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.
In this Oct. 8, 2002 file photo, Mary Jo White, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, appears on Capitol Hill in Washington.
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. "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 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. That year, the bank pleaded guilty to conspiring with an investment adviser to hide hundreds of millions of dollars in losses from Japanese investors.
Cordray has run the consumer bureau since last year. Senate Republicans had opposed Cordray, as well as the concept of the consumer bureau.
Before she was elected to the Senate last fall, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., conceived of the idea of a consumer protection bureau. Obama considered naming her as commissioner, but her nomination would likely have run into deep opposition on Capitol Hill.
White, 65, 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. During her tenure from 1993 to 2002, White won convictions of white-collar criminals, drug traffickers and international terrorists. The most notable conviction was Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.