After joining the agency in February 2009, Khuzami revamped the division into a more nimble team that has brought a record number of cases. An early one, which led to a $550 million settlement with Goldman Sachs in 2010, put the agency back on the enforcement map.
The SEC did not comment on who will succeed Khuzami. But the next pick is sure to face many of the same pressures he did, including demands to hold the barons of Wall Street — and not just their institutions — accountable for misdeeds tied to the financial crisis. The successor will be pressed to do so despite severe budgetary constraints, a hurdle that Khuzami alluded to in a farewell message to the hundreds of lawyers he oversees.
“We specialize in fighting above our weight class — each of you does that every time you go into a conference room facing an army of defense counsel, with seemingly unlimited budgets and the latest technology,” Khuzami wrote in an e-mail.
Khuzami does not leave free of criticism. Members of Congress, investor advocacy groups and SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar, a Democrat, have blasted some of the settlements his division reached with Wall Street as nothing more than slaps on the wrist.
Khuzami’s departure has been rumored since Mary L. Schapiro stepped down as SEC chairman last month. His name was briefly floated as her possible successor, although at the time several people suggested he would probably prefer to return to the private sector. Before joining the SEC, Khuzami was a top lawyer at Deutsche Bank.
In an interview Wednesday, Khuzami said that he has not started looking for a new job but that when he does, there’s a “decent chance” it will be in the more lucrative private sector, in part because he’s “feeling the pressure to provide for my family.”
The Rochester, N.Y., native is the son of two professional ballroom dancers. His sister is a muralist and his brother is a drummer for Greek and Middle Eastern bands. He started his government career as an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan in 1990 after graduating from Boston University School of Law and spending a few years in private practice.
At the U.S. attorney’s office, Khuzami made his mark helping prosecute the infamous “blind sheik,” Omar Abdel Rahman, for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. During his 11-year career there, he went on to lead the prominent white-collar crime unit and oversaw the investigation of complex securities cases.
Khuzami’s experience as a prosecutor is what ultimately led Schapiro to cold-call him soon after she was nominated to lead the SEC in January 2009.