Mar 24, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Lawsuit alleges securities fraud in Sen. Richard Burr's stocks sell-off

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) heads back to the Senate floor following a recess in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on February 3
Sen. Richard Burr at the Senate floor in February. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) was hit with a federal lawsuit Monday over his sell-off of shares before the market crashed over concerns about the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Details: Wyndham Hotels and Resorts shareholder Alan Jacobson alleges "acts of securities fraud committed by [Burr]" and "abuse of his powers as a U.S. Senator" when he sold his $150,000 stake in the business. Burr strongly denies any wrongdoing and asked the Senate Ethics Committee Friday to review the sell-offs.

The big picture: Burr had been receiving daily coronavirus updates from the intelligence community in his role as committee chairman, per a Feb. 27 report by Reuters. After writing a Feb. 7 Fox News op-ed that said the U.S. is "better prepared than ever before" to face public health threats such as COVID-19, he sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stocks on Feb. 13, ProPublica reported.

What they're saying: "Senator Burr owed a duty to Congress, the United States government, and citizens of the United States, including Plaintiff, not to use material nonpublic information that he learned by virtue of his duties as a United States Senator in connection with the sale or purchase of any security," the lawsuit states. "Senator Burr breached that duty by selling stock, including Wyndham stock, based on that material nonpublic information."

"Had Plaintiff and the market known of the material nonpublic information in Senator Burr’s possession regarding COVID-19, and on which Senator Burr traded, Wyndham’s stock price on February 13, 2020 would have been substantially lower. Senator Burr and his wife sold up to $150,000 of Wyndham stock on that date, and therefore he and his wife pocketed up to $150,000 in illegal insider trading proceeds at Plaintiff’s expense.
Plaintiff suffered damages because, in reliance on the integrity of the market, he maintained his stock holdings in Wyndham at artificially inflated prices as a result of Defendant’s violations of Section 10(b) and 20A of the Exchange Act."
— Lawsuit excerpt

The other side: Axios has contacted Burr for comment about the lawsuit. He has said previously that he sold the stocks because he "closely followed CNBC's daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time."

Read the lawsuit:

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