Fabrice Tourre, a former Goldman Sachs bond trader known for his colorful nickname “Fabulous Fab,” was found liable for fraud Thursday for his role in a failed mortgage deal that cost investors $1 billion in a debacle that foreshadowed the financial crisis. The verdict represents the most high-profile court victory related to the subprime mortgage meltdown for the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has faced criticism for failing to hold Wall Street bankers accountable for their role in creating the complex financial products that helped plunge the U.S. into the worst recession in decades.
Tourre was found liable on six of seven SEC fraud charges after a nine-member jury deliberated for two days at the conclusion of a civil trial in Manhattan federal court. In the case, U.S. regulators portrayed the French-born Tourre as a poster-boy for Wall Street greed and bad behavior. Tourre’s attorneys, meanwhile, insisted that their client was little more than an innocent scapegoat.
“We are gratified by the jury’s verdict,” Andrew Ceresney, co-director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a statement emailed to TIME. “We will continue to vigorously seek to hold accountable, and bring to trial when necessary, those who commit fraud on Wall Street.”
Tourre faced civil charges, which means he won’t be going to prison, but the former Goldman Sachs trader faces a possible lifetime ban from the financial services industry, as well as financial penalties to be determined by Judge Katherine B. Forrest, who presided over the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Federal regulators had accused Tourre, 34, with misleading investors about a complex mortgage-based financial product known as Abacus 2007-AC1, which was secretly designed to fail. Tourre allegedly failed to inform clients that hedge fund titan John Paulson, a key Goldman Sachs client, helped select the securities underlying the product, known as a collateralized debt obligation, which he intended to bet against.
The Tourre case became a symbol for Wall Street hubris and double-dealing, and helped provoke the public outrage that would eventually explode in nationwide Occupy Wall Street protests. Some critics have questioned why the feds chose to charge Tourre, once an obscure mid-level Goldman Sachs employee, instead of any of the top executives at the Wall Street banks that created the toxic securities at the heart of the financial crisis.
To date, no top Wall Street executive has been charged over the complex financial jujitsu that helped lead to the Great Recession. Goldman Sachs settled the case with federal regulators in 2010 by paying a then-record $550 million fine without admitting or denying wrongdoing. After Thursday’s verdict, Goldman Sachs said in a statement: “As a firm, we remain focused on being more transparent, more accountable and more responsive to the needs of our clients.”
Tourre became the object of ridicule over an email he sent to his girlfriend in which he boasted that he sold toxic mortgage bonds to “widows and orphans that I ran into at the airport.” He also referred to the financial products he created as “pure intellectual masturbation.” In another email, Tourre wrote, “The whole building is about to collapse anytime now.” He added: “Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab…standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all the implications of those monstrosities!!!”
At the trial, SEC lawyers produced an email allegedly showing that Tourre misled another Goldman Sachs client, ACA Capital Holdings, into thinking that Paulson would take a long position on the product, meaning he would bet that its value would rise. In fact, Paulson planned to bet against the securities underlying the product. Goldman, which made millions of dollars in fees on the deal, paid Tourre a $1.7 million salary and bonus in 2007, the year of the Abacus deal. Paulson would go on to make billions of dollars betting that the U.S. housing market would collapse.
“As shown by this verdict, we proved that Mr. Tourre, as a Goldman Sachs Vice President, put together a complicated financial product that was secretly designed to maximize the likelihood that it would fail, and marketed and sold it to investors without appropriate disclosure,” Ceresney said. Tourre is now enrolled in a doctoral economics program at the University of Chicago.
Throughout the case, prosecutors delved deeply into the esoteric world of mortgage-based financial engineering, using complex jargon that occasionally lulled the jurors to sleep. In a sign of their apparent confidence in their case, Tourre’s lawyers, who were paid by Goldman Sachs, didn’t call a single witness to help bolster the claim that their client had done nothing wrong, a decision that will no-doubt be second guessed.
When lawyers for the federal government asked Tourre in court if the information in his email touting the Abacus product was “false,” he responded, “It was not accurate,” according to the Associated Press. “I wasn’t trying to confuse anybody; it just wasn’t accurate at the time,” Tourre said.