Feds unite to form a new financial fraud task force

James A. Cohen in USA Today, May 21, 2010

Media Source

By David Lieberman, USA TODAY
Federal officials will unveil today a potentially important effort to investigate and prosecute financial fraud cases, this time in eastern Virginia instead of the most prominent venue, New York City.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Richmond will coordinate the Virginia Financial and Securities Fraud Task Force with representatives of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, FBI, U.S. Postal Service and IRS, as well as state law enforcement agencies. "It will allow us to share information, connect the dots, and pursue criminal as well as civil tracks," says Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

That coordination should lead to "more prosecutions and faster prosecutions," says Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement.

Securities fraud will be the top priority.

"We're going to be working with the SEC to start bringing some large, national-impact securities fraud cases," MacBride says. Although he can't discuss specific investigations, he adds that "there are a number of things in the pipeline."

The new effort could boost Virginia's prominence in legal circles as a center for splashy cases similar to the one that the SEC announced last month against Goldman Sachs.

"Part of what's going on is a public relations effort," says Jim Cohen, a professor at the Fordham University School of Law. For example, when the Justice Department decides which of its offices will handle a case, "it's a very political process," and Virginia has "a lot of competition from other districts."

But unlike most, eastern Virginia has the legal right to handle almost any fraud case, because virtually all official reports from publicly traded companies go to the SEC's EDGAR computer server in Alexandria, Va., MacBride says.

Prosecutors like the area near Washington, D.C., because its juries "are traditionally viewed as pro-government," says David Barger, a former federal prosecutor who chairs the litigation practice at Virginia law firm Greenberg Traurig.

The venue also has what's known as a "rocket docket," Barger says. "Cases go from indictment to trial in 90 to 150 days. In other jurisdictions, it may take a year or more."