Bruce A. Baird, 39, was named earlier this month to replace Charles M. Carberry on Oct. 1 as chief of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's securities fraud unit, which is spearheading a number of grand jury investigations into insider stock trading and Wall Street corruption.

Baird has been with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office since 1980, and has spent most of his time in the organized crime unit. He was most recently chief of the office's narcotics division. Baird was raised in Wisconsin, attended Cornell University as an undergraduate and received his law degree from New York University in 1975. Following two judicial clerkships, he was an associate at Davis, Polk & Wardwell, a prominent New York firm, for three years before becoming a federal prosecutor.

Baird discussed his new position with Washington Post New York financial correspondent Steve Coll.

The timing of Charles Carberry's departure was puzzling to a lot of people on Wall Street. It seemed to confirm people's suspicions that these grand jury investigations are getting bogged down. I think that arises from a misunderstanding of government employment. People don't stay in the government their whole lives. They just don't. Charlie's been here 8 1/2 years now ... He got where he was by devotion to the cases. But nobody really grows old in this job. He got a good opportunity and it was just time to move on. The energy level and commitment that this job takes is something that you can only do for so long. Prosecuting is definitely a young man's game.

What are you going to do in the immediate future? Are you going to move into the securities fraud unit and work with Carberry until he leaves?

Well, he's really leaving pretty soon. By mid-August, he's going to be taking a couple of weeks off, then doing a little of this and a little of that. He'll be out of here by mid-September. So we're close to that point already and I'm spending a lot of my time with him trying to get up to speed on the cases.

How many attorneys are there in the securities fraud unit?

Eight, plus the chief.

If any of these cases go to trial, will you personally try them?

I may or may not get involved in a trial. It would be fun to, but we'll have to see what happens. But certainly, the unit chief's job is to select the attorneys to try the cases.

Did you try a lot of cases while at the organized crime unit?

I tried, I'd say, a small number of really significant ones. I had one that went for eight months -- that's a bit like a dozen trials. That was a Colombo {organized crime family} case, Carmine Persico. {Persico was convicted.} But I've certainly tried a fair number of cases since I've been in the office.

How will the skills you acquired while at the organized crime and narcotics units translate when you take your new job at the securities fraud unit?

The skills are almost entirely the same. Prosecuting is primarily investigative and trial work, and those things are almost entirely the same. The investigative techniques are the same, but the emphasis is a little different. For example, you might do more grand jury work in a fraud case than in a drug case. Organized crime is in the middle.

There is less street work in securities cases.

Less, although, that, too, is similar. We had an undercover agent in this penny stock house {Brooks Weinger Robbins & Leeds, a Wall Street firm where drug and fraud arrests were made last spring}. We've taped telephone calls by cooperating witnesses. So there's plenty of street work in securities cases.

Why do you think there have been so many plea bargains, and no trials, so far in the insider trading investigations? Is the evidence that much stronger than in the organized crime cases, or does it have something to do with the targets?

I don't know the answer entirely as to the evidence. Normally what happens when somebody pleads guilty is that the evidence is strong. In the fraud area particularly, you tend to get very capable, extremely experienced defense counsel. When they plead their clients guilty, it's only in a situation when they realize that's the only option.

There's another reason it doesn't happen in organized crime cases, which is that it is a violation of the code to plead guilty and admit you did something. Occasionally, they'll do it if it's tactically the right thing to do. But they're more likely to go to trial. Jail is a milieu that they're comfortable with.

No such code prevails on Wall Street.

That's true.

How do you feel about working in an area that is both in the public spotlight and will put you across the table from the best defense lawyers in the business?

Well, they're the best at what they do. I think I've already been across the table from some fairly capable defense lawyers. There does seem to be a certain spotlight at the moment on this kind of work, though at the time the Colombo case was getting started, there was a spotlight such as I've never seen before or since on any other kind of case. ...

There was an intense glare of publicity. {Paul} Castellano got shot later that year, which made it even worse -- or better, depending on your point of view. But I view it as fun. I view it as a great opportunity to get involved.

Do you have any views about the relative importance of securities fraud generally, as opposed to, say, heroin smuggling or organized crime racketeering?

Well, crime is important. The U.S. Attorney's office, unlike local district attorneys, has the luxury of prosecuting the most important crimes of their types. It was real important to make a dent in the organized crime families. It's important on an ongoing basis to make a dent in the heroin trade. And this office has a peculiar importance vis-a-vis Wall Street. We have jurisdiction over that place, and so we do more of that kind of prosecution than, I guess, anyone else. But in all those areas, what we do, in my view, is important.

Aren't prosecutors in this office in a peculiar predicament, at least a little bit, because the defendants who sit across the table in these insider trading cases are their contemporaries -- well-educated, went to the same schools a lot of the time? And while the defendants may have committed a serious breach of trust, they didn't lay waste to anyone in the street.

It's certainly true that your background is more similar to that of the average securities violator than that of the average mafioso or heroin dealer. But you'd be surprised how often it's true that even with a mafioso or heroin dealer, when it comes time for sentence, he comes in with a story or a plea to the judge that genuinely engages your sympathy. He dropped out of school in the third grade; he's never known another life; he grew up thinking that to be associated with a mob family or to sell heroin is the only way to survive.

In a way, Wall Street violators are less sympathetic because they have every advantage the country has to offer. They've all gone to the right schools, they're smart people. And when they engage in knowing violations of the securities laws, it's because they're greedy, not because they couldn't do it any other way.

Mr. Carberry had a reputation for being a taciturn, tough and fair negotiator during plea and other negotiations. Do you have a style that is similar or different from his?

That sounds like a judgment I couldn't make. I don't know the answer to that yet. We'll see what people begin to say once I start negotiating.

How far along are we in this series of investigations of Wall Street?

That's something I can't answer. Time will tell. Sometimes you can't predict the way these things go. But it's certainly not anything I'm permitted to talk about.