February 26, 2024

David Becker, Ex-S.E.C. Lawyer, Defends Madoff Role

David M. Becker, the former general counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told Congress on Thursday that he had done nothing wrong in handling the agency’s work related to Bernard L. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Mr. Becker, testifying before two Congressional panels, said he had done “precisely what I was supposed to do” in disclosing to S.E.C. officials his connection to a Madoff account. He is under scrutiny because he advised the agency on formulas to compensate Madoff clients, even though he had been a beneficiary of the scheme.

The connection was examined in a report released this week by the inspector general of the S.E.C., H. David Kotz, who referred Mr. Becker’s actions to the Justice Department for an investigation of possible violations of conflict-of-interest laws.

The scrutiny of Mr. Becker, which began in February when it became publicly known that he had inherited money from a Madoff account in 2004, has divided the regulatory community. Some parties say his financial interest should have been reason enough for him to stay out of Madoff-related decisions.

Still other S.E.C. hands say that he behaved properly by disclosing the matter to several commission officials and that the criticism of him is part of a broader effort to discredit an agency with an important role in the markets.

On Thursday, 52 lawyers sent a letter defending Mr. Becker to the lawmakers leading the hearing. Among the lawyers were many former S.E.C. officials, including Harvey Pitt, a former chairman, and a former adviser to the current chairwoman, Mary L. Schapiro. Many of those former officials deal with the S.E.C. in their current private practices.

Ms. Schapiro and Mr. Kotz testified before Mr. Becker. She said that when Mr. Becker began she thought the ethics officer’s clearance of his situation was enough, but that now she realized that “as chairman, I need to have a broader vision that goes beyond what may be required in any particular situation.”

She added: “I can say to you with assuredness that we have learned from this experience.”

The Becker matter is another sore spot for an agency that has been working to repair its reputation since it failed to spot the Madoff Ponzi scheme. Ms. Schapiro has overseen a reorganization of the S.E.C.’s enforcement unit, among other reform initiatives, but embarrassing news has continued to emerge, like indications that some enforcement documents were routinely destroyed in recent years.

The inspector general’s report raised questions about the commission’s ethics practices, highlighting decisions made by Ms. Schapiro as well as the commission’s former ethics officer, William Lenox. Mr. Becker told both of them about his Madoff connection, the report confirmed, and they allowed him to work on the payout formulas nonetheless. Though Mr. Becker told numerous S.E.C. officials about the matter, the four commissioners of the agency — other than Ms. Schapiro — were not told, according to the report.

Lawmakers were highly critical of Ms. Schapiro for permitting Mr. Becker to work on some Madoff matters and for not telling the other four commissioners about Mr. Becker’s financial connection to Mr. Madoff.

Randy Neugebauer, the Texas Republican who leads the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the financial services committee, pointed out that the S.E.C. had canceled an appearance to a Congressional committee after deciding that Mr. Becker would have disclosed his Madoff tie there.

“I was a little confused why you felt like it was important that he disclose that to Congress but not disclose it to your commission members,” he said.

Ms. Schapiro said she had not tried to hide it from the other commissioners, but since the ethics officer had cleared Mr. Becker, it was not shared with them. She said issues that were not deemed to be conflicts were not normally shared with the full roster of commissioners.

Mr. Becker, who left the commission in February, told lawmakers that he had informed the appropriate officials at the commission about the potential conflict and followed their advice, according to his prepared testimony. In his work on the formulas, he wrote in his prepared remarks, “it never occurred to me to look after my financial interest.” And, he wrote, he had taken a pay cut in 2009 to rejoin the S.E.C., where he had previously worked as general counsel, and that he “forfeited millions of dollars to serve my country.”

Mr. Becker also wrote that he came back to the commission partly because of his high regard for Ms. Schapiro, whom he referred to as “my friend.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=bc665e7dd87d8c3e76b94329c4dec15c

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