Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot's time as an SEC investigator put her on the trail of notorious financier
Bernard Madoff all the way back in 2004.
The Intangible: Experience
Investigators for the Securities and Exchange Commission can spend months or even years patiently assembling evidence that may lead to proof of wrongdoing. Threads of the trail can be found everywhere: in paper records, phone conversation transcripts and trading documentation. Often, some of the most convincing smoking guns can be found in e-mail exchanges that are subject to subpoena by federal securities cops.
Yet, even mountains of information may yield little practical benefit unless the investigator has some firsthand knowledge of the real life practices of securities firms and traders.
Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, CUA Law class of 1999, should know. Formerly with the Office of Compliance, Inspections and Examinations, Securities and Exchange Commission, she was charged with conducting the SEC’s 2004 investigation into the activities of convicted financier Bernard Madoff. Her work uncovered troubling questions about the now-collapsed money empire that bankrupted countless investors.
(Right) Walker-Lightfoot, with Securities Law Program director David Lipton, was presented with an engraved pen in appreciation for her talk.
“You can’t understand this information without having the background,” Walker-Lightfoot told a student audience at the Columbus School of Law on Jan. 11th. “These procedures are just the beginning points. The key step is to bring a good practical understanding of the securities industry and a diversity of thought approach.”
Invited by the Catholic University’s Securities Law Program to discuss "How to Conduct A Compliance Examination to Unearth Wrongdoing," Walker-Lightfoot offered students an insider’s tour of how investigations are structured and carried out by the SEC.
Her investigatory work in the Madoff case was, in some ways, an anomaly. Although Walker-Lightfoot and her small group of fellow investigators followed normal internal SEC procedures, the red flags raised by their findings went nowhere up the chain. For unclear reasons, the Madoff investigation stalled completely, a fact for which the SEC has been subject to heavy criticism.
These days Walker-Lightfoot serves as a specialist in risk management and large financial institutions for the Federal Reserve Board. Although her days at the SEC are behind her, there were times during her address when she sounded as though she still missed the thrill of the chase.
“The approach I always took was: something isn’t right here. Fraud is never clear-cut. You have to ask the right questions to get the right answers,” she advised.