A Rumson resident is facing a maximum prison sentence of more than a lifetime and fines in excess of $1 million in connection with commodities fraud and “spoofing charges” that allege he bilked clients of more than $1.6 million.
Michael Coscia, 52, has been served a 12-count indictment for allegedly “manipulating commodities futures prices,” illegally profiting the near $1.6 million as a result of trading orders he placed through (Chicago-based) CME Group and European futures markets within three months in 2011, a release from the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said.
Coscia, owner of the former Red Bank-based Panther Energy Trading LLC, has specifically been charged with six counts of commodities fraud and six counts of “spoofing,” Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert J. Holley, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago FBI office, announced in the release.
Coscia’s 12-count indictment is the first in the nation of federal prosecutions under the relatively new “anti-spoofing” provision that was added to the Commodity Exchange Act in 2010 by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Spoofing is defined as a form of high-frequency trading, or “a form of automated trading that uses computer algorithms for decision-making and placing a high volume of trading orders, quotes, or cancelation of orders in milliseconds,” the release said.
In this case, Coscia allegedly designed two computer programs he has been charged with using “in 17 different CME Group markets and three different markets on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, including gold, soybean meal, soybean oil, high-grade copper, Euro FX and Pounds FX currency futures, to implement his fraudulent strategy,” or spoofing, the release added.
It is illegal, according to the FBI, for “traders to place orders in the form of ‘bids’ to buy or offers to sell a futures contract with the intent to cancel the bid or offer before execution.”
Coscia’s indictment alleges that he defrauded CME Group and ICE Futures Europe market participants between August and October of 2011.
He allegedly started implementing a high-frequency trading strategy, placing large-volume orders that he allegedly intended to immediately cancel before they could filled by other traders.
“Traders and investors deserve a level playing field, and when the field is tilted by market manipulators, regardless of their speed or sophistication, we will prosecute criminal violations to help ensure fairness and restore market integrity,” Fardon said. “This case reflects the reasons why, earlier this year, we established a Securities and Commodities Fraud Section, which is dedicated to protecting markets and preserving investors’ confidence.”
Coscia, a registered commodities trader since 1988, allegedly devised this “spoofing” strategy to create a false impression about the number of contracts available in the market. This strategy, in turn, fraudulently induced other market participants to react to the deceptive market information he created, the indictment says.
In this case, Coscia allegedly designed his programs to cancel the quote orders within a fraction of a second automatically, without regard to market conditions, even if the market moved in a direction favorable to the quote orders, the indictment says.
“He programmed the quote orders to cancel because he did not intend for them to be filled, but instead intended to trick other traders into reacting to the false price and volume information,” the release added.
The history of Coscia’s case, according to the release:
“His strategy moved the markets in a direction favorable to him, enabling him to purchase contracts at prices lower than, or sell contracts at prices higher than, the prices available in the market before he entered and canceled his large-volume orders, it adds. Coscia then allegedly repeated this strategy in the opposite direction to immediately obtain a profit by buying futures contracts at a lower price than he paid for them, or by selling contracts at a higher price than he paid for them.
“As part of the scheme, Coscia’s trading programs looked for market conditions such as price stability, low volume at the best prices, and a narrow difference between the prices at which prospective purchasers were willing to buy and prospective sellers were willing to sell because his allegedly fraudulent trading strategy worked best under these conditions. His trading programs sometimes placed a ‘ping order’ of one contract to test the market and ensure that conditions would allow his strategy to work well.
“Coscia allegedly designed his trading programs to place a ‘trade order’ on one side of the market, intending that the trade order be filled. He profited from his fraudulent strategy by filling the ‘trade order,’ the charges allege.
“He also designed his programs to place several layers of ‘quote orders’ on the other side of the market from his trade orders ― either to buy contracts at a price higher than the prevailing offer, or to sell contracts at a price lower than the prevailing bid ― to create the illusion of market interest.
“The quote orders would typically be the largest orders in the market within three ticks (the minimum price increment at which a futures contract could trade) of the best bid or offer price, usually doubling or tripling the total quantity of contracts within the best bid or offer price.
“Further, Coscia designed his programs to cancel all fraudulent and misleading quote orders immediately if any of them were even partially filled, according to the indictment, because he intended them only to trick other traders into reacting to what appeared to be a substantial change in the market.
“After Coscia filled his trade order through the use of fraudulent and misleading quote orders, he immediately entered a second trade order on the other side of the market and repeated his steps with misleading quote orders, causing the second trade order to be filled. As a result, Coscia allegedly profited on the difference in price between the first and second trade orders.”
Each count of commodities fraud carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and each count of spoofing carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine, according to the release.
Coscia is slated for arraignment on a date to be determined in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Assistant U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti is representing the federal government.
An indictment is not a conviction. It is only a formal charge that will be tried in a court of law.