Risk & Compliance

Five IT Workers Charged in Insider Trading Ring

A former IT administrator at Palo Alto Networks allegedly tipped off four friends in advance of the company's quarterly earnings announcements.
Matthew HellerDecember 18, 2019

A former IT administrator at Palo Alto Networks has been charged with tipping off friends in advance of the cloud-computing company’s quarterly earnings announcements as part of an insider trading ring that made more than $7 million in illegal profits.

Federal authorities said Janardhan Nellore was at the center of the ring, using his access to a PAN database and work contacts to obtain highly confidential information about the company’s financial performance, including target and actual billings, bookings, revenue, and growth rate.

“With that inside information, Nellore acted as both a trader and a tipper,” the Department of Justice said in a news release.

Nellore and the four friends who allegedly received and profited from his tips were all charged on Tuesday with civil securities law violations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Three of the friends — Sivannarayana Barama, Saber Hussain, and Prasad Malempati — worked in IT for PAN while the fourth, Ganapathi Kunadharaju, is a software engineer who went to college in India with Nellore.

A federal grand jury has also indicted Nellore and Barama on parallel criminal charges.

“The defendants unlawfully made millions of dollars by concocting a complex trading scheme using valuable inside information to profit by trading ahead of authorized disclosures to the investing public,” FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett said.

Nellore joined PAN as an IT administrator in 2012 and, by 2015, had been promoted to a management position that, according to the SEC, gave him access to the SAP database by which the company determined its quarterly financial results.

“Nellore repeatedly accessed confidential information within the SAP database and other company systems while assisting the financial close process” and passed the information to his friends for the purpose of trading PAN securities, the SEC said in its complaint.

The trading ring allegedly used “straddle” trades, placing call and put options before PAN earnings announcements and selling the options after the announcements, and, at the peak of their scheme in 2017, achieved more than $7 million in illegal profits.