Bonnie, Yonni, and a tale of insider trading at Disney?

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The Independent Online

Bonnie Hoxie, a secretary in the PR department at the Hollywood headquarters of Disney, was allegedly so excited about the money she and her boyfriend had planned to make from their small-time insider trading scam that she emailed him a picture of a $700 handbag by Stella McCartney, saying: "Here is the bag that you are going to get for me."

It is also alleged that her boyfriend, Yonni Sebbag, responded that not only had he been handed $15,000 in cash from a hedge fund trader in New York, he had also made plans to sell future information for many thousands more. This is said to have prompted another picture message: "In that case I also love love these shoes."

But it wasn't handbags that Ms Hoxie ended up with, it was handcuffs. The traders her boyfriend had allegedly been dealing with weren't who they seemed. They were undercover FBI officers seeking to halt a scam.

Mr Sebbag, using the more glamorous alias Jonathan Cyrus, is said to have emailed 20 hedge funds offering details of Disney's financial results days before they were ever revealed to the market. The FBI were tipped off immediately.

As well as marking a quick win for the Obama administration's new financial fraud enforcement task force, the arrest of Mr Sebbag, 29, and Ms Hoxie, 33, also highlights something rarely discussed when it comes to Wall Street: faced with the possibility of easy money from an illegal inside tip, hedge fund managers sometimes do the right thing.

Ms Hoxie was an assistant to Disney's head of communications, Zenia Mucha, and saw the company's financial results ahead of publication. She also had access to documents like the quarterly "speaking points" produced for senior executives before they faced analysts and investors on results day.

As Disney prepared to release its latest profit figures earlier this month, Mr Sebbag allegedly emailed undercover officers a copy of the talking points containing information about the performance of the company's theme parks and other divisions. His girlfriend was never able to obtain the full results press release, but she did know the headline "earnings per share" figure – the most important in any financial statement and which usually sends share prices flying or falling within seconds of its publication.

As the officers pursued the alleged scam, Mr Sebbag talked himself into trouble, according to the criminal and civil fraud charges laid against him and Ms Hoxie in New York on Wednesday. The FBI say emails from his anonymous account show him negotiating on price, striking two deals, one for $15,000 and the other for a 50:50 split of the profits from any trading on the inside information. He is also said to have discussed with the officers setting up a pretend investment account in Israel into which they could pay for future tips.

One of his alleged claims, as detailed in the criminal complaint, was that Disney was in advanced talks to sell the ABC television network, which is one of its main US businesses, and – as if to prove the sensitivity of this kind of information - Disney's share price jumped 2 per cent after the complaint was unsealed in Manhattan. The company denied the claim shortly after.

Both Mr Sebbag and Ms Hoxie face 25 years in prison for the two criminal charges of fraud if found guilty. They were freed on a bond.

"The integrity of the securities exchanges can be compromised not only by top executives, but also by anyone entrusted with material, non-public information," said Preet Bharara, the US attorney in New York. "We are committed to identifying and prosecuting all individuals – on whatever rung of the corporate ladder – whose greed motivates them to betray their employer's trust and corrupt the market."

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