Karen A. Popp

Popp, Karen A.


Washington, D.C. +1 202 736 8053

1501 K Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
+1 202 736 8053

kpopp@sidley.com kpopp@sidley.com

Admissions & Certifications

Karen A. Popp


KAREN A. POPP, is the Global Co-Leader of the firm’s White Collar: Government Litigation & Investigations group. Karen has an expansive practice representing companies and individuals in high-profile matters with legal, political and public relations components, such as corporate criminal defense, internal investigations, SEC Enforcement, Congressional investigations, OIG and State Attorney General actions, corporate compliance, and litigation. Chambers Global and Chambers USA recognize her as a leader in the fields of White Collar and FCPA. Her practice is informed by a wealth of government and private sector experience, including service as a federal prosecutor in New York, a lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, and Associate White House Counsel to President Clinton.

Karen represents Sidley clients across a host of industries in a wide range of matters involving allegations of criminal, civil and ethical wrongdoing. Her clients range from major corporations to prominent business and political figures, including a U.S. Presidential Cabinet Member. She has been retained to lead dozens of confidential worldwide internal investigations and defend corporations and individuals in government investigations relating to alleged FCPA and OFAC violations, securities and financial fraud, accounting irregularities, environmental crimes, kickbacks, tax fraud, qui tams, misuse of corporate assets, false claims, antitrust and other bribery, corruption and fraud. Her recent experience includes:

  • Successfully obtained prosecutorial declinations for companies in significant criminal investigations 
  • Representing numerous companies and individuals in connection with FCPA investigations before the Department of Justice and S.E.C. These large-scale investigations span dozens of countries across the globe. 
  • Representing companies in State Attorney General investigations involving alleged false claims and qui tams
  • Represented Duke Energy in Clean Water Act prosecutions by DOJ over the companies' North Carolina coal ash ponds and oil spill into the Ohio River and in the Antitrust resolution regarding Osprey Energy.
  • Successfully represented a senior executive of an auto parts manufacturer in a criminal cartel investigation into allegations of price-fixing, bid-rigging and market allocation. 
  • Successfully represented a U.S. Presidential Cabinet member in DOJ and congressional investigations. 
  • Representing a senior oil executive in a multi-national anti-corruption investigation. 

Karen also assists clients in designing and enhancing corporate compliance and ethics programs, and currently serves as outside counsel to several corporate compliance departments. She has conducted global compliance and risk assessments for numerous U.S. and non-U.S. companies. Karen helps companies to respond to internal allegations of wrongdoing, conducts training for Boards of Directors, management, compliance departments and other company personnel, and conducts compliance due diligence regarding corporate acquisitions and joint ventures.

Repeatedly recognized for her work, the Legal 500 US notes that, “The ‘highly experienced and knowledgeable’ Karen Popp provides ‘expert and practical advice.’” Benchmark Litigation names Karen a Litigation Star (both nationally and in Washington, D.C.) for her White Collar practice. Global Investigation Review named Karen as one of the Top 100 Women in Investigations in the world. Washingtonian magazine has included Karen in its current roster of “Top Lawyers in Washington,” and she has been recognized yearly by The Best Lawyers in America in Criminal Defense: White-Collar and Commercial Litigation and has been named by Super Lawyers magazine as one of the Top 100 lawyers in Washington, a recognition based on a vote of peers. Karen has also been recognized by the International Who's Who of Business Crime Defence Lawyers and International Who's Who of Investigations. Karen was selected in 2015 as one of the Ethisphere Attorneys Who Matter for making a significant difference in the ethics and compliance fields through the private practice of law. She has been named for several years to the Top 250 Women in Litigation, a publication honoring the achievements of female lawyers in litigation practices in the United States. Super Lawyers magazine has named her one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Washington, D.C. The recipient of the “First Annual Transformative Leadership Award” given by InsideCounsel Magazine in 2010, Karen also was the 2006 recipient of the “Star of the Bar” award by the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia. She received the Thurgood Marshall Award given by the New York City Bar Association.

A frequent speaker at national conferences and before various other groups, Karen has provided legal commentary on CNN, Fox News and NPR, and served as a consultant on the television show The West Wing.


The breadth of Karen’s practice is reflected in the following sampling of her representative engagements.


Karen has been involved in numerous FCPA matters involving corporate activities in 70+ countries, and has represented:

  • A major international oil company in internal and government investigations involving allegations of international bribery and violations of the FCPA in 30+ countries. 
  • Numerous Life Science companies in internal and government investigations arising from allegations of FCPA and OFAC violations in 40+ countries
  • A major defense contractor in an internal investigation relating to joint venture operations in the Middle East. 
  • A conglomerate corporation in a multi-country internal investigation and related government investigations. 
  • An international retail clothing store chain in several worldwide investigations relating to allegations of FCPA violations, other bribery, fraud and compliance policy violations. 
  • A major technology company in a FCPA investigation in China. 
  • A national non-profit organization relating to allegations of violating FCPA, OFAC and other laws and compliance rules relating to international operations, and in Congressional, OIG, DOJ and state AG investigations relating to fraud. 
  • Automotive companies in various anti-corruption compliance issues.
  • A KBR executive in the DOJ/SEC investigations of FCPA violations by KBR/Halliburton.
  • A senior oil executive in a multi-country anti-corruption investigation.
  • An executive in the financial industry in a FCPA investigation in Asia.  
  • Several major corporations and financial entities in building compliance programs and conducting proactive FCPA risk assessments with remedial steps and compliance due diligence on M&A and joint venture transactions.

Other Internal & Government Engagements

Karen regularly assists corporations facing internal and government investigations. Among those she has represented are:

  • A major technology company in an internal investigation relating to accounting irregularities in foreign operations. 
  • A major food distribution corporation in a S.D.N.Y. investigation, as well as internal investigations involving allegations of bribery, antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, kickbacks, employment discrimination and other violations of company ethics and compliance policies. 
  • A national real estate holding company in several internal investigations involving allegations of bribery, tax and accounting fraud and executive misuse of corporate assets. 
  • A transportation company in several internal, federal and state investigations relating to bribery and fraud. 
  • A national electronic services corporation in an internal investigation arising from allegations of fraud and other commercial wrongdoing. 
  • A major technology company in a DOJ investigation.
  • A major non-profit organization related to whistleblower allegations against a Board member.
  • An international retail corporation in an internal investigation relating to stock option grants, and a national department store corporation in internal, SEC and DOJ investigations into allegations relating to securities fraud and accounting irregularities. 
  • A monoline insurance corporation in several internal investigations relating to allegations of market manipulation through cybersmearing by company executives and employees and a separate investigation into alleged fraud and other misconduct by an officer of the company. 
  • Major Life Science corporations in internal, DOJ and State AG investigations of alleged fraud, kickbacks, qui tams and other violations of the False Claims Act. 
  • A labor-related company in investigations by the SEC, DOJ and Congress, among others, relating to alleged securities fraud and other commercial misconduct. 
  • A major psychiatric hospital corporation in several internal and DOJ investigations involving alleged kickbacks and False Claims, and in related litigation to stop the airing of a 60 Minutes II program based upon a hidden camera in one of the psychiatric hospitals. 

Representative Engagements by Individuals

Karen also represents individuals facing a government investigation or other allegations of wrongdoing. She has represented:

  • The president of a Life Science company relating to allegations of fraud and False Claims. 
  • The CEO of a transportation company in a perjury investigation. 
  • Senior executive of an auto parts manufacturer in a criminal cartel investigation into allegations of price-fixing, bid-rigging and market allocation. 
  • A bank executive in the municipal bond market antitrust investigation by DOJ and the SEC. 
  • U.S. Presidential Cabinet member in DOJ and congressional investigations. 
  • Senior oil executive in a multi-country anti-corruption investigation. 
  • Senior financial officer of McKesson HBOC in the accounting irregularity investigation by the SEC and DOJ. 
  • The CEO of an international animal medicine corporation in an investigation by the SEC and DOJ into alleged securities fraud. 
  • A dozen employees of a major technology corporation relating to an investigation by the SEC and DOJ for alleged securities fraud. 
  • A partner of a major accounting/consulting firm in a criminal and civil investigation by DOJ for work as a consultant to a hospital corporation. 
  • An investment banker in a SEC and NASD investigation relating to alleged securities fraud. 
  • An executive of a major national bank in the market timing investigation conducted by the NY State Attorney General. 
  • Employees of a global investment firm in a federal and state corruption investigation of the state Governor and Treasurer. 
  • A senior government official in the Countrywide bank loan investigations by DOJ, Congress and OIG. 
  • An FBI official in the federal leak investigation and civil litigation relating to the anthrax investigation after 9/11. 
  • A senior government official regarding fraud, misuse of government property, and other alleged misconduct; represented another senior government official regarding allegations of kickbacks.

Before joining Sidley, Karen served as Associate Counsel to the President of the United States, where she advised President Clinton and the White House staff on Congressional and grand jury investigations and domestic policy issues. She worked with Senior Administration officials at various federal agencies and Congressional members and staffs on the Administration’s policy initiatives.

Prior to joining the White House, Karen served in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice where she advised Attorney General Janet Reno and the Department, the White House and other agencies of the Executive Branch on a wide range of legal matters. Before moving to Washington, D.C., Karen was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, where she prosecuted RICO and other charges involving fraud, bribery, extortion, tax evasion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and perjury.

Karen was a commercial litigator in New York City for five years before joining the government. While on Wall Street, she represented corporations and investment banking firms in a wide range of litigation matters, including securities fraud and hostile corporate takeovers.

Karen graduated cum laude from the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she served as an editor on the North Carolina Law Review and was a member of the Order of the Coif. Upon graduation from law school, Karen clerked for the Honorable Sam J. Ervin III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she graduated cum laude, and thereafter studied law at Oxford University before attending UNC School of Law.

  • Co-Author, “Cybersecurity: A Practical Guide to the Law of Cyber Risk,” PLI Treatise (“Cybersecurity In Regulated Sectors” chapter) (2015)
  • Co-Author, Business and Commercial Litigation in Federal Courts, Third Edition (“Privacy and Security” chapter) (2012)
  • Co-Author, Defending Federal Criminal Cases, Attacking the Government’s Proof (Chapter 3) (2012) 
  • Co-Author, “Dropping the Blinders from the Government’s Willful Blindness Standard: Global-Tech Appliances v. Seb,” Benchmark Litigation (2011) 
  • Co-Author, Inside the Minds: White Collar Law Client Strategies chapter on “Strategies for White Collar Representation” (2007) 
  • The Impeachment of President Clinton: An Ugly Mix of Three Powerful Forces, Duke Law and Contemporary Problems (Winter/Spring 2000) 
  • “Search Warrants, Seizing Electronic Data,” The National Law Journal, (November 20, 2000) 
  • A View From the White House, St. Peter’s College Record, Oxford University (2000) 
Memberships & Activities

Karen is the Chair of the Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the ABA Judicial Division (Lawyers Conference) and is the Chair of its Committee on the Relationship of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches. Karen is the Co-Founder and Chair of the Women’s White Collar Defense Association, and serves on the Board of the Women in Law Empowerment Forum and the Advisory Board for the Women’s Power Summit on Law and Leadership.

Karen holds several leadership positions at the University of North Carolina (UNC), serving as Chair of the Foundation Board and member (and former Chair) of the Board of Trustees at UNC Charlotte, member of the Board for the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and member of the Board of Directors of the UNC School of Law Alumni Association. She also served on the Presidential Search Leadership Statement Committee, which was part of the selection process for naming Margaret Spellings as the new President of the University of North Carolina state-wide system.

Karen is on the Board of Directors for the Higher Education Works Foundation. She was a member of the Planning Committee for the inaugural ABA Criminal Justice Section for the Global White Collar Crime Institute, which was held in Shanghai, China in 2015. She is a former member of the North Carolina Council for Women, a position to which she was appointed by the governor of the state. She has also served on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and was a member of the Host Committee’s Steering Committee for the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Karen also previously served on the Advisory Board for Best Buddies International, Inc.

Pro Bono

Karen is an active participant and role model in the communities of which she is a member. She is Chair and Co-Founder of the Women’s White Collar Defense Bar of Washington, D.C., and regularly serves on boards and committees. She previously served as a tutor to college-bound high school students and on the Advisory Board for Best Buddies International, Inc. Her work for improving the retention and advancement of women in the legal profession led to her being named a 2006 “Star of the Bar” by the Women’s Bar Association of Washington, D.C. and a Board Member of WILEF. Karen received the Thurgood Marshall Award given by the New York City Bar Association for her work in successfully defending an inmate on North Carolina’s death row.

News & Achievements

Upcoming and Recent Speaking Engagements