WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney who built a reputation prosecuting white-collar criminals, terrorists and mobsters, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency has a lead role in implementing changes on Wall Street.
White, 65, spent nearly a decade as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, handling an array of white-collar crimes and complex securities and financial fraud cases. She brought down mobster John Gotti and won convictions in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Obama said that experience makes White well-suited to implement legislation he championed to change the behavior on Wall Street.
"I'd say that's a pretty good run. You don't want to mess with Mary Jo," Obama said. "As one former SEC chairman said, Mary Jo does not intimidate easily, and that's important because she has a big job ahead of her."
If confirmed by the Senate, White would take over the SEC from Elisse Walter, who is serving out former SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro's term. Schapiro resigned in December.
In 2000, White led the criminal prosecution of more than 100 people — including members of all five New York crime families — accused of strong-arming brokers and manipulating prices of penny stocks. It was called one of the biggest crackdowns on securities fraud in U.S. history.
White's office won $606 million in restitution from the securities arm of Republic New York Corp. bank in 2001. The bank pleaded guilty to conspiring with an investment adviser to hide losses from Japanese investors.
White heads the litigation department at law firm Debevoise & Plimpton.
She was the first woman to hold the position of U.S. attorney in Manhattan, one of the most prestigious positions in federal law enforcement. From 1993 to 2002, White won convictions of white-collar criminals, drug traffickers and international terrorists, most notably Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
She led the prosecution of Gotti when she was acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn in 1992.
If confirmed by the Senate, White would be the first prosecutor to head the SEC. Most chairmen have come from Wall Street or were private securities lawyers.