US man accused of making $1.8m from listening in on wife’s remote work calls

US regulators have accused a man of making $1.8m (£1.4m) by trading on confidential information he overheard while his wife was on a remote call, in a case that could fuel arguments against working from home.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it charged Tyler Loudon with insider trading after he “took advantage of his remote working conditions” and profited from private information related to the oil firm BP’s plans to buy an Ohio-based travel centre and truck-stop business last year.

The SEC claims that Loudon, who is based in Houston, Texas, listened in on several remote calls held by his wife, a BP merger and acquisitions manager who had been working on the planned deal in a home office 20ft (6 metres) away.

The regulator said Loudon went on a buying spree, purchasing more than 46,000 shares in the takeover target, TravelCenters of America, without his wife’s knowledge, weeks before the deal was announced on 16 February 2023. TravelCenters’s stock soared by nearly 71% after the deal was announced. Loudon then sold off all of his shares, making a $1.8m profit.

Loudon eventually confessed to his wife, and claimed that he had bought the shares because he wanted to make enough money so that she did not have to work long hours anymore.

She reported his dealings to her bosses at BP, which later fired her despite having no evidence that she knowingly leaked information to her husband. She eventually moved out of the couple’s home and filed for divorce.

Today we charged a Houston resident with insider trading for using non-public information he obtained from his wife, a manager with BP, without her knowledge, about the company’s planned merger with TravelCenters of America.

— U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (@SECGov) February 22, 2024

Eric Werner, the regional director of the SEC’s Fort Worth office in Texas, said: “We allege that Mr Loudon took advantage of his remote working conditions and his wife’s trust to profit from information he knew was confidential. The SEC remains committed to prosecuting such malfeasance.”

The case is expected to fuel arguments – particularly at US companies – for workers to return to the office, reversing the boom in home working prompted by the pandemic lockdowns. Banks such as Goldman Sachs have been forcing some staff to come in five days a week, while others such as Google are factoring office attendance into their regular staff performance reviews.

Concerns about security and confidential information could end up trumping studies that show working from home can deliver big health benefits, allowing people to eat more healthily, feel less stressed and have lower blood pressure.

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Loudon did not deny the allegations outlined in the SEC complaint, which was filed at the US district court for southern Texas, and instead agreed to a partial judgment, subject to court approval. That partial judgment will ban him from taking company leadership roles, force him to repay the money he made from the trade – with interest – on top of an extra fine to be determined by the court.

He is facing criminal charges from the US attorney’s office for the southern district of Texas.

The SEC filing said Loudon, who is in his early 40s, is employed with an unnamed publicly listed company but is not in a sector supervised by the regulator.