Congress

Rep. Chris Collins pleads not guilty to revised indictment, trial still set for February 2020

New York Republican was indicted last August on charges of insider trading and lying to the FBI

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., pleaded not guilty Thursday to a revised set of charges related to insider trading and lying to the FBI. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Chris Collins pleaded not guilty to a revised indictment on Thursday in New York, where he, his son Cameron Collins and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins’ onetime fiancee, were initially indicted in August 2018 on insider trading charges and lying to the FBI.

Prosecutors have dropped three of the original eight securities fraud charges against Collins and two against his son and Zarsky in order to speed up the pretrial process in time for the trial slated for Feb. 3, 2020.

All three co-defendants pleaded not guilty on Thursday to their respective superseding indictments.

The defense team for Collins, a longtime Republican from New York’s 27th District, could delay that trial date for the congressman through a potentially lengthy pretrial appeals process.

U.S. District Court Judge Vernon S. Broderick stressed Thursday that he does not want that: 2020 is an election year and Broderick is scheduled to preside over another trial beginning in April that could last for months.

“I don’t intend to move the trial date. The trial date is going to be what it is,” Broderick said, Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News reported.

He added later: “Once a jury is in the box, they’re in the box.”

On Wednesday, Broderick ruled against Collins’ motion to compel prosecutors to turn over evidence to his defense team to review whether the prosecutors violated the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause by seizing materials from his congressional staff.

The Speech or Debate clause protects members of Congress for being arrested and prosecuted based on their political views or legislative actions.

Broderick denied Collins’ motion for prosecutors to produce more evidence because “the searches did not involve congressional offices or official accounts, but were of the [staffers'] personal electronic devices and accounts,” he wrote.

Broderick on Wednesday also denied a separate Collins motion to force prosecutors to hand over more evidence to the defense team that could prove that Collins and his co-defendants are innocent.

Collins’ motion invoked a 1963 Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, in which the high court ruled prosecutors must turn over evidence that could acquit the defendant. But Broderick ruled Wednesday the prosecutors had already turned over the required evidence.

Collins can appeal both decisions on the Speech or Debate clause and the Brady rule, which could push back his scheduled February  trial date in Manhattan.

If that happens, prosecutors have proposed holding two separate trials: one for Cameron Collins and Zarsky to begin on the initial date of Feb. 3, and the other for Collins at a later time after his appeals are settled.

Broderick ruled in favor of Collins on another issue Wednesday regarding whether prosecutors could use materials from a separate Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into Collins’ actions.

Prosecutors will not be allowed to use transcripts of Collins’ and his staffers’ interviews with the OCE, which reviews ethics complaints against House members and sometimes refers them to the House Ethics Committee for further investigation.

Collins, his son and Zarsky face a wave of charges from their alleged roles in an insider trading scheme involving an Australian biotechnology company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. Collins served on the company’s board of directors and allegedly gave material, nonpublic information to his son about confidential drug test results so that his son and others could trade on the information before it was publicly available. They were able to avoid approximately $768,000 in losses, according to the Justice Department.

Collins, his son and Zarsky were indicted in August 2018 for insider trading and making false statements to the FBI. In August, Berman dropped three securities fraud charges against Chris Collins and two against his son in order to avoid unnecessary pretrial litigation that could delay the case, which the government originally wanted to begin this year.

Prosecutors believe the trial will be swift once a final date is set and it gets underway.

“The insider trading scheme unfolded over four days in June 2017; the defendants lied to the FBI during interviews on a single day in April 2018,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman wrote last week.

“Trial will be short. It should last two weeks — or less,” Berman wrote.

Collins now faces eight charges in all, including conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and making false statements. He could face decades in prison if convicted on all charges.

If Collins’ trial keeps getting pushed back, it could bump up against the New York congressional primaries in June 2020.

Three Republicans have already announced campaigns to challenge Collins in the 2020 primary, with a handful of others considering bids, according to Politics1.com.

Collins, the first lawmaker to endorse President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, has not verbally committed to running for reelection, though he loaned his campaign committee $500,000 earlier this summer.

Despite a flood of negative publicity from his indictment just months before Election Day, Collins defeated Democrat Nate McMurray by just half a percentage point in the 2018 midterms in a district that Trump carried by 24.5 percentage points in 2016.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2020 race for New York's 27th District Leans Republican.

Chris Marquette contributed to this report.

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