Former N.Y. Rep. Chris Collins pleads guilty to insider trading | TribLIVE.com
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Former N.Y. Rep. Chris Collins pleads guilty to insider trading

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AP
Former U.S. Rep. Chris Collins leaves federal court Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, in New York. Collins pleaded guilty Tuesday in an insider trading case, a day after he resigned from Congress and set off a scramble to fill his seat in his Republican-leaning district.

NEW YORK — One of President Donald Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress — former Rep. Chris Collins — pleaded guilty Tuesday to insider trading charges that he had previously dismissed as “a partisan witch hunt.”

“The actions I took are anything but what a model citizen would take. I am embarrassed and dismayed,” Collins said.

The western New York Republican confessed to the scheme involving his son and father of his son’s ex-fiancee in Manhattan Federal Court. Earlier in the day, Collins’ resignation was formally accepted in Congress.

The guilty plea capped a quick downfall for Collins, 69, who won reelection in 2018 to the district covering the suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester despite the federal indictment alleging he shared the inside info on a biotech company during a picnic on the White House lawn. At a previous hearing, Collins expressed confidence he would be elected again in 2020, should he choose to run.

In the courtroom he seemed less self assured.

Collins said the news of the drug trial failure left him “devastated … thinking about the multiple sclerosis patients we would not be able to treat.”

“I was in an emotional state and called my son,” he told the court.

He copped to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to the FBI and could have faced 10 years combined for both counts.

Under the plea deal, though, Collins agreed not appeal a judge’s sentence that falls between between 46 and 57 months.

A special election will be held to fill the seat, one of just six out of 27 in New York held by the GOP.

When he was charged in August 2018, Collins called the case “meritless.” His spokeswoman had said a House Ethics Committee investigation into the shady stock trades was “a partisan witch hunt,” echoing Trump.

Collins, his son Cameron Collins and Stephen Zarsky were accused of illegally dumping shares of a biotech company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. Chris Collins was one of the company’s largest shareholders and sat on its board of directors.

Prosecutors say the congressman was caught on camera at the White House picnic telling Cameron over the phone that a new multiple sclerosis drug had failed a key medical trial. The bad result would send the value of the company plummeting by 92%. By the time the news went public, Cameron Collins and Zarsky had dumped their shares, avoiding losses of $768,000, prosecutors say.

They had faced a trial starting February on charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, false statements and conspiracy.

Collins’ departure from Congress opens up a chance for Democrats to flip Collins’ traditionally red district, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is doing his best to help in that effort, according to a source.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the governor is looking to schedule the special election for Collins’ seat on April 28, so that it coincides with New York’s presidential primary. The thinking is that this will bolster Democratic turnout and increase the chance of Collins’ upstate district turning blue, the source said.

Speaking on WAMC radio Monday morning, Cuomo signaled he wants to slot the Collins replacement race as soon as possible.

“I don’t believe, legally, I can call it for this November, which would be convenient because people are going to the polls anyway,” Cuomo said. “The question is, when can I do it? But sooner rather than later is my inclination.”

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