By Emily Flitter
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hall of Fame baseball player Eddie Murray is one of several former professional athletes under investigation by federal authorities in a U.S. insider trading case stemming from the buyout of a medical device company, people familiar with the three-year-old probe said.
Federal prosecutors and securities regulators are trying to determine whether Murray, a star slugger for the Baltimore Orioles, traded on inside information that Abbott Laboratories was about to announce a deal in January 2009 to acquire Advanced Medical Optics for $2.8 billion, the sources said.
Reuters previously reported on the investigation by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but did not identify any of the players under scrutiny.
Murray, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, could not be reached for comment. Michael Proctor, a lawyer who is representing Murray in the matter, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Diane Hock, a lawyer who represents Murray in his post-baseball marketing deals, said she had heard about an investigation, but declined to comment further.
The investigation involving Murray is related to the probe that led to the filing of a civil insider trading case against former Orioles player Doug DeCinces. In August 2011, DeCinces settled with the SEC, agreeing to pay $2.5 million in fines, while neither admitting nor denying wrongdoing in the trading of Advanced Medical Optics shares.
DeCinces and Murray played together on the Orioles from 1977 to 1982.
DeCinces' lawyer did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Securities regulators always take note of trading activity in shares of companies involved in mergers and try to identify buyers or sellers in the stock who may have acted based on nonpublic information. Reuters could not ascertain how many, if any, shares of Advanced Medical Optics Murray bought.
The probe into the possible insider trading by professional baseball players is a California offshoot of the sprawling investigation in New York that led to the conviction of Galleon Management hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam and charges against dozens of traders and corporate consultants. Some legal experts say the California phase of the investigation is an indication of just how commonplace the sharing of corporate secrets has become.
Investigators have found that leaks about the Advanced Medical Optics deal may have come from a number of places, including people who worked for the medical device company; its law firm, Skadden Arps; and its merger adviser, Goldman Sachs Group Inc, according to court records and people familiar with that matter.
Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally said: "We have been aware of these allegations for more than two years, investigated them (and) fully cooperated with federal authorities in the matter."
A spokeswoman for Skadden declined to comment. A top partner at the firm is also representing one of the suspected leakers, James V. Mazzo, who was the chief executive officer of Advanced Medical at the time of the takeover.
Mazzo, now a senior vice president at Abbott's subsidiary, Abbott Medical Optics, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He did not respond to email or phone calls seeking comment. His lawyer, Richard Marmaro, a partner at Skadden Arps in Los Angeles, declined to comment. An Abbott spokesman said the company was not under investigation and declined to comment about Mazzo.
Mazzo, 55, graduated from California State University, Long Beach, with a degree in zoology, and lives in Laguna Beach, a coastal town south of Los Angeles. He is known for his philanthropy and volunteerism. In 2009, for a charitable auction, he donated tickets worth $3,000 for a group of seats in an Anaheim Angels dugout suite, according to a program for the event.
"My first love is baseball," Mazzo told a medical trade publication in a 2011 interview. "I am a die-hard (Chicago) Cubs fan, and I played minor league baseball before my days as a sales representative."
Mazzo is a trustee of the University of California, Irvine Foundation and sits on the Dean's Advisory Board of its Paul Merage School of Business. He is also on the board of OCTANe, an organization that tries to connect local engineers and technology startups in Orange County with investors and potential workers.
The SEC's complaint against DeCinces, filed last August, claimed the former third baseman had gotten information about the impending takeover from a source who was "directly involved in the impending (Advanced Medical Optics)/Abbott transaction from its inception in October 2008."
DeCinces bought shares of Advanced Medical Optics on December 1, 2008, the same day Abbott sent the company a preliminary takeover proposal.
After more than 10 years with the Orioles, Murray, a first baseman, headed west to California, where he spent three seasons playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Next, he went to the New York Mets, then to the Cleveland Indians and briefly to the Angels, which were renamed the Anaheim Angels the year Murray played for them and are now called the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Murray, who hit 504 home runs in his career, is widely regarded as one of the best switch hitters, who can hit from either side of the plate.
After he retired, Murray was the first base coach for the Dodgers. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003.
The baseball players are not the only group under scrutiny for allegedly trafficking in nonpublic information about the Advanced Medical Optics buyout, according to sources familiar with the investigation and court filings. There appear to have been leaks at many points along the way to the takeover, according to the sources and the court papers.
Goldman Sachs provided investment banking services in the buyout of the medical device company. Reuters has reported that the SEC and federal investigators are looking at whether Goldman's senior healthcare banker, Matthew Korenberg, passed on information about the deal to his friend Paul Yook, a healthcare analyst at Galleon Management.
Korenberg's lawyer, John Hueston, a partner at Irell & Manella, did not respond to a request for comment. He has previously told Reuters the investigation was "going nowhere."
DuVally, the Goldman spokesman, said: "Matt Korenberg remains actively employed by the firm."
Yook could not be reached for comment.
In June 2011, Dean Goetz, a lawyer in Carlsbad, California, agreed to pay about $23,000 to settle SEC charges that he traded on secret information after learning about the Advanced Medical Optics deal by going through his daughter Amy's papers without her knowledge, according the SEC's complaint.
Amy Goetz, also a lawyer, worked on the deal as an associate at Skadden. She is no longer with the big law firm and could not be reached for comment. John Kirby, a lawyer for Dean Goetz, did not respond to a request for comment.
(Additional reporting by Tori Richards; Editing by Matthew Goldstein)