WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), highlighting his administration's fresh efforts to rein in the Wall Street.
Unlike the previous SEC Chair Mary Shapiro, who worked previously as a financial regulation official both at the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a securities industry's self-regulatory organization, Ms. White has established a reputation as a stern prosecutor. Over a decade as an attorney in New York, she helped prosecute large-scale, white-collar crimes in complex securities and financial institution fraud.
The appointment showed the "commitment that he (Obama) has to carrying out Wall Street reform, making sure that we have the rules of the road that are necessary and that are being enforced," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Notably she also brought to justice the terrorists responsible for bombing the World Trade Center. "You don't want to mess with Mary Jo," said Obama, while addressing the importance of financial industry oversight at the White House Thursday.
Obama's choice revealed a renewed effort to crack down irresponsible behavior on Wall Street.
In his 2012 State of the Union address, he announced a Financial Crime Unit to be created within the Justice Department and to be devoted to identifying wrongdoing in the housing market before the financial collapse.
If Ms. White's nomination is confirmed by the Senate, she will be the first person with the work experience as a prosecutor to head the agency in SEC's more than 80-year history. She is also the first woman Obama has nominated in key posts for his second term, a move to relieve his pressure from gender inequality.
The SEC played a critical role in protecting the U.S. financial system at the peak of the financial crisis. In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012, the financial watchdog filed 734 enforcement actions and collected more than 3 billion U.S. dollars in penalties and disgorgement.
SEC has also settled many cases with bad actors on Wall Street on the condition of no charges admitted or denied. This practice allows the agency to close the case more timely and to spread its limited resources among the largest number of cases.
The vast majority of enforcement actions filed by the SEC are resolved before court trials. In the 2011 fiscal year, the SEC filed a record-high of 735 enforcement actions, but only went to trial over 19 cases.
However, this approach went under increasing pressure as critics complained it was not severe enough to intimidate potential wrongdoers. The nomination of Ms. White indicated a possibility of restoring the SEC's image as a tough regulator, given her rich experience in prosecuting Wall Street crime.
"The SEC, long a vital and positive force for the markets, has a lot of hard and important work ahead of it," said Ms. White.