Former BofA Executive Spared Any Penalty After Bank’s $415 Million Fine

  • Ex-head of Merrill regulatory reporting quietly ends SEC case
  • William Tirrell won’t pay fine or be suspended, lawyer says

Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch unit paid $415 million last year to resolve allegations that it misused customers’ cash. On Friday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission finally got around to settling a case against the former bank executive who it said was ultimately responsible. 

His penalty was considerably lower: Nothing.

William Tirrell, the former head of regulatory reporting at Merrill Lynch, negligently caused the firm to violate securities rules, the SEC said in an order Friday. The regulator ordered Tirrell to “cease and desist” from any future transgressions.

“The terms of the settlement -- no fine, no suspension, no penalty -- speaks for itself,” Steven Witzel, Tirrell’s attorney, said in an emailed statement. “After four years of investigation by the SEC, Mr. Tirrell is more than ready to put this matter behind him and move on with his life.”

SEC spokeswoman Judith Burns declined to comment. The agency didn’t issue a press release announcing the settlement with Tirrell.

Big Case

The SEC’s June 2016 settlement with Merrill Lynch was one of its biggest cases of the year by dollar amount. The firm admitted wrongdoing over allegations that it engaged in a series of complex options transactions from 2009 to 2012 that freed up billions of dollars per week that the firm used to finance its own trades. 

The options transactions had no economic purpose, and were done to reduce the amount of money that Merrill Lynch had to have on hand to meet customer claims. While no customer money was lost, clients would have been exposed to “significant risk” had Merrill collapsed at the time the infractions were occurring, the SEC said.  

“The settled order expressly acknowledges that no investors were ever harmed by the trade at issue, and that there was no intentional misconduct,” Witzel said.

The SEC filed its lawsuit against Tirrell in June of last year. The agency now has different leadership. Its chairman is Jay Clayton, a former Wall Street deals lawyer appointed by President Donald Trump. The agency also has new officials overseeing its enforcement division.

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