Two area congressmen who invested in the same biotechnology company that's become the subject of a federal indictment against U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, both say they invested in that company on their own volition.
U.S. Reps. Billy Long, R-Missouri, and Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, are among a number of Republican congressmen who have seen their names come up in the context of that indictment.
Each bought stocks in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian company, in January 2017.
Collins was indicted Wednesday on charges of securities fraud, with prosecutors alleging he tipped off a family member to the fact that an important drug the company was developing to treat multiple sclerosis had failed a drug trial. The failed drug test led to a collapse in the company's stock price when the news become public.
Collins was a member of Innate's board of directors and was also its largest shareholder, according to the indictment.
A federal prosecutor in New York alleges Collins, after learning of the trial failure, gave an illegal tip that allowed his son and others to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock losses. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a news conference on Wednesday that Collins was supposed to keep secret the "devastating news." Instead, the prosecutor said the congressman called his son within minutes to warn him his investment was in trouble.
Prosecutors allege that call then set off a chain of illicit tips involving the son, the father of the son's fiancee and others.
Collins had already been under scrutiny from the Office of Congressional Ethics and House Ethics Committee for allegedly encouraging colleagues to invest in the company. The OCE in October 2017 also found "substantial reason to believe" that Collins violated federal law and shared private information to solicit investors.
Federal financial filings show Mullin bought 110 shares valued between $100,001 and $250,000 in January 2017, while Long bought between $15,001 and $50,000 worth of stock in January 2017.
Both still own shares, according to federal financial filings, which don't indicate how much they may have lost on the stock.
"Congressman Long did not learn of Innate Immunotherapeutics through a colleague, but rather when it became a daily topic on the nightly news in January of 2017," said Hannah Smith, Long's spokeswoman, in an emailed statement.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was grilled by legislators during his confirmation hearing in January 2017 about his own investment in the pharmaceutical company. Price denied receiving any sort of stock tips from Collins and defended his actions, saying nothing about the transactions was unethical.
It was during Price's nomination and hearings that both Long and Mullin learned of Innate Immunotherapeutics.
"Congressman Mullin learned of Innate when it became a newsworthy topic," said Amy Lawrence, Mullin's spokeswoman, in an emailed statement. "When then-Congressman Tom Price was being considered as the secretary of Health and Human Services, the Congressman decided to invest in Innate, only after doing his own personal research of the company."
Long and Mullin both sit on the Health subcommittee of House Energy and Commerce with Collins,
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., removed Collins from the committee and called for an investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
Reps. John Culberson and K. Michael Conaway, both Republicans from Texas, also held stock in Innate. Collins' latest sale of stock was on June 20 and valued between $15,000 and $50,000, according to financial filings. He bought at least $4 million shares between 2016 and 2018.
At a press conference Wednesday night, Collins called the charges "meritless" and said he looks forward to being exonerated. He earlier pleaded not guilty to insider-trading charges. He also said he will remain on the ballot running for re-election in New York as he fights the charges.