From gangsters to banksters: Wall Street braces for a tough new cop on the block

New York

Bankers beware: a tough prosecutor with a record of busting terrorists and mobsters in New York could soon be in charge of overseeing Wall Street.

Mary Jo White, the ex-United States Attorney for the southern district of New York, is being tipped as President Obama's likely nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US market regulator.

The rumour mill has gathered steam in recent days, as the financial world awaits official word on the successor to Elisse Walter, who has been steering the watchdog since Mary Schapiro's exit late last year.

Ms White's appointment, if it comes to pass, would mark a break from the long line of career regulators and finance lawyers usually called upon to oversee the nation's banks.

Between 1993 and 2002, while at the US Attorney's office, she went after terrorists, cracking down on those responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing and later on four followers of Osama bin Laden for the bombings of US embassies in Africa in 1998. Earlier, while working as an assistant attorney in the prosecutor's office in the eastern district of New York, she went after John Gotti, the mobster in charge of the Gambino crime syndicate, who was convicted of murder and racketeering in 1992.

Her time in government service also featured white-collar and money-laundering cases. But a White nomination could be controversial. Putting aside her relative lack of experience with the markets, something which might matter less when set against demands for a tougher crackdown on Wall Street, there is the question of her record in private practice in recent years.

Currently in charge of litigation at law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, her clients have included Ken Lewis, the ex-Bank of America chief whom she reportedly represented during an SEC probe which concluded without him being accused of wrongdoing. According to a Reuters report at the time, Ms White was also drafted in by News Corp's independent directors in 2011 as the News of the World phone-hacking scandal unfolded.

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