DUBLIN, Ohio — Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson confirmed that FBI agents investigating insider trading approached him this week at the Memorial Tournament. The five-time major champion said Saturday he has done “absolutely nothing wrong.”
A federal official briefed on the investigation said the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are analyzing trades Mickelson and Las Vegas gambler William Walters made involving Clorox at the same time activist investor Carl Icahn was attempting to take over the company.
The official was unauthorized to speak about the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity. Reports of the investigation appeared in several newspapers, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The investigation is related to a series of winning stock trades in summer 2011 that raised immediate red flags for financial regulators. The traders — including Mickelson and high-rolling gambler and golf-course owner William Walters — collectively reaped several million dollars betting on Clorox and one other stock, sources said.
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Mickelson, Walters and Icahn have not been accused of wrongdoing.
In an interview, Icahn said: “I don’t give out inside information,” adding that, “For 50 years, I have had an unblemished record.”
Walters, reached late Friday, said: “While I don’t have any comment, pal, I’ll talk to you later.”
On Saturday, Mickelson said the investigation had not been a distraction until FBI agents approached him after his opening round Thursday. He did not offer any details, including his relationship with Walters or any stock advice he might have received.
He said the probe would not affect his preparations for the U.S. Open in two weeks, the only major he lacks for the career Grand Slam.
“It’s not going to change the way I carry myself,” Mickelson said after an even-par 72 at Muirfield Village left him far behind the leaders. “Honestly, I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not going to walk around any other way.”
The federal official said Mickelson and Walters placed their trades about the same time in 2011. Federal investigators are looking into whether Icahn shared information of his takeover attempt of Clorox with Walters, and whether Walters passed that information to Mickelson. Icahn’s takeover bid failed.
The New York offices of the U.S. Attorney and the FBI declined to comment.
The newspaper reports said federal officials also were examining 2012 trades by Mickelson and Walters involving Dean Foods in 2012.
Mickelson declined to answer questions about his relationship with Walters. Asked whether Walters advised him to invest in Clorox or Dean Foods, Mickelson told a Wall Street Journal reporter: “You should know. You wrote the article.”
Icahn is one of Wall Street’s most successful corporate raiders, famous for buying stock in underperforming companies, pressuring them to reform and selling out for a fat profit. In recent years, his targets have included Apple, eBay and Dell. His efforts have made him one of America’s richest people: Forbes magazine puts his net worth at more than $20 billion, making him the 18th-wealthiest American.
Walters is a legendary figure in sports-betting circles, widely feared by sports book operators as one of the few people who can consistently win. He’s bet millions on Super Bowls alone, and told “60 Minutes” in a 2011 profile that he has never had a losing year. An early user of computer data, he was one of the few bettors whose opinion was so respected that he could move point spreads if it was known what side he was betting on.
Walters and a group of bettors dubbed The Computer Group were indicted in the mid-1980s for running what prosecutors said was a bookmaking operation, but were acquitted at trial. Walters was also indicted on money-laundering charges in 1998 and had $2.8 million in cash confiscated from a safe-deposit box, but the charges were dismissed and the money returned.
Mickelson, 43, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011. He goes to the U.S. Open next month in North Carolina with a chance to become only the sixth golfer to capture all four major championships. He has not won since the British Open last summer in Scotland.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.