(Updates throughout with details on career, background, statement from lung cancer charity)
By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Former U.S. Representative Mike Oxley, a 12-term Republican congressman from Ohio who co-sponsored a landmark 2002 law to fight corporate fraud, died on Friday at the age of 71, officials said.
"Mike personified a true public servant who loved serving his constituents, Ohio, and the United States of America," Oxley's successor in Congress, Representative Bob Latta, said in a statement.
Oxley died while asleep at his home in McLean, Virginia, according to the Courier newspaper in Findlay, Ohio.
A one-time special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he retired from Congress in 2007 after a 25-year career representing Ohio's Fourth Congressional District. They included several years as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
He is best known for his role in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which was passed by Congress to improve corporate disclosure and guard against the fraud of the sort committed by companies including Enron Corp and WorldCom Inc.
Oxley was suffering from lung cancer before his death, according to media reports, and he had been serving as chairman of the board of the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA).
The non-profit said he led efforts to bring the life-saving benefits of screening to those at risk and helped usher in significant increases in federal research funding.
"At a time when our country has been seeking a hero, no one embodied these characteristics more than Mike. He exuded fairness, integrity, compassion and service to others," the LCA's president, Laurie Fenton Ambrose, said in a statement.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Oxley had been a national leader in reforming banking and finance laws. "And, in what can sometimes be a tough business, Mike Oxley was genuinely liked by people on both sides of the aisle," DeWine said in a statement.
The reform legislation that carries Oxley's name sets standards for all publicly traded company boards, management and public accounting firms in the United States.
It was a response to a series of accounting scandals at companies such as Houston-based energy firm Enron, where thousands of workers lost their jobs and retirement savings due to one of the biggest corporate frauds in U.S. history.
Ohio Governor John Kasich remembered Oxley as a great public servant, and said he had lost a great friend and mentor.
After leaving Congress, Oxley joined the BakerHostetler law firm in Washington D.C. In an online biography, the law firm said he served as an FBI special agent in Washington, Boston, and New York before being elected to Congress in 1981.
In the House, the law firm said, he had backed "pro-business, low-tax, pro-competition, and free trade positions as the best policy atmosphere to support strong economic growth."
The firm said he had also been consistent in his support for "the nation's law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and military in the fights against drugs, crime, and terrorism." (Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)