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(Adds quote from ex-SEC enforcement director)
By Aruna Viswanatha
WASHINGTON, Jan 3 (Reuters) - George Canellos, one of the chief U.S. enforcers of securities laws, will leave his post at the Securities and Exchange Commission later in January, the agency said on Friday.
Canellos has served as co-head of the SEC's enforcement division since last April and has held other leadership roles at the SEC for four and a half years.
In his tenure at the SEC, Canellos has overseen a slew of major investigations, including those stemming from the financial crisis, and several major policy changes.
Last year Canellos and co-director Andrew Ceresney instituted a controversial settlement policy of requiring defendants in some cases to admit to wrongdoing, rather than letting them neither admit nor deny charges.
Canellos was previously head of the SEC's New York office and was then deputy director of enforcement. He briefly served as acting director of the SEC's enforcement division, until former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White took over as SEC chair and appointed both Canellos and Ceresney to share the responsibility.
At the SEC, Canellos had built a reputation for being thoughtful and careful. William McLucas, who served as enforcement director at the SEC for much of the 1990s and is now a lawyer at the law firm WilmerHale, said the defense bar could count on Canellos to consider all sides to an issue.
"Even when a defense lawyer might disagree with one of George's decisions in a particular case, you could never say that he did not listen carefully and consider all the contrary arguments that were advanced," McLucas said.
His departure had been expected. Reuters previously reported that Canellos and Ceresney were expected to share duties for a limited time.
"George filled an incredibly important leadership role," White said in a statement. "He helped to improve coordination between the enforcement and exam programs, streamline procedures to expedite investigations, and better integrate our investigative and trial functions."
Canellos has not yet determined his next career move, the SEC said.
Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Leslie Adler and Karey Van Hall