U.S. Attorney in Manhattan resigns to join law firm

NEW YORK Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:50pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Michael Garcia, a top federal prosecutor of terrorism and white-collar crime cases in New York, resigned on Monday to join a private law firm.

Garcia, 47, will be replaced temporarily by his deputy, Lev Dassin, until President-elect Barack Obama nominates a new U.S. Attorney to the post, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.

The departure of Garcia, who was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2005, was widely anticipated as part of the change to a new administration. Garcia's resignation is effective December 1.

Whoever succeeds Garcia as head of the Manhattan office near Wall Street takes on one of the most influential judicial posts in the United States at a time of upheaval in the financial industry and competing investigations.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Christopher Christie, announced his resignation effective December 1. Christie took office in January 2002. He did not indicate his future plans.

Possible successors to Garcia could include Dassin, 43, or Mark Pomerantz, a partner at the Manhattan law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, or Preet Bharara, chief counsel to Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, according to reports in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Garcia has overseen several high-profile cases, including the break-up of a prostitution ring that that led to the resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer in March.

Garcia announced two weeks ago that his office would not bring criminal charges against Spitzer, who has admitted that he was a client of the sex ring.

Traditionally, the office has taken the lead in prosecuting securities fraud and corruption, and Garcia's tenure has had its share of cases. These have included guilty pleas from top executives of collapsed commodities broker Refco and corruption in the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq.

However, in this year's financial crisis, prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn brought the first cases against former executives of Bear Stearns and Credit Suisse over mortgage-backed securities.

In October, Garcia took the unusual step of announcing that his office was cooperating with New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate credit-default swaps, among the unregulated financial instruments blamed for the meltdown.

Monday's statement did not identify the law firm Garcia will be joining, but New York newspapers have reported it is Kirkland & Ellis.

He was assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security before becoming U.S. Attorney. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan on the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case and the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa.

(Reporting by Grant McCool, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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