SEC Names Nicole Creola Kelly as Whistleblower Program Chief

SEC Names Nicole Creola Kelly as Whistleblower Program Chief

The Securities and Exchange Commission has appointed Nicole Creola Kelly, a senior special counsel in the regulator’s general counsel office, as its new whistleblower program chief.

Ms. Kelly, who goes by Cree, has more than 20 years of experience with the SEC, the agency said Friday. She previously worked at the whistleblower office and served in other roles at the SEC, including as counsel to then-Chairman Mary Jo White and to then-Commissioner Kara Stein, as well as in the enforcement division’s complex financial instruments unit, the regulator said.

Her appointment as the new program chief was welcomed by lawyers representing whistleblowers, who expect she will be a strong advocate for whistleblowers and for the program. 

“Cree is a great pick; she has an excellent reputation and works very well with people throughout the commission, and that’s an important skill,” said Jordan Thomas, a former SEC assistant director who now chairs the whistleblower representation practice at law firm Labaton Sucharow LLP. He added that the selection of someone who is familiar with the whistleblower program but not currently a member of its staff might reflect a view that SEC Chairman Gary Gensler is seeking the benefits of an outsider’s take on the program to take it to another level.

In her new position, Ms. Kelly will likely spearhead efforts to prepare a revision of two amendments to the whistleblower award program rules that were adopted in 2020. Mr. Gensler said this summer he was directing staff to prepare potential revisions to the two amendments for the agency’s consideration later this year to address concerns they would discourage whistleblowers from coming forward. 

She also will need to maintain the momentum that the whistleblower program has in issuing awards while continuing to ensure confidence in it as a channel for people to report alleged misconduct, Ms. Norberg said.

“She will be a strong advocate for the changes that are helpful and would help amend the ones that aren’t helpful,” said Sean McKessy, who was the first chief of the SEC whistleblower program and is now a partner at law firm Phillips & Cohen LLP representing whistleblowers. He added that the office’s chief job is a tough one with many behind-the-scenes responsibilities, but that the appointment “is a testament to her skills and work ethic.” 

The appointment comes as the SEC whistleblower program, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, grows and matures. The whistleblower office received around 6,900 tips in the fiscal year ended in September 2020, the highest tally for any year since the program began. As of late October, the SEC whistleblower program had paid out about $1.1 billion to 224 people since issuing its first award in 2012, the agency said.

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Harvey Yan

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