Preetinder Singh “Preet” Bharara (born 13 October 1968) is an Indian-born naturalized American attorney and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Earning a reputation of a “Crusader” prosecutor,his office has prosecuted diplomats and people in other countries. He prosecuted nearly 100 Wall Street executives, reached historic settlements and fines with the four largest banks in the US, and closed multibillion-dollar hedge funds for activities including insider trading. He also prosecuted New York state politicians, including the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver and the Majority Leader of State Senate, Dean Skelos, and at one time he threatened to prosecute the governor Andrew Cuomo for alleged corruption
|United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York|
August 13, 2009
|Appointed by||Barack Obama|
|Preceded by||Lev Dassin (acting)|
|Born||Preetinder Singh Bharara
October 13, 1968
|Alma mater||Harvard University
Columbia Law School
Early life and career
Bharara was born in 1968 in Ferozepur, Punjab, India, to a Sikh father and Hindu mother. He grew up in Eatontown in suburban Monmouth County, New Jersey and attended Ranney School in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1986.He received his B.A magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1990 and his J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1993, where he was a member of the Columbia Law Review.
Bharara served as the chief counsel to Senator Chuck Schumer and played a leading role in the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary investigation into the firings of United States attorneys. He was an assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan for five years, bringing criminal cases against the bosses of the Gambino crime family, Colombo crime family, and Asian gangs in New York City.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
Bharara was nominated to become U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York by President Barack Obama on May 15, 2009 and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He was sworn into the position on August 13, 2009.
Bharara’s office sends out agents to more than 25 countries to investigate suspects of arms, narcotics traffickers and terrorists and brings them to Manhattan to face charges. One case involved Viktor Bout, an arms trafficker who lived in Moscow and had a deal involving selling arms to Colombian terrorists. Bharara argues that this aggressive approach is necessary in post 9/11 era. Defense lawyers have criticized the stings calling Bharara’s office “the Southern District of the World.” They also argue that American citizens would not appreciate other countries treating them in these ways. Countries have not always rushed to cooperate according to a review of secret State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.
On April 13, 2013, Bharara was on a list released by the Russian Federation of Americans banned from entering the country over their alleged human rights violations. The list was a direct response to the so-called Magnitsky list revealed by the United States the day before.
Bharara was also featured on a cover of Time magazine entitled “This Man is Busting Wall Street” for his office’s prosecutions of insider trading and other financial fraud on Wall Street. From 2009 to 2012 (and ongoing), Bharara’s office oversaw the Galleon Group insider trading investigation against Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta, Anil Kumar and 60+ others. Rajaratnam was convicted at trial on 14 counts related to insider trading.Bharara is said to have “reaffirmed his office’s leading role in pursuing corporate crime with this landmark insider trading case, which relied on aggressive prosecutorial methods and unprecedented tactics.” Bharara has often spoken publicly and written an op-ed about the culture surrounding corporate crime and its effect on market confidence and business risk.
After 85 straight convictions for insider trading cases, on July 17, 2014 he finally lost one, when a jury acquitted Rajaratnam’s younger brother, Rengan, of such charges.
On October 22, 2015, Bharara dropped seven insider trading cases two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to a review a lower court decision that would make it harder to pursue wrongful trading cases. The conviction of Michael S. Steinberg was dropped; Steinberg was the highest-ranking officer of SAC Capital Advisors who had previously been convicted of insider trading.
In 2013, Bharara announced criminal and civil charges against one of the largest and most successful hedge-fund firms in the United States, SAC Capital Advisors LP, and its founder Steven A. Cohen. At USD$1.8 billion, it was the largest settlement ever for insider trading and the firm also agreed to close down.
Citibank was charged numerous times by Bharara’s office and other federal prosecutors. In 2012 the bank reached a settlement with Bharara’s office to pay $158 million for misleading the government into insuring risky loans. Bharara also made a criminal inquiry into Citbank’s Mexican Unit. In 2014 Citi settled with federal prosecutors for $7 billion, for ignoring warnings on risky loans.
Madoff Ponzi scheme and JPMorgan Chase
Almost as soon as he took office, Bharara began investigating the role of Bernie Madoff’s primary banker, JPMorgan Chase, in the fraud. Eventually Bharara and JPMorgan had reached a deferred prosecution agreement that called for JPMorgan to forfeit $1.7 billion, the largest forfeiture ever demanded from a bank in American history—to settle charges that it and its predecessors violated the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to alert authorities about Madoff’s actions.
His office also handled the criminal prosecutions of several employees at Madoff’s firm and their associates, who were convicted by a jury on March 24, 2014.
Bank of America suit
In 2012, Mr. Bharara along with Federal prosecutors in Manhattan sued Bank of America for $1 billion, accusing the bank of carrying out a mortgage scheme that defrauded the government during the depths of the financial crisis.
In 2013, the jury found Bank of America liable for selling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac thousands of defective loans in the first mortgage-fraud case brought by the U.S. government to go to trial. The civil verdict also found the bank’s Countrywide Financial unit and former Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone liable. The government relied upon the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), a civil statue that had rarely been used in the previous two decades. The victory marked the first time a major U.S. bank has been held accountable for its role in the financial crisis.
Jewish Holocaust survivor fund fraud
During his first year in office, Bharara charged 17 managers and employees of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims for defrauding Germany 42.5 million dollars by creating thousands of false benefit applications for people who have not suffered in the Holocaust. The fraud which has been going on for 16 years was related to the 400 million dollars which Germany pays out each year to Holocaust survivors.
Toyota deferred prosecution agreement
In March 2014, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Toyota by information with one count of wire fraud for lying to consumers about two safety-related issues in the company’s cars, each of which caused unintended acceleration. Under the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) that Toyota entered into the same day the information was filed, Toyota agreed to pay a $1.2 billion financial penalty, the largest criminal penalty ever imposed on an auto manufacturer. The company also admitted the truth of a detailed statement of facts accompanying the DPA, and agreed to submit to a three-year monitorship.
Bharara has said that “there is no prosecutor’s office in the state that takes more seriously the responsibility to root out public corruption in Albany and anywhere else that we might find it, and I think our record speaks for itself.” During his tenure, Bharara has charged several current and former elected officials in public corruption cases, including Senator Vincent Leibell, Senator Hiram Monserrate, NYC Councilman Larry Seabrook, and Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi. Bharara’s office uncovered an alleged corruption ring involving New York State Senator Carl Kruger. In April 2012, Kruger was sentenced to seven years in prison. In February 2011, Bharara announced the indictment of five consultants working on New York City’s electronic payroll and timekeeping project, CityTime, for misappropriating more than $80 million from the project. The investigation has expanded with five additional defendants being charged, including a consultant who allegedly received more than $5 million in illegal kickbacks on the projects.
In early 2013, Mr. Bharara oversaw the conviction of New York City Police Department Officer Gilberto Valle, who was part of an alleged plot to rape and then cook and eat (cannibalize) women. Bharara and his team argued that Valle had done more than hypothesize, think, or speculate (in online networks where such fantasies are discussed), but had moved on from being a possible danger to others to the criminal planning phase and had even visited the street where one of the women lived, at the behest of another defendant. However, the defense and others who objected to the verdict argued that all he had done was fantasize, not plan, and that such thoughts or online posts, however twisted, were still protected.The defense team (Robert Baum and Julia L. Gatto) may ask the judge to set aside the verdict, or may appeal. If he does keep the felony conviction and is sentenced, Valle would automatically no longer serve in law enforcement.
On April 2, 2013, Bharara unsealed federal corruption charges against New York State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran and several other Republican party officials. The federal complaint alleged that Smith attempted to secure a spot on the Republican ballot in the 2013 New York City mayoral election through bribery.
NY Governor and political leaders
In 2014, Bharara’s office began an inquiry into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to end the work of the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel. After a New York Times report documenting Cuomo’s staff’s involvement with the commission and subsequent statements by commissioners defending the Governor, Bharara warned of obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
NY Assembly Speaker
Bharara hit national headlines after investigating State Assembly 11th term Speaker Sheldon Silver for corruption, leading to Silver’s arrest on January 22, 2015 and subsequent conviction on all counts, triggering automatic expulsion from the Assembly. Silver was replaced by the first African American speaker Carl Heastie.
Violent crimes and gang activity
Since 2009, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has convicted more than 1,000 of approximately 1,300 people charged in 52 large-scale drug and gang takedown. On lowering violent crime rates, Bharara has said, “You can measure the number of people arrested and the number of shootings, but success is when you lift the sense of intimidation and fear.”
In January 2011, Bharara’s office participated in a multi-state organized crime takedown, charging 26 members of the Gambino crime family with racketeering, murder, narcotics, and firearms charges. This action was part of a coordinated effort with U.S. Attorney Offices in Brooklyn, Newark (New Jersey) and Providence (Rhode Island). Bharara also oversaw the largest criminal sweep of gangs in Newburgh, New York, working with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies to bring charges against members of the Bloods and Latin Kings gangs, amongst others.
In June 2012, The New York Times published an Op-Ed written by Bharara about the threat posed to private industry by cybercrime and encouraged corporate leaders to take preventative measures and create contingency plans.
Bharara has also been very active in prosecutions related to online poker. In 2010, he “threatened an Australian payment processor with up to 75 years in prison for helping online poker companies do business with their U.S. customers.” In April 2011, Bharara charged 11 founding members of internet gambling companies and their associates involved with pay processing with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). The case is United States v. Scheinberg.
Devyani Khobragade incident
Preet Bharara and his office came to the limelight again in December 2013 with the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General of India in New York. The prosecution accused her of making false statements in the visa application of an Indian national who was employed as the housekeeper at her home in New York.The incident turned into a diplomatic standoff between India and United States as Khobragade was strip searched and kept in custody with drug peddlers. The U.S. Marshals Service acknowledged this as well. India took serious action to protest against the alleged mistreatment of its diplomat: ID cards of U.S. consular personnel and their families were revoked, airport passes rescinded and embassy imports of liquor and other goods were frozen. Even the security barriers in front of the US embassy were removed as retaliation. Mr. Bharara and his office were accused of racial discrimination by media. He has been accused of targeting people of Indian origin. The United States Government justified and supported his office and refuted the charges of racial discrimination. A State Department spokesperson stated that only standard procedures were undertaken in the arrest and the U.S. Attorney’s office was following procedure. US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret over the incident during his conversation with Indian National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell also expressed her regret for the circumstances surrounding the consular officer’s arrest The United States maintains that Ms. Khobragade did not have diplomatic immunity from prosecution in United States courts.Bharara told the media that “There has been much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting on the charges against Devyani Khobragade, it is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis.”
Speaking at Harvard Law School during its 2014 Class Day ceremony, Bharara said that it was the U.S. Department of State which initiated and investigated proceedings against the Indian official and who asked his office to prosecute.
Inciting public opinion prior to trial
Bharara was criticized by some for his practice of inciting the public against a defendant, by creating news conferences prior to trial in which he asserts guilt and touts public opinion against the defendant could prejudice a jury.
Freedom of speech
On June 2, 2015, Preet Bharara issued a subpoena to the libertarian magazine Reason over six Internet comments made on the magazine’s website that were perceived as threats against S.D.N.Y. judge Katherine B. Forrest. The comments were made in regard to Forrest’s controversial sentencing of Silk Road owner Ross William Ulbricht to life in prison without parole. Bharara’s subpoena ordered that Reason turn over the personal records of the users who wrote the comments and was followed on June 4 with a gag order on the magazine forbidding it from speaking publicly on the matter.Bharara was criticized by Bloomberg View and Wired over whether the comments were actually serious threats. After the gag order on Reason was lifted on June 19, its editors Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie condemned the subpoena and gag order as, “suppressing the speech of journalistic outlets known to be critical of government overreach.”
Bharara is a naturalized United States citizen.
Bharara traces his desire to become a lawyer back to the seventh grade, which was when he read the play Inherit the Wind.
In 2012, Bharara was named by Time magazine as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World,” and by India Abroad as its 2011 Person of the Year.
Bharara is a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan. At an October 2012 concert in Hartford, Connecticut, Springsteen shouted, “This is for Preet Bharara!” before launching into his song “Death to My Hometown.”
On May 19, 2013, Bharara delivered the commencement address at Fordham Law School’s 106th Graduation Day at Radio City Music Hall. He was also presented with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Later that week, on May 23, 2013, Bharara delivered the commencement address at Columbia Law School, his alma mater. It was the 20th year reunion of his own graduation. On May 27, 2014, Bharara delivered the commencement address at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The following day, Bharara spoke at Harvard Law School’s Class Day Ceremony along with comedian Mindy Kaling.
Bharara was included in Bloomberg Markets Magazine’s 2012 “50 Most Influential” list as well as Vanity Fair’s 2012 and 2013 annual “New Establishment” lists.
United States Attorney General speculation
In September 2014 when Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intention to step down, Bharara was speculated as being a potential candidate as the next United States Attorney General.