Thompson, 58, is expected to take a position at the Brookings Institution think tank after he leaves the department at the end of the month, a senior Justice Department official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Thompson has been at the forefront of the government's campaign to detect and prevent terrorists from acting after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He also headed a task force appointed by President Bush to crack down on corporate fraud, overseeing prosecutions against officials at Enron Corp., HealthSouth Corp. and others.
Prosecutors have won more than 250 corporate fraud convictions, charged 354 people with corporate crime and obtained fines, forfeiture and restitution worth more than $85 million, the administration said.
"We are trying to react to this problem in a swift manner, and to conduct our investigations and prosecutions in a different way and not let them linger on," Thompson said recently. "And I do think that that sends a message of deterrence."
Thompson also had a role in Justice Department efforts to stiffen federal jail sentences. The department this year ordered Bureau of Prisons officials to stop sending so many white-collar and nonviolent criminals to halfway houses.
"The prospect of prison, more than any other sanction, is feared by white-collar criminals and has a powerful deterrent effect," Thompson said in a memo announcing the change.
Thompson was briefly the subject of controversy when it emerged last year that he was a director of a credit card company that paid more than $400 million to settle charges of consumer and securities fraud, according to The Washington Post. The company, Providian Financial Corp., was also the subject of a class-action suit by its employees, alleging Enron-like actions.
Thompson sold all his Providian stock before joining the Justice Department. Allies said while on the Providian board, Thompson led efforts to rectify problems at the company
A former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Thompson was also a partner at King & Spalding law firm in that city. Thompson is currently the highest-ranking black person in federal law enforcement.
Thompson is a 1967 graduate of Culver-Stockton College and holds a masters degree from Michigan State and a law degree from the University of Michigan.
The long hours and intense pressure involved in trying to prevent terrorist attacks during the nearly two years since the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon have taken their toll recently among senior Justice Department officials.
Others who have left include:
Michael Chertoff, who headed the criminal division, was appointed a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Christopher Wray, who had been Thompson's deputy, was chosen to take Chertoff's place.
Viet Dinh, who ran the office of legal policy and was a key author of the antiterrorism USA Patriot Act, returned to academia at Georgetown University. Daniel Bryant, previously a senior adviser to Attorney General John Ashcroft, is Dinh's replacement.
Alice Fisher, the top deputy in the criminal division, resigned at the end of July, with David Nahmias named as her replacement.