By Brendan Pierson
(Reuters) - A Florida lawyer accused by U.S. prosecutors of engaging in a nearly $1 million insider trading scheme using information he improperly obtained from his law firm’s databases pleaded guilty on Thursday, prosecutors said.
Walter “Chet” Little entered his plea to one count of conspiring to commit insider trading before U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla in Manhattan, according to James Margolin, a spokesman for acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
Little is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 22. His lawyer, Todd Foster, said he looked forward to presenting "a large amount of mitigation evidence" to the court ahead of the sentencing.
Little was charged with conspiracy and securities fraud in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court in May. A friend of his, Andrew Berke, was also charged. Both were arrested in Florida, where they lived, Kim's office said in May.
Little was a partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner at the time prosecutors say the trading took place. Little left Foley in 2016 and joined the law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. Vivian Hood, a spokeswoman for Bradley Arant, said Little was no longer at the firm.
Jill Chanen, a spokeswoman for Foley & Lardner, said Thursday that the firm had learned about the activity at issue in June 2016 and reported the matter to authorities.
Prosecutors said that beginning in 2015, Little used Foley’s document management system to access information about at least seven law firm clients including Oshkosh Corp and Harley-Davidson Inc, even though he billed no work for them.
They said that after learning about upcoming mergers, earnings and other events involving those companies, Little bought and sold stock and options ahead of public announcements, making more than $320,000 in profit.
Little also passed the inside information to Berke, prosecutors said. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Berke was an executive at a logistics company who since 2013 has lived in the same community as Little - Apollo Beach, Florida.
Prosecutors said that by placing trades based on the inside information, Berke earned around $660,000.
Late on Thursday, prosecutors filed a letter with the court asking to set a Dec. 15 hearing for Berke to plead guilty as well. A lawyer for Berke did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)