U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood imposed the prison term in a Manhattan federal court after rejecting defense arguments that Yonni Sebbag deserved a break because the FBI-infiltrated scheme was so inept, it was laughable.
"This offense is very serious," Wood said.
Sebbag, 30, a Los Angeles resident and citizen of Morocco, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud. He chose not to speak at the sentencing.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called Sebbag "the latest person to learn the hard way that trying to earn a quick buck through insider trading will earn you a prison sentence instead."
The plot was hatched last year while Sebbag's girlfriend, Bonnie Hoxie, 34, was the secretary to Disney's head of corporate communications in Los Angeles. Prosecutors say she fed nonpublic information such as the company's quarterly earnings to Sebbag, who tried to sell the inside tips by sending anonymous letters to 33 hedge funds and other investment companies.
Most of the firms that received the offers, including some in Manhattan, notified the FBI. Federal agents then posed as hedge fund traders and offered to buy the information from the couple.
In a meeting last May with two undercover FBI agents in New York, Sebbag accepted $15,000 in cash. Prosecutors said he also agreed to provide similar confidential information in the future in return for a 30 percent share of any profits from trades.
Defense attorney Steven Kartagener told the judge on Friday that Sebbag had resorted to "an act of desperation" while struggling with a gambling problem and financial woes.
"It was so hare-brained," the lawyer said. "Everyone has gotten a few laughs about it."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Julian Moore countered: "This case is not a joke."
In addition to prison time, Sebbag was ordered to forfeit $15,000.
Hoxie also has pleaded guilty. Her sentencing is set for Feb. 22.