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Fired SeaWorld Associate General Counsel Charged With Insider Trading

SeaWorld orca show

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A former SeaWorld lawyer has been charged in Orlando with insider trading by allegedly capitalizing on an internal projection of an upturn in company finances.

In a civil complaint filed Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged former SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Inc. associate general counsel Paul Powers used confidential information that the company was set to exceed analysts' financial performance expectations in the second quarter 2018.

Trading on that information generated about $65,000 in alleged "illicit profits." The Justice Department announced parallel criminal charges against Powers on Tuesday.

The SEC charge Powers received a draft earnings release last Aug. 1 and purchased 18,000 shares of company stock the next day. When SeaWorld released its earnings in an 8-K filing Aug. 6, the company's stock rose 17 percent — and Powers sold all his shares on the upswing.

"Powers blatantly exploited his access to nonpublic information by misusing SeaWorld’s confidential revenue data to enrich himself," Kurt Gottschall, the director of the SEC’s Denver regional office, said in a news release. "Investors should feel confident in the integrity of corporate officers, particularly attorneys. The SEC is committed to swiftly pursuing insiders who breach their duties to investors."

The SEC and Powers declined to comment further on the charges. SeaWorld did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

The Orlando-based marine animal amusement park fired Powers last October over the alleged insider trading, according to the SEC's complaint. Powers broke the law and SeaWorld policy by trading outside of a window period, not receiving approval from SeaWorld's general counsel before selling his shares and using confidential information to inform trades, , the SEC complaint said.

"At the time of his trading, defendant knew his trading was in breach of SeaWorld’s trading policy, knew his trading was in breach of duty of trust and confidence that he owed to SeaWorld and its shareholders, and knowingly and willfully breached the trading policy and his duty by trading in securities issued by SeaWorld while in possession of material and confidential information," the SEC said in its complaint.

Powers joined SeaWorld's legal department in October 2010. At the time of his termination, his LinkedIn profile stated he was corporate counsel, assistant secretary and a member of the company's business ethics committee, whose practice areas included "corporate finance, real estate, environmental, bankruptcy, and contracts."

He previously held in-house roles at GenAudio Inc. and Anheuser-Busch Cos., where he overlapped with Tony Taylor, who went on to become SeaWorld's general counsel, chief legal officer and corporate secretary.

Powers' LinkedIn profile, which has not been updated since he left SeaWorld, said he was an associate at Armstrong Teasdale from 1987 to 1992 and Thompson Coburn from 1985 to 1987. He is not listed as an attorney in Florida Bar records.

From 2013 to 2017, SeaWorld was in financial decline with lower attendance and a 60 percent drop in share value from $33 to $13 per share. Powers sold his shares for $25.40.

Released in 2013, the film "Blackfish"  focused on SeaWorld's captive orcas following an Orlando trainer's death after a show in 2010. The company pledged to stop its killer whale shows and captive breeding program in 2017.

SeaWorld and its former CEO reached a $5 million settlement with the SEC last September on charges the company understated the impact of the Oscar-winning documentary on its finances and reputation.

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