Beth Wilkinson ’84
“As I look back on my career and my family, I see how the academic and personal challenges I faced at Princeton have affected the choices I have made,” says Beth Wilkinson ’84, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Fannie Mae. “Most importantly the simple motto, ‘Princeton in the Nation’s Service,’ shaped my life and led me to do things I would have never imagined possible.”
An ROTC scholarship student, as was her father, and a four-year member of Expressions Dance Company, Wilkinson says she navigated “two very different worlds” at Princeton and enjoyed “all that the University had to offer.” After graduating Magna Cum Laude, she proceeded to the University of Virginia, where she earned her JD in 1987 and was President of her class.
Following law school, Wilkinson was selected by the Army to join a Pentagon honors program, and she fulfilled her four-year military obligation as an assistant to the Army’s General Counsel for intelligence and special operations. In this post, she saw “how policy, law and the military came together,” she says, before heading to Miami as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney on the U.S. v. Noriega case. “That assignment gave me the opportunity to find my real professional love, trial work,” says Wilkinson.
Wilkinson’s trial work had just begun; following her Army stint, she became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York where she made news with her successful prosecution of narco-terrorist Dandeny Munoz Mosquera. A key player in Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel, Mosquera was charged with blowing up a jetliner in 1989 and with transporting cocaine to the U.S. Following his conviction, Wilkinson was awarded the Justice Department’s highest award, the Exceptional Service Award.
Wilkinson’s success also led her to Washington, D.C., where she was appointed Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General and became Principal Deputy for Terrorism and Violent Crime. When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred a few months later—in April 1995—Wilkinson assisted Attorney General Janet Reno with the selection of the lead prosecutor in the case against Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Later, Wilkinson herself joined the prosecution team, and it was she who delivered the team’s closing argument asking on behalf of the government for the death sentence for McVeigh. Her contributions to the McVeigh trial earned Wilkinson the Justice Department’s Exceptional Service Award for a second time, and she became the first person ever to receive it twice.
In 1995 Wilkinson took a new path when she joined the world of private practice as a partner in the firm Latham & Watkins. She became one of the firm’s leading specialists in white-collar criminal defense and represented numerous Fortune 500 companies, including Philip Morris and Ford Motor. At the same time, she served as Co-Chair of the Committee to Reform the Death Penalty, “a nonpartisan group that worked to initiate reforms to the death penalty around the country,” she says.
Wilkinson left Latham & Watkins last year to join Fannie Mae, which “provides liquidity and financing for home ownership for low and moderate income families,” she explains. “I have enjoyed working at a place with a strong public mission and a duty and obligation to its shareholders.”
Wilkinson has been listed in The Washingtonian as one of Washington’s top 30 lawyers and has been a guest on news programs such as the NBC Today Show, the Lehrer News Hour and CBS Nightly News. Her current extracurricular work includes the boards of the National Youth Leadership Forum and Equal Justice Works.
A Reunion Alumni-Faculty Forum panelist, a Schools Committee Chair and an Annual Giving solicitor, Wilkinson also co-founded the Princeton ROTC Alumni Association. “When I entered Princeton in 1980,” reflects Wilkinson, “I had no idea how great an influence the University and its history would have on my life.”