Rep. Chris Collins resigns, will change plea in insider trading case

Sep 30, 2019

Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) is resigning his House seat and plans to change his plea in the federal insider trading case against him.

Collins, who represents New York's 27th District, has submitted his letter of resignation to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It will take effect when the House meets in a pro forma session on Tuesday morning.

The congressman and two co-defendants are expected to change their pleas in their insider trading case to guilty. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York informed WBFO of a filing received for the plea change early Monday. A federal court hearing is scheduled for Collins Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Manhattan before Judge Vernon S. Broderick. His co-defendants are scheduled to appear Thursday.

Rep. Chris Collins, seen here at a rare July 30, 2019 press briefing.
Credit Kyle S. Mackie / WBFO News

Collins, his son Cameron and the latter's prospective father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky, were arrested and charged in August 2018 with insider trading in connection to an Australian biotech company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. Charges included securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements. All pleaded not guilty at that time. Collins subsequently had three charges against him dropped in a rewritten indictment.

The criminal complant alleges the congressman tipped off his son and others to dump their shares of the company after a failed drug trial, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Collins, 69, had maintainted his innocence since then and, despite his federal indictment and numerous calls for his resignation, won re-election last November, defeating Democrat Nate McMurray, the town supervisor of Grand Island.

Collins’ spokesperson Jennifer Brown earlier Monday said, “The Congressman, nor his office, will comment on this ongoing legal matter” and referred WBFO to Collins’ lawyer, Jonathan Barr. Barr has not returned WBFO’s request for comment.

Prior to the announcement, Collins had never announced whether he would seek re-election in 2020, but was already facing several challengers in the Republican primary including state Sens. Chris Jacobs and Robert Ortt and attorney Beth Parlato.

Rep. Chris Collins' resignation letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Credit Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Office

“It is vital that we continue to have a strong, conservative voice representing the residents of New York’s 27th Congressional District and elect a candidate who will defend President Trump’s agenda. I am the only candidate in this race who has proven that they are willing to do both. It is time that we send a battle-tested patriot to Washington who will stand up for our district, stand up to the Party of Impeachment, and push back against the radical socialists running our nation’s Democrat Party,” Ortt said in a statement.  

“Our challenge now as Republicans and conservatives is to help restore the public trust and offer the people of Western New York a positive vision for the future. I’ve fought for conservative principles in Albany and worked hard to deliver on a high ethical standard. I decided to run for Congress because I believe Western New York deserves a member of Congress who can be effective and Republicans deserve a candidate who can win this seat, help President Trump stop the illegal immigration crisis and enact better trade deals," Jacobs said in a statement.

Parlato, who is a FOX News contributor, said while she has always supported Collins, it is time to move on.

“It’s been a distraction,” Parlato told WBFO News. "I think that we can put this behind us."

Other prominent Republicans could join the field, including Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw and Iraq war veteran and Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia. McMurray is expected to run again on the Democratic side.

“The real victims of Collins' crimes are the people of his district that he repeatedly lied to about his guilt. Collins and Republican party insiders robbed his constituents of the representation they need on important issues like the rising cost of healthcare, the opioid epidemic and the fight for good paying jobs. They all failed us, so I’m going to keep talking about the critical issues Western New Yorkers face every day, because that’s what public service should be about, working to make other people’s lives just a little bit better," McMurray said in a statement.

Collins was the first sitting member of the House of Representatives to endorse President Donald Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election and has been an ardent supporter ever since. It is now up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to call a special election to fill what will become a vacant seat in the heavily-Republican 27th District. Cuomo could also choose to leave it vacant until the 2020 general election.

After serving as Erie County Executive 2008-2011, Collins was elected to Congress in 2012 when he defeated Democrat Kathy Hochul by a slim margin. He easily won re-elections for his second and third terms in 2014 and 2016, but faced a stiffer challenge from McMurray in 2018, emerging victorious in a close contest.

Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat who represents Buffalo, was holding a media event at the time the news about Collins' resignation broke on Monday. He said Collins owes his constituents a full explanation and called the entire sitution unfortunate.

"It tarnishes our democracy and unfortunately this will get more attention than it deserves. He has received more attention than he deserves. And I think the good work, and there is good work that's going on in Congress, is often overlooked for the headline and the controversy," Higgins said.

“What is almost certain right now is that it seems like his political career, for now, is over," said Dave Levinthal, federal politics editor at The Center for Public Integrity, a D.C.-based non-profit investigative news organization.