The US civil fraud trial of former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre, who became a face of Wall Street excesses that fomented the 2008 financial crisis, opened Monday.
Tourre, a 34-year old Frenchman known as "Fabulous Fab," is charged with fraud in connection with mortgage bonds that lost investors some $1 billion when the market for "subprime" loans burst in 2008.
"This case is about lies, deception, and Wall Street greed," said Matthew Martens, an attorney for the plaintiff, the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC accuses Tourre of selling the bonds -- so-called synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) -- to investors even though he knew they were likely to fail.
His former employer, Goldman, has already paid a record $550 million to settle similar charges.
The trial kicked off Monday morning under US District Judge Katherine Forrest and is expected to last two to three weeks.
"Mr. Tourre put together a basket of bad investments and sold it to investors," Martens told the panel of nine jurors -- five women and four men.
"The only way to do that was to lie" or to speak in "half truths," he said.
A graduate of France's Ecole Centrale and of America's Stanford University, Tourre, clad in a black suit with a white shirt and orange tie, wore a serious expression in court.
His case highlights the excesses of Wall Street that led to the crisis, which saw banks and other financial institutions founder and investors rack up huge losses on CDOs that plummeted in value once the US housing bubble imploded in 2007-2008.
At Goldman Sachs in early 2007, Tourre designed the complex "Abacus" CDO investment, which packaged higher-risk mortgage-backed securities.
He is accused of failing to warn investors that a hedge fund headed by John Paulson was involved in creating Abacus, and that Paulson was taking a huge bet against it even as it was being sold to investors expecting positive returns.
"He did nothing wrong," defense attorney Pamela Chepiga said.
"Fabrice Tourre never lied to anyone," she declared, calling on the jurors to recall the circumstances of 2007.
"There were clouds on the residential market," she said, and investors were "betting on whether there would be light rain or a super-storm."
"This is not a game that you or I could play," she said, but one suited for "qualified investors."
The buyers of the securities included Dutch giant ABN Amro and its sister bank IKB of Germany.
Chepiga argued an investor at the time would be hard-pressed to be unaware of financial media reports that Paulson was betting on the collapse of the housing market.
The judge told attorneys to keep the discussion as straightforward as possible, meaning they should avoid complicated financial terms like "swaps" or "synthetic derivatives" and should explain their meaning if they are used.
When the affair became public in April 2010, US media lambasted the apparent arrogance of Tourre, who refused to apologize during a hearing in Congress.
The case focuses in part on the $2 million Tourre earned in 2007 and a series of private emails where Tourre compared the securities to "monstrosities" and little "Frankensteins" and made fun of the "poor, little subprime borrowers."
The prosecution argued that the emails, in which he described himself as "Fabulous Fab," proved he was "not feeling too guilty about this."
But Chepiga defended them as "immature" emails written late at night to his girlfriend.
Tourre was expressing "his self doubt (as a young man) about which there's nothing fabulous, in a financial world that is uncertain," she said.
If found guilty, Tourre faces fines and reimbursement for the losses.