Bank Bonus Showdown: Just Who Approved $3.6 Billion Payout?

BofA CEO Ken Lewis deplaning corporate jet to face NY Attorney General.

ByABC News
February 26, 2009, 5:06 PM

February 26, 2009— -- Bank of America President Ken Lewis was confronted by the lawyers for New York Attorney General Anthony Cuomo this afternoon over his statements that he had "no authority" over $3.6 billion in bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch executives last December.

Investigators say corporate documents obtained by the attorney general suggest otherwise.

Lewis arrived at the attorney general's offices after a flight from Charlotte, N.C., on a $50 million G-5 luxury corporate jet, one of nine corporate jets owned by the giant bank.

A spokesperson for the Bank of America told ABC News: "This was an important meeting which we felt justified the use of corporate aircraft for timing and efficiency." The spokesperson refused to answer questions regarding the cost of the travel or any plans for the company to scale back on their use of private aircraft.

Since receiving $45 billion in federal bailout money, Bank of America announced it would sell three of the jets.

The immediate issue for Lewis, say investigators, is whether he has told "the whole story" about the huge bonuses paid shortly before Merrill Lynch merged with Bank of America.

Appearing before Congress earlier this month, Lewis said he had "no authority" over the bonuses.

The corporate merger documents, however, say the bonuses would be awarded "in consultation" with Bank of America.

Lawyers for the attorney general are expected to confront Lewis over his congressional statements, which were not made under oath.

The Bank of America/Merrill Lynch merger documents, read to ABC News, state the bonuses "may be awarded at levels that do not exceed $5.8 billion."

Two Bank of American officials met with Merrill Lynch president John Thain to get him to lower the total bonus amount to $3.6 billion, according to investigators.