It looks like New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Neil Barofsky, the inspector general for the bailout, aren’t the only people interested in looking into those bonuses Merrill gave senior execs just before the company came under the control of Bank of America.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has issued an “investigative demand” to B of A for documents related to the bonus awards, reports the News and Observer of Charlotte. Cooper, it seems, wants to know what B of A knew about the controversial December bonuses, and when it knew it.
Bank of America, which is based in Charlotte, is required to respond by March 4.
Despite Merrill’s massive fourth-quarter losses and generally dire position, the firm’s then-CEO John Thain, and the company’s board, approved paying the bonuses on an accelerated schedule, apparently in an effort to get them paid before B of A took contol Jan 1.
Since the bonuses came to light, Thain and B of A have given conflicting accounts as to when B of A knew about them, and about Merrill’s losses.
The paper adds some detail on the legal tools that might be available to Cooper:
Under N.C. General Statutes, the state Justice Department has the power to investigate the affairs of all corporations and persons doing business in the state. Typically, this authority is used to probe businesses accused of defrauding consumers. In this case, the attorney general has multiple avenues to pursue, depending on what the documents show, a person familiar with the matter said.
The payment of the bonuses could violate the uniform fraudulent transfer act, which restricts the transfer of assets outside of normal business practices, the person said. Typically, this act is applied to debtors in bankruptcy cases who owe creditors, but it could be extended to aggrieved shareholders. Cuomo has used this law in his investigation of insurer AIG, which agreed to freeze more than $600 million it planned to pay out in bonuses.
Cuomo has reportedly issued subpoenas to Thain and B of A’s chief administrative officer as part of a probe into the bonuses, which is itself part of a broader investigation announced last fall, of executive pay on Wall Street.
Cuomo is working with Neil Barofsky, the bailout inspector general.