Bank of America execs, including former CEO Ken Lewis, are gearing up for a heated legal battle with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. On Feb. 4, Cuomo charged Lewis of defrauding investors and the U.S. government when he helped put the wheels into motion for Bank of America to buy financially troubled Merrill Lynch & Co.
Specifically, Cuomo alleges that Lewis, as well as BofA’s former chief financial officer Joe Price, failed to tell shareholders about the $16 billion in losses that Merrill had incurred before it was bought by Bank of America. After shareholders approved the acquisition, Cuomo says Lewis then demanded government bailout funds to keep the deal afloat.
In total, the government injected $45 billion into Bank of America via the purchase of preferred shares, including $20 billion approved after the merger in January 2009.
“We believe the bank management understated the Merrill Lynch losses to shareholders, then they overstated their ability to terminate their agreement to secure $20 billion of TARP money, and that is just a fraud,” Cuomo said today at a press conference. “Bank of America and its officials defrauded the government and the taxpayers at a very difficult time.”
Separately, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it had reached an agreement with Bank of America over the company’s decision to pay $3.6 billion of bonuses to former Merrill employees for fiscal year 2008. BofA agreed to pay a $150 million fine to settle the matter.