Preet Bharara

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Preet Bharara
Bharara, Preet Headshot.jpg
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
Incumbent
Assumed office
2009
Preceded by Lev L. Dassin (acting)
Constituency Southern District of New York
Personal details
Born Preetinder Singh Bharara
1968 (age 45–46)
Ferozepur, Punjab, India
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Harvard College (B.A.)
Columbia Law School (J.D.)

Preetinder Singh "Preet" Bharara (born 1968) is an Indian American attorney and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.[1] In 2012, Bharara was named by Time magazine as one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World," and by India Abroad as its 2011 Person of the Year.[2][3][4] Bharara was also featured on a cover of Time magazine entitled "This Man is Busting Wall Street" for his office's prosecutions of insider trading and other financial fraud on Wall Street.[5][6] His office has prosecuted several international terrorists, and secured life sentences for many high profile ones like Faisal Shazad, the Times Square Bomber.[7] He has charged several former and current elected officials in corruption cases and acted against organized crime in the country. Bharara was included in Bloomberg Markets Magazine’s 2012 “50 Most Influential” list as well as Vanity Fair’s 2012 and 2013 annual “New Establishment” lists.[8][9][10] His brother, Vinit Bharara, is the entrepreneur who co-founded Diapers.com, a subsidiary of Amazon.com.[11]

He came to the spotlight again with the prosecution of an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, which created tensions in India-US relations.[12][13]

Early life and career[edit]

Bharara was born in 1968 in Ferozepur, Punjab, India, to a Sikh father and Hindu mother.[14] He grew up in Eatontown in suburban Monmouth County, New Jersey[15] and attended Ranney School in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1986.[16][17] He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1990 and Columbia Law School in 1993, where he was a member of the Columbia Law Review.[14]

Bharara served as the chief counsel to Senator Chuck Schumer and played a leading role in the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary investigation into the firings of United States attorneys.[18] He was assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan for five years, bringing criminal cases against the bosses of the Gambino and Colombo crime family and Asian gangs in New York City.[18][19][20]

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York[edit]

Bharara was nominated to become U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York by President Barack Obama on May 15, 2009 and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He was sworn into the position on August 13, 2009.[21]

In regards to the role of the prosecutor and the correct attitude of the prosecutor, Mr. Bharara will ask all applicants to his office, "How are you going to feel knowing that every day in your job, by definition of you doing your job correctly on the criminal side, you will basically be the proximate cause for, and responsible for, another human being losing his or her liberty for periods of time?" He continues, "From time to time, you get an applicant that is a little bit excited about that prospect. And takes some joy in that prospect. And they are a little too zealous about it. And you know what we do? We don't hire that person... You don't want a justice system where you have prosecutors who are cowboys."[22]

National security and terrorism[edit]

Bharara has said the office’s top priority is protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism, whether homegrown or foreign-based.[23] According to Bharara, after 9/11 “as crime has gone global and national security threats are global, in my view the long arm of the law has to get even longer. We can’t wait until bombs are going off.”[24] Bharara has also been an advocate of trying and prosecuting terrorists through the civilian court system. Bharara, at a joint media availability held on April 1, 2014 with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, "Every time this Office is called upon to prosecute an accused terrorist, we stand at the ready to do what is needed to obtain justice and protect the interests of the United States, as we do in all of our prosecutions."[25]

During his tenure as U.S. Attorney, the office has prosecuted several international terrorists, and secured life sentences for Faisal Shazad, the Times Square Bomber, and Ahmed Ghailani, an Al Qaeda associate who was responsible for the mass murder of innocents at the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.[7][26] More recently, Bharara oversaw the prosecution of Al Qaeda spokesman and Osama bin Laden's son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, who was convicted of conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and providing material support to terrorists.[27] Abu Ghayth had, among other actions, appeared in video footage alongside Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders as they justified the September 11, 2001 attacks.[28] Most recently, Bharara's office convicted Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Al Qaeda cleric who was convicted for charges relating to hostage taking, conspiracy to establish a militant training camp, and calling for holy war in Afghanistan.[7][29]

Bharara’s office convicted Affia Siddiqui for attempting to kill American servicemen in Afghanistan as well as four men for plotting to blow up a synagogue in Riverdale.[30][31] In February 2011, the first pirate in modern times, Abduwali Muse, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to more than 33 years in prison, following prosecution by the office.[32] In November 2011, under Bharara's supervision, his Office convicted the Russian international arms trafficker Viktor Bout for intending to smuggle arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to be used against U.S. forces.[33] Bharara’s office is also prosecuting alleged associates of al-Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Hizballah.

On April 13, 2013, Bharara was on a list released by the Russian Federation of Americans banned from entering the country over their alleged human rights violations. The list was a direct response to the so-called Magnitsky list revealed by the United States the day before.[34]

Financial fraud[edit]

Insider trading[edit]

From 2009 to 2012 (and ongoing), Bharara's office oversaw the Galleon Group insider trading investigation against Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta, Anil Kumar and 60+ others. Rajaratnam was convicted at trial on 14 counts related to insider trading.[35] Bharara is said to have "reaffirmed his office’s leading role in pursuing corporate crime with this landmark insider trading case, which relied on aggressive prosecutorial methods and unprecedented tactics."[36] Bharara has often spoken publicly [37] and written an op-ed about the culture surrounding corporate crime and its effect on market confidence and business risk.[38]

Preet Bharara on the cover of Time.

After 85 straight convictions for insider trading cases, on July 17, 2014 he finally lost one, when a jury acquitted Rajaratnam's younger brother, Rengan, of such charges.[39]

On July 25, 2013, Bharara announced criminal and civil charges against SAC Capital Advisors LP, one of the largest and most successful hedge-fund firms in the United States.[40] The announcement resulted from a multi-year investigation during which eight current or former SAC employees have pled guilty. The government charged SAC Capital with securities and wire fraud and sought forfeiture and money laundering penalties. Bharara accused SAC Capital of creating a culture of “institutional indifference” which facilitated “inside trading that was substantial, pervasive and on a scale without known precedent in the hedge fund industry.”[41] On November 4, 2013, Bharara announced a guilty plea agreement with SAC Capital Advisors LP.[42] Four days later, SAC Capital Advisors LP pled guilty to a single count of wire fraud and four counts of securities fraud and agreed to pay a $1.8 billion settlement and close its investment advisory business.[43] It is the largest settlement ever for insider trading.[44]

Madoff Ponzi scheme[edit]

Bharara’s office worked together with Irving Picard, the trustee overseeing the recovery of funds from Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, to secure a $7.2 billion settlement with the estate of Jeffry Picower. The amount, equivalent to the total amount Picower withdrew from his account with Madoff before the scheme collapsed, is the largest forfeiture in U.S. history.[45] The money will be used to compensate victims of Madoff’s fraud.

Almost as soon as he took office, Bharara began investigating the role of Madoff's primary banker, JPMorgan Chase, in the fraud.[46] On January 7, 2014; Bharara announced that his office and JPMorgan had reached a deferred prosecution agreement that called for JPMorgan to forfeit $1.7 billion—the largest forfeiture ever demanded from a bank in American history—to settle charges that it and its predecessors violated the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to alert authorities about Madoff's actions. Bharara said that his office had amassed evidence that JPMorgan had failed to exercise even rudimentary oversight over Madoff's banking activities. The government will use the money to help make Madoff's victims whole. Bharara's office filed a two-count criminal information charging JPMorgan with felony violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, but those charges will be dismissed in two years provided that Chase reforms its anti-money laundering procedures and cooperates with the government in its investigation.[47][48][49][50]

His office also handled the criminal prosecutions of several employees at Madoff’s firm and their associates, who were convicted by a jury on March 24, 2014.[51]

Bank of America suit[edit]

On October 24, 2012, Mr. Bharara along with Federal prosecutors in Manhattan sued Bank of America for $1 billion, accusing the bank of carrying out a mortgage scheme that defrauded the government during the depths of the financial crisis.[52] He brought the case with the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the government watchdog for the bank bailout program.

The trial, which took place before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, lasted four weeks. On October 23, 2013, following roughly five hours of deliberation, the jury found Bank of America liable for selling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac thousands of defective loans in the first mortgage-fraud case brought by the U.S. government to go to trial.[53] The civil verdict also found the bank’s Countrywide Financial unit and former Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone liable.[54] Bharara and his team of federal prosecutors argued that the Countrywide program—nicknamed “the Hustle”—processed mortgage applications with a focus on quantity rather than quality, resulting in the bank’s churning out unqualified buyers housing loans that were destined to fail.[55]

The government relied upon the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), a civil statue that had rarely been used in the previous two decades.[56] The victory marked the first time a major U.S. bank has been held accountable for its role in the financial crisis.[57]

Toyota deferred prosecution agreement[edit]

In March 2014, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Toyota by information with one count of wire fraud for lying to consumers about two safety-related issues in the company’s cars, each of which caused unintended acceleration. Under the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) that Toyota entered into the same day the information was filed, Toyota agreed to pay a $1.2 billion financial penalty, the largest criminal penalty ever imposed on an auto manufacturer. The company also admitted the truth of a detailed statement of facts accompanying the DPA, and agreed to submit to a three-year monitorship.

Public corruption[edit]

Bharara has said that “there is no prosecutor’s office in the state that takes more seriously the responsibility to root out public corruption in Albany and anywhere else that we might find it, and I think our record speaks for itself.”[58] During his tenure, Bharara has charged several current and former elected officials in public corruption cases, including Senator Vincent Leibell, Senator Hiram Monserrate, NYC Councilman Larry Seabrook, and Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi.[59][60][61][62][63][64] Bharara’s office uncovered an alleged corruption ring involving New York State Senator Carl Kruger. In April 2012, Kruger was sentenced to seven years in prison.[65] In February 2011, Bharara announced the indictment of five consultants working on New York City’s electronic payroll and timekeeping project, CityTime, for misappropriating more than $80 million from the project. The investigation has expanded with five additional defendants being charged, including a consultant who allegedly received more than $5 million illegal kickbacks on the projects.[66]

In early 2013, Mr. Bharara oversaw the conviction of New York City Police Department Officer Gilberto Valle, who was part of an alleged plot to rape and then cook and eat (cannibalize) women.[67] Mr. Bharara and his team argued that Valle had done more than hypothesize, think, or speculate (in online networks where such fantasies are discussed), but had moved on from being a possible danger to others to the criminal planning phase and had even visited the street where one of the women lived, at the behest of another defendant. However, the defense and others who objected to the verdict argued that all he had done was fantasize, not plan, and that such thoughts or online posts, however twisted, were still protected.[67] The defense team (Robert Baum and Julia L. Gatto)[67] may ask the judge to set aside the verdict, or may appeal. If he does keep the felony conviction and is sentenced, Valle would automatically no longer serve in law enforcement.[67][68]

On April 2, 2013, Bharara unsealed federal corruption charges against New York State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran and several other Republican party officials. The federal complaint alleged that Smith attempted to secure a spot on the Republican ballot in the 2013 New York City mayoral election through bribery.[69]

In 2014, Bharara's office began an inquiry into Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to end the work of the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel. After a New York Times report documenting Cuomo's staff's involvement with the commission and subsequent statements by commissioners defending the Governor, Bharara warned of obstruction of justice and witness tampering. [70]

Violent crimes and gang activity[edit]

Since 2009, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has convicted more than 1,000 of approximately 1,300 people charged in 52 large-scale drug and gang takedown.[71] On lowering violent crime rates, Bharara has said, "You can measure the number of people arrested and the number of shootings, but success is when you lift the sense of intimidation and fear."

In January 2011, Bharara’s office participated in a multi-state organized crime takedown, charging 26 members of the Gambino crime family with racketeering, murder, narcotics, and firearms charges.[72] This action was part of a coordinated effort with U.S. Attorney Offices in Brooklyn, New York, Newark, New Jersey and Providence, Rhode Island. Bharara has also overseen the largest criminal sweep of gangs in Newburgh, New York, working with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies to bring charges against members of the Latin Kings and Bloods gangs, amongst others.[73]

Complex fraud, civil fraud, and cybercrime[edit]

Since entering office, Bharara renewed focus on sophisticated, large-scale frauds, creating a Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit in the Criminal Division and a partner Civil Frauds Unit in the Civil Division to focus on these types of crimes. The Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit has uncovered and prosecuted cases involving frauds of all kinds, including a massive fraud involving disability benefits at the Long Island Rail Road, an immigration fraud mill that operated through a Manhattan-based law firm, and a $57.3 million fraud on the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which administers programs established to aid the survivors of Nazi persecution.[74][75][76]

The Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit is also charged with addressing the growing threat of cybercrime. In November 2011, the Office charged seven defendants with operating an internet fraud scheme that infected more than four million computers worldwide and manipulated internet advertising business.[77] In June 2012, The New York Times published an Op-Ed written by Bharara about the threat posed to private industry by cybercrime and encouraged corporate leaders to take preventative measures and create contingency plans.[78]

The Civil Frauds Unit has investigated and brought cases against Deutsche Bank and a subsidiary, Mortgage IT, as well as Allied Home Mortgage, for reckless and fraudulent lending practices.[79][80] In February 2012, the office filed and simultaneously settled a civil fraud lawsuit against CitiMortgage. As part of the settlement, the bank admitted and accepted responsibility for failing to comply with certain HUD-related loan requirements and other conduct and agreed to pay the U.S. $158.3 million.[81]

Bharara with his wife at the 2012 Time 100 gala

Bharara has also been very active in prosecutions related to online poker. In 2010, he "threatened an Australian payment processor with up to 75 years in prison for helping online poker companies do business with their U.S. customers."[82] In April 2011, Bharara charged 11 founding members of internet gambling companies and their associates involved with pay processing with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA).[83] The case is United States v. Scheinberg.

Devyani Khobragade incident[edit]

Preet Bharara and his office came to the limelight again with the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General of India in New York. The prosecution accused her of making false statements in the visa application of an Indian national who was employed as the housekeeper at her home in New York.[12] The incident turned into a diplomatic standoff between India and United States as Khobragade was strip searched and kept in custody with drug peddlers. The US Marshal Service acknowledged this as well.[84] India took serious action to protest against the alleged mistreatment of its diplomat: ID cards of U.S. consular personnel and their families were revoked, airport passes rescinded and embassy imports of liquor and other goods were frozen.[13] Even the security barriers in front of the US embassy were removed as retaliation.[85] Mr. Bharara and his office were accused of racial discrimination by media. He has been accused of targeting people of Indian origin.[86] The United States Government justified and supported his office and refuted the charges of racial discrimination. A State Department spokesperson stated that only standard procedures are undertaken in the arrest and the US Attorney's office was following procedure. US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret over the incident during his conversation with Indian National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon [87] US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell also expressed her regret for the circumstances surrounding the consular officer's arrest [88] The United States maintains that Ms. Khobragade did not have diplomatic immunity from prosecution in United States courts.[13] Bharara told the media that "There has been much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting on the charges against Devyani Khobragade, it is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis."[89]

Speaking at Harvard Law School during its 2014 Class Day ceremony, Preet Bharara said that it was the US Department of State who initiated and investigated proceedings against the Indian official : “(It was) not the crime of the century but a serious crime nonetheless, that is why the State Department opened the case, that is why the State Department investigated it. That is why career agents in the State Department asked career prosecutors in my office to approve criminal charges,”.[90][91][92]

Personal[edit]

Bharara is a naturalized United States citizen.[14]

Bharara traces his desire to become a lawyer back to the seventh grade, which was when he read the play Inherit the Wind.[93]

Bharara is a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan. At an October 2012 concert in Hartford, Connecticut, Springsteen shouted, “This is for Preet Bharara!” before launching into his song “Death to My Hometown.”[94]

On May 19, 2013, Bharara delivered the commencement address at Fordham Law School's 106th Graduation Day at Radio City Music Hall.[95] He was also presented with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Later that week, on May 23, 2013, Bharara delivered the commencement address at Columbia Law School, his alma mater.[96] It was the 20th year reunion of his own graduation. On May 27, 2014, Bharara delivered the commencement address at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The following day, Bharara spoke at Harvard Law School's Class Day Ceremony along with comedian Mindy Kaling.[97]

References[edit]

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