NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge has dismissed National Football League star Dwight Freeney’s lawsuit against Bank of America Corp and a stockbroker, ruling that Freeney sued the wrong parties in alleging that he was defrauded of more than $20 million.
The pass rusher and seven-time NFL Pro Bowler sued the bank, its Bank of America N.A. subsidiary and Merrill Lynch financial adviser Michael Bock in February. He asserted that Bock’s brokerage team in Miami Beach, Florida, exaggerated its financial management skills and business expertise. He also said they withheld facts about the checkered past of Bock’s ex-wife, who later served time for defrauding Freeney.
Truthful disclosure would have dissuaded Freeney from agreeing to become a “BofA client or to entrust the management of his assets, investments and income to BofA,” according to the complaint.
In a decision issued late on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow dismissed the claim, saying it failed to link the bank to the Merrill employees who allegedly defrauded Freeney. The decision said Freeney never proved that Bank of America employed the brokers who joined Merrill’s global wealth and investment management division in April 2009, three months after the second biggest U.S. bank by assets bought Merrill.
In the California federal court decision seen by Reuters on Friday, the judge also granted Bock’s motion to dismiss the case against him.
Jeffery Isaacs, Freeney’s Los Angeles-based attorney, said he will file an amended complaint that names the bank as “successor in interest” to Merrill Lynch & Co., as well as Merrill’s main brokerage unit as defendants.
“Bank of America’s structure is so convoluted and Byzantine that looking from the outside it is very hard to identify the correct corporate parties,” said Isaacs, a former chief of the major fraud section in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Isaacs said Freeney, a free agent who has played for the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers, was convinced that he was a bank client, not a brokerage client, because of the broad range of cash management, business planning and investment services marketed to him as a “comprehensive concierge service.”
He said Freeney is not taking the case to arbitration, as required by Merrill’s client account agreements, because of “serious problems” with the agreements and because the pertinent issues are “too complex” for arbitration.
Merrill Lynch spokesman William Halldin said the bank is pleased with the decision and sympathizes with Freeney as the victim of a crime that was unrelated to Merrill employees.
In 2012, the FBI arrested Bock’s ex-wife Eva Weinberg, who had previously worked at Merrill, and Michael Stern, an associate. They pled guilty to wire fraud, related in part to a scheme in which she opened a firm called Global Wealth Management and became Freeney’s business manager.
Stern is serving a 13-year prison term. Weinberg is on supervised relief following six months of incarceration. (Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York)