The DOJ recently garnered a win in its spoofing case against two precious metals traders who prosecutors alleged had engaged in widespread market manipulation and fraud through a practice known as “spoofing.” But the verdict is also in on the DOJ’s novel attempt utilize racketeering charges against traders accused of spoofing: the jury found the defendants not guilty of the alleged RICO violations. While the case highlights the DOJ’s continued crackdown on market manipulation schemes, it also illustrates the limits of the government’s reach.
The DOJ’s case against the traders dates back to 2019, when prosecutors unveiled sweeping charges alleging that the traders had engaged in thousands of deceptive trading sequences for gold, silver, platinum, and palladium futures contracts between May 2008 and August 2016. The DOJ alleged that by engaging in these practices, the traders violated the Commodity Exchange Act’s anti-spoofing provisions, which prohibit disruptive trading practices, including “bidding or offering with the intent to cancel the bid or offer before execution.”
However, in addition to the usual spoofing and other financial crime-related offenses, the indictment charged the traders with a racketeering conspiracy. When the indictment became public back in 2019, commentators predicted that the DOJ’s inclusion of RICO charges could make the government’s case simpler to prove. Instead of convincing the jury through a complicated series of orders, cancellations, price movements, and trades (i.e., the typical evidence used to establish a pattern of spoofing), the path to conviction under the RICO Act was supposed to be more straightforward. In this case, the indictment alleged that “the defendants and their co-conspirators were members of an enterprise—namely, the precious metals desk at [the bank]—and conducted the affairs of the desk through a pattern of racketeering activity, specifically, wire fraud affecting a financial institution and bank fraud.”