Lewis spoke softly as he answered a series of questions from the judge, saying that he had been under the care of doctors for "multiple situations." His attorney David Zornow said he had no doubts whatsoever about Lewis' competence.
The founder of investment firm Tavistock Group, which has stakes in more than 200 companies, including luxury hotels, resorts and sports, is the 316th-richest person in the world. He has a net worth of $7.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and was the most high-profile figure to be prosecuted for insider trading by federal prosecutors in Manhattan last year.
Lewis passed on material nonpublic information about four publicly traded companies, including Australian Agricultural Co. and Mirati Therapeutics, to his pilots, Bryan Waugh and Patrick O'Connor, and former girlfriend Carolyn Carter between 2019 and 2021, prosecutors said. The pilots were also indicted for securities fraud last year, but did not appear in court on Wednesday.
"While I possessed material nonpublic information about certain publicly traded companies, I agreed to make recommendations" to three other people to purchase stock in those companies, Lewis told Judge Jessica Clarke. "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. Zornow said that Lewis waived his right to appeal unless he is sentenced to jail time.
Lewis, Carter, Waugh and O'Connor were also sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In 2019, according to the indictment, Lewis learned from Australian Agricultural's board of directors that the beef producer had suffered huge losses due to flooding and that insurance wouldn't cover its cattle losses. Lewis passed on the information to O'Connor and Waugh and urged them to sell their stock in the company.
In the same year, he allegedly told his girlfriend in South Korea to purchase shares of Solid Biosciences, a biotech company, after learning about an upcoming private investment and clinical trial. The girlfriend paid $700,000 — "nearly all of her available funds" — to purchase 150,000 shares, according to the indictment. She sold the shares and made a $849,000 profit, prosecutors said.
On another occasion, prosecutors say, a Mirati Therapeutics board member, who also worked at Lewis' biotech hedge fund, told the billionaire about confidential, positive results from the company's clinical trial. Lewis then told Carter to buy shares in Mirati ahead of the result announcement. He also loaned his pilots $500,000 each to make similar investments, the indictment states.
The plea overshadows what has otherwise been a lengthy and successful career for Lewis. Born and raised in the U.K., Lewis turned his father's catering business into a chain of themed restaurants before pivoting to currency trading in the late 70s. He moved to the Bahamas to avoid U.K. taxes and made hundreds of millions betting against the British pound and Mexican peso in the 90s.
He diversified into real estate and other investments with the formation of Bahamas-based investment vehicle, Tavistock Group. In his home country, he is widely known for his association with North London Premier League football club, Tottenham Hotspur.