[Update: After the news of the allegations against Kendricks broke, the Cleveland Browns released him from the team. This article is updated to reflect Kendricks' release from the team and now includes a statement from the team.]
Former Cleveland Browns linebacker Mychal Kendricks admitted Wednesday that he engaged in insider trading when he used privileged information from a former Goldman Sachs analyst to make a profit of nearly $280,000 when News Corp acquired Move back in 2014.
Kendricks’ admission came just before the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission formally accused Kendricks and Damilare Sonoiki of insider trading.
Sonoiki, who is listed by the authorities as former “junior analyst at a global investment bank in New York,” allegedly passed Kendricks information on News Corp’s acquisition of Move, which operates Realtor.com for the National Association of Realtors, before news of the acquisition broke in late September 2014.
While the DOJ and SEC don’t specify which company Sonoiki worked at, Kendricks identified Sonoiki as an employee of Goldman Sachs in the statement he made acknowledging his participation in the scheme.
“I would like to apologize. Four years ago, I participated in insider trading, and I deeply regret it. I invested money with a former friend of mine who I thought I could trust and who I greatly admired. His background as a Harvard graduate and an employee of Goldman Sachs gave me a false sense of confidence,” Kendricks said in his statement.
“To that point, I had worked my tail off since I was 5 years old to become the football player that I am today. I was drawn in by the allure of being more than just a football player,” Kendricks continued. “While I didn't fully understand all of the details of the illegal trades, I knew it was wrong, and I wholeheartedly regret my actions.”
According to the DOJ, the alleged insider trading took place between July 2014 and March 2015, when Kendricks was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
The DOJ and SEC claim that Sonoiki and Kendricks met at a party in late 2013, striking up a friendship.
From there, Sonoiki began passing inside information to Kendricks in exchange for kickbacks, tickets to Eagles games, and other perks.
According to the authorities, Sonoiki tipped Kendricks off that News Corp was in final negotiations to buy Move before the deal was public knowledge. Kendricks then allegedly bought $71,000 in call options. When the merger was announced, Move’s stock rose approximately 37% in one day’s trading.
After that, Kendricks sold his call options for approximately $350,000, which represented a 393% increase on his investment.
But Move wasn’t the only company that Kendricks allegedly got inside information. Sonoiki also allegedly tipped Kendricks to deals involving Compuware, Sapient, and Oplink.
All in all, Kendricks allegedly made a profit of approximately $1.2 million from the inside information.
The scheme ended when Sonoiki left Goldman Sachs in 2015, eventually becoming a screenwriter in Hollywood, including working on ABC’s hit sitcom “Blackish.”
Although the DOJ and SEC allegations are simply allegations at this point, Kendricks did admit to taking part in the scheme, leading some to question if he’s played his last down in the NFL.
And just hours the allegations first surfaced, the Cleveland Browns released Kendricks, stating that the team was unaware of the nature of the investigation into Kendricks' activities.
“Prior to signing Mychal, we were informed that there was a financial situation that he had been involved with in 2014. We were told Mychal had fully cooperated with investigators as a victim. From what was communicated at that time and based on the numerous questions we asked and further due diligence on our part, including checking with the league office, there was no information discovered that conveyed otherwise,” the Browns said in a statement released Wednesday evening.
“Recently, we were provided an update on the matter and the circumstances have changed. We are now dealing with a different set of facts and the additional information we’ve gathered has led us to the decision to release Mychal from our team,” the team continued. “Due to the ongoing legal nature of this situation, we will have no further comments.”
If convicted on the DOJ charges, both Kendricks and Sonoiki face maximum sentences of five years, plus a three-year period of supervised release, a $5,250,000 fine, and a $200 special assessment.
The DOJ may also seek forfeiture of all proceeds from the alleged offenses.
As for the SEC, it is seeking the return of the “ill-gotten trading profits” plus interest and penalties.
“When individuals engage in insider trading – buying and selling securities based on material, non-public information – it undermines faith in our financial markets and harms ordinary investors who do play by the rules,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain.
“As alleged, Mr. Sonoiki and Mr. Kendricks cheated the market, cheated other investors, and placed themselves above the law,” McSwain added. “My Office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to maintain the integrity of the financial markets, which is one of our top priorities.”
Kendricks, for his part, said that he is cooperating with the authorities and plans to continue to do so.
“Since the beginning of the investigation, I have fully cooperated with all of the authorities and will continue to do so. I accept full responsibility for my actions. Although I did not take any of the profits for myself, I am committed to repaying all of the funds gained illegally and accept the consequences of my actions,” Kendricks said in his statement.
“I sincerely apologize to my coaches, the owners, and my teammates on the Eagles and the Browns, the NFL, and the magnificent fans to whom I owe my career. I also apologize to my family, who I have failed in this,” Kendricks concluded. “You all deserve better, and I will work my hardest to re-earn your trust and respect, serve as an advocate to educate others, and show you that I will never be involved in anything like this again. Thank you.”