Justice Depart. gets a new chief of Criminial Division

Greg Gordon

Beware financial behemoths.

Leslie Caldwell, confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 15th as chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, comes to the job with a wealth of experience in securities fraud.

She headed the Justice Department's massive investigation into the collapse of Enron Corp. from 2002 to 2004 -- a sweeping probe that resulted in the prosecutions of more than 30 people, including former CEO Ken Lay, who was found guilty of 10 counts of securities fraud and related charges.

Now she’ll preside over all of the department’s criminal investigations.

Prior to leading the Enron task force, Caldwell served from 1999 to 2002 as chief of both the Criminal Division and the Securities Fraud Section of the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco.

She served as a special assistant to the Criminal Division chief during the Bush administration and also has done defense work is a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in New York City.

Caldwell’s appointment comes as Attorney General Eric Holder has toughened his posture toward prosecuting major banks, which got a pass in the aftermath of the financial crisis amid a series of bank bailouts and a climate of “Too Big to Fail.” The big banks and their executives also proved “Too Big to Jail” under Caldwell’s predecessor, former Clinton White House lawyer and private criminal defense attorney Lanny Breuer.

During Breuer’s tenure through President Barack Obama’s first term, not a single major bank executive went to jail.

The arrival of Caldwell, whom Holder praised as a “talented lawyer, a strong leader and a dedicated public servant,” follows Obama’s appointment of Mary Jo White, who built a reputation for fighting corruption as a U.S. attorney in New York, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC has recently seen an exodus of senior officials to the private sector, giving White a chance to install her own team.

Caldwell’s confirmation marks the first time that women have simultaneously led the two offices, which collaborate with the FBI in overseeing the federal government’s fight against crime.

It’ll be interesting to see if the government carries a bigger stick in dealing with Wall Street over the next couple of years.

By Greg Gordon
McClatchy Washington Bureau