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Ex-Merrill Lynch executives subpoenaed over bonuses

  • Story Highlights
  • Source: N.Y. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenas seven former executives
  • More than $3.6 billion in bonuses paid before takeover by Bank of America
  • Bank CEO Kenneth Lewis testified last week, did not provide details
  • Bank of America, which bought Merrill Lynch, received federal bailout money
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By Citabria Stevens
CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Seven former Merrill Lynch executives have been subpoenaed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over $3.6 billion in bonuses paid out just before the company was acquired by federally bailed-out Bank of America last year, a source close to the investigation told CNN.

John Thain, former Merrill Lynch chief, testified Bank of America's CEO knew about bonus plans.

Seven former Merrill Lynch executives have been subpoenaed to testify about bonuses.

Among the subpoenaed executives are Andrea Orcel, Thomas Montag and Peter Kraus, according to the source.

The source did not know the names of the other four former executives who received subpoenas.

Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis spent four hours last Thursday testifying at the attorney general's office about the $3.6 billion in bonuses that Merrill Lynch paid out just before it was acquired by the bank last year. Lewis declined to give out details of those payments.

The New York Attorney General's office served an earlier subpoena on Bank of America during Lewis' testimony last week, seeking the full list of individual bonus recipients at Merrill Lynch, according to Benjamin M. Lawsky, a special assistant to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

"We obviously wanted to question Mr. Lewis about this list and are very disappointed that Bank of America has chosen not to produce it," Lawsky said in a written statement. "As a result, during the testimony ... we served a subpoena on Bank of America for the list, which we intend to obtain."

Lewis, speaking to reporters as he left the attorney general's office after his testimony last Thursday, said that he had come to "deliver clarity" and that he answered the questions that were asked to the best of his knowledge.

Lewis had been criticized for using a corporate jet to travel to the session. But Bank of America spokesman Timothy Gillis said on Thursday that Lewis did so "because of the high importance" of the meeting.

Bank of America has been allocated $45 billion in federal bailout funds, and the Treasury has guaranteed to protect Bank of America against potentially billions of dollars in losses from investments Merrill Lynch made in real estate loans.

Former Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain told investigators two weeks ago that Lewis was aware Merrill employees would be awarded billions of dollars in bonuses before Bank of America's takeover of Merrill became effective January 1, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on February 11, Lewis said he had little involvement in the Merrill bonus plan.

"They were a public company until the first of the year, they had a separate board, separate compensation committee and we had no authority to tell them what to do, just urged them what to do," Lewis said.

But Cuomo's staff obtained a document, negotiated between Bank of America and Merrill during their takeover negotiations, that set a cap for Merrill Lynch's bonus pool at about $5 billion, said sources with knowledge of the investigation. Bank of America confirmed there was a cap set.

Cuomo has accused Merrill Lynch of trying to hide lavish bonus payments.

"Merrill Lynch secretly moved up the planned date to allocate bonuses and then richly rewarded their failed executives," Cuomo wrote in a letter to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts.

Cuomo found Merrill paid its four top bonus recipients $121 million and doled out bonuses of $1 million or more to 696 employees, as the firm lost $15 billion in the fourth quarter. It is not clear how much each of the subpoenaed Merrill executives received in bonus payments.

"I don't want to see the taxpayers being taken advantage of. And I don't want to see the taxpayers paying performance bonuses that shouldn't be paid," Cuomo said.

Cuomo is investigating to see whether failure to disclose the bonus payments to investors violated New York's Martin Act, a powerful securities law that empowers the attorney general to bring not only civil but also criminal charges.

CNN's Allan Chernoff and Amy Sahba contributed to this report

All About Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.Bank of America CorporationAndrew CuomoKenneth D. LewisJohn Thain

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