SEC's Clayton Names Law Firm Colleague as Co-Enforcement Chief

  • Steven Peikin led Sullivan & Cromwell’s criminal defense unit
  • He will share the job with acting director Stephanie Avakian

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton on Thursday named Steven Peikin and Stephanie Avakian co-directors of the agency’s enforcement division, filling the most prominent staff opening at the Wall Street regulator.

Peikin, a former federal prosecutor, worked with Clayton at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, where he represented clients including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Barclays Plc as managing director of the law firm’s criminal defense and investigations group. Elevating Avakian, who has been the enforcement unit’s acting director, may ease some Democrats’ concerns that SEC will be less aggressive in fighting abuses by financial firms under President Donald Trump.

Steven Peikin

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Clayton, who was nominated to lead the agency in January, has pledged to be tough on corporate wrongdoing in response to assertions from Democratic lawmakers that his career representing banks and hedge funds made him a poor choice for the job. Former SEC Chair Mary Jo White took a similar approach on the enforcement post in 2013 when she named acting chief George Canellos and law firm colleague Andrew Ceresney to share the role.

Since being confirmed by the Senate on May 2, Clayton has been building out his team, naming Lucas Moskowitz, who was an aide to former SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher, as chief of staff and William Hinman, a retired Simpson Thacher partner, to run the corporation finance unit. He also named former Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP partner Robert Stebbins as general counsel.

As a prosecutor, Peikin worked on high-profile cases for the government including the prosecution of Frank Quattrone over allegations that the former investment banker obstructed justice in a U.S. probe of how Wall Street allocated shares of initial public offerings. Quattrone later entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. Peikin will split his time between the New York and Washington offices, the SEC said.

Avakian re-joined the agency in June 2014 as deputy head of an enforcement. Prior to that, she was a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP and vice chair of the firm’s securities practice. Avakian, who will be based in Washington, worked at the SEC from 1995 to 1999 as an investigator and counsel to a former commissioner Paul Carey. 

— With assistance by Matt Robinson

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