(Bloomberg) -- The summer after Archegos Capital Management’s March 2021 collapse, former head trader William Tomita headed to St. Tropez, France, where he played polo and partied with friends.

Lawyers for Archegos founder Bill Hwang wanted to ask Tomita about his glitzy vacation on the stand in Manhattan federal court, where he’s been testifying as one of the star prosecution witnesses in Hwang’s fraud and market manipulation trial. The defense claimed it contradicted his earlier testimony that he was wracked with pain and guilt over his conduct at Archegos at the time.

But US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled last week and on Monday that Tomita’s lifestyle was out of bounds at the trial.

“Whether Mr. Tomita is rich or poor, whether he plays polo or baseball, whether he’s in St. Tropez or in Miami Beach, Florida, or New York City, is not relevant to this case,” Hellerstein said Friday. “You can examine his credibility, but you can’t examine his way of life.”

The ruling highlights the difficulty Hwang’s lawyers have had trying to attack Tomita, who has pleaded guilty and is testifying in the hopes of receiving leniency. His four days of testimony for the government painted a damaging picture of Hwang micromanaging his traders to goose stocks to certain prices and directing Tomita to lie to Archegos’ counterparties about the firm’s portfolio. 

Meanwhile, the cross-examination has mainly focused on suggesting there may have been legitimate reasons for the trades the government — and Tomita — say were manipulative. The questioning about trades in individual stocks has often been slow going, and Hellerstein last week told Hwang’s lawyer, Barry Berke, that he was “boring the jury to tears.”

The issue of Tomita’s sojourn on the French Riviera promised some relief from that line of questioning. Tomita had previously become emotional on the stand describing his decision to cooperate with the government days after Federal Bureau of Investigation agents executed a search warrant at his Greenwich, Connecticut, home in September 2021.

“I had been in so much pain the months prior, because of my behavior and what I’d done,” he said. “I couldn’t do that anymore. I just needed to acknowledge it.”

Berke took aim at that testimony on Friday afternoon. “Do you recall you spent much of July 2021 in St. Tropez, France, playing polo?” he asked.

Prosecutor Matthew Podolsky objected to that question and another one about Tomita’s discussions that summer about selling his house in Palm Beach, Florida. The judge sustained both objections.

Berke on Monday asked Hellerstein to reconsider the issue, saying Tomita’s activities at the time called into question his testimony about being in pain. The defense lawyer cited messages Tomita sent to acquaintances in which he said he had been in St. Tropez for almost three weeks for a polo tournament.

No. 2 Player

“I’m glad I’m not actively managing money in Chinese equities right now!!” Tomita said in one of the messages, noting that settling vacation expenses was “less depressing than looking at the stock market.” 

“It is critical for the defense to be able to impeach Mr. Tomita’s claim that he began cooperating with the prosecution because of the pain he was suffering during the prior months, rather than to avoid the lengthy jail sentence he learned he would otherwise face,” Berke wrote.

Hellerstein wasn’t convinced.

Tomita is known to be an avid polo player, often playing the No. 2 position on fields in Greenwich and Palm Beach. His typical job involved setting up goals for the No. 1 player and taking his own shot after a missed try. One player who practiced with Tomita said he came across as polite and deferential, an unusual attitude in a sport known for aggressive play. 

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