Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit agrees to $26.5 million national settlement stemming from Texas securities fraud claim

Following a Texas securities fraud claim that Bank of America‘s Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. allowed unregistered sales persons to sell securities, the Bank of America unit has agreed to pay $26.5 million as part of a national settlement over the allegations. The state of Texas’s portion of the settlement is $1.6 million. The other states that were part of the task force, led by the Texas State Securities Board, are Arizona, Colorado, Vermont, Missouri, Delaware, and New Hampshire.

Client associates who accept trade orders must be registered not just in their own state but also in the client’s state. Per the probe, the task force determined that Merrill did not have a supervisory system that was designed in a manner that made sure that associates were in compliance with registration requirements. The task force was investigating a tip, provided in May 2008 by a Merrill Lynch employee, that the company saved money on registration fees by allowing client associates to register only in their home state and in a neighboring state.

Last week, Merrill Lynch agreed to pay the state of Texas another $12.7 million over a Texas securities fraud cause involving auction-rate securities. The settlement ends the state’s probe into the broker-dealer’s handling of ARS and clients’ funds even as the market was collapsing.

The board determined that not only did Merrill Lynch not tell investors that the market could very well collapse, but also that the broker-dealer offered financial associates sales incentives to sell ARS despite knowing that the auction process could fail.

September has been a rough month for Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. On the same day that the Texas securities commissioner announced the $26.5 million settlement, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo accused high-level Bank of America Corp. executives of failing to reveal key information about its Merrill Lynch & Co. takeover. Cuomo is threatening to press charges. Bank of America, however, is calling Cuomo’s allegations “spurious.”

BofA’s Merrill to pay US$26.5M in settlement on unregistered salespeople, AP/Yahoo, September 8, 2009
Bank of America Calls Cuomo’s Merrill Allegations ‘Spurious,’, September 10, 2009
Merrill Lynch pays $12.7M to settle Texas auction rate securities case,, September 14, 2009
Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP is a Texas securities fraud law firm with offices in Houston and Dallas. Our Texas investment fraud lawyers represent securities fraud clients throughout the state and the US.