Power Punk: Michael Schachter

Assistant U.S. attorney wants to see Martha Stewart decorating a cell!

On Jan. 12, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Schachter will argue before a jury of Martha Stewart’s “peers” that the domestic diva is guilty of securities fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and lying to prosecutors during their investigation of her sale of ImClone Systems stock in December 2001. Ms. Stewart has looked wan and puffy-eyed as the trial approaches, but the prosecutor appears as crisp and fresh as one of her canapés.

“I don’t get nervous in front of the jury,” said the small, trim Mr. Schachter, 34, sitting with hands folded neatly on his desk in one of those dingy, protest-proof government buildings downtown. “The most important talent that’s required is just an ability to talk to people-talking to 12 citizens, trying to explain some facts. I hope that I’m able to talk to people.”

“He’s got a disarmingly boyish affect,” said Steven Peikin, chief of the securities and commodities task force and Mr. Schachter’s supervisor, “which I think can be a really effective tool when dealing with sophisticated fraudsters.”

Steven M. Cohen, a former prosecutor who now works as a defense attorney, praised Mr. Schachter’s ability to go for it, strategy-wise. “People who represent targets of investigations find Mike very hard-nosed and aggressive,” he said. “Witnesses may well describe a guy who seems quite compassionate.”

The bruiser in Boy Scout’s clothing hails from the middle-class Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill. Dad was a personal-injury lawyer, Mom was a schoolteacher. Mr. Schachter, who said he’d wanted to be a prosecutor since he was a kid, often headed to courts to check out the action while attending law school at DePaul University.

In January 1999, after he spent five years at the Chicago law firm of McDermott, Will and Emery, a job opened at the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York. Mr. Schachter pounced. He began in the general crimes unit, prosecuting armed robbery, gun-dealing and narcotics ad nauseam , but quickly moved up to the elite securities-fraud unit that he toils in today.

“I love white-collar criminal prosecutions,” he said, some heat creeping into his voice. “Often the people that commit are people that have had lots of advantages. They can lead tremendous, wonderful, law-abiding lives because they’ve gone to great schools and they have great jobs, and they don’t need to break the law. But they choose to.”

Thanks to the prosecutor’s efforts, Ms. Stewart’s dear friend and alleged co-conspirator, Sam Waksal, was sentenced last June to the maximum of 87 months for insider trading, obstruction of justice, perjury and tax evasion. But for Mr. Schachter, this glitzy victory was just another case. “Even well before that, we were putting away lots of C.E.O.’s that lied, cheated and stole,” he said with a shrug.

Mr. Cohen begged to differ. “These cases are everything ,” he said. “They are bringing him into contact with people in the white-collar defense bar-people who matter-and they will define him for the rest of his career.”

-Lizzy Ratner

Power Punk:  Michael Schachter