Comcast Corp. chairman Brian Roberts has agreed to a pay a $500,000 civil penalty in an antitrust suit in Washington that alleged he violated reporting and waiting requirements before acquiring company stock, the U.S. Justice Department said.
The Justice Department, acting at the request of the Federal Trade Commission, filed suit today against Roberts in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The government simultaneously filed settlement documents that a judge will review. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
Prosecutors said in the complaint (PDF) that Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast, violated the notification requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act of 1976. The law contains notification and waiting period provisions that address acquisitions that result in holding stock or assets above a certain value.
The complaint said Roberts failed to comply with the notification requirement before acquiring Comcast stock as part of his compensation beginning on Oct. 22, 2007. Roberts did not notify DOJ and the FTC before acquiring the Comcast shares, the complaint said.
DOJ lawyers said in court papers the “notification and wait period are intended to give the federal antitrust agencies prior notice of, and information about, proposed transactions. The waiting period is also intended to provide the federal antitrust agencies with an opportunity to investigate a proposed transaction and to determine whether to seek an injunction to prevent the consummation of a transaction that may violate antitrust laws.”
A lawyer for Roberts, Michael Sohn, counsel in the Washington office of Davis Polk & Wardwell, declined to comment this afternoon. The FTC said in a statement that Roberts in August 2009 made a corrective filing. Roberts, according to the FTC, admitted to inadvertent violations of the law’s filing requirements in 1999 and in 2000. He was not charged for the earlier violations.
Addressing the $500,00 settlement, the FTC said in a statement this afternoon: “The amount of the fine was limited by a number of factors, including that the violation was inadvertent and technical; that it was apparently due to faulty advice from outside counsel; that Roberts did not gain financially from the violation; and that he reported the violation promptly once it was discovered.”