With Its 2018 Tax Cut, Wells Fargo Could Pay Its $1 Billion Fine 3 Times and Still Have Cash to Spare

The $1 billion fine levied by federal regulators against Wells Fargo is unlikely to hobble or even slow down the bank, thanks to the massive corporate tax cut passed by Congress last year, reports The Washington Post.

Reporter Renae Merle explains: “Just in the first quarter, Wells Fargo’s effective tax rate fell from about 28 percent to 18 percent, saving it more than $600 million. For the entire year, the tax cut is expected to boost the company’s profits by $3.7 billion, according to the Goldman Sachs report.”

“Despite its regulatory headaches, Wells Fargo remains massively profitable. The bank reported Friday that although the fine drove down its first-quarter profits by $800 million, it still netted $4.7 billion,” Merle writes.

Read the Post article.




Wells Fargo Faces $1 Billion Fine to Settle Loan Abuses

Reuters reports that Wells Fargo & Co. has been offered a penalty of $1 billion by regulators to resolve outstanding investigations related to auto insurance and mortgage lending abuses, the third-largest U.S. bank by assets said on Friday.

The news agency previously had reported that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency were preparing a fine of up to $1 billion for Wells Fargo’s auto insurance and mortgage lending abuses.

“The U.S. Federal Reserve has also imposed restrictions on the bank’s growth, forbidding it to expand its balance sheet beyond 2017 levels until it makes internal changes that addressed its board and risk management,” according to the latest Reuters report.

Read the Reuters article.



May 3 Live Event: Explore the Value of ESOPs By Studying a Proven Implementation

Bloomberg Tax will present a live event designed to help business owners, tax, finance directors, in-house counsel, bankers and investment professionals including PE & hedge fund managers to learn how employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) can provide more than just an exit strategy. They may be an opportunity for a growing business and its employees, the company says.

The event will be Thursday, May 3, 2018, 2:30-6 p.m., at Bloomberg L.P., 120 Park Avenue, New York 10165.

New Era of Material Wealth Creation With ESOPs” will look at all the benefits associated with ESOPs, including top performer retention, growing capital, and future planning.

Presenters will move past theory into the practical implementation of an ESOP. Through a case study, thought leaders will explore all of the stages of the process, including crafting the right design, securing employee buy-in, and more, Bloomberg says on its website.

Register for the event.



Enforcement Actions at Consumer Watchdog Agency Halt Under Trump

Image by Aliman Senai

In the 135 days since the Trump administration took control of the nation’s consumer watchdog agency, it has not recorded a single enforcement action against banks, credit card companies, debt collectors or any finance companies whatsoever, according to an Associated Press review.

Reporter Ken Sweet writes that’s likely no fluke: “Mick Mulvaney, appointed acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in late November, promised to shrink the bureau’s mandate and take a much softer approach to enforcement, and records reviewed by The Associated Press indicate he has kept his word.”

Tthe bureau issued an average of two to four enforcement actions a month under former Director Richard Cordray, President Obama’s appointee. But the database shows zero enforcement actions have been taken since Nov. 21, 2017, three days before Cordray resigned.

Read the AP article.



PwC Faces Largest-Ever Auditor Malpractice Damages Verdict

MarketWatch is reporting that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. could collect the largest damage award ever against a global public accounting firm when a federal judge decides what to award the agency after a verdict against PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The judge in the case has already ruled that PwC had been professionally negligent in not detecting the criminal fraud that led to the failure of Colonial Bank Group in 2009, according to reporter Francine McKenna.

The FDIC has asked Judge Barbara Rothstein to award it $625 million in compensation for the bank’s alleged net losses from a fraud with mortgage originator Taylor Bean and Whitaker, which also failed in 2009.

Even PwC’s estimate of damages based on the judge’s decision, per court filings, of $306 million would result in the largest-ever final judgment or jury verdict for accounting malpractice, MarketWatch reports.

Read the MarketWatch article.



JPMorgan Juror Says Doomed $8 Billion Award Was Message to Bank

Irelsie Alvarez said she and fellow jurors wanted to send JPMorgan Chase & Co. a message with their startling $8 billion verdict in a Dallas probate case — an award that’s destined to be reduced to no more than $90 million, reports Bloomberg.

The trial was in late 2017, but lawyers for the bank company were back in court on Thursday, saying the defendant is entitled to a take-nothing verdict.

The widow of deceased American Airlines executive Max Hopper sued the bank for allegedly mismanaging the estate of her late husband.

Alvarez, a 26-year-old insurance agent, said she took the suggestion of lawyers for Hopper’s family that a big damage award was needed “in order to prevent this from happening again.”

Reporter Tom Korosec writes that the jury award was the largest of 2017 and the ninth-largest in U.S. history.

Read the Bloomberg article.



Facebook Privacy Scandal Unleashes Nationwide ‘Litigation Swarm’

Facebook Inc. finds itself in the eye of a rapidly building legal storm over the disclosure of user data to political research firm Cambridge Analytica as lawsuits stack up from users and investors, and regulatory agencies pile on, Bloomberg Technology reports.

Reporter Christie Smythe quotes Marc Melzer, a New York-based attorney: “Facebook’s having to fight on multiple fronts, with potentially conflicting strategies and obligations, is what will make this ‘litigation swarm’ problematic.” The company will likely “want to move slowly and withhold as much as they can without antagonizing regulators or the courts that are presiding over the suits.”

“Damages could be substantial for shareholders, with one group of investors estimating that at least $50 billion in the company’s market capitalization has been wiped out as a result of the disclosure, which affected 50 million users,” Smythe reports.

Read the Bloomberg Technology article.



Holland & Knight Wins Reversal of $34.5M Malpractice Verdict

Bloomberg Law reports that a wealthy investor who accused Holland & Knight of facilitating a Ponzi scheme was not entitled to the $34.5 million verdict that a jury awarded him in 2012, a California appeals court ruled April 2.

Plaintiff Rahim Sabadia claimed that he lost $16 million in cash, and incurred an additional $18 million in loan obligations, in a series of real estate investments that H&K structured on behalf of Atlanta developer M. Shi Shailendra. Shailendracame under SEC scrutiny for defrauding investors and was permanently barred from selling securities in 2014.

“Sabadia filed this suit against H&K in 2010, accusing the firm of malpractice and fraud and alleging that it helped Shailendra with a series of transactions that bore the ‘classic elements of a Ponzi scheme,’ in the words of a fraud examiner.” writes Samson Habte.

The appeals court said that verdict couldn’t stand because “Shailendra’s dishonest acts broke the causal connection” between H&K’s alleged misconduct and the plaintiffs’ claimed investment losses.

Read the Bloomberg article.



Webinar Recording Available on SEC Cybersecurity Guidance

Hunton & Williams LLP has posted an on-demand webinar discussing the Securities and Exchange Commission’s recently released cybersecurity guidance.

For the first time since its last major staff pronouncement on cybersecurity in 2011, the SEC has released new interpretive guidance for public companies that will change the way issuers approach cybersecurity risk, the firm says on its website.

Presenters are partners Lisa Sotto, Aaron Simpson and Scott Kimpel, and senior associate Brittany Bacon. They discuss the new guidance, along with changes in regulatory obligations under EU law with respect to the upcoming GDPR and historical SEC enforcement actions related to cybersecurity.

Watch the on-demand webinar.



Barclays Wins Its DOJ Gamble With $2 Billion Mortgage Settlement

Bloomberg is reporting that Barclays Plc agreed to pay $2 billion to settle a probe into how it sold the sort of mortgage bonds that fueled the financial crisis, securing a penalty less than half of what U.S. authorities originally demanded.

Reporters Stephen Morris and Gavin Finch explained: “The British lender was the only bank to push back against the size of the settlement demanded by the Justice Department, prompting the prosecutor to file a lawsuit in the waning days of the Obama administration in 2016. The DOJ wanted a fine of about $5 billion, but the bank refused to pay any more than $2 billion, Bloomberg news reported in 2016.”

Two former executives at the bank, Paul Menefee and John Carroll, also settled Thursday and agreed to pay $2 million to resolve claims without admitting wrongdoing.

Read the Bloomberg article.



Outside Counsel Industry Rankings: Which Biglaw Firms Are Best For Your Specific Company?

Above the Law takes a look at the law firms that are highest-rated by in-house counsel based on the industries they work in.

The report is based on Above the Law’s Outside Counsel rankings, a broad overview of the 50 firms in-house counsel trust the most when they need outside help.

Elie Mystal takes a look at the firms that were highest rated in finance and in energy. The complete report includes top 10 lists from six different industries: Consumer Products, Energy, Media/Entertainment, Life Sciences/Health Care, Finance, and Tech.

Read the Above the Law article.




Five Ways the Senate Plans to Roll Back Regulations on Wall Street

Bank sign

Image by Mark Moz

The Washington Post is reporting that the Senate is slated to pass far-reaching legislation this week to roll back key components of financial regulations put in place after the global financial crisis.

If made into law, the legislation would weaken the Dodd-Frank Act and would free dozens of financial institutions from the strictest rules put in place by regulators after the crisis, explains reporter Renae Merle.

The bill would raise the “too big to fail” standard for troubled banks, soften capital requirement for banks, offer small banks relief from the “Volcker rule” that bars banks from making risky wagers with their own money, and offers some banks relief from some restrictions on mortgage lending. The proposed legislation, however, would not weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Read the Post article.

Cryptocurrency Tax Webinar Covers New IRS Scrutiny on Reporting

Smart contracts - bitcoin - blockchainEarlier this month, tax attorneys Steven Toscher and Michel R. Stein, principals at Hochman Salkin Rettig Toscher & Perez P.C., delivered a presentation titled “New IRS Scrutiny on Cryptocurrency Reporting: Filing Requirements and Exchange Treatment.”

Toscher and Stein’s presentation explains, “Cryptocurrency is drawing increased attention from government regulators.” They note that in November 2017, Coinbase was ordered to release information on approximately 14,000 customers.

They also discuss the means of obtaining virtual currency, problems posed by “fair market value,” and issues that are unresolved.

Read the article.



U.S. Bank Cited by Federal Authorities for Lapses on Money Laundering

U.S. Bank, the fifth-largest commercial bank by assets in the United States, was charged by the the Justice Department on Thursday with failing to guard against illegal activity and, in at least one instance, even abetting it, reports The New York Times.

The bank is charged with severely neglecting anti-money laundering rules, helping a payday lender operate an illegal business and lying to a regulator about its plans for tracking potential criminal activity by bank customers, writes reporter Emily Flitter.

The bank settled the Justice Department charges and cases brought by other regulators by agreeing to pay various fines and penalties totaling $613 million.

Read the NY Times article.



Implied Covenant Will Not Save You From Your Agreement If You Negotiated Away Your Rights

A recent ruling  is a powerful reminder that the broad freedom of contract that Delaware law accords entities such as LLCs offers both the promise of great latitude to contracting parties and the threat of serious pitfalls for parties that fail to carefully protect their interests in the agreement, according to a post on the website of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

The decision also underscores the limits on an implied covenant breach claim under Delaware law.

The authors offer some takeaways from the ruling, discussing in detail:

  • The implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing as applied in Delaware does not operate to rewrite contract simply because regretful plaintiffs wished they had negotiated a better or different deal
  • The negotiated, mutual waiver of fiduciary duties narrows the already slim chance a Delaware court will apply the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing
  • Waiver of fiduciary duties, conditioned on a sale to an unaffiliated third party, granted the board unfettered discretion to determine the marketing and structure of the company’s sale
  • Plaintiffs offered no reason to believe defendants’ conduct frustrated their reasonable expectations
  • The court highlighted certain conduct that may be sufficiently egregious to implicate the implied covenant in similar situations

Read the article.



GC Roles at Large Banks Went Mostly to Women in 2017

The ranks of women general counsel in the Fortune 500 continued to grow in 2017, particularly in the financial services industry, though it remains more male-dominated than other sectors, according to a Bloomberg Law report.

Cynthia Dow, head of the legal officers practice at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, told Bloomberg that, of the 86 financial services companies in the Fortune 500, 11 hired new general counsel in 2017. And six of those were women.

“Despite the significant bump in 2017, women still lag behind in Fortune 500 financial services GC roles, making up only 22 percent, according to Dow,” writes Stephanie Russell-Kraft.

Read the Bloomberg Law article.



Commentary: Wells Fargo’s Board Members Are Getting Off Too Easy

When the Federal Reserve announced its punishment of Wells Fargo in the company’s sales scandal, the agency also announced that the company would replace four members of its 16-person board.

In a commentary for The Washington Post, former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers discussed the question: Why aren’t the directors who are leaving being named and asked to resign effective immediately with an element of humiliation?

“There are compelling reasons for due process before anyone goes to jail, even if it undermines deterrence,” Summers writes. “There is no similar justification for due process before being fired, publicly, for being a failed fiduciary. The Fed and other regulatory agencies should change their procedures.”

Read the Post article.



SEC Halts Dallas-Based Bank’s Cryptocurrency Sale – But Not Before It Says It Raised $600 Million

BitcoinDallas-based AriseBank — intended to be the world’s first “decentralized bank” —  saw its initial offering of a cryptocurrency it called AriseCoin shut down before it could get off the ground, reports The Dallas Morning News.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has halted the sale of AriseCoin, saying it was all part of a more straightforward, old-fashioned investment scam, according to economy writer Jill Cowan.

“Attempting to conceal what we allege to be fraudulent securities offerings under the veneer of technological terms like ‘ICO’ or ‘cryptocurrency’ will not escape the commission’s oversight or its efforts to protect investors,” Shamoil T. Shipchandler, director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office, said in a statement.

The company company had said it raised $600 million ahead of its initial offering of the new currency.

Read the Dallas News article.




When Smart Contracts are Outsmarted: The Parity Wallet “Freeze” and Software Liability in the Internet of Value

The recent Parity wallet “freeze” provides yet another example of a coding vulnerability in a smart contract (rather than a flaw in the underlying blockchain or cryptography) resulting in an exploit that compromises cryptocurrency worth millions, according to Proskauer Rose LLP’s Blockchain and the Law.

Wai Choy and Pengtao Teng write: “It again highlights some of the pitfalls of insecure code in the context of digital assets and raises questions regarding the extent to which software developers can be held liable to its users for losses suffered due to those oversights. As blockchain-related software that serve as storage vaults for digital assets continue to proliferate, it will be interesting to see how industry standards and the existing software liability regime in the U.S. and other jurisdictions evolve to reflect the critical role of secure software in the ‘Internet of Value.'”

Read the article.



The Eighth Circuit Raises the Bar for Would-Be Indemnitees

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued an order dealing with indemnification for prior settlements, and it could have a hugely beneficial impact on potential indemnitors, including sellers of mortgage loans as well as insurers, reports Bilzin Sumberg in its Mortgage Crisis & Financial Services Watch.

The appellate court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that, when an insured seeks indemnification for settlements that encompassed both covered and non-covered claims, the insured must present sufficient evidence to establish with reasonable certainty the value that the settling parties attributed to the covered claims, explain Philip R. Stein and Shalia M. Sakona.

They discuss the background of the case, the limitations on using expert testimony to establish allocation, and the application of the holding to the mortgage industry.

Read the article.