The leader of the Justice Department's Enron Task Force announced yesterday he would step aside, after 17 months on the job, to enter private practice.
Andrew Weissmann, 47, directed investigations of the Houston energy trader's top officials, including onetime finance chief Andrew S. Fastow. Weissmann tried accounting giant Arthur Andersen LLP for obstruction of justice, a conviction recently overturned by the Supreme Court because of faulty jury instructions. He also reached a key settlement with Merrill Lynch & Co. over its dealings with Enron, a settlement that has been used as a model for other business prosecutions.
Weissmann, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, may be best known for bringing criminal charges against mob figures such as Vincent "the Chin" Gigante. He joined the Enron task force at its inception in January 2002 and became its director when former colleague Leslie R. Caldwell left for the private sector.
Weissmann said that to avoid conflicts of interest with the broad Enron probe, one of the biggest white-collar investigations in more than a generation, he has not yet explored job possibilities.
Prosecutors have filed criminal charges against 34 defendants, including former chief executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling. Their trials are scheduled to begin in January.
"The Enron Task Force has been extremely effective in bringing to justice those responsible for perhaps the most notorious corporate scandal in U.S. history," acting Assistant Attorney General John C. Richter said in a prepared statement.
Linda Chatman Thomsen, who is director of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission and has worked closely with Weissmann on the Enron probe, said, "He never loses sight of the big picture while, at the same time, he masters all the details."
Sean M. Berkowitz, a federal prosecutor with ties to Chicago, will become the new director of the task force.
Kathryn Ruemmler, assistant U.S. attorney for the District, will serve as his deputy. Both lawyers have worked on the task force since 2003.