The top enforcement official at the Securities and Exchange Commission said he will step down next month, after a nearly four-year stint that included investigations of fraud at Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc., and Tyco International Ltd.
Stephen M. Cutler, 43, announced plans to return to private law practice in a news release this morning. Cutler, who will depart in mid-May, has not yet considered outside job offers, an agency spokesman said.
"America's investors have been enormously well-served by Steve's keen intellect, superb judgment and abiding sense of justice," SEC Chairman William H. Donaldson said. "He is what every prosecutor should be: tough but fair."
Cutler stepped into the enforcement director role in October 2001, just months before Houston energy trader Enron collapsed and ushered in an era of massive accounting scandals.
"I have had the very good fortune to work with an extraordinary group of colleagues during an historic period for the commission and our capital markets," Cutler said.
During Cutler's tenure, the SEC won court judgments of more than $6 billion in penalties and disgorgement, most of which will eventually be returned to investors. SEC officials said that of the dozen biggest monetary penalties to be imposed on corporations or financial services firms, 10 took place on Cutler's watch.
The agency also increasingly targeted gatekeepers, including accountants and lawyers who allegedly helped corporate executives manipulate their financial statements, under Cutler.
Cutler had previously served as a deputy in the enforcement unit and a partner at the Washington law firm Wilmer Cutler & Pickering. His experience under fire at the SEC makes him an attractive candidate for high-paying jobs at law firms and corporations, Washington legal recruiters said.
The SEC has not announced a replacement and there is no timeline for the search, an SEC spokesman said.