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    This short-seller pressed ‘Tweet.’ Then the FBI showed up (Bloomberg)

    It was a novel turn in what, until then, seemed like a familiar struggle between a public company, MiMedx Group, and investors betting on its fall. That kind of drama has typically played out online, in the media or in court. But it hasn’t, by the recollection of several lawyers, previously drawn this sort of intervention by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The agents’ appearance at Cohodes’s house has touched off a dispute over whether the tweets merited intervention or whether the FBI overstepped — and how the messages came to the FBI’s attention.

    Greg Farrell and Anders Melin February 16, 2018 Bloomberg News

    Bloomberg/Bloomberg Short-Seller Cohodes’s Tweets Spur FBI Visit, Free-Speech Gripes © Thor Swift/NYTNS Marc Cohodes

    Short-sellers aren’t known for restraint and decorum, and that goes double on Twitter, where Marc Cohodes vowed to take down a CEO he accuses of fraud. “I will bury the little fella in a shoe box,” Cohodes tweeted in October.

    Weeks later, a black Ford Expedition pulled up to the short-seller’s Sonoma County ranch. Two FBI agents emerged. They showed Cohodes a printout of his tweet and a second one that mentioned loaded guns. “Stop sending threatening tweets” about the CEO, one of the agents warned, or else.

    The feds’ Dec. 1 visit, which wasn’t previously reported, is documented in a sheriff’s report and described in a letter of complaint Cohodes’s lawyer sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.

    It was a novel turn in what, until then, seemed like a familiar struggle between a public company, MiMedx Group, and investors betting on its fall. That kind of drama has typically played out online, in the media or in court. But it hasn’t, by the recollection of several lawyers, previously drawn this sort of intervention by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The agents’ appearance at Cohodes’s house has touched off a dispute over whether the tweets merited intervention or whether the FBI overstepped — and how the messages came to the FBI’s attention.

    The FBI’s San Francisco office told Cohodes’s lawyer that it takes threats seriously. The agents acted appropriately in light of the tweets and other postings by Cohodes, it said.

    The agents’ visit came after months of sometimes personal barbs and counterbarbs between short-sellers and Marietta, Georgia-based MiMedx, which makes tissue grafts used to treat burns and other soft-tissue wounds.

    The company’s CEO, Parker “Pete” Petit, is a top Republican fundraiser in Georgia. The request to dispatch agents came from the FBI’s Atlanta office, according to correspondence between the FBI’s San Francisco office and Cohodes’s lawyer, David Shapiro. Was that a coincidence, Shapiro asked in his Jan. 12 complaint letter to the Justice Department.

    Marc Cohodes in Cotati, California.© Thor Swift/NYTNS Marc Cohodes in Cotati, California.

    “As part of your investigation, you should determine how Mr. Petit was able to influence the FBI to take action designed to stifle one of his company’s critics,” Shapiro wrote. Cohodes was exercising his right to free speech, the lawyer argued. He added that the agents’ use of prior restraint — intervention to head off “imminent lawless action” — was an inappropriate response to month-old tweets that weren’t meant to be threatening.

    Petit, in an interview, said he felt the tweets were “a threat to my life.” Asked whether he or his representatives flagged the posts to the FBI, Petit responded: “Mr. Cohodes and his cabal, I know, are being investigated by the authorities.”

    Cohodes says he is not part of any “cabal.” He pointed to his decades-long track record as a short-seller and says the FBI visit was a violation of his rights.

    “They didn’t have a warrant,” he said in a phone interview. “I asked them if I was under investigation and they said no. I asked them to leave, and they wouldn’t. I had to call the local sheriff’s office to get them to leave.”

    A spokesman for the FBI’s Atlanta office, Kevin Rowson, declined to say whether the bureau is investigating practices of the shorts or the company.

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