Big Losses? How About $159M to Go Away?

As chairman and chief executive of Merrill Lynch, E. Stanley O'Neal was brought in to boost share prices and take smart risks that would equal big bucks.

Instead, Merrill is now struggling with a $2.3 billion third quarter loss and an $8.4 billion charge for failed credit and mortgage-based investments.

But in the wake of leading his company to losses of billions of dollars, Merrill is preparing to possibly let him go -- with a goodbye package worth at least $159 million, according to published reports.

O'Neal reportedly took in about $160 million during his almost-five-year term at Merrill Lynch. So, just to be clear, he would most likely leave the company with more money than he made the entire time he was working there.

Upon leaving, O'Neal will be eligible for $30 million in retirement benefits and $129 million in stock and option holdings, the reports say.

Such goodbye pay after poor performance is nothing new in the corporate world.

Robert Nardelli famously departed Home Depot in early 2007 with $212 million in his pocket (not counting his pension benefits) after the company's shares declined by 7.9 percent from his start in 2000.

Hank McKinnell left Pfizer with $200 million after the company lost a market value of $50 billion and its shares went down by half during his term alone.

Similarly, CEO Robert Fiondella left The Phoenix Cos. with a cool $20 million in 2002, the year that, under Fiondella's reign, the company lost a net of $212.2 million.

And then there are the CEOs that are known not for doing a bad job, but for doing it illegally.

Disgraced WorldCom boss Bernie Ebbers was convicted of running an $11 billion accounting scam.

Dennis Kozlowski, Tyco's former leader, turned out to have misappropriated corporate funds.

These two fallen stars are in prison, as are Adelphia founder John Rigas and his son Timothy, convicted of using company money to fund various luxuries definitely not necessary for work.

The latest case is David Brooks, former CEO of DHB industries, the leading body armor provider for U.S. army soldiers in Iraq. Brooks has just been indicted on 21 counts of alleged security fraud, insider trading, tax evasion and obstruction of justice.

Specifically, the charges claim that Brooks cashed in $185 million worth of stocks right before the NYPD recalled 6,000 of the company's bulletproof vests. It turns out that a quarter of the vests given to New York's police department were defective.

Like the Rigases, authorities say Brooks liked to use the company card to pay for extravagant indulgences -- including a $10 million bat mitzvah for his daughter, Elizabeth.

Mazel tov, indeed.