March 6, 2009 / 8:34 PM / 10 years ago

Cuomo asks court to deny Bank of America request

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo urged a state judge on Friday to reject Bank of America Corp’s (BAC.N) attempt to keep confidential a wide range of testimony about $3.6 billion of bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch & Co employees.

Bank of America wants to expand a confidentiality order on testimony by former Merrill Chief Executive John Thain to cover all witnesses who testify under subpoena in the bonus probe, Cuomo said in a Friday letter to Justice Bernard Fried of the state supreme court in Manhattan.

This would include Gregory Fleming, a former Merrill executive whom Cuomo said testified on Thursday and who entered a confidentiality agreement with his office. Fleming had been expected to oversee investment banking at Bank of America but left in January for a position at Yale University.

Cuomo said the bank’s request was part of its “continued efforts to stymie” the probe, and should be rejected.

Merrill awarded bonuses just days before Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America on January 1 completed its acquisition of the Wall Street investment bank and brokerage.

Cuomo is investigating whether the bonuses violated securities laws, and his office subpoenaed seven Merrill executives who got tens of millions of dollars of compensation in 2008, a person familiar with the probe said on Wednesday.

In Friday’s letter, Cuomo said that he and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank plan to soon demand that the bank make individualized bonus data be made public.

Cuomo said the bank, as a recipient of $45 billion of capital from the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, “has an obligation to taxpayers to be open and transparent about bonus determinations.”

Bank of America had on Thursday told Fried it could suffer “grave harm” if forced to reveal bonus data. It said disclosure could help rivals poach talent, prompt employees to leave because their privacy was violated, cause internal dissension, increase security risks for bonus recipients, and give rivals a better idea of which businesses it considers most valuable.

The bank had no immediate comment on Cuomo’s letter.

Fried has scheduled a March 13 hearing on whether the bonus data can be disclosed. Bank of America said it does not oppose a request from a third party to broadcast the hearing, while Cuomo said he would take no position on that request.

The case is Cuomo v. Thain, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan), No. 400381/09.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, editing by Gerald E. McCormick

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