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Practical. Humorous. A straight shooter. These are just a few of the words that clients use to describe Colleen Mahoney. Mahoney herself would probably add discreet and a behind-the-scenes adviser. But it’s hard to remain completely behind the scenes when you have worked on some of the biggest securities cases of recent times. As the D.C.-based chief of the securities litigation practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Mahoney has advised clients from HealthSouth Corp. to Putnam Investments to DaimlerChrysler. Since 2004, she has spent a considerable amount of her time helping DaimlerChrysler navigate through investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department relating to possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That investigation of the automotive giant is still pending. Mahoney’s ability to interact smoothly with several agencies and with lawyers for other interested parties is key, says Michael Ryan Jr., former general counsel at the American Stock Exchange. Ryan, who now works at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, first turned to Mahoney in 1999 and again in the mid-2000s to represent the American Stock Exchange during a long-running SEC investigation into how stock exchanges regulate options trading. During her time representing the American Stock Exchange, Ryan notes, Mahoney took a leadership role on several fronts because the exchange was also facing a Justice Department investigation and private litigation. Eventually, settlements were reached all around. “Style-wise she is very effective,” says Ryan. “On the one hand, her interpersonal skills are very, very strong — her demeanor is very friendly and pleasant to deal with. But at the same time, she doesn’t duck the tough issues.” Ben Garren of the Coca-Cola Co. echoes Ryan. “She has a tremendous reputation both in that [securities law] field and at the SEC. And when you are going in to see the commission, that’s something you want,” says Garren, associate general counsel for the soft drink giant, who has worked with Mahoney during the last five years on securities-related matters. Mahoney, 50, notes that while she largely focuses on SEC investigations and enforcement matters, she also spends time advising companies on day-to-day compliance issues. “I try to take a multidisciplinary approach to complex securities issues,” says Mahoney. “Usually, issues that lead to an SEC investigation arise in a much broader context. For example, aggressive accounting often occurs when there are significant strains on the business.” Like many other top securities practitioners, Mahoney got her start at the SEC. Two years out of law school, she joined the agency for what would prove to be a 15-year stint. She left in 1998 after serving as acting general counsel. These days her practice largely mirrors the priorities of the SEC, so of late that has meant focusing on the FCPA, insider trading, and so-called “gatekeeper” liability issues. Her clients appreciate both her propensity to keep a low profile and her ability to persuade regulators to reach favorable settlements. One recent example is her work for apparel manufacturer Warnaco Group. The company was facing an SEC investigation over allegations that it had improperly described a $145 million inventory overstatement. At issue was a Warnaco press release, issued in 1999, that claimed record revenues while mischaracterizing the reasons for the inventory overstatement. Although the investigation went on for years, Mahoney negotiated a settlement between the SEC and Warnaco in 2004. The company paid no monetary penalty. Mahoney has also served as audit committee counsel for companies looking at their internal controls. For instance, in June 2004 she was hired as audit committee counsel for Interstate Bakeries Corp., the maker of Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies. The SEC was looking into how Interstate Bakeries managed the millions placed in reserve to pay workers’ compensation claims. Mahoney completed her internal investigation in three months. The company reached a settlement with the SEC in 2006.

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