Defendants in Trump Media insider trading case signal possible pleas

Michael Shvartsman walks following a hearing at the Manhattan Federal Court, in New York City, U.S. July 20, 2023. 

Amr Alfiky | Reuters

A Florida venture capitalist and his brother moved Monday toward potential guilty pleas in an insider trading case connected to the merger that took Donald Trump‘s social media company public last week.

Michael Shvartsman, the venture capitalist, and his brother Gerald Shvartsman both previously pleaded not guilty to criminal charges of insider trading and conspiracy, related to trading shares in of the shell company that merged with Trump Media last week.

A new court filing Monday revealed that a change of plea hearing for both Shvartsman brothers will be held Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. A change of plea hearing typically involves a defendant pleading guilty.

Also Monday, New York defense attorney Alan Futerfas filed a notice with the court that he had joined Michael Shvartsman’s legal team.

Futerfas has represented Donald Trump in the past, as well as Trump’s adult children and his company, the Trump Organization, in various legal matters.

In a brief phone call with CNBC Monday, Futerfas said he could not talk about the case and whether Shvartsman would plead guilty, nor why he had been hired to represent Shvartsman.

Earlier this year, the Florida-based venture capital investor was charged with money laundering in the case on top of the securities fraud counts he already faced.

Trump Media and Technology Group mentioned the case in a securities filing on Monday. “These individuals have no affiliation with TMTG and—on information and belief—TMTG is not the target of any DOJ enforcement action,” the newly public company told regulators.

An attorney for Gerald Shvartman, Roland Riopelle, also declined to comment on his client, who owns a furniture manufacturing company in Florida.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which is prosecuting the Shvartsmans and a third man, Bruce Garelick, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Like the brothers, Garelick has pleaded not guilty. As of late Monday, there was no change of plea hearing for him scheduled on the docket.

All three men are scheduled to go on trial April 29. If the Shvartsmans plead guilty but Garelick does not change his plea, he would still be expected to stand trial on that date.

CNBC has reached out to Garelick’s lawyer for comment.

Futerfas’ surprise appearance in the case and the newly scheduled plea hearing came a week after Judge Lewis Liman denied Michael Shvartsman’s request to move his trial on the money laundering counts to a federal court in South Florida, instead of one in Manhattan.

The filings also came six days after Trump Media’s shares began trading on the Nasdaq under the DJT ticker, after completing a merger with the special purpose acquisition company, Digital World Acquisition Corp.

The Shvartsmans and Garelick were indicted last June on securities fraud and conspiracy charges.

They are accused of buying up DWAC stock based on nonpublic information that the shell company was considering a possible merger with Trump’s social media company, Trump Media & Technology Group, which owns the Truth Social app.

Michael Shvartsman is CEO of Rocket One Capital LLC in Miami, and Garelick is a former chief strategy officer at the firm.

In 2021, Garelick was working for Shvartsman while also serving on the board of DWAC, then a little known shell company. When Garelick learned about the negotiations between DWAC and Trump Media to merge, prosecutors allege that he shared that information with Shvartsman, who in turn shared it with his brother Gerald.

Over the next several months, the three men repeatedly bought stock in DWAC.

When DWAC announced that it planned to merge with Trump Media in October, the company’s stock soared from around $10 a share to close at $94 a share on Oct. 24, 2021.

On the heels of the merger announcement, Garelick and the Shvartsmans allegedly sold their newly valuable shares for a net profit of $22 million, according to prosecutors.

In February of this year, Michael Shvartsman was charged in a superseding indictment that added a money laundering count to the original charges against him and the other two men.

The new count and a count of engaging in a monetary transaction in property derived from specified unlawful activity to the charges he already faced with the two other men.

It also added a count related to two money transfers Shvartsman allegedly made with his share of the DWAC stock sale profits.

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In December 2021, he allegedly transferred about $8.4 million from the securities sales to a bank account controlled by a business associate. The move “provided an effective method of concealing the source and ownership of those fundings,” according to prosecutors.

The following summer, Shvartsman allegedly moved another $12 million to a bank account he controlled, according to the indictment. He later put that money toward the purchase of a $14.7 million luxury yacht.

Shvartsman also allegedly took steps to hide the source of the money. They included using “corporate forms, multiple bank transfers, and legal agreements, to conceal the source of the funds used to purchase the yacht, as well as the ownership and control of the yacht once acquired,” the indictment says.

Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of a bank account, the yacht and three Yamaha Jet Skis that were tendered to the vessel.

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