During Bharara's tenure, federal prosecutors also conducted public corruption investigations against Democratic and Republican officials, most notably securing convictions against the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, and the Majority Leader of the State Senate, Dean Skelos. One of Bharara's chief adversaries was Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom Bharara's office investigated. Under Bharara, the U.S. Attorney's office was also known for its terrorism prosecutions and civil rights cases. Bharara's office had international reach, pursuing defendants located in many countries outside the United States.
On March 11, 2017, during increased national debate about the appointment of a special prosecutor to manage an investigation of links between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia, Bharara was fired after he refused to follow Attorney General Jeff Sessions' request for all remaining 46 US Attorneys appointed during President Obama's administration to resign. On April 1, 2017, Bharara joined the NYU School of Law faculty as a Distinguished Scholar in Residence.
Bharara was born in 1968 in Firozpur, Punjab, India to a Sikh father and Hindu mother. His parents immigrated to the United States in 1970, and he grew up in Eatontown in suburban Monmouth County, New Jersey and attended Ranney School in Tinton Falls, New Jersey where he graduated as valedictorian in 1986. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1990 and his J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1993 where he was a member of the Columbia Law Review.
In 1993, Bharara joined the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher as a litigation associate. In 1996, Bharara joined the firm of Shereff, Friedman, Hoffman & Goodman, where he did white-collar defense work. Bharara served as the chief counsel to Senator Chuck Schumer and played a leading role in the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary investigation into the firings of United States attorneys. He was an assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan for five years bringing criminal cases against the bosses of the Gambino crime family, Colombo crime family and Asian gangs in New York City.
Bharara was nominated to become U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York by President Barack Obama on May 15, 2009 and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He was sworn into the position on August 13, 2009. In September 2014, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intention to step down, Bharara was speculated as being a potential candidate as the next United States Attorney General.
Bharara's office sends out agents to more than 25 countries to investigate suspects of arms, narcotics traffickers and terrorists and brings them to Manhattan to face charges. One case involved Viktor Bout, an arms trafficker, who lived in Moscow and had a deal involving selling arms to Colombian terrorists. Bharara argues that this aggressive approach is necessary in post 9/11 era. Defense lawyers have criticized the stings calling Bharara's office "the Southern District of the World." They also argue that American citizens would not appreciate other countries' treating them in these ways. Countries have not always rushed to cooperate according to a review of secret State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.
On April 13, 2013, Bharara was on a list released by the Russian Federation of Americans banned from entering the country over their alleged human rights violations. The list was a direct response to the so-called Magnitsky list revealed by the United States the day before.
In 2012, Bharara was featured on a cover of Time magazine entitled "This Man is Busting Wall Street" for his office's prosecutions of insider trading and other financial fraud on Wall Street. From 2009 to 2012 (and ongoing), Bharara's office oversaw the Galleon Group insider trading investigation against Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta, Anil Kumar and 60+ others. Rajaratnam was convicted at trial on 14 counts related to insider trading. Bharara is said to have "reaffirmed his office’s leading role in pursuing corporate crime with this landmark insider trading case, which relied on aggressive prosecutorial methods and unprecedented tactics." Bharara has often spoken publicly and written an op-ed about the culture surrounding corporate crime and its effect on market confidence and business risk.
After 85 straight convictions for insider-trading cases, he finally lost one on July 17, 2014, when a jury acquitted Rajaratnam's younger brother, Rengan, of such charges.
On October 22, 2015, Bharara dropped seven insider-trading cases two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to a review a lower court decision that would make it harder to pursue wrongful-trading cases. The conviction of Michael S. Steinberg was dropped; Steinberg was the highest-ranking officer of SAC Capital Advisors who had previously been convicted of insider trading.
In 2013, Bharara announced criminal and civil charges against one of the largest and most successful hedge-fund firms in the United States, SAC Capital Advisors LP, and its founder Steven A. Cohen. At USD$1.8 billion, it was the largest settlement ever for insider trading, and the firm also agreed to close down.
Citibank was charged numerous times by Bharara's office and other federal prosecutors. In 2012, the bank reached a settlement with Bharara's office to pay $158 million for misleading the government into insuring risky loans. Bharara also made a criminal inquiry into Citbank's Mexican Unit. In 2014, Citi settled with federal prosecutors for $7 billion for ignoring warnings on risky loans.
Almost as soon as he took office, Bharara began investigating the role of Bernie Madoff's primary banker, JPMorgan Chase, in the fraud. Eventually Bharara and JPMorgan reached a deferred prosecution agreement that called for JPMorgan to forfeit $1.7 billion, the largest forfeiture ever demanded from a bank in American history—to settle charges that it and its predecessors violated the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to alert authorities about Madoff's actions.
His office also handled the criminal prosecutions of several employees at Madoff’s firm and their associates, who were convicted by a jury on March 24, 2014.
In 2012, federal prosecutors under Bharara sued Bank of America for $1 billion, accusing the bank of carrying out a mortgage scheme that defrauded the government during the depths of the financial crisis. In 2013, the jury found Bank of America liable for selling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac thousands of defective loans in the first mortgage-fraud case brought by the U.S. government to go to trial. The civil verdict also found the bank’s Countrywide Financial unit and former Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone liable. However, in 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the finding of fact by the jury that low-quality mortgages were supplied by Countrywide to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac supported only "intentional breach of contract," not fraud. The action, for civil fraud, relied on provisions of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act. The decision turned on lack of intent to defraud at the time the contract to supply mortgages was made.
In 2013, Bharara began investigating a money laundering fraud scheme in New York City operated by a Russian criminal organization. The alleged fraud links a $230 million Russian tax refund fraud scheme from 2008 to eleven U.S. real estate corporations. The underlying tax refund fraud was first discovered by whistleblower and Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested under tax evasion charges, and within a year he was found dead in his prison cell—a suspicious circumstance. Bharara and his office stated that some of the illicit proceeds were laundered in the U.S. by purchasing luxury Manhattan and Brooklyn real estate, including a 35-story block that has a pool, roof terrace, Turkish bath and indoor golf course. One of the companies named in the complaint, Prevezon, at the time had assets that included four condo units in the Financial District, each valued close to or in excess of $1 million, a $4.4 million condo at 250 East 49th Street in Turtle Bay, and an unknown amount of funds on deposit in eight separate Bank of America accounts in the name of different limited liability companies registered in New York.
The case was personal for Bharara after Russia, in April 2013, included him on the list 18 U.S. individuals banned from entering Russia in retaliation to the Magnitsky act.
On September 10, 2013, with help from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Cyrus Vance Jr., the District Attorney for New York County, Bharara's office announced that they had filed a civil forfeiture complaint, freezing $24 million in assets. If the court upholds the complaint, the government will seize the assets.
During his first year in office, Bharara charged 17 managers and employees of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims for defrauding Germany $42.5 million by creating thousands of false benefit applications for people who have not suffered in the Holocaust. The fraud, which has been going on for 16 years, was related to the $400 million which Germany pays out each year to Holocaust survivors.
During his time in office, Bharara oversaw multiple notable art fraud cases including the 80 million dollar Knoedler Gallery case which was the largest art fraud scheme in American history involving forged masterworks of artists Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and others. Bharara charged the 2.5 million dollar case of John Re, a man from East Hampton, New York who sold forged artwork by Jackson Pollock and others and was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Also Bharara charged Eric Spoutz, an American art dealer, with selling hundreds of fake paintings falsely attributed to American masters. Spoutz was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison and ordered to forfeit the $1.45 million he made from the scheme and pay $154,100 in restitution.
In March 2014, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Toyota by information with one count of wire fraud for lying to consumers about two safety-related issues in the company’s cars, each of which caused unintended acceleration. Under the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) that Toyota entered into the same day the information was filed, Toyota agreed to pay a $1.2 billion financial penalty, the largest criminal penalty ever imposed on an auto manufacturer. The company also admitted the truth of a detailed statement of facts accompanying the DPA, and agreed to submit to a three-year monitorship.
Bharara has said that "there is no prosecutor’s office in the state that takes more seriously the responsibility to root out public corruption in Albany and anywhere else that we might find it, and I think our record speaks for itself." During his tenure, Bharara has charged several current and former elected officials in public corruption cases, including Senator Vincent Leibell, Senator Hiram Monserrate, NYC Councilman Larry Seabrook, and Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi. Bharara’s office uncovered an alleged corruption ring involving New York State Senator Carl Kruger. In April 2012, Kruger was sentenced to seven years in prison. In February 2011, Bharara announced the indictment of five consultants working on New York City’s electronic payroll and timekeeping project, CityTime, for misappropriating more than $80 million from the project. The investigation has expanded with five additional defendants being charged, including a consultant who allegedly received more than $5 million in illegal kickbacks on the projects.
In early 2013, Bharara oversaw the conviction of New York City Police Department officer Gilberto Valle, who was part of an alleged plot to rape and then cook and eat (cannibalize) women. Bharara and his team argued that Valle had done more than hypothesize, think, or speculate (in online networks where such fantasies are discussed), but had moved on from being a possible danger to others to the criminal planning phase and had even visited the street where one of the women lived, at the behest of another defendant. However, the defense and others who objected to the verdict argued that all he had done was fantasize, not plan, and that such thoughts or online posts, however twisted, were still protected. The defense team (Robert Baum and Julia L. Gatto) may ask the judge to set aside the verdict, or may appeal. If he does keep the felony conviction and is sentenced, Valle would automatically no longer serve in law enforcement.
On April 2, 2013, Bharara unsealed federal corruption charges against New York State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran and several other Republican party officials. The federal complaint alleged that Smith attempted to secure a spot on the Republican ballot in the 2013 New York City mayoral election through bribery.
In 2014, Bharara's office began an inquiry into Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to end the work of the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel. After a New York Times report documenting Cuomo's staff's involvement with the commission and subsequent statements by commissioners defending the Governor, Bharara warned of obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
Bharara made national headlines after investigating 11-term Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver for taking millions of dollars in payoffs, leading to Silver's arrest in January 2015. Silver was subsequently convicted on all counts, triggering his automatic expulsion from the Assembly. Silver was replaced by the first African-American speaker Carl Heastie. During the Silver prosecution, Judge Valerie Caproni criticized Bharara's public statements, writing that "while castigating politicians in Albany for playing fast and loose with the ethical rules that govern their conduct, Bharara strayed so close to the edge of the rules governing his own conduct." Silver's conviction was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan on July 13, 2017.
From 2009 to 2014, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has convicted more than 1,000 of approximately 1,300 people charged in 52 large-scale takedowns of street drug and drug trafficking organizations. On lowering violent crime rates, Bharara has said, "You can measure the number of people arrested and the number of shootings, but success is when you lift the sense of intimidation and fear." Bharara also oversaw the largest criminal sweep of gangs in Newburgh, New York, working with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies to bring charges against members of the Newburgh Bloods and Newburgh Latin Kings gangs, among others. In 2010, Bharara oversaw the prosecution of eight longshoremen on charges of participation in a multi-million dollar cocaine trafficking enterprise along the Waterfront, operated by a Panamanian drug organization.
In January 2011, Bharara's office participated in a multi-state organized crime takedown, charging 26 members of the Gambino crime family with racketeering and murder, as well as narcotics and firearms charges. This action was part of a coordinated effort that also involved arrests in Brooklyn; Newark, New Jersey, and Providence, Rhode Island; according to the FBI, this was the largest single-day operation against the Mafia in U.S. history. In August 2016, Bharara's office charged 46 leaders, members, and associates of La Cosa Nostra—including four out of the Five Families (Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, and Bonanno)—in an extensive racketeering conspiracy.
Under Bharara, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York "won a string of major terrorism trials." Bharara was an advocate of trying terrorists in civilian federal courts rather than in the military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp; he contrasted his office's record of successfully convicting terrorists with the lengthy, secretive, and inefficient Guantanamo practice. In a 2014 interview, Bharara said the historical record would show that "greater transparency and openness and legitimacy" leads to "more serious and appropriate punishment." Citing his success in terrorism trials, Bharata stated: "These trials have been difficult, but they have been fair and open and prompt...in an American civilian courtroom, the American people and all the victims of terrorism can be vindicated without sacrificing our principles."
Some of the high-profile terrorist figures convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment during Bharara's term include Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law; Khalid al-Fawwaz and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Osama bin Laden aides who plotted the 1998 United States embassy bombings that killed 224 people; Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, a cleric who masterminded the 1998 kidnappings of 16 American, British and Australian tourists in Yemen; and Faisal Shahzad, the attempted Times Square bomber. Bharara also won a conviction and 25-year sentence for international arms smuggler Viktor Bout.
In June 2012, The New York Times published an op-ed written by Bharara about the threat posed to private industry by cybercrime and encouraged corporate leaders to take preventive measures and create contingency plans.
Bharara's tenure saw a number of notable prosecutions for computer hacking:Bharara's office worked with Hector Xavier Monsegur ("Sabu"), a computer hacker who later became a federal informant. Because Monsegur's cooperation "helped the authorities infiltrate the shadowy world of computer hacking and disrupt at least 300 cyberattacks on targets that included the United States military," Bharara's office recommended a greatly reduced sentence to the judge, and in 2014 Monsegur was freed with time served.
In May 2014, Bharara's office was part of an international crackdown, led by the FBI and authorities in 19 countries, on the "Blackshades" creepware hacking, in which hackers illicitly access users' systems remotely to steal information.
In November 2015, Bharara's office charged three Israeli men in a 23-count indictment that alleged that they ran a extensive computer hacking and fraud scheme that targeted JPMorgan Chase, The Wall Street Journal, and ten other companies. According to prosecutors, the operation generated "hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal profit" and exposed the personal information of more than 100 million people.
In May 2016, Bharara's office secured a guilty plea from Alonzo Knowles, a Bahamian man who had hacked into the email accounts of celebrities and athletes in order to steak unreleased movie and television scripts, unreleased music, "nude and intimate images and videos," financial documents, and other personal information. Knowles was sentenced to five years in prison.
In November 2016, Bharara's office filed charges against a Phoenix, Arizona man, Jonathan Powell, for hacking into thousands of email accounts at Pace University and another university and mining those accounts for users' confidential information.
In December 2016, Bharara's office charged three Chinese citizens with hacking into the system of New York law firms advising on mergers and acquisitions, and making more than $4 million by trading on information they gained.
Also in December 2016, Bharara's office charged an executive of the Pakistani-based company Axact with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection. Prosecutors say that the company carried out a $140 million diploma mill that defrauded thousands of consumers across the world.
Bharara moved to shut down several of the world's largest Internet poker companies. He prosecuted several payment processors for Internet poker companies, securing guilty pleas for money laundering. In April 2011, Bharara charged 11 founding members of internet gambling companies and their associates involved with pay processing with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). The case is United States v. Scheinberg.
Bharara and his office came to the limelight again in December 2013 with the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General of India in New York, who was accused by prosecutors of submitting false work visa documents for her housekeeper and paying the housekeeper "far less than the minimum legal wage." The ensuing incident caused protests from the Indian government and a rift in India–United States relations; Indians expressed outrage that Khobragade was strip-searched (a routine practice for all U.S. Marshals Service arrestees) and held in the general inmate population. The Indian government retaliated for what it viewed as the mistreatment of its consular official by revoking the ID cards and other privileges of U.S. consular personnel and their families in India and removing security barriers in front of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
Khobragade was subject to prosecution at the time of her arrest because she had only consular immunity (which gives one immunity from prosecution only for acts committed in connection with official duties) and not the more extensive diplomatic immunity. After her arrest, the Indian government moved Khobragade to the Indian's mission to the United Nations, upgrading her status and conferring diplomatic immunity on her; as a result, the federal indictment against Khobragade was dismissed in March 2014, although the door was left open to refiling of charges. A new indictment was filed against Khobragade, but by that point she had left the country.
Speaking on the Khobragade incident, Bharara told the media that "There has been much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting ... it is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis." Speaking at Harvard Law School during its 2014 Class Day ceremony, Bharara said that it was the U.S. Department of State, rather than his office, which had initiated and investigated proceedings against Khobragade and who asked his office to prosecute.
During Bharara's term, the U.S. Attorney's Office investigated six Internet comments made on the website of Reason magazine in which anonymous readers discussed killing U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District of New York. (The comments were made under an article in the magazine of Forrest's sentencing of Silk Road owner Ross William Ulbricht to life in prison without parole.) In June 2015, a federal grand jury issued a subpoena to the libertarian magazine, demanding that it provide identifying information for the commentators. Following the issuance of the subpoena, federal prosecutors applied for an order from a U.S. magistrate judge forbidding the magazine from disclosing the existence of the subpoena to the commentators.
The subpoena became public after being obtained by Popehat's Ken White. The nondisclosure order caused controversy, with critics saying that it infringed the constitutional right to free speech and questioning whether the comments were actually serious threats or merely hyperbolic "trolling." Federal prosecutors dropped the matter as moot. Reason magazine editors Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie characterized the subpoena and nondisclosure order as "suppressing the speech of journalistic outlets known to be critical of government overreach."
Preet Bharara was included on the list of US nationals (colloquially the Guantanamo List) barred from entering the Russian Federation as retaliation for the Magnitsky List, implemented by the Magnitsky Act, a set of United States sanctions of Russian Federation citizens implemented in response to the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.
Following the 2016 election, Bharara met with then-president-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in November 2016. Bharara said that Trump asked him to remain as U.S. Attorney, and he agreed to stay on.
On March 10, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered all 46 remaining United States Attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration, including Bharara, to submit letters of resignation. Bharara declined to resign and was fired the next day. In a statement, Bharara said that serving as U.S. Attorney was "the greatest honor of my professional life" and that "one hallmark of justice is absolute independence and that was my touchstone every day that I served." He was succeeded by his deputy, Joon H. Kim, as acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
There were expressions of dismay over the firing from Howard Dean, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren to New York State Republican Assemblymen Steve McLaughlin and Brian Kolb, the Assembly Leader.
It has been reported that in spring 2017, Trump's personal attorney Marc Kasowitz told associates that he had been personally responsible for getting Bharara fired, saying he had warned Trump, "This guy is going to get you". Bharara said that he was dismissed 22 hours after refusing to take a phone call from Trump.
A leading candidate to replace Bharara on Trump's short list is former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’s personal lawyer Marc Mukasey, the son of former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
On April 1, 2017, Bharara joined New York University School of Law as a distinguished scholar in residence.
The Showtime television series Billions gives a fictional portrayal of the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York's prosecution of financial crimes. The series is loosely based on the investigation of hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital by Bharara's office. The show's fictional SDNY U.S. Attorney Charles "Chuck" Rhoades Jr., played by Paul Giamatti, was partly inspired by Bharara.
Bharara is married to Dalya Bharara, a non-practicing lawyer. They live in Westchester County, New York and have three children. In interviews, Bharara "has reflected on his family's diverse religious heritage: Sikh (his father), Hindu (his mother), Muslim (his wife's father) and Jewish (his wife's grandfather)."
Bharara became a naturalized United States citizen in 1980. Bharara is a registered Democrat but "not considered a strong partisan." His nomination to the U.S. Attorney's post in 2009 was welcomed across the political spectrum as Bharara was regarded as an "apolitical and fair-minded" figure.
Bharara's younger brother Vinit "Vinnie" Bharara, also a graduate of Columbia Law School, is an entrepreneur. Vinnie Bharara and Marc Lore co-founded Quidsi, the parent company of Diapers.com and Soap.com, which they sold in 2010 to Amazon.com for $540 million.
Bharara traces his desire to become a lawyer back to the seventh grade, which was when he read the play Inherit the Wind.
In 2012, Bharara was named by Time magazine as one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World," and by India Abroad as its 2011 Person of the Year.
Bharara is a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan. Springsteen shouted, "This is for Preet Bharara!" before launching into his song "Death to My Hometown" at an October 2012 concert in Hartford, Connecticut.
In 2013, Bharara delivered the commencement address at Fordham Law School in New York and received an honorary Doctor of Laws. Later that week, Bharara delivered the commencement address at his alma mater, Columbia Law School, during his 20th reunion year. In 2014, Bharara delivered the commencement address at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law also in New York and spoke at Harvard Law School's Class Day Ceremony.
Bharara was included in Bloomberg Markets Magazine's 2012 "50 Most Influential" list as well as Vanity Fair's 2012 and 2013 annual "New Establishment" lists.