Loretta Lynch: the scourge of mobsters, terrorists – and now Fifa

US attorney general Loretta Lynch made her name with high-profile cases, but none as explosive as Fifa

Loretta Lynch, US attorney general
(Image credit: 2015 Getty Images)

Name: Loretta Lynch

Born: 1959 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

University: Harvard, where she read English and American literature, and Harvard Law School.

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Why is she in the news?

Just a month ago, she was wondering if the Senate would ever confirm her nomination as US attorney general. Yesterday, four weeks into the job, she made what Politico calls "a stunning debut on the world stage" when she announced she was leading the American "takedown" of corruption within the world soccer governing body Fifa.

What does the US attorney general do?

The AG heads the US Justice Department, overseeing 116,000 full-time staff and a $27 billion budget, and is in effect the nation's chief law enforcement officer. Loretta Lynch is not the first black attorney general (that was her predecessor Eric Holder) nor the first female AG (that was Janet Reno in the Bill Clinton years), but she is the first black woman to hold the position. She now serves as a member of President Obama's cabinet.

What is her background?

Loretta Lynch's parents, who still live in North Carolina, are Lorenzo, a Baptist minister who grew up the son of a sharecropper in the segregated South, and Lorine, a school librarian who as a youngster worked in the North Carolina cottonfields. "I told Loretta that I picked cotton so she wouldn't have to do the same thing," Lorine told the Washington Post.

Has Lynch's race been an issue?

Not as much as it was for her parents, though she got a taste of the old South at school in Durham, North Carolina. She performed so well in an exam at her mainly white elementary school that she was asked to take it again. When, in 1977, she was top student in her class at high school, she was asked to share the honour with two others, including a white classmate, to "avoid controversy". At Harvard in the late 1970s, said a black female contemporary, "the assumption was that you were there because of affirmative action. It made you work harder. You had something to prove."

How did her career take off?

On leaving Harvard Law School, she joined the Wall Street law firm of Cahill Gordon and Reindel. Six years later she began her career in public service when she joined the office of the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which includes the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and parts of Long Island. She went on to head the office during two different periods: from 1999 to 2001 after being nominated by Bill Clinton, and from 2010 until April 2015 after being appointed by Obama.

When Eric Holder announced last year that he was standing down as US Attorney General, Obama chose Lynch. The President raised a laugh when, announcing his choice last November at the White House, he said: "Loretta might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters, and drug lords, and terrorists, and still has the reputation for being a charming people person." The Senate took its time giving the appointment its approval and she only took up the reins at the end of April.

What about her private life?

She is married to Stephen Hargrove, who works in cable television for Showtime Networks. She took on two step-children when she married him in 2007. When Hargrove asked Lynch's father for permission to marry her, Lorenzo Lynch says he responded: "I couldn't give you my daughter if I wanted to. She's a very independent agent."

What were her high-profile cases before Fifa?

During her total seven years in Brooklyn, she led several financial investigations that, as Politico puts it, "targeted some of the world's biggest banks and won admissions of rigging multi-billion-dollar markets in mortgages and global currency".

She is equally known for her involvement in two headline-grabbing cases of police brutality. She ran the investigation into the death last summer of Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man who died after being placed in a chokehold by a white NYPD officer. In 1999, she was a senior prosecutor in the trial of NYPD officers who sodomised a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, with a broken-off broom handle.

Recently, she prosecuted Michael Grimm, a Republican congressman guilty of tax fraud. A former FBI man who once threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony, Grimm resigned from Congress in December 2014. As National Public Radio reports, Lynch said of Grimm that he "made the choice to go from upholding the law to breaking it".

Lynch also has a link with Martine Scorsese: she oversaw the prosecution, many years after the event, of the mobsters who robbed a cargo terminal at JFK, the heist immortalised in the book Wiseguy and the subsequent Scorsese film Goodfellas.

Which brings us to Fifa…

Although soccer is not yet a massively popular professional sport in the States, it has taken the Americans to tackle corruption within Fifa – something several grateful British commentators have pointed out since yesterday's remarkable events in Geneva and New York. And it is Lynch who has spearheaded the charge, first in her role as US attorney in Brooklyn, and now as Attorney General.

The indictment of Fifa officials comes at an interesting moment: as Lynch said at her press conference yesterday, next year's centennial Copa America – normally held in South America – is to be hosted for the first time at venues across the United States. Furthermore, while the US will bid for the 2026 World Cup, some commentators have suggested that if Qatar should lose the 2022 World Cup as a result of Lynch and the FBI's investigations, then the States, with its wealth of quality sports stadiums, would be the obvious substitute venue.

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