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Fri, Nov 15, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Crime-fighter may head US' SEC


President George W. Bush plans to offer Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff the chairmanship of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, people familiar with the situation said.

Chertoff, head of the Justice Department's criminal division, has helped lead investigations into some of the biggest recent cases of alleged corporate fraud, including Enron Corp and WorldCom Inc. The Bush administration is waiting to hear whether he is willing to take the SEC job before making a formal offer, one person said.

"He would be a tough, aggressive head of the SEC, who will restore faith in its enforcement capabilities," said Eric Holder, deputy attorney general in the former Clinton administration.

The resignation of SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt has left the agency leaderless at a time when lawmakers are demanding tougher oversight of the accounting profession and securities industry to restore investor confidence.

Chertoff is declining interview requests about the SEC position, Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said. Sierra also declined comment.

Chertoff has a reputation as a determined prosecutor. He's "tough as nails," said John J. Fahy, a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey and ex-colleague.

Since Enron filed for bankruptcy almost a year ago, Chertoff has been in charge of investigations into accounting scandals involving publicly traded companies. He played a leading role in prosecuting Arthur Andersen LLP, the accounting firm convicted of obstruction of justice in June for destroying Enron documents.

During more than a decade as a prosecutor, Chertoff's targets have included Sol Wachtler, once New York state's top judge, who pleaded guilty to harassing his ex-lover and received a 15-month prison sentence in 1993. He also prosecuted such organized crime figures as Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno and Carmine "Junior" Persico.

And he helped secure a guilty plea from Eddie "Crazy Eddie" Antar, a consumer electronics retailer sentenced to almost seven years in prison a decade ago for racketeering conspiracy.

"Chertoff brings a prosecutor's sense of justice and fair play to the SEC that will give him a slightly different perspective than those who emerged from an industry or regulatory background," said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor who worked with Chertoff. "He brings an impeccable reputation that is not tied too closely to Wall Street."

Pitt resigned over his role in the appointment of William Webster to lead an accounting oversight board.

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