Compliance officers will see plenty of headlines today about James Comey, newly confirmed director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In that capacity, his name is good to know because he'll be the one in charge of the agents who might be kicking down your warehouse door some day during a misconduct investigation. But Comey's name should also ring other bells from those early days of the compliance revolution in the 2000s.
Comey was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in 2002 and 2003, and then deputy attorney general under the Bush Administration from 2003 to 2005. In the latter capacity he oversaw all of the Justice Department's prosecutions for corporate misconduct, and he was one of the first deputy AGs to start scaling back the Thompson Memo, an unpopular Justice Department missive from 2003 that set stern cooperation criteria for companies under investigation if those companies ever hoped to avoid indictment.
Like all talented government officials, however, Comey eventually took his talents to the private sector. He first took a gig as general counsel of Lockheed Martin in the mid-2000s, then the private equity firm Bridgewater Associates, and a side job as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's legal wing, the National Chamber Litigation Center.
More recently, Comey was named an outside director at HSBC and appointed to the bank's newly created “financial systems vulnerabilities committee.” That would be the committee to clean up HSBC's notoriously poor anti-money laundering controls, profiled in a very ugly U.S. Senate investigation last year—which included HSBC's then-compliance chief resigning live in front of a U.S. Senate committee hearing into the matter.
So we can safely say that as of today, compliance officers now have someone at the top of law-enforcement circles in this country who can understand their pain. Whether he'll ever give you a break because of that, I doubt very much. But you can hope.
The other (possibly more interesting) person to watch is Preet Bharara, current U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. That post has long been a stepping stone to brighter futures for the U.S. attorneys there: Rudy Giuliani, who became mayor of New York City; Mary Jo White, now chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and of course Comey as well.
Bharara, I think, is no exception to that history. He's a talented prosecutor, currently making headlines with his criminal charges against SAC Capital. Previous headlines include the conviction of former McKinsey & Co. kingpin Rajat Gupta for insider trading, busting up insider trading at the Galleon Group hedge fund, and the Times Square bomber who (thankfully) failed to detonate his car bomb. Bharara also delivered a keynote address at the Compliance Week 2011 conference, and of course, that also is a hallmark of greatness.
I have no particular knowledge of when Bharara might move on to better things, or where he may go. But the Justice Department has not had a permanent chief of its Criminal Division since Lanny Breuer stepped down from that job months ago; that's one possible landing spot. And Attorney General Eric Holder always seems to be on the brink of returning to the private sector sometime soon; when he does, his replacement may well reshuffle other senior officials at the department, and Bharara could certainly do well in that scenario too. Stay tuned.