Joe Lewis spared jail time for part in ‘brazen’ insider trading conspiracy

<span>Joe Lewis leaves Manhattan federal court on 26 July 2023, in New York.</span><span>Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP</span>
Joe Lewis leaves Manhattan federal court on 26 July 2023, in New York.Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

The British billionaire Joe Lewis was spared jail time for his part in a “brazen” insider trading conspiracy on Thursday, and was instead fined $5m and given a three-year probation by a New York judge.

The 87-year-old, who heads the family that owns Tottenham Hotspur, had faced as much as 45 years in prison if convicted at trial. But in a court filing on Monday, prosecutors said Lewis deserved leniency given his age, health issues and the fact that he had voluntarily come to the US to face punishment.

Lewis arrived in court with his family looking frail and wearing an eye patch. Prosecutor Jason Richmond said: “Even billionaires are not above the law,” but he acknowledged mitigating factors, including Lewis’s voluntary return to the US to face charges, and said they were not seeking prison time.

Judge Jessica Clarke said Lewis was “at serious risk” if he was incarcerated due to deteriorating health. Clarke said the offense was “without doubt serious”. “Crimes like insider trading strike at the integrity of our markets,” she added, but Lewis’s circumstances did not warrant incarceration.

The court fined Lewis’s company Broad Bay $44m, bringing the total fine and restitution to $49m.

In a brief statement to the court, Lewis talked about his childhood during the Blitz in in London. “At an early age, I learned how precious life is. I made a terrible mistake. I broke the law. I am ashamed, sorry, and I hold myself accountable. If your honor so desires, I wish to use the time I have left to make amends and rebuild trust.”

Born above a pub in the East End of London, Lewis turned his father’s catering business into a chain of themed restaurants before turning to currency trading. He founded the Tavistock Group, which has stakes in more than 200 companies, including Spurs, biotechnology and agriculture ventures, financial services, luxury hotels, resorts and retail.

He and his family have a net worth of $7.2bn, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index.

Last July, Lewis was hit with 16 counts of securities fraud and three of conspiracy to commit fraud that prosecutors called a “brazen” scheme to enrich his friends, lovers and employees, including two private jet pilots.

The US attorney for the southern district of New York, Damian Williams, said Lewis had “abused his access to corporate boardrooms” to provide confidential information to people who used his tips to make millions of dollars betting on the stock market.

Williams said Lewis had knowingly deployed the tactic “as a way to compensate his employees or to shower gifts on his friends and lovers”.

Under the terms of a $300m bond to secure his release, Lewis agreed to surrender his private yacht Aviva, which he was prohibited from boarding, and his personal plane, which can be used – with prior notification to prosecutors – but only for domestic US travel.

He was further restricted from international travel and will be confined to New York, northern Georgia, where he owns a home, and Florida.

The allegations included a 2019 tip-off to co-defendants Patrick O’Connor and Bryan “Marty” Waugh, both pilots of his private plane, to sell stocks in a troubled Australian beef producer and a tip-off to then-girlfriend Carolyn Carter to purchase shares in a biotech company after he learned of an upcoming private investment and clinical trials.

In January, Lewis pleaded guilty to reduced charges after prosecutors agreed to a non-custodial sentence. Lewis retained his right to change his plea if a custodial sentence were imposed.

Soon after, O’Connor changed his plea and admitted to insider trading and securities fraud.

Co-pilot Waugh has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in June.