Robert Khuzami, the director of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission, believed he had to "blow up" the enforcement division in order to recover from high-profile mistakes, which included missing Bernard Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme and failing to crack down on fraud during the housing bubble.
Now, after his nearly two years on the job, at least some of the results are coming in.
Khuzami's supporters say has transformed the division into one focused on "bad behavior that's fresh" as opposed to fraud that occurred even during the housing bubble. While the SEC is still focusing on the Lehman bankruptcy, staff attorneys are looking for new cases and trying to close them quicker, because Khuzami believes speed has a greater deterrent value on would-be fraudsters.
Khuzami has completed the largest restructuring in the enforcement division's 40-year history, eliminating a layer of management and redeploying 200 staff attorneys to other areas.
The former prosecutor in the US Attorneys office has also set out to build an enforcement division that more closely resembles a prosecutorâ€™s office. In the past, the SEC viewed some Wall Street firms as partners in uncovering fraud, given the notion of ''self regulation.'' Now thereâ€™s more of an adversarial relationship with firms such as Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), which wasnâ€™t even alerted to the filing of fraud charges against earlier this year.
So far, SEC watchers give Khuzami high marks, but the SEC is still compiling stats measuring the effectiveness of his programs. And others wonder whether the agency is so structurally flawed --agents often eye higher paying jobs on Wall Street while at the agency, meaning they're less inclined to hammer possible future employers -- that it can ever recover to become an effective tool against white collar crime.
Khuzami, for his part, declined to comment but SEC spokesman John Nester say Khuzami's efforts are yielding results. During the first 10 months of this year, the amount of money the SEC has won from targets that settled enforcement cases -- $2.5 billion -- is higher than any of the three previous years.
One reason, according to attorneys who deal with the SEC on a regular basis, is Khuzami's approach. Past SEC chiefs were typically focused on broader areas; Arthur Levitt honed in on the municipal bond market, while William Donaldson led a charge against the mutual fund industry. Khuzami, meanwhile, is looking at plenty of cases on a wider array of issues, including insider trading and fraud within the hedge fund industry.