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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo chooses Maria Vullo to lead NYDFS

Former Cuomo staffer will serve as New York’s top financial regulator

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that his office is nominating Maria Vullo to serve as the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, ending a tumultuous period that saw rumors of tension between the governor’s office and the NYDFS surrounding the departure of the Anthony Albanese as acting superintendent of New York’s top financial regulator.

Albanese took over as NYDFS superintendent last year after the NYDFS’ first superintendent, Benjamin Lawsky, announced his departure in May 2014.

Albanese was Lawsky’s chief of staff, and seen by many as his protégé, but he left the NYDFS in December after reports surfaced that the relationship between the NYDFS and Cuomo’s office had become strained over the reach of the NYDFS, which wielded a great deal of supervisory power during Lawsky’s reign.

When Albanese’s departure was initially announced in October, Albanese said that his appointment to the superintendent position was never meant to be permanent, a supposition that was confirmed by both Lawsky upon his departure from the NYDFS and by Cuomo’s office when Albanese’s departure was announced.

Shortly after Albanese’s departure was announced, more details about the struggle between Cuomo’s office and the NYDFS began to emerge.

The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that Albanese and other NYDFS officials have “butted heads” with Cuomo’s office over the department’s regulatory efforts, including requests to approve document requests and subpoenas before they are sent out by the NYDFS, a practice that apparently did not take place during Lawksy’s tenure.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Cuomo’s office has “faced pressure from Wall Street and the insurance industry to ease its aggressive oversight” in the wake of Lawsky’s departure.

But Wall Street wasn’t alone in trying to exert influence on the direction of the NYDFS.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that none other than Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, seen by many as the scourge of Wall Street, was involved in searching for Lawksy’s replacement.

According to the WSJ report, Warren lobbied for the selection of Rohit Chopra, the former student-loan ombudsman and assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to serve as NYDFS superintendent.

But Chopra wasn’t the choice, especially considering that last week he joined the Department of Education as a senior adviser.

Vullo, on the other hand, is a former staffer of Cuomo’s, having served as Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice when Cuomo was the New York State Attorney General.

Currently, Vullo is of counsel at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where she was a partner for 20 years.

In a press release, Cuomo’s office calls Vullo an “experienced senior litigator and manager, with more than 25 years of practice in business litigation and investigations.”

While working as Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice under Cuomo, Vullo oversaw New York’s Bureaus of Investor Protection, Antitrust, Real Estate Finance, Consumer Frauds and Internet.

According to Cuomo’s office, while in that role, Vullo handled numerous consumer protection, investor protection and antitrust matters, including:

  • Actions against Ezra Merkin and Ivy Asset Management for alleged fraud relating to Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme
  • An investigation and action against Ernst & Young for losses to investors resulting from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers
  • Actions against real estate developers for misrepresentations in offering plans
  • Actions against social networking sites to prevent the proliferation of child pornography

Cuomo’s office also stated that Vullo’s legal experience has included matters involving securities and other fraud, real estate, health care, insurance, tax, consumer protection, bankruptcy, antitrust, constitutional and environmental law.

“Maria Vullo is a dedicated, tough and fair litigator with the right combination of public and private sector experience needed to lead the Department of Financial Services,” Cuomo said. “Maria has shown an immovable commitment to upholding the law and protecting consumers, and I am confident that she would be a strong and tireless advocate for the people of New York as Superintendent.”

According to Cuomo’s office, Vullo was selected twice by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination as a candidate for Associate Judge on the Court of Appeals, and has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, and the New York State Appellate Division.

Under Lawsky, the NYDFS wielded a great deal of power over Wall Street and the country’s financial system.

Lawsky’s NYDFS became a watchdog on the mortgage finance industry, with its reach extending beyond the borders of New York state.

Perhaps the NYDFS' biggest accomplishment in the mortgage space came in December of 2014, when Ocwen Financial agreed to pay $150 million as part of an agreement with the NYDFS over the company’s business practices. As part of that settlement, Ocwen Executive Chairman William Erbey also agreed to resign.

Only time will tell what impact the NYDFS will have under Vullo, who still needs to be confirmed by the New York Senate before taking over the NYDFS, but Vullo said she is excited by the opportunity ahead.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be nominated to serve as Superintendent of the Department of Financial Services,” Vullo said. “I thank Governor Cuomo for this tremendous opportunity, and am excited to serve the people of the State of New York once again. I look forward to working with the talented men and women at DFS to strengthen our markets and protect investors and consumers from unlawful business practices.”

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