Billionaire’s Habit of Tipping Off Staff, Girlfriend Lands Him In Court

Joe Lewis horseback riding during an employee trip to his property in Argentina in 2006.

On the edge of Lago Escondido in Argentina’s northern Patagonia, at the foot of snow-capped mountains, lies British billionaire Joe Lewis’ sprawling property. He frequently uses the luxurious estate to entertain public officials and employees handpicked from the top ranks of Lewis’ investment firm and other companies that the 86-year-old has an interest in.

During one visit in 2006, more than a dozen businessmen went horseback riding and fishing and admired what appeared to be Picasso’s Le Reve and two versions of the Women of Algiers on the walls of Lewis’ villa, photos obtained by Bloomberg show. Trips like these, where Lewis’ generosity and wealth are on display, are partly how the prolific investor has cultivated loyalty and respect among his closest advisers, trusted employees and powerful figures over decades.

But more than 15 years after that Argentina jaunt, Lewis’ habit of giving lavish perks to employees and associates has landed him in legal turmoil. He pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan Wednesday to charges that he gave his longtime private pilots and a romantic partner non-public inside information for stock trades.

“While I possessed material non public information about certain publicly traded companies, I agreed to make recommendations” to other people to purchase stock, Lewis told US District Judge Jessica Clarke at a hearing. “I knew at the time what I was doing was wrong, and I’m so embarrassed.”

The plea deal will likely drastically reduce any sentence for Lewis, who faced as long as 45 years in prison. His lawyer, David Zornow, said that Lewis waived his right to appeal unless he is sentenced to jail time.

Lewis, who was indicted last year, admitted he passed on market-moving information related to companies he invested in. Unlike run of the mill insider trading cases, Lewis didn’t personally reap profits from the trades. Instead, prosecutors allege, he gave information to his pilots as a substitute for a formal retirement plan and to his romantic partners, to “shower” them in gifts.

Pilots Patrick O’Connor and Bryan Waugh, like Lewis, were indicted on securities fraud last year. While Lewis’ former girlfriend, Carolyn Carter, wasn’t charged, she was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission. For one of the trades cited in the indictment, Lewis allegedly loaned Waugh and O’Connor $500,000 apiece to buy shares in Mirati Therapeutics Inc. before news of the company’s clinical trial became public in 2019.  

The pilots have previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, but their cases are scheduled for a hearing Thursday.

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A spokesman for Lewis characterized the Argentina trip in 2006 as a retreat for “Mr. Lewis’ family and closest colleagues.” A former associate who has been to the estate said it wasn’t always strictly a family affair. Employees often angled for invites to such trips, taking the gesture as a sign of being in the boss’ good books.

Photos from the trip show Lewis triumphantly displaying his catch and leading colleagues on horseback through streams near his property.

‘Ritz Carlton on the Water’

Lewis, who is now worth about $7.6 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, dropped out of high school to work at his father’s London catering business. He eventually built that operation into a chain of themed restaurants, then sold it and used the profits to reinvent himself as a currency trader. He relocated to the uber-rich Bahamas hamlet of Lyford Cay to avoid UK taxes.

According to financial lore, his first big score was betting against the British pound in 1992. That was the same trade that netted George Soros $1 billion, though Lewis’s take was probably much smaller, according to traders. He landed another big win investing in Russian energy giant Gazprom in the early 2000s, according to two people with knowledge of the move.

But much of his success since then has been tied to Tavistock Group, a holding company that has stakes in more than 200 businesses worldwide, including the five-star St. Regis hotel in Atlanta and the Isleworth Golf Club in Florida. Lewis also owns Albany, an exclusive gated community in Nassau in the Bahamas where he was occasionally spotted playing padel tennis with penthouse resident Sam Bankman-Fried before the FTX co-founder’s 2022 arrest.

Much of his wealth is now in real estate, developing Lake Nona, an exclusive community near Orlando, Florida, and a luxury equestrian community in Palm Beach County with celebrity Justin Timberlake and golfer Tiger Woods.

Lewis, through a family trust and his California-based biotech fund Boxer Capital, holds stakes in three companies that are the heart of the insider trading charges against him, including Australian Agricultural Co. and Mirati Therapeutics. The companies weren’t accused of any wrongdoing.

Joe Lewis yacht, Aviva, in London.

Joe Lewis’ yacht, Aviva, in London.

Lewis, who also used to own the Premier League football club Tottenham Hotspur, is notoriously private and rarely talks to the press. He prefers to do business on his superyacht, Aviva, where he was often able to stay out of the public eye. Years ago, he’d sail to the Mediterranean for the summer and party with the likes of the late Australian media mogul Kerry Packer but still managed to call traders collect from the ship when it was time to work, two people familiar with his social circle said.

On the 322-foot boat — which one former colleague described as “Ritz Carlton on the water” — Lewis has been known to invite board members on deck for meetings when it’s moored in New York’s East River or a port in California. The boat has its own padel tennis court below deck.

In September 2019, Lewis invited a Boxer Capital employee — who was also on Mirati Therapeutics’s board — for a visit on the Aviva in California. During his weeklong stay, the employee shared information about Mirati’s clinical trial results and upcoming corporate announcements, predicting that the share price could reach more than $100, prosecutors said. The employee wasn’t accused of wrongdoing.

Lewis, who was one of the company’s largest shareholders, told Carter — a onetime Miss US Virgin Islands — and the pilots to buy Mirati shares, according to prosecutors.

Argentina

Since purchasing more than 12,000 hectares in Argentina’s Rio Negro province almost 30 years ago, Lewis has not limited his largess to his own employees. He’s also entertained company executives, judges and government officials while alienating locals who want access to the public lake.

A few years after buying the property, Lewis’s helicopter exploded mid-air over the remote Argentina landscape, killing his pilot. While Lewis wasn’t on the 1999 flight, he would tell people it was an attempt on his life, according to one person privy to such a conversation.

Lewis is well known for placing a premium on privacy and security.

Paintings pictured at Lewis home in Argentina in 2006. Lewis is an avid art collector but also keeps replica artworks.

Paintings pictured at Lewis’ home in Argentina in 2006. Lewis is an avid art collector but also keeps replica artworks.

Photographs from the 2006 trip showed Le Reve and the Women of Algiers hanging on the wall of an ornately-decorated living room.

But it was well documented that year that billionaire Steve Wynn accidentally put his elbow through Le Reve while showing it to friends, raising doubts about the authenticity of the piece hanging in Lewis’s Argentina estate.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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