Ex-Rep. Collins Pleads Guilty in Stock-Tips Case

MANHATTAN (CN) – Some two years ago, journalists captured Representative Chris Collins placing a call to his son after learning that a clinical trial of a multiple sclerosis drug had failed. Collins held one arm nervously across his torso. The other held cellphone to his ear, as he paced across the lawn at the White House Congressional Picnic.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, left, leaves federal court in New York on Tuesday after pleading guilty in an insider-trading case. Collins resigned from Congress a day earlier, setting off a scramble to fill his seat in his Republican-leaning district. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

As he admitted to his role in an insider-trading conspiracy on Tuesday afternoon, 69-year-old Collins narrated his internal monologue during that call.

Collins claimed to have had high hopes for the drug, MIS-416, which was developed by Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotechnology company on whose board he sat for a decade.

Saying it was meant to treat “one of the debilitating diseases in America,” Collins said he was “devastated” to learn from Innate’s CEO in June 2017 that the drug did not perform to expectations.

“I was in a very emotional state, and I called my son, Cameron,” he continued, acknowledging that he advised the younger Collins to trade Innate stock before the market found out about the clinical trial.

Cameron, who is expected to plead guilty on Thursday, allegedly took that advice, entangling the family in a high-profile political scandal.

Before his precipitous fall, Collins had been first sitting member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for U.S. president. The Collins family and Steven Zarsky, the father of the son’s fiancée, landed in the crosshairs of an 11-count indictment in August 2018.

The former congressman — his resignation took effect this morning — pleaded guilty to only two of those counts this afternoon in a deal that significantly reduced his sentencing exposure. The top count of the former congressman’s indictment opened him up to a potential 20-year sentence.

Under the terms of his plea deal, Collins cannot appeal a sentence below 4.75 years imprisonment.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman applauded the fact that Collins is “now a convicted felon and no longer a member of Congress.”

“Collins admitted to, among other things, illegally tipping his son while standing on the White House Lawn,” Berman said, a fact the U.S. attorney cast as an illustration of an important principle. “This courthouse is a representation, personified of the ideal of equal justice under the law. No one is above the law.”

Before this afternoon’s hearing began. Collins appeared chipper as he entered the courthouse, winking at a reporter seated in the front row. He had not always been so chummy with the press. The congressman rebranded his local paper the “Fake Buffalo News” in anti-press barrages reminiscent of the president he endorsed.

Collins appeared contrite in court, expressing his remorse about implicating his son, “an Eagle Scout,” in a felony.

“I don’t think regret is the proper word,” Collins said.

U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick accepted his two pleas of guilty: one for a securities fraud conspiracy and another for false statements to the FBI.

“When I did these things, I knew that they were improper and illegal,” the ex-congressman said.

Collins had no such display of penitence for reporters, skirting questions about whether he had any words for his constituents or apology for the press he attacked.

Ushered by U.S. marshals into a private elevator, Collins darted past a throng of microphones, cameras and reporters into his black SUV. He leaves New York’s 27th district, which he has represented since 2013, in a state of limbo.

Residents of the heavily Republican district gave Collins a fourth term despite his indictment this past November.

Governor Andrew Cuomo must now schedule a special election for a candidate to take Collins’ seat.

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