(Adds background, details about Humphrey’s employment at SEC)
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, May 3 (Reuters) - A former accountant at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to settle parallel criminal and civil charges, after he was caught illegally trading options while working at the agency, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
The charges against David R. Humphrey, a 16-year SEC veteran, represent a rare instance of the SEC taking enforcement action against one of its own employees, and constitute an unusual violation of the SEC’s ethics rules.
The SEC has very strict securities trading rules for its employees as many of them have access to highly sensitive, non public and potentially market-moving information.
Humphrey was charged with one criminal count of making a false written statement, after repeatedly filing false government ethics forms that failed to disclose certain investments, according to a federal court filing.
Sources familiar with the case said he is expected to plead guilty to the criminal charge, and settle related civil SEC charges, after he was caught trading options - many on his SEC work computer - over the course of more than a decade for himself, as well as for his mother and a friend.
He will also pay more than $100,000 in penalties and ill-gotten profits to settle the SEC’s civil case, and will be permanently barred from practicing as an accountant before the SEC, the sources added.
The sources provided the information about the pending cases to Reuters anonymously, because the SEC charges and the plea deal have not been made public.
Humphrey, who resides in Arizona and is no longer employed at the SEC, referred questions about the case to his attorney Ken Lench of Kirkland & Ellis.
Lench declined to comment.
SEC employees are banned from holding stock in companies directly regulated by the SEC, such as banks, and they are also required to get clearance from the agency’s ethics attorney prior to trading. Trading in options, or other financial instruments that derive value from securities, is also banned for all SEC employees.
In this case, Humphreys is alleged to have not only traded options and failed to report them, but also failed to seek clearance before making trades, among other things.
An SEC spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Humphrey served from 2004-2014 as a middle-level manager at the SEC’s Corporation Finance Division, according to the court filing. While employees there are likely to have access to material, non-public information, Humphrey is not expected to be accused of using any such information to inform his options trading strategy, the sources said.
SEC staffers have been prosecuted for various ethics violations in the past, but it is not common.
In 2013, the SEC’s inspector general and federal prosecutors in New York announced criminal charges against Steven Gilchrist, a former compliance examiner. He was accused of making false statements about stock holdings by telling the regulator he had divested his bank stocks, when in truth he transferred them to a joint account held with his mother.
He later reached a deferred prosecution agreement.
Another former SEC examiner, Eugenia Cantiello, also reached a deferred prosecution agreement in 2015 for making false statements about her and her husband’s prohibited stock holdings.
However, in both cases, the SEC’s enforcement staff did not bring parallel civil charges.
Typically, internal misconduct is investigated by agents at the inspector general’s office and referred to federal prosecutors if warranted. In this unusual case, both the agents and the SEC enforcement staff worked in tandem.
The SEC has brought civil charges against former SEC employees at least two other times, though in both cases the underlying conduct occurred after those staffers departed the federal government.
Public records show that Humphrey worked for a period of time reviewing corporate filings by publicly-traded food companies, such as the Dole Food Company Inc and car manufacturers including General Motors Co.
The Corporation Finance Division is tasked with reviewing public financial filings for compliance with accounting and other SEC disclosure rules.
His wife Marie Humphrey was also previously employed at the SEC, according to public records and people familiar with the matter.
While government ethics rules governing prohibited holdings generally apply to both spouses, his wife is not expected to be charged in the case or accused of any wrongdoing.
Reuters was unable to reach her for comment. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Andrew Hay)