He Was Trump’s First Fan in Congress. Now He’s a Felon.

The South Lawn of the White House was decked out in New York City paraphernalia for President Trump’s first congressional picnic: food carts, boat racing and a Central Park-like carousel, all in honor of the president’s hometown.

Chris Collins, a Republican House member from western New York, should have been in his element. He had shot to fame the year before as the first member of Congress to endorse Mr. Trump for president. He had since channeled that fame into a spot on Mr. Trump’s transition team and frequent appearances on cable news.

But on that early summer evening in 2017, Mr. Collins seemed distracted. Standing apart from the festivities, he paced back and forth on the White House lawn, his cellphone pressed to his ear. When Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, strode by, Mr. Collins did not seem to notice.

On the other end of the call was Mr. Collins’s son. And the six-minute exchange that transpired would form the basis of an insider trading investigation that led to Mr. Collins’s indictment, and to his resignation and guilty plea last week. His son has also pleaded guilty.

The story of Mr. Collins’s rise and fall — businessman to congressional backbencher, then presidential cheerleader to felon — is a tale of money, politics, family ties and murky ethics.

It is also the story of a man who rose to prominence by hitching himself to Mr. Trump — and whose star then plummeted as quickly as it rose.

Long before Mr. Collins emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest defenders, the two shared some similarities.

In 2007, Mr. Collins, a wealthy entrepreneur who had never held elected office, pulled off an upset win in the county executive race in Erie County, which includes Buffalo. (An earlier bid for Congress in 1998 was unsuccessful.)

Mr. Collins, who made his fortune by turning around struggling companies, had campaigned on a promise to put his business know-how to work in county government. He succeeded, slashing debt and pulling Erie County back from near bankruptcy.

But he also developed a reputation as arrogant, ambitious and prone to offensive comments. In 2009, he called the Democratic Assembly speaker the “Antichrist,” a move that many credited with dashing his hopes of a 2010 run for governor. He was overheard at a governor’s speech telling a woman that she could find a seat in exchange for a “lap dance.”

He lost his re-election for county executive in 2011. “The guy is about as cuddly as a cactus,” a columnist for The Buffalo News wrote. Still, the next year, Mr. Collins ran for Congress and won, aided by newly redrawn borders for the 27th District as well as his personal wealth, which financial disclosures showed included investment assets of as much as $112 million. Yet his reputation for self-aggrandizement followed him to Washington.

“I think he brought an attitude of, ‘I am not a regular freshman,’” Tom Reynolds, a former Republican congressman who had represented parts of Mr. Collins’s district, said in an interview. “Most would put it down that he started with a pretty good arrogant streak.”

He took a similar approach to separating his political life from his finances. During his first term, he said he saw “no compelling reason” to put his assets in a blind trust. Over the next few years, he continued to invest heavily in health care companies — even after he earned a seat on the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees that industry.

Still, for his first few years in Congress, Mr. Collins attracted little attention outside New York. That changed in 2016, when Mr. Collins endorsed Mr. Trump, holding up their shared business backgrounds as the reason.

“We need a chief executive, not a chief politician,” Mr. Collins said, recycling one of his own campaign slogans.

Some saw yet more self-promotion. Carl Paladino, another businessman-turned-politician who ran as the Republican candidate for New York governor in 2010, pointed out that Mr. Collins had first endorsed Jeb Bush. But Mr. Bush fizzled, and Mr. Paladino — an early supporter of Mr. Trump — urged the state’s Republican delegation to get behind his favored candidate.

At first, Mr. Collins resisted, Mr. Paladino said in an interview.

“It wasn’t until I struck a chord by saying, ‘You could be the first congressman to come on board, and you could take that notoriety’ — that’s when he saw that as an opportunity,” Mr. Paladino said.

Mr. Collins has tried to deflect Mr. Paladino’s claim that he was coaxed into the endorsement. But he clearly had no qualms about the national profile that followed.

He bragged to his eye doctor about receiving direct phone calls from Mr. Trump, and touted his invitation to a private lunch after the inauguration. He earned parodies on late-night comedy shows.

There were more tangible political rewards, too. In November 2016, Paul Ryan, then the House speaker, asked Mr. Collins to second his renomination to the speakership, as a sign of good will toward Mr. Trump.

“Obviously the Trump election highlighted his profile,” Representative Tom Reed, a Republican whose district borders Mr. Collins’s former one, said in an interview. “And I think it was clear he enjoyed that role.”

But with visibility came scrutiny of a kind that Mr. Collins had until then largely avoided.

In January 2017, when Mr. Trump nominated Representative Tom Price, another outspoken supporter — and a friend of Mr. Collins — to serve as secretary of health and human services, that friendship became a key focus of Mr. Price’s Senate confirmation hearings.

After The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Price had significant holdings in health care companies, Democrats homed in on one investment in particular: Innate Immunotherapeutics, a little-known Australian drug company that had several congressional investors.

By far the largest investor was Mr. Collins, who owned almost one-fifth of the company’s stock and also sat on its board of directors. His son and daughter were also among the company’s top 20 shareholders.

But Mr. Collins’s ties to Innate went far beyond a title or even mere trading. Not long after meeting Innate’s chief executive, Simon Wilkinson, in 2005, Mr. Collins raised $6 million for his company in 96 hours, he told Congressional investigators in 2017. Several times, when the company couldn’t make payroll, he provided loans.

He was also perhaps its most fervent evangelist, openly boasting at the Capitol that he had convinced friends and acquaintances to buy into Innate. “Do you know how many millionaires I’ve made in Buffalo the past few months?” a reporter once overheard him say.

Mr. Reed said some of the promotion seemed to stem from genuine passion for the company’s work. “At times, it came across as he was very excited about what this was going to do for patients,” he said.

“But then, obviously, some members, myself included, were a little bit uncomfortable with some of the commentary.”

At Mr. Price’s confirmation hearing, Democrats, noting that Mr. Price had bought between $60,000 and $110,000 of Innate stock, demanded to know how he had come by the investment. They asked whether he had been given inside information by Mr. Collins.

Both men denied any impropriety. But the accusations quickly turned into a sprawling ethics inquiry.

Government watchdog groups and a Democratic congresswoman wrote letters asking for investigations to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of Congressional Ethics and federal prosecutors in Manhattan. They noted that Mr. Collins had written bill language to speed up drug trials — a change that could benefit Innate — shortly before buying more Innate stock.

Mr. Collins had also visited the National Institutes of Health soon after being elected, where he pressed a researcher to help Innate with a drug trial, a complaint said.

In response to the accusations, Mr. Collins often echoed the president who had brought him into the limelight in the first place. He called The Buffalo News, which broke the story of the congressional ethics investigation, “fake news,” and he attacked the investigations as a “witch hunt.” He called the Democratic congresswoman, Louise Slaughter, a “despicable human being.”

But Mr. Collins’s eventual downfall was ultimately related not to political entanglements, but to his family.

Barely two weeks after the congressional ethics interview on June 5, 2017, Mr. Collins was at the congressional picnic, when he received an email from the chief executive of Innate. The email said that Innate’s drug trial for its only product, a much-anticipated drug to cure multiple sclerosis, had failed.

In a panic, Mr. Collins called his son, Cameron Collins, to share the news — a violation of federal securities law, which prohibits sharing a company’s confidential information for personal gain. Within days, Cameron Collins sold more than one million shares of Innate stock, allowing him to avoid more than $570,000 in losses.

About a year later, in August 2018, Mr. Collins and his son were indicted, along with the father of Cameron Collins’s fiancée.

Even then, Mr. Collins remained defiant. After suspending his re-election campaign briefly after his indictment, he restarted it weeks later, going on to defeat the Democratic challenger, Nate McMurray, by less than half a percentage point. Some Republican leaders urged him to not run again in 2020, but Mr. Collins offered no hints of stepping down.

So when a court filing suddenly appeared last week with the news that Mr. Collins planned to change his “not guilty plea,” it caught his allies by surprise. Within hours, he had resigned.

After the hearing, Mr. Collins and his lawyers refused to say why he had agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to federal investigators. He faces up to 10 years in prison, but prosecutors and defense lawyers have agreed to seek a sentence between 46 months and 57 months.

But Mr. Collins had seemingly predicted the effect Innate would have on his legacy — if not in the way he imagined.

“Of all the things I will accomplish in my life,” he told congressional investigators of his investments in Innate, “this will be No. 1 on my tombstone.”

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