The sheriff of Wall Street wants to take down the wolves of Wall Street.
U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara spoke in Huntsman Hall yesterday at an event hosted by the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Bharara is known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” but says the job is more like a firefighter’s. He analogized investigating firms’ suspicious behavior with firemen’s investigation of the smell of smoke. He began his talk by expressing his love for the law, calling a scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street” where a subpoena is trashed “personally upsetting.”
The speech, according to Bharara, was less of a lecture and more of a “scared straight talk” against white collar crime. Three or four of the attendees may be future perpetrators of white collar crime, Bharara said. He advised law and business students aspiring to work at high-level firms to avoid entangling themselves in corporate cases.
Bharara instructed audience members to “have confidence in [their] own view about what [they] think is fishy or not fishy.” If something seems wrong, speak up or “get the hell out,” he said.
While it seems as though many of the cases tackled by Bharara’s office only cover Wall Street and cases of fraud, they are active in many areas. Bharara said his office is not anti-business and “targets crime, not industries.” Industries can even be the victims, he added. Bharara’s office also investigates terrorism and the cyber cases - including some Bitcoin litigation.
At the end of the talk the audience was given a chance to ask questions. One audience member’s question related to difficulties in handling cases that involve foreigners. In his response, Bharara referenced the Devyani Khobragade incident.
Bharara has been on the receiving end of a lot of speculation about his involvement in the case due to his Indian descent. Some claimed it was a move to further his own political career, and one newspaper accused him of acting on behalf of Eric Holder and Barack Obama, “his white masters.”
He said a lot of the cases he has overseen as an attorney could have been avoided if someone stood up earlier against the crime. People often say it is too difficult to be a whistle blower because of the job market, Bharara explained, but he advised employees to leave risk-prone firms or risk becoming a legal casualty. He also said that it was best to avoid applying to firms with “shady” reputations.