Maria Vullo ’87 leads New York’s Department of Financial Services

Vullo is known for her expertise in consumer enforcement and commitment to public service

As superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), Maria Vullo ’87 is charged with spurring the growth of New York’s financial industry, protecting consumers from financial crises, and combatting fraud and abuse of the system. It is a position that requires equal understanding of the private and public sectors, and for which Vullo is very well-suited as, throughout her career, she has demonstrated equal dedication to financial litigation and pro bono work.

Maria Vullo '87

“NYU Law is built on two pillars: academic excellence and commitment to public service. These pillars are also the foundation of Maria’s incredible career,” says Jeffrey Pollock ’87, partner at Fox Rothschild and Vullo’s former classmate. “Maria has a history of enforcing, of going against violators, and making sure the system works. If you want someone who has all those abilities and an eye toward protecting the public, she’s a great choice.”

Vullo started her career at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where she developed a prowess in commercial litigation. “I was always a good math student—I never shied away from numbers. I just didn’t have any other experience with business,” Vullo says. “But I wound up actually enjoying and being intellectually challenged by business ligation.” She spent more than two decades at the firm and eventually became a litigation partner, representing businesses and companies in financial disputes.

As a litigator, Vullo specialized in issues such as securities fraud, consumer protection, bankruptcy, and antitrust law—expertise that was crucial when, in 2010, she was named executive deputy attorney general for economic justice by then–New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. While in the Office of the Attorney General, Vullo oversaw consumer protection, investor protection, antitrust, real estate, and Internet investigations and prosecutions. She led several notable cases, including the action against Ivy Asset Management for the financial planner’s involvement in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme as well as the lawsuit against Ernst & Young for enabling Lehman Brothers to conceal its financial difficulties before the firm’s collapse.  

And since her confirmation last June, DFS has fined Mega International Commercial Bank of Taiwan $180 million, the Agricultural Bank of China $215 million, and the banking group Intesa Sanpaolo $235 million for violating anti-money laundering laws. DFS also penalized Deutsche Bank $425 million for an alleged mirror-trading scheme.

The scope of her career has cemented Vullo as a commanding presence in her field, and she mentions that she is particularly proud of her pro bono work, especially in the realm of women’s rights. Vullo was co-counsel in Kadic v. Karadžić, in which women and children who had been victims of rape and violence during the 1992–1995 Bosnian War won a $745 million compensatory and punitive judgment against former politician and convicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić. She also argued and won a prominent case on behalf of doctors for Planned Parenthood in Portland, Oregon, who were threatened online by anti-abortion groups, ultimately winning $100 million in damages for her clients.

Vullo’s work on behalf of legal and social equality for women continues in her role as superintendent. Under her watch, DFS has issued guidance informing health insurers of their responsibility to provide health insurance coverage for maternal depression screenings and treatments and likewise created an open enrollment period for domestic violence victims seeking healthcare. Most recently, in response to implications that women’s reproductive rights could be at risk, DFS supported New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in his announced series of regulations to secure women’s access to these rights, including coverage for contraception and abortion services. “There has never been a more critical time than now to ensure access to the reproductive health services that New York women require,” Vullo said in a statement as part of the Governor’s announcement. “New York will not tolerate any impediments or impairments of women’s rights and access to reproductive health care.”

Whether through ensuring access to reproductive healthcare or going after predatory lending practices, Vullo never loses sight of what she sees as her primary goal: to improve the lives of New York State’s citizens. “[DFS] is a fantastic agency, with such depth and breadth of opportunity to have an impact on people’s lives,” Vullo says. “And that’s the thing that gives me the greatest satisfaction—if individual, real-life people are benefitting from my work.”

Posted February 10, 2017