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U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara visited Huntsman Hall last Thrusday to speak about business ethics.

Credit: Amiya Chopra , Amiya Chopra

The enforcer of Wall Street, United States Attorney Preet Bharara, made a special visit to Huntsman Hall last Thursday, urging students to lead their lives with integrity and humility.

Most famous for prosecuting 1983 Wharton graduate Raj Rajaratnam in the largest insider trading case in history, Bharara presides over the Southern district of New York — which includes Manhattan — and has been visiting colleges for the past year and a half to open a dialogue with the “future leaders of tomorrow” about “what it means to have integrity in the business world.”

“People should, when they go forward in life, conduct themselves in the best way and the ethical way,” Bharara said. However, “my advice is not just to the people who will do bad things … the ears I’m trying to reach is every institution where there may be someone who will have bad conduct.”

Individuals who hire and work with people who engage in illegal activities also have a responsibility to expose their activities as they are “ticking time bombs that can go off at any time,” and harm the company, Bharara said. The “bad apples,” can ruin the “good apples,” he explained.

Beyond integrity, it is also important to have humility and be grateful, he explained. There are many “people who thought they were masters of the world and now they’re in jail cells,” Bharara said.

Bharara declined to comment on the sentencing of Rajaratnam, which is scheduled to take place on Oct. 13; his office filed papers that requested a sentencing of 19.5 to 24.5 year term, according to court documents.

“We keep seeing very, very smart, very, very educated [and] very, very privileged people” commit acts of deception, crime and fraud,” Bharara said. “We are seeing a lot of people of varying ages … who are engaging in really profound corruption.”

While many people are aware of large insider trading cases, the vast majority of the over 230 assistant prosecutors who work in Bharara’s office do not focus on cases within that category. In fact, since August 2009 when Bharara was sworn in, he has dealt with Russian spies, the Times Square bomber, Medicare fraud, narcotics rings, arms traffickers, gang wars between the Kings and the Bloods and terrorism.

“The first and most important responsibility is to protect the homeland,” he said.

To date, his office has charged 54 people with insider trading, with many other cases pending. But despite the numerous cases of violence, corruption and greed Bharara sees, he still believes in the American dream.

“I’m pretty much living the American dream. I moved here when I was one and a half … most people can’t even pronounce my name,” he said. As the first Asian-American U.S. Attorney who was nominated by the first black president, Bharara is convinced “there’s nowhere else this can happen.”

A graduate of Harvard University, Bharara has been interested in government and public service since as far back as he can remember. Upon graduating from Columbia Law School, he went into private practice for six years and then became a line prosecutor.

According to Bharara, the only downside of his post as U.S. attorney is the loss of opportunity to try cases, which he regards as “the greatest thing [he’s] ever done.” He admitted to feeling “a little jealous” when he sees his assistant prosecutors go to court.

“My job is so great and the people in my office are so great, and what I do is so great that every day is like Thanksgiving. Of course, some Thanksgivings the turkey isn’t as good,” he joked.

The nature of Bharara’s job requires that he be “extremely sensitive” of the widespread affects an investigation can have on the economy. An investigation into a business or a person, he explained, can be like “rolling a grenade through the front door” — that is, it is likely to have larger consequences such as the loss of jobs or compromised reputation of a company.

“We are not in the ‘gotcha’ businesses,” he said. “Justice is always more important than victory. We are not anti-business or anti-Wall Street.”

As proof of this, even though the U.S. Attorney’s Office is not a corporation, it returned $800 million to the U.S. Treasury last year, operating on a $50 million budget — a return of 16 times the investment.

“I’ve been told that’s a little better than the S&P lately,” he joked.

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