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New York Congressman Resigns, Changes Plea In Insider Trading Case

BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) - Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) is resigning his House seat and plans to change his plea in a 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 US Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York, informed WBFO of a filing received for the plea change. 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.

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 Immuno-therapeutics. All pleaded not guilty at that time. Collins subsequently had three charges against him dropped in a rewritten indictment.

The criminal complaint 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 had maintained 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 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 senators Chris Jacobs and Robert Ortt and attorney Beth Parlato.

“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.

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. 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.

“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.