Pick A Color

SunTrust Banks Inc. is continuing its proxy campaign to persuade Wachovia Corp. shareholders to reject First Union Corp.'s purchase offer, but at least one glitch has been found.

To distinguish its proxy cards from the white ones sent by Wachovia, SunTrust's ballots were to be printed on blue paper. Instructions sent along with the forms tell shareholders to throw away the white cards.

All didn't go according to plan. A small number of shareholders apparently got white cards from SunTrust. Though the cards may be used no matter what color they are, SunTrust had hoped to use the colors to keep track of its progress in the vote, which will continue through the Wachovia annual meeting on Aug. 3.

SunTrust blamed the foul-up on its proxy firm, and said it had corrected the problem.

The company offered this explanation on its proxy campaign Web site, SunTrustWachoviaProposal.com: "The white form is a valid proxy when signed, dated, and returned to us. In all of our subsequent mailings, the proxy cards and voting instruction forms will be BLUE. We apologize for any confusion this has caused.

"Over the next several weeks, you will be receiving other proxy materials from SunTrust that will include the BLUE proxy card."

An Interested Bull

SunTrust, Wachovia, and First Union won't be the only institutions watching the Aug. 3 proxy count. Merrill Lynch & Co. will likely be interested as well.

During its second-quarter earnings conference call Tuesday, the New York company pointed to its role as adviser to First Union in its $13.4 billion deal for Wachovia as a bright spot in a relatively slow mergers and acquisitions market, even though the deal has yet to close.

Merrill, like many of its investment banking peers, didn't have a great quarter, so no doubt it will be hoping that all the proxy cards, whatever color they may be, are filled out in favor of First Union/Wachovia.

The Other Options

It's now clear that before L.M. "Bud" Baker hitched Wachovia's future to First Union's on Easter Sunday, he was wide open to other possibilities.

Of course, there was SunTrust, with whom the Wachovia chairman and chief executive nearly cut a deal last December, but BB&T Corp. has also touted the brief discussions Mr. Baker had with its chairman and CEO, John Allison, though Mr. Baker didn't take his overtures seriously.

Also, at a North Carolina court hearing Tuesday, a lawyer for SunTrust quoted Mr. Baker as saying in a deposition that he had been shopping his company around the East Coast over the past year. Among those he talked with were executives at Citizens Financial Group Inc., a $32 billion-asset Providence, R.I., company, the lawyer said.

Mr. Baker spoke with Citizens executives first at a banking conference and later in a private meeting, according to SunTrust's lawyers. Further details were not available, since depositions in the lawsuit have been sealed. Spokespeople for both Wachovia and Citizens declined to comment.

Though Citizens would have expanded Wachovia's reach north into New England, it's not clear how such a combination might have worked, since Citizens is owned by Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC. Citizens has been acquisitive - in recent years it bought FleetBoston Financial Corp.'s commercial banking operations, and just this week it announced a deal for Mellon Financial Corp.'s retail banking customers.

Come Fly with Me

American Express Co. is clearly hoping that not all executive types have their wings clipped for the rest of the economic downturn.

A day after Amex chief Kenneth Chenault announced plans to ax 5,000 jobs at the New York financial services giant, including an unspecified number in its business travel unit thanks to trimmed corporate travel budgets, the company unveiled a program that will allow Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders to charter private jets.

Amex has forged a relationship with Le Bas International, an air charter service with staff in the United States and Europe that provides private jets accommodating anywhere from two to 400 passengers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Cardholders who are enrolled in Amex's Membership Rewards Program and book air travel through the Private Jet Charter Program will receive up to 30,000 double bonus points for each booking, the company said

But the program may not be for everyone. Booking air travel starts at $5,000, Amex said.

Heavy Legal Artillery

Talk about turning up the spotlight.

The former Zions Bancorp chief financial officer who resigned last month after being charged with drug possession and child endangerment has switched the responsibility of his defense to a Los Angeles law firm known for its celebrity casework.

Dale Gibbons has also been cashing out of his holdings in Zions stock: According to a form 144 he filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he intends to sell 8,800 shares, valued at $514,950.

On July 12 he appeared in Salt Lake District court with his new attorney, Sara L. Caplan, who is of counsel at Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil and Shapiro LLP. His former attorney, Neil A. Kaplan of the Salt Lake City firm Clyde, Snow, Sessions & Swenson, has withdrawn from the case.

Ms. Caplan has been general counsel for the Hollywood Film Festival and was part of the O.J. Simpson defense team, working alongside high-profile Christensen Miller partner Robert Shapiro.

Mr. Shapiro's office said that he was not representing Mr. Gibbons, but apparently he will be helping out: Ms. Caplan told a Salt Lake Tribune reporter that he would appear in court in the future.

Mr. Gibbons' home in Holladay, Utah, has an unlisted number, and he could not be reached for comment. In a press statement last month he declared his innocence in the case.

If Mr. Gibbons plans to cash out any more of his holdings in his former employer, he may want to wait. In a report dated July 11 Lehman Brothers analyst Jason Goldberg set a $72 price target for the stock. On Thursday it closed at $59.07.

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