Ex-Rep. Chris Collins, a Buffalo-area Republican and close ally of Donald Trump, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and making false statement on Tuesday, hours after submitting his formal resignation to congress.
“I regret my actions beyond anything that I could explain today," Collins told U.S. District Court Judge Vernon S. Broderic, before apologizing to his family and constituents. He added that his actions were "anything but what a model citizen would take.”
The plea deal, announced in Lower Manhattan federal court, leaves Collins facing a maximum of five years in prison for each of the two counts. As part of the agreement, he can not appeal any sentence under 57 months.
“By virtue of his position, Collins helped write the laws of this country yet acted as if the law didn’t apply to him," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Geoff Berman said following the hearing. "No one is above the law, and it's because of our office's commitment to and pursuit of that ideal that Collins is now a convicted felon and no longer a member of congress." (A day earlier, Berman joined President Donald Trump's legal battle against Manhattan District Attorney's subpoena for his tax returns.)
Collins did not take questions from reporters, and quickly departed in a Yukon XL SUV.
The GOP representative was arrested last summer for allegedly trading insider information on the Australian biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics, on whose board he served. Prosecutors say that Collins tipped off his son and others after the company failed a drug test, prompting them to dump their shares in the company.
Collins was allegedly made aware of the confidential information while attending a White House picnic in 2017. He then repeatedly called his son, Cameron Collins, who promptly dumped his stock and avoided $570,000 in losses, according to prosecutors; footage of that illicit conversation with his son was reportedly captured, inadvertently, by CBS News.
Collins was re-elected to Congress last year, after assuring voters that they could count on him to serve his full term. He initially described the charges as "meritless" and a "partisan witch hunt," before ultimately deciding to change his plea to guilty.
A special election will be held to fill Collins's seat, at a date of Governor Andrew Cuomo's choosing. The nominees will be selected by the party bosses, and Collins's district heavily favors Republicans.
Collins was the first sitting member of congress to endorse Donald Trump's White House bid, and has remained an ardent defender of the president in the years since. Last week, he denounced Democrats for formally opening an impeachment inquiry against Trump. (The president has not yet publicly reciprocated with a message of support for Collins).
The Western New York Republican now joins a growing list of Trump-supporting lawmakers awaiting discipline for alleged federal crimes.
On Wednesday, Robin Hayes, a former North Carolina Congressman who recently served as chairman of the state's GOP, is expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI. The following day, Duncan Hunter (R-California)—the second congressman to endorse Trump, after Collins—will appear in court on charges that he used campaign money to fund his lavish vacations and other personal affairs.
Collins' son, as well as his fiancée's father, Stephen Zarsky, are also facing charges of insider trading. They are expected to plead guilty later this week.
Reporting by Gwynne Hogan.