Federal investigators are pursuing a major insider-trading probe involving finance, gambling and sports, examining the trading of investor Carl Icahn, golfer Phil Mickelson and Las Vegas bettor William “Billy” Walters.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Securities and Exchange Commission are examining whether Mr. Mickelson and Mr. Walters traded illicitly on nonpublic information from Mr. Icahn about his investments in public companies, people briefed on the probe said.
Investigators are examining whether over the past three years Mr. Icahn tipped Mr. Walters—famous in Las Vegas for his sports-betting acumen—about potentially market-moving investments by Mr. Icahn’s company.
The FBI and SEC are examining whether Mr. Walters on at least one occasion passed a tip on to Mr. Mickelson, these people said, and are studying the two men’s trading patterns.
“We do not know of any investigation,” Mr. Icahn said on Friday. “We are always very careful to observe all legal requirements in all of our activities.” The suggestion that he was involved in improper trading, he said, was “inflammatory and speculative.”
Mr. Mickelson said in a statement Saturday that he has done nothing wrong and was cooperating with the investigation.
On Friday, Glenn Cohen, a lawyer for Mr. Mickelson, said “Phil is not the target of any investigation. Period.” He added that an FBI agent had told him Mr. Mickelson wasn’t a target. The FBI declined to comment on Mr. Cohen’s statement.
Two FBI agents approached Mr. Mickelson on Thursday after he finished a round of golf at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, seeking to speak with him in connection with the investigation, a person familiar with the situation said. Mr. Mickelson referred them to his attorney, this person said.
When asked to comment about the investigation, Mr. Walters, reached by phone on Friday, said, “I don’t have any comment about anything,” and then hung up.
The probe comes as part of the government’s increased focus on insider trading, which has resulted in 85 convictions and guilty pleas out of 90 people charged by prosecutors in Manhattan federal court since August 2009. None has been acquitted; five cases are pending.
The most prominent of those cases largely have involved Wall Street traders, corporate executives and others in the financial world. Messrs. Icahn, Walters and Mickelson are among the highest-profile group of figures to be in the government’s sights.
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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
Susan Pulliam and Michael Rothfeld