With the Dallas Mavericks’ season-opening game still a month away, the basketball team’s outspoken owner, Mark Cuban, will be seeing a different kind of court this week.
The government’s insider- trading case against Cuban goes to trial today in federal court in Dallas. Cuban is expected to testify, and experts say the verdict could come down to whether jurors find the billionaire and regular on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank” to be likable or smug.
Cuban is accused of using insider information to dump his stock in a small Internet-search company in 2004 just before the shares fell in value.
He avoided $750,000 in losses. The Securities and Exchange Commission wants Cuban to give up the money and pay a civil penalty.
The SEC’s key piece of evidence is a phone call between Cuban and the CEO of Mamma.com. According to the SEC, the CEO told Cuban he had confidential information to share and Cuban agreed to keep it to himself. When the CEO said the company planned an offering of new stock, the SEC alleges, Cuban became angry because the offering would reduce the value of his 600,000 shares — and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Well now I’m screwed. I can’t sell,” Cuban said, according to the SEC.
But over the next two days, that’s exactly what Cuban did, unloading his shares before the company publicly announced the stock offering.
Cuban disputes the SEC’s version of the facts, and his lawyers argue that insider-trading laws didn’t prohibit him from selling his shares.
U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitz-water agreed and dismissed the lawsuit in 2009, but his ruling was overturned by an appeals court, which sent the case back to Judge Fitzwater for trial.
James Meyers, a former enforcement attorney at the SEC now in private practice in Washington, said that insider-trading cases are hard to prove because they rely on circumstantial evidence — a phone call, a stock trade, and a presumed link between the two — and because some jurors don’t believe there’s anything wrong with insider trading.