 2020, and within hours of receiving the insider information from Malik, Wood placed an order for approximately 7,000 shares of the company’s stock, despite the fact that during the same time period the company’s stock was downgraded by financial experts. After the company announced that its cancer drug had proven effective in pre-market clinical trials, its stock price increased. After selling her shares, Wood more than doubled her investment, realizing gross profits of $213,618.
The securities fraud charge to which Wood pleaded guilty carries a potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2022.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also filed a civil complaint on Dec. 1, 2021 based on the same conduct.
U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jesse Levine in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charges. He also thanked the SEC Enforcement Division, under the leadership of Director Gurbir S. Grewal, and the FBI, in the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia, for their assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua L. Haber, Chief of the Economic Crimes Unit.
The charges and allegations against Malik are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.