Jurors who convicted ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. programmer Sergey Aleynikov said they struggled to find a crime in his copying of the bank’s high frequency trading code.
It took eight days of tortured deliberations -- punctuated by repeated requests to review testimony and define words, as well as a surreal poisoned-lunch sideshow -- for them to convict Aleynikov on one of the three counts he faced.
“We just really took apart the law word by word and put it back together -- it proved the law had been broken,” said Meghan McNamara, 28, of Manhattan. Jurors’ personal views about Aleynikov were never part of the equation, she said, calling the deliberations in New York state court devoid of emotion.
“We started with the presumption of innocence multiple times,” she said.
The verdict is, at least for now, a vindication for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. after an earlier conviction obtained by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was overturned by an appeals court. In that case, like this one, judges and jurors found existing law a bad fit for prosecutions tied to such trading technology.
Vance’s conviction may face a similar fate. New York Supreme Court Justice Daniel Conviser, who questioned the wisdom of bringing the charges several times, can set aside the verdict. In an unusual delay, the judge said he would rule on a defense request to dismiss the case in five to six weeks. Aleynikov, who faces as long as four years in prison, was allowed by Conviser to remain free in the interim.
Along with the almost daily requests for guidance by the 12-member jury during deliberations even the judge called unusual, the trial was thrown into doubt when a female juror accused a male juror of trying to poison her lunch.
Conviser rejected her claims, saying the juror conceded that she wasn’t feeling well, and eventually ejected both of them. Kevin Marino, Aleynikov’s lawyer, made the ultimately failed gambit to let the trial proceed to verdict with 10 jurors rather than insist on a mistrial.
The poison lunch episode was “unfortunate and random,” but didn’t seem malicious, McNamara said. Once the two jurors were dismissed, the deliberations moved ahead with little disruption, she said.
Another juror, Caitlin Blanchfield, 26, of Manhattan, said the panel understood the defense argument that the case should have been a lawsuit between Aleynikov and the bank, rather than a prosecution.
“It’s unfortunate it’s a civil case that went to a criminal court,” said Blanchfield, but “in our interpretation of the law, his actions were a violation. We had to focus on the facts.”
Another juror, Teppei Masuda, 30, of Manhattan, who does business development in Manhattan, said the case was unique because “no one was really hurt.”
The big factor, he said, was Aleynikov’s intent.
“It’s hard to define criminality when no one is emotionally or physically hurt,” Masuda said. In the end, “it didn’t matter if Goldman Sachs was injured,” since Aleynikov planned to profit from the code.
The jurors weren’t informed about the earlier federal prosecution. They didn’t indicate it would have changed their verdict.
“That’s why the case took so long,” one of them said, referring to the lag between the 2009 arrest and the trial.