By Bernard Vaughan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday set a November 4 start for the criminal trial of Mathew Martoma, a former portfolio manager at hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, on insider trading charges.
Martoma, one of nine one-time employees of billionaire Steven Cohen's hedge fund named in a government crackdown on insider trading, will be the first to face trial. A trial of SAC fund manager Michael Steinberg, the most senior executive from the firm to be indicted on insider trading charges, starts on November 18.
The announcement comes as SAC Advisors faces redemption requests estimated at between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to people familiar with the firm and the hedge fund industry. Cohen has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The firm, based in Stamford, Connecticut, has not commented on the amount of redemptions, which will be paid out by year's end. Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesman for the firm, declined to comment on Martoma's trial date or the redemptions on Wednesday.
In March, SAC agreed to pay $616 million to the SEC to settle allegations of improper trading arising out of an investigation into Martoma.
Martoma, a former portfolio manager with SAC, has been charged with conspiracy and securities fraud. He pleaded not guilty in January.
Last month, Martoma accused the government in court papers of impeding his ability to defend himself by providing only "vague" details linking him to an alleged long-running conspiracy.
Prosecutors say he helped CR Intrinsic Investors, an SAC fund, avoid $276 million in losses in 2008 by recommending that it sell shares of Elan Corp and Wyeth, now owned by Pfizer Inc, based on a doctor's tips about poor drug trial results.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown told presiding U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe on Wednesday that he expected the trial to last two to three weeks.
Martoma's lawyer, Richard Strassberg, asked Gardephe to start the trial in February, in part because he said the government may file a superceding indictment in July adding more details to its charges against Martoma. Strassberg also said he is committed to another trial in September that could take five to six weeks. Gardephe, however, stuck with November 4.
"I don't view this as a particularly complicated case," Gardephe said.
Gardephe said he would reconsider delaying the trial if Strassberg could later prove he faced "insurmountable difficulties" in preparing Martoma's defense.
"I'm not closing the door to a later trial date," Gardephe said.
The case is U.S. v. Martoma, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-cr-00973.
(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Additional reporting by Sam Forgione and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Nick Zieminski)