This content is from: Portfolio

Husband, Father, Trader, Felon

Michael Kimelman was convicted of insider trading, inextricably tied to the infamous Raj Rajaratnam. He went to jail. Now he tells his story.

  • By Michael Kimelman

In the fall of 2009, Michael Kimelman’s life was unraveling. His start-up trading firm, Incremental Capital, had just lost a major backer, and he and his business partner, Zvi Goffer, were clashing as they scrambled to find replacement capital. And the financial Armageddon of 2008 was still wreaking havoc on global markets.

Then things got drastically worse. On a quiet November morning, as Kimelman dozed in bed with his wife and the youngest of his three children, federal agents banged on the door of his suburban home in tony Larchmont, New York; cuffed him; and marched him to a patrol car in full view of his stunned neighbors. Kimelman was arrested for insider trading, swept up in the vast government probe that ensnared Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam — who is still serving an 11-year prison sentence — and resulted in a number of other high-profile convictions. But Kimelman, a bit player in the saga, whose gains from the alleged illegal trades amounted to peanuts compared with the windfalls reaped by Rajaratnam and others, fiercely maintained his innocence, refusing a plea deal and ultimately serving 15 months at the U.S. penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. (He served a further six months in a halfway house.)

Most people accused of insider trading say they didn’t do it. Still, Kimelman presents compelling evidence to back up his argument that he is not guilty of anything more than bad judgment — primarily, his decision to overlook his early misgivings and hitch his wagon to Galleon trader Goffer, who ultimately received a ten-year sentence for insider trading — and that he was simply collateral damage in the government’s ploy to reel in bigger fish. Unfortunately for Kimelman, his life was destroyed in the process: Incremental went out of business, and his wife filed for divorce while he was in prison. Today Kimelman lives in an apartment in Mamaroneck, New York, a short drive from his children, whom he sees regularly. He has been developing and writing TV projects, and has started a real estate investment venture. But it’s a long way from Wall Street. In his forthcoming memoir,
Confessions of a Wall Street Insider, excerpted here, Kimelman offers a gripping account of what it’s like to take on the almighty feds — and lose.
 
Amanda Cantrell



Before dawn, November 2009, I was shaken from a deep sleep by a deafening bang with no discernable source. I sat bolt upright in bed, heart in my throat. My first thought was that it must be some sort of mechanical explosion. Maybe that rebellious boiler in our basement had finally had too much. Within seconds, it came again. And then a third time. It became rhythmic.

BANG! . . . BANG, BANG, BANG!!!

I jumped out of bed.

Our front door was being beaten on. Or in. Given the intensity of the blows, it was hard for me to believe the hinges were still holding. I looked over and saw that my wife, Lisa, was also out of bed, white with fear and cradling our terrified toddler, Phineas. Still in the dazed throes of Ambien and red wine, I half-wondered if this wasn’t some sort of bizarre nightmare — the product of stress, drugs, and an overactive subconscious. An hour earlier, I had been floating in a warm nothingness, thanks largely to the sleep meds and several glasses of a midpriced California Cab.

But now this. Whatever this was.

“Oh my God, Michael!” Lisa shouted, instinctively squeezing Phinnie a bit tighter than he was accustomed to. He squirmed uncomfortably. Lisa ran to the window and pulled back the curtain. There, we both saw half a dozen FBI agents in blue and yellow windbreakers fanning out across our front lawn. Each had a holstered firearm. One of them had a K-9 police dog, straining on its leash. I had been attacked by a German shepherd as a kid and knew precisely what they were capable of.

An avid viewer of shows like Law & Order and CSI: NY, Lisa initially figured that the feds were there to hunt down a violent criminal that might be fleeing through our neighborhood. That the FBI agents were there to somehow “help us.” But this wasn’t TV Land; it was Larchmont Village, New York, as quaint and safe a spot as you can find inside 20 minutes of the Big Apple. Escaped convicts didn’t haunt these mansions and manicured lawns. Banksters did.

I was no expert, but it looked like the FBI agents were watching for movement in the windows and doors to our home. After a moment, an agent saw Lisa peeking out from behind the curtain and pointed at her face. Scared and confused, Lisa dropped the curtain and turned back to me.

“Go check on the kids!” she yelled, gripped by a shrill, pure panic.

I sprinted down the hallway and opened Cam’s door. Our three-year-old had just moved into his own bed. He was still scared of thunder, and my heart sank as I wondered how he would handle this sledgehammer-­like crashing on the front of his home. He was wide awake and crying by the time I burst in.

“It’s okay, sweetie. Mommy will be here in a second. You are safe.”

I quickly kissed him on his forehead. Five-year-old Sylvie was in the room adjacent. I checked on her next. She was starting to stir, but not yet upset. Only curious.

“It’s okay, Syl. Don’t worry about the noise. Try to go back to sleep.”

Lisa arrived in Sylvie’s room.

“They’re fine, honey,” I said.

Then an absurdity. I thought to myself: Someone is knocking on my door. What do you do when someone knocks on your door? You go answer it.

“I’m going to answer the door,” I said to my wife, as calmly as if I anticipated a delivery from Amazon or neighborhood kids selling Girl Scout cookies.

I began to walk downstairs. Through the windows of the house, I noticed several more FBI agents moving furtively across our backyard. The trees had lost enough foliage to leave the agents mostly exposed, but they were still trying their best to conceal themselves.

I reached the door and called out, “Okay, I’m opening it.”

I swallowed hard and prepared myself for an overzealous agent ramming the door into my face and shattering my nose, or maybe anxiously discharging a chambered round into my chest.

It wasn’t until my hands were fiddling with the brass deadbolt that I remembered I was standing in only my Hanes boxer briefs and a dingy V-neck undershirt. I had a quick flashback to the TV lounge in college, watching Cops with my buddies and asking, “Why do these white trash criminals always get arrested in their undershirts and slippers?”

Now, perhaps, it was no longer such a mystery.

Heart racing, ears ringing, I undid the last latch, twisted the handle, and opened the door.

“Mr. Kimelman? Mr. Michael Kimelman?”

The agents were right out of Central Casting. Tall. Bulletproof vests. No-­bullshit expressions. One was a middle-aged white guy, wearing the traditional navy blue windbreaker with yellow FBI lettering. He was in good shape, and kept his hair meticulously short.

His young black partner was handsome and likewise athletic, and appeared to relish sternly shining his flashlight directly into my eyes.

Squinting, trying reflexively to block the blinding beam with my hand, I said that that was indeed my name.

“I have a warrant here for your arrest,” one of them said.

I just stood there, blinking and squinting. In the movies, this is when the accused angrily demands to see the warrant, and then snatches it from the agent’s hands when it’s produced. But that’s the movies. In real life, your brain is like a car that won’t start. No matter how hard you pump the accelerator and twist the key in the ignition, there’s nothing. Three years of law school and several more at a fabled law firm, and all I could think of to say was: “Uh, for what?”

“Securities fraud. This warrant gives us permission to search your house. Please step aside, sir.”

My legs nearly buckled. So this was it. This was how it happened. This was what it looked like, what it sounded like, what it smelled like.

This was how you became one of those guys. A bankster. The people that good folks in the Midwest somewhere — who didn’t know a thing about banking beyond their checking accounts — knew they should hate. This was how you became a bad guy, I thought.

It was too much to begin thinking about what decisions, or what people, had brought me here. But something in me knew. One word resounded in my brain. One word. Zvi. (It rhymed with “me” or “flea.”) One word over and over again.

Zvi. Zvi. Zvi.

So this was how you became one of the bad guys. Zvi.

After regaining a semblance of composure, my first thought was that this was an incredible and outrageous invasion of my space. What about securities fraud could possibly give the FBI agents and a police attack dog the need to search my house full of children in the middle of the night? What the hell were they searching for, the fraudulent securities?

It made no sense, and I said something to that effect.

“The search is just standard procedure,” the white agent said. “We need to make sure there is no imminent danger.”

The two agents brushed past me and entered my home.

The white one looked a little like a teacher I’d had in grade school, and the black one reminded me of a certain leading man from the movies. I silently dubbed them Teacher and Hollywood. They never gave me their names.

Teacher sidled up to me as Hollywood began to explore my house and turn on lights.

“So, I really hope you’ll agree to talk to us,” Teacher said, as he entered and began to look around. “This’ll be a hell of a lot easier on you, Mike, if you cooperate.”

Mike? Did he really just call me Mike? Hey, can I brew some coffee for you guys? Maybe you want a Danish or donut with that, since apparently you’re my new pals?

Before I could respond, several other agents and the dog were inside the house. I was actually relieved to get them off our lawn. Our four-bedroom home sat on a quarter of an acre at the top center of a T-type block with very little privacy, where one quiet street intersects another. The kind of place where, in a nation of pedophiles and serial killers, kids can still ride bicycles without fear and walk to each other’s houses or to the park alone. The parcels are modest and close together. A friend from Connecticut once told me that he could rake my lawn with a dinner fork. This close proximity meant that there were at least six homes with a direct line of sight of the heavily armed SWAT team that had now occupied my house. I didn’t know what the neighbors would think, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.

Teacher’s voice came again, still palsy-­walsy.

“Mike, I’ve got some really simple questions. If we could slip into the other room and sit down to chat, I’m sure we could clear this up.”

I was shaken, but beginning to think on my feet. Do some people actually fall for this stuff?

“I’m represented by counsel,” I blurted out. “If you want to talk, you can speak to him.”

Teacher gave it one last shot. “Listen very closely to me. You can help yourself right now. You’re not going to get another chance like this. If I have to bring you in and put you through booking, then it’s out of my hands. You can cooperate now, with me, or you can see your kids in ten years.”

“Fucking Zvi!” I screamed silently inside my head. “What the fuck did you do?”

Yet my reply betrayed none of my inner emotion. I was calm. Cold. Detached. I sounded like a lawyer. Which, of course, was exactly what I had been trained to be.

“Unless you tell me what’s going on, I’m afraid I have nothing to say to you. Can you tell me anything? Is this because of the Raj thing?”

Ahh, the Raj thing.

By now, November 2009, everyone on the Street, anyone with even a remote interest in investment and finance, was talking about the arrest of Raj Rajaratnam.

Raj was a heavy-set, self-made Sri Lankan billionaire, head of a hedge fund called The Galleon Group. (Don’t let my use of his first name imply that we were tight. Everybody called him Raj.) Raj was morbidly obese and had a penchant for all the fabled Wall Street excesses. When the news had first broken of his arrest, I assumed they’d probably gotten him for some sort of sex crime. I’d seen nothing firsthand, but stories of Raj’s lifestyle were many and legendary. And who knew how many of them were true?

Then it had come out that Raj’s perp walk was not for a sex crime, but for insider trading. And the United States Attorney in charge of the case, Preet Bharara, had used the occasion to do quite a bit of grandstanding around the fact that more arrests would be forthcoming. Lots of people on Wall Street were nervous. My own father had heard what was being bandied about, and had asked me if I was concerned. I’d told him that I was — but not about getting arrested. My concern was for the survival of my firm, Incremental. This was because one of our smooth-talking leaders was a gent named Zvi Goffer. Zvi had once worked for Raj at Galleon. Because of this connection, some folks had started referring to us as “Baby Galleon” — which had worked phenomenally in our favor . . . until Raj’s arrest.

But that, I told my dad, was where any similarity between myself and Raj ended.

Raj was a billionaire who flew private on Gulfstream Fives and lived in a vast spread on the Upper East Side, with a stately weekend retreat in Greenwich, Connecticut, to boot.

Me? I was doing okay, but I still flew my family coach on JetBlue when we went to visit the in-laws in Florida. My tastes did not run to the exotic or illegal. I was not in the same weight class as Raj, in any sense of the term. Hell, I wasn’t in the same universe. The idea that I might be connected to someone like Raj Rajaratnam in the eyes of the law was a sobering, terrifying thought. How had this happened? But, of course, some part of me already had a sneaking suspicion.

Fucking Zvi!

“I can tell you that it’s a securities fraud case,” came the reply to my question about Raj. It was Agent Hollywood, who had finished his walkabout and now joined Teacher back at the door to my home. Meanwhile, Lisa had tiptoed down the stairs, wearing a bathrobe now and holding Phinnie on her shoulder. The poor little kid was all snot and tears, terrified by the stern, armed strangers who were tracking dirt onto our carpet and kicking errant toys out of their way.

“Why are you in my house?” Lisa asked, voice trembling.

“Ma’am, your husband is being arrested for securities fraud,” said Teacher.

Remarkably, this was all it took: Lisa was speechless, but satisfied. I could also tell that she was suddenly furious, and not just with the agents. She did not have to speak further for me to sense her growing anger.

“Mr. Kimelman, please follow me up the stairs. I need to secure the rest of the house.”

Secure the house? Were he and his team here to help us “lock it down”? By now, Phinnie was squirming and screaming inconsolably. All of this at such an ungodly hour was too much to bear. Not to mention the big German shepherd prowling the house, ears pointed, looking ready to attack. Waves of fear and nausea began to build inside me as my adrenaline spike abated. I tried dialing my attorney’s number while marching from room to room, but my hands shook, my fingers felt numb, and I had trouble finding him in my contacts. Lisa followed us upstairs to check on Cam and Sylvie.

I can’t recall if Agent Hollywood beat me to Cam’s room, but he asked me to open the door. Teacher, looking angry, was right behind, along with a third agent, an ex- Marine type, complete with a Jarhead haircut and bulging biceps barely contained within his FBI windbreaker.

I hurried over to Cam, stroked his frightened, bloodless face, and told him he was okay and that Mommy was coming to get him. On to Syl’s room, where she was sitting up in her bed, the covers pulled up to her neck. Hollywood flashed her with the blinding beam of light, and she looked at us with a terrified smile. Syl was accustomed to some craziness in our house: the chickens getting loose from their coop out back, a symphony of smoke alarms going off from the kitchen because Mommy-the-caterer almost burned the house down. You know, stuff like that. But waking up at 5:00 a.m. to uniformed men with flashlights, guns, and a huge attack dog roaming around was flat out terrifying. Yet Sylvie was remarkably composed, all considering.

“What’s going on, Daddy?” she asked, almost matter-of-factly.

“Sweetie, these are just people inspecting the house. They are . . . friends of Daddy’s. It’s okay.”

Did she buy that? I’ll never know, but it was all I could come up with.

Lisa was standing right behind me, and herded our terrified brood into our bedroom, all at once, and put them all in our bed. Now Lisa turned to me, fighting back her own tears — and asked me the same question as our five-year-old daughter, her voice much less steady than Sylvie’s.

“What’s going on, Mike?”

“Sir, do you have any firearms in the house?” Teacher politely interrupted, which meant I didn’t have to answer Lisa right away — and at that moment, I really didn’t have an answer anyway. The instant I began to speak to Hollywood, however, Teacher was in my face, demanding a response.

“We asked you a question, sir. Do you have any firearms in the house?”

And the damn ruse worked, catching me off balance. Teacher’s right hand rested nervously on his holstered Glock 22. I looked around at the other agents, and they each had their right hands on their firearms. I was suddenly, acutely aware of the large artery pulsing in the left side of my neck. What the hell was going on here? I thought. I’ve done nothing wrong . . . so why am I sweating so profusely? Why is the artery in my neck about to explode?

“Uh,” I hesitated.

I had a legally licensed shotgun in my bedroom closet, hidden from the kids and protected inside a gun case. This was my constitutional right . . . right? Too many questions raced through my mind: Did I really need to tell them? What difference does it make whether I have a shotgun? Will they confiscate it? Is this a Second Amendment violation? A Fourth Amendment violation? Are they trying to trick me into picking up the gun so they could shoot me down on the spot? Surely they wouldn’t just execute me right here . . . would they?

I recalled an A&E True Story, the one where FBI snipers killed Randy Weaver and then shot his wife, Vicki, in the head as she held their ten-month-old daughter while standing at their front door. But that was Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where Uncle Sam’s federal authority was not always accepted. Surely the rules of engagement were different here, in leafy Larchmont, New York. Weren’t they? We paid our hefty taxes in full and gave generously to the local police and fire department.

With some difficulty, I cleared my throat. “Uh, yeah. I do. Upstairs, in the bedroom closet, on the very top, above my dresser. The gun’s disassembled, unloaded, and locked in its case, with a trigger lock as well. It’s not loaded.”

“Sir, please show me exactly where you keep the shotgun.”

We entered my bedroom and I opened the closet. Agent Hollywood got a step stool and asked me to take the shotgun down and to give him all the necessary keys. One set was hidden in my sock drawer, the other inside the pages of an old criminal law textbook. The irony of that one almost made me smile. Agent Hollywood snatched the keys from me, removed my shotgun from its black plastic case, examined it closely, and then locked it back in its case. Still in a state of shock, I didn’t even notice that he had returned the weapon to the closet. More than a year would pass before I discovered that I still had my Remington.

Then Teacher said: “You need to get dressed. We have to take you downtown.”

I risked a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was disheveled and my face was pasty and pale with fear. I asked if I could take a shower.

“No,” said Teacher. “We don’t have time. I suggest you put on something comfortable. It’s going to be a long day. I’d throw on like a t-shirt, sweatpants, and slippers, or maybe sneakers with no shoelaces.”

No shoelaces. That one hit hard. This was happening. This was real.

Ignoring the agent’s advice, I grabbed one of my three suits that still fit me, since I rarely wore one anymore. (Believe it or not, the dress code for the trading/hedge fund world is much more Casual Friday than the white-shoe law firms and investment banks.) When he was selling it to me, my friend Ken Giddon had told me that this off-the-rack suit, a solid dark gray, would be perfect for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals. He’d never said anything about criminal arraignments.

Hollywood looked at me and said: “Sir, you are going to be very uncomfortable. Trust me. You don’t want to wear a suit.”

All of a sudden something snapped inside me. Something sharp. Just like that, I was extremely pissed off.

“Trust you?” I boomed. “You want me to put on jeans and a hoodie, or maybe a track suit? Will there be press there? Is this something the public can see? Will I be in front of a judge? You don’t want me to be comfortable — you want me to be embarrassed! Let’s stop pretending like you’re looking out for me. I’m wearing a damn suit.”

Agent Hollywood said nothing, and merely averted his eyes.

“It’s your call,” Teacher said. “But you can’t wear a belt or a tie.”

“Right, because I might hang myself in the holding cell,” I all but shouted. “And no shoelaces, right? Can I please shave?”

“No, you may not.”

I angrily threw on my gray suit, white button-down shirt with the dry-cleaning creases, and black Ecco shoes. (The entire outfit was worth less than one of Raj’s Prada loafers.) While I was dressing, I used the moment to dial my attorney, Michael Sommer. It bounced to voice mail.

Jesus. At least someone’s still sleeping.

As the agents looked on, I left a message.

“Hey Michael, you’re not going to believe this, but the FBI is at my house, arresting me. Please call me or my wife, Lisa, as soon as you get this.”

In the master bedroom, I kissed the kids goodbye. They were huddled together in our bed, Lisa was trying to comfort Phinnie with a bottle, and the ever-inquisitive Syl was determined to know what was happening.

“God, Michael, what’s going to happen?” Lisa said.

I told her to call Sommer at his office, and if he didn’t call her back by nine to call Moe, my old college roommate who was now Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. I told her that Moe would know what to do.

I was trying my best to sound confident, to let her know that someone out there would have answers. I certainly didn’t. I walked downstairs, pushing past the gate at the top of the stairs meant to keep our kids from tumbling down, and the display of cheerful watercolors painted by my recently deceased mother-in-law. There were still four, maybe five FBI agents in the house. I didn’t know if the others had left or were still searching other places in my home, looking for those fraudulent securities.

Teacher said: “Mr. Kimelman, we’re going to handcuff you and place you in a car. You’ll be taken downtown to be booked.”

“Is that really necessary?” I asked. “I’m willing to go wherever you want.”

“It is necessary. You’re under arrest. And the longer we take here, the more likely you’ll be spending the night in lockup.”

I nodded. The panic had drifted away, and I felt nothing but hollow, horrifying dread.

Some part of my psyche was still holding out hope that this was not really real, that it was some sort of mistake. But when I saw Teacher take the metal handcuffs out of his jacket pocket, any last remnants of hope faded away, fast. He turned me around and snapped the cuffs on my wrists. He was firm, but not overly rough — I’ll give him that. But the grinding click of the cuffs was the purest articulation of fear and despair I’ve ever heard — and I knew it was the sound of my life being taken from me.

We walked outside. At least a dozen of my neighbors were out on their porches. I took a long, slow look from house to house. Jesus, it was all of them. The Magazinos, the Holtbys, the British expats, the empty nesters and biking fanatics, the stereotypical overwhelmed couple with the newborn — all of them were looking at me. I forced my shoulders upright and kept my chin up, refusing to display the body language of a guilty man. At least three FBI cars were blocking the street, a predictable mix of navy blue and maroon Crown Vics. One of the agents had the police dog on a leash, but it was furiously barking at Moose, the next-door neighbor’s chocolate lab. Mr. Magazino, my elderly neighbor directly across the street, was in his driveway holding his morning newspaper. He was just about the nicest human being in the world. He had watched my children grow and always had a friendly smile and a kind word.

“Mike,” he yelled, slowly ambling toward the street. “You okay? You need anything?”

Before I could answer, Teacher put his hand on his holster and shouted, “Sir, go back inside! This doesn’t concern you!”

But clearly it did concern Mr. Magazino; that’s why he was asking.

“You guys need anything, you just let me know,” he said, and pointed at Lisa, now standing in the doorway holding Phinnie.

Another agent pulled the K-9’s leash, the dog now squarely in between Mr. Magazino and me. They were acting like this sweet old man was actually a real threat. The new agent’s voice was even louder than Agent Teacher’s: “Sir, I’m going to tell you one last time. Go back inside your house right now.”

It was so utterly ridiculous and unnecessary.

“Thank you, Mr. Magazino,” I called, hoping to diffuse the situation. “I’m okay.”

Teacher and Hollywood led me to the FBI cruiser, opened the back door, and told me to watch my head. Teacher nudged me into the backseat, and Hollywood fastened my seatbelt.

I leaned forward and stared out the window, totally numb. Silhouettes of more neighbors were framed in their windows, and I caught a glimpse of my son Cam, gingerly looking out from behind the second-floor window’s curtains with a blank face. As we pulled out of my driveway, Teacher pulled out a walkie-talkie and reported the exact time — 5:55 a.m. — and precise mileage on the car to some back-office person at FBI headquarters. I had been arrested by a vast federal bureaucracy, where employees needed to check in with their whereabouts and were responsible for each and every mile on their government-­issued cars. Knowing I’d been taken by the tendril of an immense, faceless machine like that was further unsettling.

Lisa stood at the front door — still holding Phinnie, still fighting back tears — as the vehicle pulled away. I have no idea how long it took us to drive downtown. My mind was a blur from that point. All I remember for certain about the trip is that I didn’t sleep. I had no idea what to expect when we “got downtown.” The only thing I knew for sure was that my beautiful life had just ended.

If I said a word, it was probably “Fuck.”

But if I said two words, they were probably: “Fucking Zvi.”

Excerpted with permission from Confessions of a Wall Street Insider, published by SkyHorse Publishing.

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