The US justice department official credited with bringing down Galleon hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam is a wisecracking, self-effacing, Bruce Springsteen-loving prosecutor who is deadly serious about what he views as rampant insider trading on Wall Street.
Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, has been hailed by some in the financial media as the “sheriff of Wall Street.” His office has ramped up white-collar enforcement, charging nearly 50 people in an insider trading crackdown that led to Wednesday’s conviction of Rajaratnam on 14 counts of fraud and conspiracy.
Some who know Bharara, while crediting him with aggressive enforcement, say he is following the tradition of an office known for policing Wall Street since Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken were sent to prison in the 1980s. The Rajaratnam investigation began during the George Bush administration, although Bharara became heavily involved after taking office in August 2009.
“I think this ‘sheriff of Wall Street’ stuff is a bunch of press hype,” said David Kelley, a former US attorney in Manhattan. "Preet is doing what all US attorneys have done. He’s a very effective prosecutor and lawyer, and very smart.”
Bharara, 42, is credited with a successful run in which his office rapidly secured a life prison term for the would-be Times Square bomber; unraveled a ring of Russian spies and brought cases against allegedly corrupt New York officials, mafia figures and narcotics traffickers.
And the naturalised US citizen, who was born in India and emigrated to the US at the age of two, is widely respected even among Republicans for his role in helping to lead the investigation of US attorneys fired during the Bush administration.
Those who know Bharara say his low-key style relies on humor and self-deprecating jokes. During his White House interview for the US attorney job, friends say, he joked about his Indian heritage by saying, “Hey, you have to be a US citizen for this job?”
In 2009, he told New York University law students that financial fraud “has been with us through the ages. He also described insider trading as “rampant” in a speech last year. “It is unfair; it is offensive; it is unlawful.”
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