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.
Obama also named Richard Cordray to stay on as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The president used a recess appointment last year to bypass congressional opposition and install the former Ohio attorney general as head of the bureau. That appointment expires at the end of this year.
White 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 at the White House.
If confirmed by the Senate, White would take over the SEC from Elisse Walter, who is serving out the rest of 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. At the time the action was called one of the biggest crackdowns on securities fraud in U.S. history.
White's office also won a record $606 million in restitution from the securities arm of the Republic New York Corp. bank in 2001.
Cordray has run the consumer bureau since last year. Senate Republicans had opposed Cordray, as well as the concept of the consumer bureau.
If confirmed by the Senate, White would be the first prosecutor to head the 79-year-old SEC. Most SEC chairmen have come from Wall Street or the ranks of private securities lawyers. The choice of White is likely intended to bolster the agency's enforcement profile in the aftermath of the financial crisis.