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Jury set for billionaire Mark Cuban's insider trading trial

Reuters

* Billionaire accused of insider trading in Mamma.com

* Civil trial of Dallas Mavericks owner may last 8-10 days

* Opening arguments set to begin Tuesday (Adds details on jurors, selection process)

By Jana J. Pruet

DALLAS, Sept 30(Reuters) - Seven women and three men were chosen Monday as jurors in the civil trial of Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team, who faces charges of insider trading in shares of a little-known Internet search company.

Cuban, 55, is accused of selling his 600,000 shares of the former Mamma.com Inc nearly a decade ago, on June 28 and 29, 2004, soon after learning from Chief Executive Guy Fauré that the company was planning an equity offering that could dilute his 6.3 percent stake.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Cuban avoided a roughly $750,000 loss after the Montreal-based company announced the offering, causing its stock price to drop 9.3 percent on June 30.

Cuban has maintained that he did nothing wrong, and that any information he may have received was neither confidential nor material enough to trigger an insider trading violation.

The jury trial before U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater in Dallas is expected to last eight to 10 days, court papers show. Opening statements are expected Tuesday when court resumes. The trial could stretch into mid-October, with breaks.

Sixty-four prospective jurors squeezed into the courtroom as jury selection got underway on Monday, filling out three of four audience rows and the jury box.

The charismatic Cuban, who is one of the stars of the ABC television show, "Shark Tank,", and has appeared on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," smiled at prospective jurors who held up their panel cards when Fitzwater asked if they regularly attended Dallas Mavericks games or owned season tickets.

Cuban, who also has appeared on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," chuckled when lawyers asked jurors if they had ever seen him on "Dancing with the Stars."

The jury panel includes blue and white collar workers, one who said he follows the stock market and another who believes the market is unfair and allows rich people to pay lower fees than poor people when buying stocks.

One juror, who said she watches "Dancing with the Stars," called Cuban a "bad dancer," but said she could be fair.

Another called Cuban "a pretty savvy businessman."

Officials said the trial would not be affected by a threatened government shutdown, which was still considered possible for Tuesday morning.

Cuban told reporters repeatedly on Monday, "I won't be bullied."

While the SEC has recently become more aggressive in pursuing higher-profile defendants, Monday's trial comes in a case that predates that push, having begun in November 2008.

Forbes magazine estimates Cuban's net worth at $2.5 billion.

The SEC is seeking to recoup ill-gotten gains, impose civil fines and obtain a permanent injunction to bar Cuban from similar alleged misconduct.

Fitzwater dismissed the SEC lawsuit in 2009, but a federal appeals court revived the case the following year.

Cuban is expected to testify, as is Fauré. Under procedures set by the judge, it is possible that Cuban may testify twice, once during the SEC's presentation of its case and later when the defense takes its turn.

Cuban previously accused SEC enforcement staff of targeting him because of his fame and because they disliked his politics, but an SEC watchdog in 2011 cleared the regulator of misconduct.

The case is SEC v. Cuban, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, No. 08-02050. (Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Karen Brooks, Carol Bishopric and Lisa Shumaker)

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