Bank of America Agrees to settle SEC Charges of Merrill Lynch Bonuses for $33 Million But Judge Blocks Settlement

Although Bank of America has agreed to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that the broker-dealer misled investors about Merrill Lynch bonuses worth billions of dollars, a federal judge is withholding approval for the $33 million penalty. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Jed S. Rakoff has scheduled a hearing for Monday to discuss the matter.

Without denying or admitting to the charges, Bank of America had consented to pay the amount. The SEC has accused Bank of America of failing to notify investors about plans to pay top Merrill executives $5.8 billion in bonuses for the 2008 fiscal year. Regulators say that instead, the brokerage firm told investors that year-end performance bonuses were not going to be given out.

It wasn’t until February when New York State Attorney Attorney General Andrew Cuomo accused Merrill Lynch of secretly issuing the rewards to its executives before its merger with Bank of America that news of the bonuses was revealed. Investigators also found out Merrill had bumped up the date of its end-of-year bonus payments and that Bank of America had let Merrill pay the bonuses to its executives.

Scott Silvestri, a Bank of America spokesperson, says the settlement is a “constructive conclusion” to the dispute. The SEC’s charges against Bank of America is the first case that the federal government has brought against a financial firm that has been closely linked to the ongoing financial crisis.

There are, however, critics who are not satisified with the settlement. The Washington Post quotes Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) of criticizing the settlement amount. The head of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee noted that it pays in America to commit a corporate crime. Former SEC chief accountant Lynn Turner expressed disappointment that no executives were charged with any wrongdoing.

Bank of America has complained that federal regulators pressured the broker-dealer to make the deal with Merrill, which was in financial trouble at the time.

Related Web Resources:
Judge Blocks BoA Settlement, Washington Post, August 6, 2009
Judge raps $33m bank bonus fine, BBC, August 6, 2009
Bank of America Pays $33 Million to Settle Merrill Bonus Charges, Washington Post, August 4, 2009
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