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John Curtis was accused of insider trading during the COVID pandemic. Here’s what really happened.

During Utah’s 2024 U.S. Senate GOP primary election debate, Trent Staggs accused Curtis of “looking out for [his] own profit” during the pandemic.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) U.S. Rep. John Curtis, left, reacts to a statement made from Trent Staggs, right, during the Utah Senate primary debate for Republican contenders battling to win the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, Monday, June 10, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

As Monday night’s U.S. Senate Republican primary debate wrapped up, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs leveled the explosive allegation that Rep. John Curtis used his position in Congress for insider trading during the COVID pandemic.

“On March 4 of 2020, Abbott Laboratories was awarded a federal grant. On that same day, John Curtis purchased stock in that company. This is the problem in Congress. At a time when somebody should be looking out for their constituents, they end up looking out for their own profit,” Staggs said.

That accusation drew an angry response from Curtis.

“You accuse me of a felony here tonight,” Curtis shot back. “You better have good evidence, and I’d like to challenge you to produce that evidence that somehow I’ve committed a felony.”

While Curtis did make some well-timed trades at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, those transactions did not violate any laws.

In March 2020, Curtis purchased stock in several companies that stood to benefit from the crisis. One of those was Abbott Labs, which received government funding to develop a rapid test for the virus. Curtis also purchased shares in video-conferencing company Zoom and bought stock in Amazon and Costco. Those purchases were made several weeks before any stay-at-home orders were issued.

At the time, Curtis said he had not been privy to any classified briefings on the coronavirus, explaining that most of the stock transactions were handled by Northwestern Mutual and that he was not informed until after the trades had been completed. Curtis said he personally bought stock for Zoom, which he said was done on the advice of CNBC commentator Jim Cramer, and Amazon.

The “Nancy Pelosi Stock Tracker,” social media account that tracks stock transactions by members of Congress, said Tuesday that Staggs’ claim was not true.

“John Curtis did buy Abbott Labs, but not on 3/4/20. He bought on 3/27/20 (3 weeks later),” the account, which is run by the investing app Autopilot, posted.

They added that a search of an official U.S. government spending website resulted in no evidence of grants being awarded to Abbott Labs on that date.

“We still do need to give credit to Mayor Staggs for publicly stating he will push to ban political stock trading We are here to help him make this happen in any way possible,” the account posted. “However, getting these facts wrong could be categorized as ‘Fake News’ which would create distrust in everything.”

Government watchdog group Accountable.us filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics about Curtis’ trades, alleging that the trades suggest “he may have used nonpublic information” to inform those transactions.

A representative for Accountable.US said Tuesday that nothing seemed to come from their complaint.

In 2012, Congress passed the “Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge,” or STOCK Act, which prohibits members from profiting from information unavailable to the public. The law resulted from a 2011 CBS News report highlighting stock trading by members of Congress. The law also requires members of Congress and some employees to disclose any stock or securities transactions publicly within 30 days.

When questioned by reporters following Monday’s debate, Curtis said there really is no way to completely insulate members of Congress from accusations of financial wrongdoing, save requiring them to completely divest when they take office.

“Members of Congress influence interest rates, so should we not own homes?” Curtis asked rhetorically.

“When someone comes into Congress, if they have a portfolio of stocks, and the requirement is that they sell those, as in my case, there’s a huge taxable event that you’re hoping to put off till retirement,” the congressman told reporters. “If that’s the cost of serving in Congress, that’s fine. But that shows some of the complications why Congress hasn’t acted on this.”

According to Unusual Whales, which tracks trading activity by members of Congress, Curtis’ portfolio outperformed the SPY ETF — a tool to track track the performance of the S&P 500 exchange-traded funds, in 2023, 2022 and 2021.

Correction, 4:50 p.m. • This story has updated to correct the quote of a Tweet.

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