NEW YORK (CNN) - The top enforcement officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission is stepping down, the commission said Monday.
Linda Chatman Thomsen, who came to the SEC in 1995 and took over the
Division of Enforcement 10 years later, plans to return to the private sector.
During Thomsen's four-year tenure, the SEC saw the second- and third-highest number of actions in a single year, including large investigations into Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Merrill Lynch, the commission said in a news release.
But Thomsen and the entire commission came under sharp criticism for their handling of the Bernard Madoff case. Madoff, 70, faces a charge of securities fraud in connection with an international scheme that has cost some investors their life savings. Madoff estimated that investors lost $50 billion, according to the criminal complaint against him.
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Members of the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets raked Thomsen and the SEC over the coals last week during a hearing on the Madoff matter. Former investment banker Harry Markopolos testified that he tried to warn the commission about Madoff but was rebuffed.
"I gift-wrapped and delivered the largest Ponzi scheme in history to them and somehow they couldn't be bothered to conduct a thorough and proper
investigation," Markopolos told the committee.
Markopolos said he was told the SEC didn't want to go after players as big as Madoff, but Thomsen said that simply wasn't true.
"There is nothing that makes a member of my staff happier than bringing a case," she told the committee. "The only thing that makes them happier is a big case. And if it's against someone of some notoriety or fame, that makes them happier still. We live for bringing those cases - we hate the fact that people lose money - and we bring hundreds of them every year."
But several members of the committee - notably Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-New York - ripped the agency for its failures in the Madoff matter - and for declining to answer many questions because of ongoing investigations.
"You've told us nothing, and I believe that's your intention," Ackerman said. "I figured you'd leave your blindfolds and your duct tape and your ear plugs behind, but you seem to be wearing them today. And, instead of telling us anything, you read from the preamble of your mission statement and broke it up into five segments.
"You have totally and thoroughly failed in your mission," Ackerman said.