The money-laundering saga at Bank of New York Co. started a new chapter Wednesday, when one of its former executives and her husband pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder $7 billion from Russia through the bank.
The guilty pleas in what is arguably the 216-year-old bank's most embarrassing episode means that lurid headlines connecting Bank of New York to the scandal are not likely to disappear soon.
Lucy Edwards, a former vice president in Bank of New York's Eastern European division, and her husband, Russian businessman Peter Berlin, entered the pleas in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The two face stiff penalties, including up to 10 years in prison, but their deal with the U.S. attorney could lead investigators to others involved in the scheme - potentially other Bank of New York employees.
A report in Wednesday's New York Post went so far as to say the couple could be offered a place in the federal witness protection program in exchange for testimony.
Ms. Edwards and Mr. Berlin have admitted to cooperating with unnamed other individuals in setting up an illegal banking network that transferred funds from two Russian banks, Depozitarno-Kliringovy Bank and Commercial Bank Flamingo, through Bank of New York to accounts outside the country from 1996 to 1999.
A statement by Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in New York, said the scheme was designed to help Russian individuals and businesses avoid Russian taxes. The statement also said the network was used to facilitate other criminal activities, including the payment of a $300,000 ransom to kidnappers of a Russian businessman.
The pleas are the first to arise out of a massive international money-laundering probe that came to light last August. Ms. White and Lewis D. Schiliro, assistant director at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York, said Wednesday that the investigation is continuing and that more people could face charges.
Another Bank of New York employee, administrative assistant Svetlana Kudryavtsev, has been indicted in the case, charged with making false statements. She is also alleged to have gotten $30,000 from Ms. Edwards and Mr. Berlin for monitoring the funds transfers in New York after the couple moved to London.
Bank of New York fired Ms. Edwards and Ms. Kudryavtsev last year, shortly after the investigation was made public. A spokesman said the company had no comment Wednesday but added that it continues to cooperate in the investigation.
Ms. Edwards and Mr. Berlin allegedly received commission payments of about $1.8 million for their part in the conspiracy, according to the U.S. attorney. The couple agreed to forfeit $1 million, including the contents of two Swiss bank accounts, a brokerage account, and a London home.