British billionaire Joe Lewis may dodge prison time at his sentencing for insider trading

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NEW YORK — British billionaire Joe Lewis, whose family trust owns the Tottenham Hotspur soccer club, is set to be sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty to insider trading and conspiracy charges in New York.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan had plenty of stern words to say about the 87-year-old’s crimes in court papers, but they also agree that his age, medical issues and willingness to come to the U.S. to face criminal charges have earned him leniency that might result in no prison time.

U.S. sentencing guidelines call for Lewis, a citizen of the United Kingdom and resident of the Bahamas, to serve 18 months to two years behind bars.

At his January plea, Lewis admitted that he agreed in 2019 to share secrets about publicly traded companies with several individuals. He told Judge Jessica G.L. Clarke that he was “so embarrassed” for his conduct. Prosecutors said afterward that his company, Broad Bay Limited, and Lewis would pay $50 million in financial penalties, the largest financial penalty for insider trading in a decade.

Prosecutors wrote in their presentence submission that Lewis deserved leniency because he is elderly and “battles significant health issues” that would cause a term of imprisonment to be more difficult for him than others.

They cited his acceptance of responsibility that he demonstrated by voluntarily surrendering rather than forcing a drawn-out extradition battle, and said that he’d “otherwise lived a law abiding life.”

The government also noted that Lewis is recognized as one of the 500 richest people in the world with approximately $6.2 billion as of February, including homes in several countries, a $250 million yacht, private planes valued at $90 million and an art collection worth $100 million.

Defense attorneys said in their presentence submission that Lewis “is nearing the end of life in declining health” and that the court’s probation office had recommended no prison time, a period of three years probation and a $5 million fine.

They said Lewis, if he received no prison time, will immediately leave the United States knowing that his conviction will mean he can’t return to see his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who live in the U.S.

From the start, Lewis was no ordinary defendant. After his arrest less than a year ago, he had been free on $300 million bail after putting up a yacht and private plane as collateral.

In court papers, prosecutors said Lewis learned secrets about public companies after making large investments. They said that on at least four occasions, he tipped off his girlfriend, personal pilots, employees and friends, enabling them to profit from the secrets.

“This insider trading was not the result of aberrant, one-time conduct, but rather, a troubling pattern of misconduct over the course of several years,” they wrote.

Prosecutors said it was possible that the insider activity resulted from “hubris, ego, a desire to make a financial gift without parting with his own money, an irrational form of greed, or some other reason.”

But, regardless, “it is clear that Lewis believed he was above the law — that he had achieved a level of wealth and stature that relieved him from having to operate by the same rules that apply to everyday investors,” prosecutors said.

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