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Rep. Chris Collins resigns before pleading guilty to federal charges

WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins resigned Monday, a day before he is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to federal charges stemming from an insider trading scheme that prosecutors first detailed in an indictment nearly 14 months ago.

A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her office received Collins' resignation letter Monday. The aide said Collins' resignation will become effective Tuesday.

A new court filing in the case, filed in federal court in Manhattan, shows that U.S. District Court Judge Vernon S. Broderick scheduled a court hearing where Collins – who had pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him – will change his plea.

A new entry on the docket in the case read: "As to Christopher Collins: Change of Plea Hearing scheduled for 10/1/2019 at 3 p.m."

[RELATED: Business ties ultimately spelled doom for Collins' congressional career]

Moments after that docket entry was filed, a second appeared, indicating that Collins' co-defendants – his son Cameron Collins and Cameron Collins' prospective father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky – plan to change their not-guilty pleas as well. A hearing in their case is set for Thursday.

Details of the pending plea deals were not available. Collins' congressional office declined comment, and his lawyers did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Collins, his son and Zarsky are charged with securities and wire fraud, conspiracy and lying to the FBI. They were arrested in August 2018 in connection with an alleged insider trading scheme involving Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. (Jefferson Siegel/Special to The News)

Collins, a Clarence Republican, served on Innate's board for years. Prosecutors said that while at a White House picnic in June 2017, he got inside information that the company's only product, an experimental drug for multiple sclerosis, had failed in clinical trials.

Prosecutors say Collins then called his son, who started dumping his shares of Innate stock the next day. The indictment charges Cameron Collins with then sharing that inside information with Zarsky.

[RELATED: "I am innocent of the charges," Chris Collins said in a rare news conference in July]

The court documents did not offer any additional details as to exactly how Collins and his co-defendants will change their pleas. It's possible that they will plead guilty to some or all of the charges they are facing, but it's also conceivable that they will plead guilty to lesser charges.

In response to an email, Jennifer Brown, Collins' congressional press secretary, said: "The Congressman, nor his office, will comment on this ongoing legal matter."

Brown steered inquiries to Jonathan Barr, Collins' lead attorney. Barr did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Collins' decision to change his plea comes more than a year after The Buffalo News reported that the four-term lawmaker had turned down a plea deal.

In choosing to change their pleas, it appears that Collins and his co-defendants will cut short a complicated criminal case that was scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 3 of next year.

Collins resignation (Text)

Collins' resignation is also likely to jump-start a hard-fought battle to succeed Collins in Congress. With 13 months remaining before the next congressional election, it's likely that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will call a special election to fill Collins' seat.

Republican candidates for the seat already include State Sens. Chris Jacobs and Rob Ortt and lawyer Beth Parlato. Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw is also expected to run for the GOP nomination, and Assemblyman Steve Hawley is another possible candidate.

Democrat Nate McMurray, who lost narrowly to Collins in New York's highly Republican 27th district last year, is expected to run again.

It all started with an email at a picnic: A timeline of the Collins insider trading case

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