* Ex-SEC lawyer Becker returning to Cleary Gottlieb
* Becker did not recuse himself on Madoff matters
* Becker now subject of Madoff clawback suit by trustee
* SEC watchdog, lawmakers probing ethics issues
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, May 9 (Reuters) -The former top lawyer at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, who is at the center of an ethics probe about his work on the epic Bernard Madoff fraud, is returning to his prior job as a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.
David Becker, 63, recently served a two-year stint as general counsel under SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro. At the law firm, he will focus on securities enforcement and regulation, corporate governance and internal investigations, as well as new regulations in the financial sector, according to an announcement Monday by Cleary Gottlieb.
He previously was a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office from 2002 until early 2009, and he will reclaim his position starting May 16.
In recent months, Becker’s tenure at the SEC has come under scrutiny by lawmakers and the agency’s internal watchdog, after Madoff trustee Irving Picard sued Becker and his brothers to claw back $1.5 million that they had inherited from their mother’s investments with Madoff.
Becker disclosed his financial interest, after which the SEC’s ethics counsel cleared Becker to work on legal issues involving Madoff.
Becker was involved in helping the SEC craft a recommendation on how Madoff victims would be compensated. The SEC later voted on his recommendation with some commissioners and staffers in the dark about the money he had inherited and his potential conflict of interest.
His clearance to work on Madoff matters has prompted lawmakers and the SEC’s inspector general to investigate the matter, and in March Schapiro told lawmakers she regretted that Becker had not recused himself. Amanda Remus, a spokeswoman for Picard, declined to discuss the lawsuit because it is still pending.
Mark Leddy, a managing partner at Cleary Gottlieb, said the firm has not seen anything that ”changes our mind about David as a person of great integrity and professionalism.
“As far as we are concerned, there have been no allegations that he himself has done anything wrong or anything to advantage himself,” Leddy said, adding that Becker’s actions were “cleared by the SEC’s ethics officer.”
As per federal rules, Becker will be barred from advocating any matter before the SEC for one year starting from the time he departed the agency at the end of February.
If he returned to the SEC in the future, he would also be barred from working on cases in which he was substantially involved while at Cleary Gottlieb.
Becker has worked at the SEC twice throughout his career. In addition to his recent service, he also served as general counsel from 2000 to 2002. He first began his work at the SEC in 1998 as deputy general counsel.
“I am delighted to be rejoining Cleary Gottlieb and look forward to working again with many of my former colleagues and some new ones,” Becker said in a statement. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)