By David S. Hilzenrath
The Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday named a veteran of the corporate boardroom to head a new office responsible for enlisting whistleblowers in the fight against corporate fraud.
The appointee, Sean McKessy, said in a news release that whistleblowers "often provide invaluable information that can help uncover securities fraud." But his appointment set off alarm bells among whistleblower advocates, who said his resume inspired little confidence that he would lend a sympathetic ear.
McKessy has served as corporate secretary for AOL and Altria Group, parent of cigarette maker Philip Morris. Earlier in his career he worked for Caterpillar and, from 1997 to 2000, as a lawyer in the SEC's enforcement division.
The SEC highlighted his corporate background in announcing the appointment. McKessy has "developed and supervised internal compliance and reporting programs related to the federal securities laws, served as corporate compliance officer, and coordinated the reporting of potential violations to boards of directors," the agency said in a news release.
Whistleblower advocates said McKessy's background worried them that he would protect corporate interests.
"I am certain that Wall Street is breathing a sigh of relief today," said Stephen M. Kohn, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers and serves as executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center.