A federal judge has silenced — at least temporarily — a whistleblower who brought charges of misconduct at the parent company of Bank of Internet USA in San Diego.
Charles Matthew Erhart, an auditor at BofI Holding who had been fired for a purported poor job performance, accused the company of violating the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank acts in a lawsuit filed in October of last year. Among other things, the suit alleged that the $7.6 billion-asset company violated anti-money-laundering laws by making loans to certain foreign nationals.
But U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California threw out the suit this week saying it was "a compelling account" of a "turbulent" workplace but too vague to satisfy the specific requirements of the law.
"Time and time again, Erhart battles against pressure from senior management as he discovers conduct he believes is wrongful," Bashant wrote in an order Monday. "But the federal statutes Erhart now seeks to invoke … do not police all employee grievances and suspicions of wrongdoing."
Erhart needed to produce more specific evidence of possible shareholder, wire or bank fraud or other violations targeted by the two acts, the order said. "He need not prove these laws were being violated, but he must plausibly allege a reasonable belief that they were being violated or that he was providing information relating to a possible securities law violation," the order said.
However, the judge granted Erhart the right to refile a lawsuit by Oct. 17.
Bank of Internet leaders have long denied the accusations.
Beside the anti-laundering claims, Erhart alleged the bank altered financial statements on purpose, delayed deposits to employees, announced a fiscal strategic plan and budget that was not approved by the board of directors and ignored certain concerns about its risk profile.
The lawsuit, which commanded great attention after several articles in The New York Times, has weighed heavily on the BofI’s stock price. Its 52-week high was nearly $36, but it fell to as low as $13.47 after news of the suit. Its shares fell nearly 5.5% Wednesday, to $21.64, on a day overall markets rose slightly.
BofI CEO Greg Garrabrants strongly contested the allegations in a conference call shortly after the suit was filed, and he also described Erhart as "a disgruntled employee" in an interview late last year with American Banker. The bank filed a countersuit, accusing Erhart of disclosing the company’s confidential information to the Times and deleting hundreds of files on his BofI-owned laptop.