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SEC Awards Merrill Whistle-Blowers Record Payout

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Merrill Lynch office (Photo: AP)

Three Merrill Lynch insiders will get more than $83 million from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission – the biggest-ever payouts — for providing information that helped the agency bring a 2016 case against Bank of America, their attorney said Monday.

Two of the people will split $50 million and a third will get an award of more than $33 million for providing help in the same case, the SEC said in its statement Monday. The agency gave no information on the three tipsters or which company was involved in the case, citing federal law requiring protection of whistle-blowers’ confidentiality.

Jordan Thomas, an attorney with Labaton Sucharow, said he represented the Merrill insiders but declined to name them or say whether they still worked for the Bank of America unit. The three provided information that helped the SEC win a $415 million settlement with the bank in 2016 for engaging in complex transactions to reduce the amount of client funds that had to be set aside in reserve accounts.

“By coming forward, these courageous executives protected millions of Merrill Lynch’s customers, but their impact is far greater than that,” Thomas said in a statement. “They are a shining example of integrity in action and will inspire others on Wall Street to break their silence.”

Thomas said “a substantial part” of the award will be donated to charities.

Unique Information

Whistle-blowers can seek payouts if they voluntarily give the SEC unique information that leads to successful enforcement actions. Compensation can range from 10 percent to 30 percent of the money collected in a case beyond $1 million. The SEC said it has awarded more than $262 million since issuing its first award in 2012. The previous record for a single payment was $30 million.

The 2016 case focused on violations of the SEC’s customer protection rule. Merrill Lynch engaged in trades from 2009 to 2012 that artificially reduced the amount of customer funds that had to be set aside, the SEC said. The transactions “lacked economic substance” and allowed Merrill Lynch to finance its own trading activities, according to the agency. Bank of America admitted wrongdoing in the case.

Bill Halldin, a spokesman for the bank, declined to comment on Monday.

Thomas, who helped develop the SEC’s whistle-blower program while working in the agency’s enforcement unit, created Labaton Sucharow’s practice representing tipsters after joining the New York-based firm in 2011.

— With assistance by Laura J. Keller

The SEC’s whistleblower order is posted here.


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