U.S. SEC enforcement chief Ceresney to depart at year-end

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Andrew Ceresney, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Wall Street policeman, will leave the agency at the end of December, joining other top officials who are departing before Donald Trump is sworn in as president in January.

Andrew Ceresney (R), Director of SEC Enforcement division, speaks as Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, looks on during a news conference regarding Las Vegas sports bettor William "Billy" Walters and Dean Food's former chairman Thomas Davis, both charged with insider trading, in New York City, U.S. May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Until a permanent replacement is appointed, Ceresney’s deputy director, Stephanie Avakian, will preside over the Enforcement Division, the SEC said on Thursday,

Ceresney is the seventh top official at the SEC to announce his departure since Trump won November’s election.

Since then, the SEC has been hit with a wave of resignations, led by the announcement that SEC Chair Mary Jo White plans to step down at the end of the Obama administration.

Trump has yet to nominate a new SEC chairman, who in turn will be in charge of hiring division directors, including one for enforcement.

Trump is considering Debra Wong Yang, a former U.S. attorney for the federal court district headquartered in Los Angeles, for the top SEC job. Other names that have surfaced include former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins and former SEC General Counsel Ralph Ferrara.

Ceresney joined the SEC in April 2013 after working with White as a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton. He previously was a federal prosecutor in New York’s Southern District.

He presided over the filing of nearly 3,000 enforcement actions at the SEC, including one against Barclays PLC BARC.L for making misrepresentations about its dark pool. He also oversaw a foreign bribery case against JP Morgan Chase & Co JPM.N in connection with its hiring practices and a major case involving hackers who broke into newswire services to steal corporate financial information that could be used to make profitable trades.

Ceresney was also instrumental in developing a settlement policy that requires defendants in some instances to admit to wrongdoing - a departure from the typical practice of letting companies settle without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

In an interview with Reuters, Ceresney said he is not sure what he will do next, but plans to take a few months off to spend time with his family.

He said, among others, that he is most proud of the SEC's case against Bank of America BAC.N over its misuse of customer cash and the SEC's first-ever foreign bribery case against a hedge fund, Och-Ziff Capital Management Group OZM.N and its CEO and CFO.

“We took what I think was a strong program, and made it much stronger,” Ceresney said. “I think we’re recognized now as an aggressive, tough but fair regulator.”

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Dan Grebler