NEW YORK — Bank of America Corp. chief executive Kenneth Lewis testified in a meeting with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office for four hours Thursday about $3.6 billion in bonuses handed out to Merrill Lynch & Co. employees on the eve of its merger with the bank last year.
Benjamin Lawsky, deputy counselor and special assistant to Cuomo, said the attorney general's office served a subpoena to Bank of America during the lengthy session, asking for the Charlotte, N.C., bank to turn over a list of who received bonuses at Merrill Lynch.
Lawsky said Bank of America had refused to turn over the information in recent weeks and Cuomo's office had hoped to question Lewis about the list on Thursday.
"Attorney General Cuomo is disappointed and frustrated," Lawsky said.
Robert Stickler, a Bank of America spokesman, said the bank has been offering to provide Cuomo's office with the names for two weeks, as long as Cuomo agrees to keep them confidential. "We believe our employees are entitled to their privacy," Stickler said. "We believe putting those names out publicly would put us at a competitive disadvantage. Our competitors would know what our people are making. If he would sign a confidentiality agreement, he would get those names very quickly."
Cuomo's office is probing disclosures related to the timing and nature of more than $3.6 billion in bonus payments made shortly before Bank of America's merger with Merrill Lynch closed last year.
Lawsky said the session covered many topics.
Lewis gave a brief statement to reporters after the session, saying it was a long day and he was tired.
"I answered the questions that were asked to the best of my ability," Lewis said. "I hope I brought some clarity."
Lewis took a corporate jet to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, just outside of New York City, to give his testimony on Thursday. "It was the most efficient way to get there," Stickler said.
Earlier this month, Cuomo said Merrill Lynch awarded bonuses to more than 39,000 employees shortly before the merger, with nearly 700 employees getting more than $1 million apiece.
John Thain, Merrill Lynch's former chief executive, was forced out last month in the wake of his handling of the investment bank's fourth-quarter loss. In a regulatory filing this week, Merrill Lynch reported a fourth-quarter loss of $15.84 billion, $500 million higher than prior estimates.
The investment bank set the bonus payouts in early December, when it was anticipating only about $7 billion of losses, according to Cuomo's office.
At a Feb. 19 deposition, Thain declined to talk about the decision-making process behind the 2008 bonus awards, except in regards to five employees, Cuomo's office has said. Those five, including Thain, voluntarily gave their bonuses up. Thain claimed that his refusal to answer questions about the process or the amounts of the bonuses handed out was based on an instruction from Bank of America, according to Cuomo's office.
A New York state judge on Monday ordered Thain to provide more details about how the bonus amounts were determined. Thain gave additional testimony Tuesday, but details of that testimony haven't been made public.
A spokesman for Thain has said the former investment bank chief will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Previously, Thain has said the "size of the pool, its composition (cash and stock mix), and the timing of the payments for both the cash and stock were all determined together with Bank of America" and approved by Merrill Lynch's compensation committee and its board.
Merrill Lynch employees received a portion of their compensation in Bank of America stock on Jan. 2.
Bank of America has received about $45 billion from the U.S. government, including $10 billion that Merrill Lynch was slated to receive if the merger hadn't closed.