Just weeks after he was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for New York's Southern District, Preet Bharara is being put to the test. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators will be tried in a Manhattan federal court makes Bharara the man responsible for bringing an unabashed terrorist to justice. Bharara, who drew plaudits for his investigation into the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys under President George W. Bush, has burnished his reputation by prosecuting organized crime figures and white collar criminals. His newest assignment presents more formidable challenges not least among them, overcoming the argument that information gleaned from Mohammed was coerced by CIA investigators, who according to documents waterboarded the al-Qaeda operative 183 times. In a Nov. 13 press conference, Holder said he "fully expects to direct the prosecution" to pursue the death penalty for the five alleged terrorists. For Bharara, securing anything less in a courtroom just blocks from the site of the devastation the accused wrought will likely be judged a failure.
Born in Ferozepur, India, in 1968. His family moved to Monmouth County, New Jersey, two years later.
Graduated from Harvard University in 1990 and Columbia Law School in 1993. That summer, he spent several weeks as a volunteer for Mark Green's successful campaign for New York City public advocate.
Worked in private practice until 2000, when he became an assistant U.S. Attorney in New York. Pursued organized crime, including the Colombo and Gambino crime families, as well as drug-trafficking, Wall Street fraud and other crimes.
Became chief counsel to New York Senator Charles Schumer in 2005 and while in that role helped lead the investigation into the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys under President George W. Bush. Despite working for one of the Senate's most liberal members, the registered Democrat was not considered a strong partisan and won praise for conducting an evenhanded probe.
Sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in October after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August (he was nominated for the post by President Obama in May). Oversees about 200 lawyers in one of the nation's most high-profile prosecutor positions. Recently brought charges against billionaire Raj Rajaratnam and 19 others in an extensive and ongoing insider-trading probe.
Married with three young children. In interviews, he 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).
A fan of fellow Monmouth County resident Bruce Springsteen, whose music sometimes fills Bharara's office when he works late. A framed photo of the Boss and Bharara's mother hangs in his lower-Manhattan office.
"Greed, sometimes, is not good."
Announcing the arrest of billionaire Galleon hedge-fund founder Raja Rajaratnam and five others for insider trading (Reuters, Oct. 20, 2009)
"Four different families, practicing four different faiths all compelled to flee a half-century ago because of their religion ... Even when my wife fasts for Yom Kippur, and my father-in-law fasts for Ramadan, I get to stuff my face with samosas all day."
Joking about his family's Jewish, Muslim and Hindu background in a speech to the South Asian Bar Association of New York in 2007 (New York Times, Aug. 9, 2009)
"Central to our work is the vindication of the victims of crime. It is what motivates us to do everything we can in the pursuit of justice."
Addressing the Anti-Defamation League's 2009 annual meeting (ADL.org, Oct. 29, 2009)
"I believe Preet Bharara will be one of the most outstanding U.S. Attorneys that the Southern District, or any other, has ever had. He is smart, hardworking, focused and unafraid to proceed wherever the facts of a case may lead."
Senator Chuck Schumer, in a statement after Barack Obama nominated Bharara to become U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2009)
"What former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani did to the Mob is what Preet Bharara will do to Wall Street."
Ravi Batra, an India-born defense lawyer in New York, after Bharara brought insider-trading charges against two high-profile businessmen from India, where Bharara was born (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20, 2009)
"I think one of the reasons this has been hard on the Justice Department internally is because so many people have respect for him ... We can't attack him as a political hack, because he's not. He's a political person, but first and foremost, he's a prosecutor."
Senior Bush official, on why Bharara was such a formidable adversary, during an interview with the Legal Times in April 2007 (Politico, Jan. 16, 2009)
"He never carries himself like he's the smartest guy in the room, even though he often is."
New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram, praising her former colleague (New York Times, Aug. 9, 2009)