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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

All's Wells that ends Wells?

Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former CEO of American International Group, may face civil charges from the SEC for what it alleges is his role in attempting to enhance his company’s financials through collusive transactions with General Re Corp. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that on Friday, the SEC served Greenberg with a so-called Wells notice, which alerts its recipient that the Commission is considering requesting permission from its commissioners to bring a federal enforcement action against him. The previous day, the federal district judge who had presided over the criminal trial of five former Gen Re and AIG executives wrote in his ruling denying the defendants a new trial that there was “an adequate basis for a rational jury to conclude” that the conspiracy of which the defendants were convicted began with a phone call from Greenberg.

Veteran criminal defense attorney Robert Morvillo, who represents Greenberg, continues to assert his client’s innocence. The Journal article quotes from a statement Morvillo released yesterday: “We remain confident of our position on the merits, and we believe that none of the remaining issues are material to AIG’s financial statements. When the commission has had the opportunity to consider all the facts, we believe that they will agree.” When the phone call came to light during the criminal trial in November, Morvillo agreed that his client had initiated the transaction in question with a phone call to one of the defendants, but insisted that Greenberg “believed he was initiating a totally legitimate transaction.”

The recipient of a Wells notice has the right to respond and try to convince the Commission not to proceed with lawsuit. Bob Morvillo has done a brilliant job for Greenberg over the past few years fending off all sorts of investigations and rumored charges. There is no doubt he will continue to wage an aggressive battle against the current threats from the SEC. I know from my own experience with the Commission that their bark is often all they’ve got, and when push comes to shove they shy away from going to war in the courtroom – especially when they face an opponent as skilled and forceful as Morvillo.

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