SEC enforcement chief Stephanie Avakian leaving

The top cop at Wall Street’s main regulator will step down this month, joining an exodus of Securities and Exchange Commission officials who are leaving as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to install new leadership at the agency.

SEC enforcement director Stephanie Avakian is departing after serving in the role for roughly four years with co-head Steven Peikin, who left the regulator in August.

Marc P. Berger, the enforcement unit’s deputy director and previous head of the SEC’s New York regional office, will serve as acting chief, the agency said in a Thursday statement.

Avakian’s work “has resulted in a program that is tough on violators, enhances the integrity of our markets and puts the interests of our Main Street investors first,” SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said in the statement. Clayton is also leaving the agency by the end of the year.

During Avakian’s tenure, the SEC focused on frauds that exploited retail investors. Under her leadership, the agency obtained more than $17 billion in financial remedies, returned approximately $3.6 billion to harmed investors and paid awards of approximately $595 million to whistle-blowers.

One of the SEC’s most memorable cases during her time as enforcement chief was against Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Inc., for tweeting in August 2018 that he had secured funding to take the electric car marker private. The next month, the regulator sued him for securities fraud — a record pace for an agency that on average takes two years to bring a case.

Avakian, who served as deputy enforcement director during the Obama administration, led the unit with Peikin from June 2017 until August 2020.

[More: SEC obtains record $4.7 billion in penalties, disgorgement]

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