Preet Bharara’s office juggles high-profile cases

By A. James Memmott

November 16, 2009 at 6:20am

To say that Preet Bharara has hit the ground running since he started his new job would be an understatement.

Confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August as U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Bharara has found himself leading two major prosecutions and a wide variety of other cases.

On Oct. 16, his Manhattan office received a $20 million insider-trading case with the arrest of Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of Galleon Group Inc, and five other people.

Preet Bharara
Preet Bharara

Less than a month later, Attorney Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., announced that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other men would be tried in federal court in Manhattan.

They are charged with taking part in the preparations for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks upon New York City and the Pentagon.

Attorneys from Bharara’s office will prosecute the case with assistance from federal prosecutors based in Virginia.

Former colleagues say that Bharara, 41, has the education, experience and temperament to oversee all these cases.

A native of Punjab, India, he came to the U.S. with his parents in 1970, settling in New Jersey. Ten years later he became a U.S. citizen.

He did his undergraduate work at Harvard University, where he was a classmate and friend of Viet D. Dinh, who went on to write the U.S. Patriot Act and become a star in conservative legal circles.

“To this day I cannot find a single big political philosophical issue upon which Preet and I agree,” Dinh told The New York Times in August, “but I can’t imagine two other people trusting each other implicitly the way Preet and I do.”

Bharara graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1993 and worked in private practice for almost six years.

He then joined the southern district as an assistant U.S. attorney. While there, he prosecuted cases involving organized crime, as well as securities fraud.

In 2005, Bharara became chief counsel to Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.

While in this post, he played a key role in the investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee of the firing of nine U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration, allegedly for political reasons,

Bharara received widespread praise for his non-partisan approach to his task.

“Sen. Schumer is a partisan,” James Comey, deputy U.S. attorney general from 2003 to 2005, told Fortune, “but Preet had credibility across the political spectrum, and was able to play a role where he was respected by both parties on that issue.”

Bharara’s 200-attorney office, the busiest of all federal prosecutors’ offices, is involved in several other high-profile cases.

They include the prosecution of Hassan Nemazee for an alleged $292 million Ponzi scheme.

Last week, Bharara announced the prosecution of two former computer programmers for Bernard L. Madoff, the convicted Ponzi scheme operator.

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