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Tony West Leaving Justice After Record Bank Penalties

Tony West, the Justice Department official who won almost $37 billion in settlements from U.S. banks over shoddy mortgage practices, is leaving the government.

West, 49, will step down Sept. 15 after five years, the department said in a statement today. He hasn’t said what he’ll do next.

“Over the years, Tony’s efforts have made a tremendous and lasting difference in the lives of millions of people across the country,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

West, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department after Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole, has championed a task force created by President Barack Obama aimed at holding banks accountable for practices leading to the 2008 financial crisis. His efforts helped blunt criticism that prosecutors failed to punish Wall Street after the housing market collapsed.

Last month, Bank of America Corp. agreed to pay almost $16.7 billion, a record amount, for misrepresenting the quality of bonds backed by home loans. Citigroup Inc. agreed to pay $7 billion in July while JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s struck a $13 billion accord in November over similar claims.

“Tony never allowed himself to be outworked and always kept his eye on the ultimate goal of helping people in need,” Michael Bresnick, former head of the Justice Department’s financial fraud task force who is now a lawyer at Stein Mitchell Muse Cipollone & Beato LLP in Washington, said in an e-mail.

Clinton Administration

West first moved to Washington in 1993 after Bill Clinton was elected president and worked as an attorney at the Justice Department before taking a job as a federal prosecutor in San Francisco. In five years as an assistant U.S. attorney, he brought cases ranging from child-trafficking offenses to high-technology crime.

In 1999, West joined the California attorney general’s office as a senior adviser. It was from that post that he took two shots at political office. He failed both times, first in a bid for the San Jose city council and then for the state assembly.

In 2001, West joined Morrison & Foerster LLP in San Francisco as a partner. While there, he was on the team defending John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban” captured in Afghanistan.

West flew to Springfield, Illinois, in 2007 when Obama announced his candidacy for president and eventually became co-chairman of Obama’s California finance team, where he helped raise more than $75 million for the campaign. After winning the election, Obama picked West to lead the civil division in 2009.

DOMA Reversal

Under West’s leadership, the civil division reversed its position on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act -- first defending and then refusing to defend the law that denied benefits to same-sex married couples. Since he was promoted to the department’s third in command in 2012, West has focused on cases related to the housing collapse and 2008 financial crisis.

In negotiating mortgage bond settlements with banks, West said he pushed for resolutions that would offer debt relief to consumers and admissions of wrongdoing by banks. He also helped bring a $5 billion civil lawsuit against S&P, the credit-rating firm owned by McGraw-Hill Cos. The department and several state attorneys general claimed the company knowingly inflated credit ratings for securities backed by residential mortgages.

West is married to Maya Harris, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the sister of California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

(Updates with attorney’s comment in sixth paragraph.)
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