NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The FBI arrested a Disney employee and her boyfriend Wednesday on charges that the couple tried to sell inside information about the company to hedge funds, federal regulators said.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Bonnie Jean Hoxie and her boyfriend, Yonni Sebbag, for offering a total of 20 hedge funds early access to Disney's second-quarter financial results in a "brazen scheme" to profit from inside information.
In addition to the SEC's civil complaint, the U.S. Attorney's Office, working with the FBI, filed criminal charges against Hoxie and Sebbag in New York.
Hoxie, who was an administrative assistant to Disney's head of corporate communications until Tuesday, obtained confidential information concerning the company's quarterly earnings and provided it to Sebbag in early May, regulators said.
Sebbag subsequently sold the information to an FBI agent posing as an investment manager, according to the charges. In one case, he was promised half the expected trading profits, and in another he was paid $15,000 in cash.
"Hoxie and Sebbag stole Disney's confidential pre-release earnings information and put it up for sale," said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement, adding that many of the hedge funds the pair contacted had come forward to expose the scheme.
Hoxie, 33, and Sebbag, 29, were arrested in Los Angeles Wednesday and are expected to appear in a federal court there later this afternoon.
They each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. In addition, the couple could face a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, whichever is larger.
"This investigation should serve as a warning," said George Venizelos, assistant director of the FBI office in New York. "If you're contemplating acquiring and profiteering from insider information, sometimes the person you're trying to sell it to is really an undercover FBI agent."
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara added that the arrests "suggest that the integrity of the securities exchanges can be compromised not only by top executives, but also by anyone entrusted with material, non-public information."
Law-enforcement officials, he added, are committed to identifying and prosecuting all individuals "whose greed motivates them to betray their employer's trust and corrupt the market."
Disney has been fully cooperating with the investigation, the company said in a statement.
In its complaint, the SEC released excerpts from e-mail messages Sebbag sent to FBI agents posing as hedge fund managers, which indicated that he wanted to establish a long-term relationship, and that he wanted to be compensated for sharing confidential information.
"I can deliver 3 to 4 days before release," Sebbag said, according to one e-mail. "I will email you the report as soon as i have it and you will wire transfer the money to my account after you get ahold of it."
On May 8, three days before Disney reported its second-quarter financial results, the couple sent undercover agents a list of corporate talking points that executives would use to discuss the company's earnings, according to the charges.
Then, hours before the results were released on May 11, the pair allegedly sent another e-mail indicating that Disney would report earnings per share of 48 cents, which was better than what stock analysts had expected.
Three days later, Sebbag met with undercover agents and accepted payment of $15,000 in exchange for the information, according to the complaints.
In addition to information about Disney's earnings, the complaint said Sebbag attempted to lure investors with information regarding a proposed sale of the ABC network. But Disney said the reference to conversations about selling ABC "were and are false."
Sebbag, who used the alias Jonathan Cyrus, said the couple wanted to "build a strong business relationship" that would involve sharing inside information concerning future quarters, according to the e-mails in the SEC's complaint. He also requested help setting up an off-shore account to help launder the ill-gotten gains.
Welcome to September. Stocks started the historically worst month of the year with another big pullback after two new reports show more weakness in China's manufacturing sector. More
Canada has fallen victim to cheap oil, sliding into recession for the first time in six years. More
Former Secret Service agent in the Silk Road case stole bitcoins while hunting for the Dread Pirate Roberts. More
Joe is 50 years old and makes $70,000 a year. He should already have $364,000 saved for retirement. Are you on track? More